My elaborate sleep structure requires that conditions are perfect: There are silk, eyelash extension-safe eye masks involved, Tomorrow Sleep blackout curtains, my vital Night Pillow outfitted in light-absorbing black silk, and Brooklinen sheets on the bed.
I even set up amethyst geodes on either side of my bedroom (which has been feng shui’d, of course). My bedroom/sleep altar is essentially a curated relaxation installation I’ve cultivated after years of interviewing sleep experts on the best ways to achieve shut-eye—a gig that was born out of necessity after transforming into an insomniac.
Until a few months ago, the cherry on top of my sleep-inducing sundae was the cherry-flavored melatonin gummies I threw back nightly before hitting the sheets. But a simple $40 acupressure mat has me utterly off of my nightly ‘Vitamin M.’ And I’m much better for it, because while I love that melatonin is a quick fix, the downside of it (And there’s always a downside of everything, right, friends?) is that I always wake up feeling like I got punched in the face. It’s not on the level of Ambien or even Tylenol PM, mind you. But involving chemistry as opposed to traditional Chinese medicine has its drawbacks.
Acupuncturist Dr. Elizabeth Trattner notes that acupressure mats can help with sleep because they touch all acupuncture points and give mild stimulation to all points on one side of the body. “The mat has tiny spikes, bombs or knobs that stimulate all points on the back and spine to release endorphins, to help relax the body,” she says. If you find the mat is working well for you, it may be worth going whole hog and trying out an acupuncture session for yourself.
“Acupuncture is one of the most effective, yet safe ways to treat sleep problems by balancing excitability and inhibition of the nervous system,” says Tammy Pahel, Spa Director at wellness resort Carillon Miami, which offers the service for individuals, groups, or couples. One of the first things patients notice regardless of their main complaint is improved sleep, she says.
I can personally attest to the sleep benefits of both acupuncture and acupressure. The difference this mat has made in my sleep is vast to the point where I find myself leaving parties early to ensure I have time for my evening wind-down ritual of catching up on my favorite shows (“Younger” is my favorite these days, get involved.), while lying supine and topless on the floor. Sometimes I don a sheet mask (self-care multitasking at its finest) and enjoy a quick foot massage with my trusty TruMedic foot massager to take my acupresh sesh to the next level.
Don’t be intimidated: The mat seems scary at first. It’s a literal bed of nails, accompanied by a matching pillow (definitely spring for the matching pillow). It’s inspired by the ancient Indian practice of acupressure, which says that the body is lined with pressure points, and when they’re stimulated, they release natural pain-relieving hormones.
The plastic points on this mat lightly prick the skin, eventually releasing endorphins similar to those you’d experience after an especially intense exercise session. All it takes to activate these feel-good hormones is a quick lie-down on the mat for a minimum of 10 minutes. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, after a few minutes the pressure will give way and you’ll be able to enjoy the technique’s healing benefits. I was able to do do 15 minutes right off the bat but if you find it uncomfortable at first, work up to that in 5-minute increments.
In addition to involving acupressure and acupuncture into your routine, Trattner and acupuncturist Aimee Raupp shared more tips on getting better sleep. For instance, your evening SoulCycle class may be a culprit of sleep issues. Trattner advises working out earlier in the day. “If you move your chi (exercise) too late in the day it can be stimulating,” she explains. “Earlier workouts help sync natural sleep/wake cycles.”
A device detox of at least 30 minutes (ideally an hour) before bedtime helps too, says Raupp. “Being on your devices leading up to bedtime can be too stimulating to your system,” she says. She recommends evening activities of journaling, meditating, stretching or taking a warm bath if you’re having trouble sleeping.
What and when you eat can have an effect, as well. Trattner says to eat meals at least three hours before bed. “Food retention is one of the reasons for insomnia in sleep,” she explains. But if your issue is less falling asleep, and more staying asleep, Raup says to try eating a little bit of protein before bed (like a teaspoon of seeds or a few nuts. “The protein will keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the night, helping you stay asleep.”
Taking magnesium before bed helps as well, Raupp says. “Due to the poor state of our soil, the poor quality of our foods, and overall stress levels, it is estimated that 90 percent of us are magnesium deficient,” she notes. “Magnesium plays a crucial role in calming the nervous system, regulating blood sugar levels and helping us sleep.”
Trattner does warn that although this may feel good, acupressure mats are not the first choice for sleep induction strategies. Depending on how severe your sleep situation is, you may want to test out a full acupuncture session. “As an acupuncturist I have no problem trying them and if they work, wonderful. But a mat is not a replacement for a trained clinician who can treat the underlying root cause,” Trattner says.
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