Cool your head for quicker Zzz’s

By Shayna Brouker • Published: September 9th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s a well-known dilemma among insomniacs: It’s late at night and every bone in your body aches with exhaustion, but your mind keeps running a mile a minute like it’s the middle of the day. You’ve tried every trick in the book — counting sheep, counting backward from 100 and focusing on breathing in and out. But still you toss and turn.

The solution, say scientists, is very cool — literally. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that cooling the head allowed insomniacs to fall asleep almost as quickly as those without sleep disorders. The researchers gave a group of non-sleepers a soft plastic cap containing cooled water that circulated around their heads. Scientists call this process cerebral hypothermia, and it lulled the insomniacs to sleep in an average of 13 minutes. What’s more, the cooler the cap, the more sleep they got.

The key to the cap is cooling the brain, which stays hot from all that thinking. Insomniacs tend to have more active frontal cortexes, the area of the brain responsible for planning, organizing and logical reasoning. Melatonin, the body’s natural coolant, is a hormone that also helps induce sleep by cooling the body.

Though the sample size in this study was quite small and more research is needed to confirm the results, the idea of cooling the brain shows promise for insomniacs who would rather not take medication to fall asleep.

A homemade cooling cap could be fashioned using a plastic bag filled with cool water. But there may be a few simpler remedies for rest. A normal bedtime routine and regular exercise can help. It’s also wise to avoid caffeine and alcohol. Making a to-do list before going to bed can free your mind to count sheep, too. After all, a clear and cool head is essential for optimal sleep.