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Are Those Viral Sleep Hacks Worth the Hype? We Asked an Expert

A sleep medicine specialist separates internet myths from tried-and-true sleep tips.

Nina Raemont Writer
A recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, Nina started at CNET writing breaking news stories before shifting to covering Security Security and other government benefit programs. In her spare time, she's in her kitchen, trying a new baking recipe.
Nina Raemont
6 min read

Some of those too-good-to-be-true tricks you find in your social media feed aren't going to solve your sleep issues. 

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It shouldn't be that hard to fall asleep within the first few minutes of closing your eyes. Nevertheless, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans has trouble falling asleep at night. People may struggle to get a good night's rest or stay asleep due to issues with chronic pain, nicotine usage, hormonal changes, pregnancy and menopause, medication, sleep apnea or mental health, according to Dr. Keisha Sullivan. Sullivan is a doctor of osteopathic and family medicine and a sleep medicine specialist with Kaiser Permanente in Largo, Maryland. 

There's plenty of advice online about how to have a better night's sleep, go to sleep quicker and stay asleep longer, but that doesn't mean it's correct or scientifically backed. Many of the too-good-to-be-true sleep tricks you find in your social media feed won't solve your slumber dilemmas. Here's what will. 

I gathered some of the internet's common sleep hacks and recommendations and asked Sullivan to approve or debunk the conventional sleep wisdom we see online. From the best position for sleeping to the breathing techniques that work, here's what I learned. 

For more sleep tips, here's a look at CBD as a natural sleep aid and how you can stop allergies from ruining your sleep

10 common sleep tips, approved or debunked 

Keep your bedroom temperature between 62 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit

Sullivan recommends keeping your bedroom even cooler, at 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. She explains that keeping your room between these temperatures will lower your body temperature and help you fall asleep. 

Read more: Create The Perfect Sleep Environment in 7 Easy Steps

Red lights help produce melatonin 

One tip I found online encouraged turning on red wavelength lights at night because it supposedly produces melatonin, the naturally occurring hormone that helps us get to sleep. 

A 2012 study conducted on 20 women athletes found that when they were exposed to 30 minutes of red light therapy, the group displayed improved sleep, melatonin levels and endurance performance. While the research into red light and sleep is promising, more research is needed to examine its implications thoroughly. 

According to Sullivan, this tip of having red wavelength lights on at night has little scientific backing. However, she did note that exposure to blue light, like smartphones, tablets and other screens before bedtime, can disrupt sleep and suppress melatonin production. 

Read more: Best Blue Light Blocking Glasses

Stay away from your bed and bedroom until you're ready to fall asleep 

This tip is true. Our brains, no matter how evolved and complex they may be, associate different spaces with a select number of actions: you eat in your kitchen, relax in your living room, work at your desk and sleep in your bedroom. Sure, you know that you can do more than one thing in the same space, but our brains don't. 

Sullivan explains that a good night's sleep hinges on a good sleep routine. Part of that routine includes training your body to recognize the cues for falling asleep. When you spend your day working in your bed or doing other things besides sleeping in your bedroom, you confuse your body about the action it should be carrying out in that location. 

Stop eating 3 hours before bed, working 2 hours before bed and using your phone 1 hour before bed

You don't have to follow this one to a tee, but keeping a distance between eating and sleeping and tech use and sleeping is important. Sullivan tells patients to eat their final meal of the day 3 to 4 hours before bed, and she recommends putting away all electronics 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. 

Take warm baths or showers before bed 

Taking a warm shower or bath right before bed could help you get to sleep easier. Taking a warm shower or bath can cause distal vasodilation, Sullivan explains, which is an "increase of blood flow to extremities that reduces your core body temperature quicker."

Military method for falling asleep 

The military method for good sleep originates from Relax and Win: Championship Performance, written by Lloyd Bud Winter. Winter found that pilots in Navy Pre-Flight School could fall asleep in just two minutes through the military method where you practice progressive muscle relaxation. This, according to Sullivan, prepares the body for sleep and allows you to focus by tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups. Studies suggest that this technique may help you fall asleep, Sullivan said. 

Drinking tart cherry juice

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Sullivan approved this tip, citing the fact that tart cherry juice naturally contains melatonin, which may promote sleep. Read about CNET sleep editor Caroline Igo's experience with trying the viral Sleepy Girl Mocktail using tart cherry juice.

Avoid sleeping on your stomach and sleep on your side instead

TikToker Jayde Carroll got over 350,000 views on his TikTok that encouraged viewers to stop sleeping on their stomachs because "studies have shown that this is, like, the worst position to sleep." Which studies? Carroll didn't elaborate. He encouraged sleeping on your side instead. 

Sullivan partially agrees, saying she encourages her patients to sleep on their side, and if they can't, the second best option is sleeping on their stomachs. "Sleeping on your back is actually the worst position to sleep in. I think patients are surprised to hear that," Sullivan said. When you sleep on your back, your tongue and jaw can fall back, crowding your airway and complicating your breathing as you sleep, which is particularly dangerous for those with sleep apnea, Sullivan explained.

4-7-8 breathing technique 

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is rooted in pranayama, a breathing regulation practice used in yoga. To practice this technique, you inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. It's supposed to help you get to sleep quicker and direct focus. 

As far as whether Sullivan approves or disapproves of this technique, she believes any sort of breathing technique can benefit someone trying to get to sleep. 

Read more: Under Stress? These 5 Breathing Exercises Can Help Ease Symptoms

Taking magnesium 

Despite melatonin's popularity as a sleep remedy, people who take the supplement regularly report feeling groggy and hungover the following morning. There is some debate as to whether it's the right supplement you should take as a sleep aid. 

More people are ditching their melatonin supplements and opting for magnesium instead. Taking a magnesium supplement or consuming foods rich in magnesium like seeds, legumes, nuts and avocado near bedtime is one way to naturally signal to your brain that it's time to wind down. "Preliminary studies show magnesium may improve sleep quality, but more research is needed," Sullivan said. 

Try these other suggested tips for a good night's sleep 

Eat foods high in protein

"Foods such as nuts, fish and eggs are high in magnesium, which can help regulate neurotransmitters that help you fall asleep," Sullivan said. She also suggested drinking warm milk or tart cherry juice or eating goji berries before bed.

Wear socks in bed

Not only does wearing socks in bed keep your feet warm throughout the night, but it also helps regulate your core body temperature, Sullivan explains. "As our body increases melatonin production near the end of the day, our core body temperature starts to drop to help us fall asleep," Sullivan said. "Wearing socks can help with distal vasodilation, or an increase of blood to your hands and feet that reduces your core body temperature more quickly, which helps you fall asleep faster." 

Create an environment for sleep 

Keeping your room cool, turning on a relaxing podcast or white or brown noise and making your bedroom as dark as possible will help create an ideal sleeping environment.

Read more: Best White Noise Machine

Journal before bed

To quell those racing thoughts right before bedtime, write them down in a journal, Sullivan suggests. It's also another great habit to build into your nighttime routine and set yourself up for an easy slumber. 

Correction, May 22: A previous version of this article misstated the type of medicine Dr. Keisha Sullivan specializes in. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.