If you're looking for ways to naturally sleep better at night, where better to look than in nature?
Why do bats sleep 19 hours per day, while giraffes get by with just under two? Why can cats sleep anytime they want (about 50 percent of every day, in fact), while we’re often left tossing and turning?
The amount of time each species sleeps varies wildly. And with 30 percent of people short on sleep per CDC data, sleep science is a hot topic.
For millennia, humans have speculated about why we even sleep at all, which has historically resulted in some strange explanations. (Aristotle once suggested that during digestion, stomach vapors rose to the brain, and as they cooled, the process triggered sleep.)
It wasn’t until the rise of neuroscience in the last century that scientists began to understand sleep as a complex cycle of states and stages that produces such benefits as synaptic downscaling, energy restoration, metabolite clearance, and normalization of antioxidants in our bodies.
While all kinds of supplements, methods (crystals, anyone?), mindfulness practices, and more serve as ways to help you sleep, if you’re seeking tips from your snooze-easy animal allies, you will want to try these four animal-inspired tips for better sleep:
1. Eat a banana. When not sleeping 19 hours a day, the flying fox (aka fruit bat) munches on a diet of fruits, nectar, and flowers. In fact, she would be more likely to offer you a banana than would a monkey. (Seriously: Monkeys don’t eat bananas in the wild; humans created that connection.)
So, is there a link between bananas and sleepiness? Possibly. A study in the Journal of Pineal Research suggests that eating a banana before bed can increase the presence of sleep-encouraging melatonin in your body. If you’re a die-hard nighttime snacker, about two hours before you hope to sleep, skip the ice cream or chocolate and peel a banana instead.
2. Increase your nature connection. Per poet Wendell Berry, “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound, in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things.”
It seems Berry was onto something beyond great prose. According to a study in Preventive Medicine, exposure to natural environments can mitigate sleep inefficiency. Likewise, listening to nature sounds or relaxing music may improve sleep quality.
3. Read a bedtime story. “The telling of bedtime stories to children has formed a pre-sleep ritual in cultures around the world,” says Sharon Writer in The Bedtime Story: A New Chapter.
Writer notes the power of parables (India’s animal-packed Pañcatantra and Jātaka stories, Aesop’s Fables, Mother Goose tales) in providing lasting developmental and therapeutic benefits.
And while bedtime stories for adults abound in our favorite meditation apps, sleeping near our phones is not necessarily good for us. Research about blue-light inhibiting melatonin, earbud-induced hearing loss, electromagnetic radiation, and those occasional exploding batteries should give us pause about the devices we allow to share our beds.
Instead, stack your nightstand with Ulla Thynell’s gorgeously illustrated Nordic Tales: Folktales From Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark; Kotaro Chiba’s equally beautiful Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic; and Mark McGinnis’ spiritually inspired When the Buddha Was an Elephant or The Show-Off Monkey and Other Taoist Tales. (Read about 10 other nighttime routines for better sleep.)
4. Reevaluate sleeping with your pets. So should we bedshare with our furry family members? Maybe. A small study placed nighttime activity trackers on 40 dogs and their humans. Results published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed that having a single dog in the bedroom could “maintain good sleep efficiency.”
Notably, dogs that slept in the bed were more disruptive to sleep than those who slept in another location in the bedroom. Yet, another study in Animals on human/canine co-sleeping found that dogs influenced human movement more than humans influenced their dog’s movement. A moving dog “tripled the likelihood of the human transitioning from a nonmoving state to a moving state.”
If you want to know how Fido affects your slumber, consider trying your own sleep study. Keep a journal by your bed to record observations about your sleep quality as you vary where your pet sleeps. Or get techy about it. Compare data from a pet activity tracker (FitBark, Whistle 3, Pawtrack, or PetKit P2) with your own activity device to check for any interesting correlations.
Finally, if these ideas don’t send you into dreamland, I guess there’s always counting sheep.
Want more? Read about five cures for insomnia you haven't tried yet.