Fall has officially fallen and it can’t get up. But that’s A-OK because it is, after all, the season of cozy vibes and crisp days outdoors. If you are counting the days until apple picking, you should rejoice that some favorite fall activities can help you hit the hay without having to count sheep.
“There is something very cozy and, therefore, conducive to sleep about the fall,” confirms Kevin Lapin, a nurse practitioner at Brooklyn-based Sunrise Medical Group. “The changing of the season typically brings cooler weather, and this is much better for sleep than the mugginess of the summer.”
“I also think that for families, going back to school encourages sticking to a regular schedule and bedtime. Creating a sleep routine or ritual is an important part of sleep hygiene,” he adds.
In addition to the change of environment, both in natural surroundings and daily obligations, there are a handful of autumn-themed activities that are well suited to make you more sleepy. This is the time of year to rock your favorite pajama sets in warm, comfy fabrics and practically live in them for days at a time, so why not preface your cozy nights with activities that give you those same warm, fuzzy feelings? We’ve rounded up six of the most popular below, with details on how and why these fall favorites will help you get your seven to nine hours of sleep.
1. Picking apples
“Apple picking is a good fall activity because getting an appropriate amount of exercise is important to be physically tired out and ready for sleep,” says Lapin.
If you get out to the orchard early to get your choice fruit, you’ll also be getting exposure to morning sunlight — key for setting your circadian rhythm — and getting in some good physical activity. But aside from the manual labor of climbing ladders and handling an extended apple picker, consuming the literal fruit of your labor can induce a desire to nod off.
Various apple species like Fuji contain potassium, melatonin, and vitamin B6, which are known to cause drowsiness, so be sure to nosh on a few slices as you begin to wind down for the evening. This can take the place of a chamomile tea if you’re feeling a bit peckish.
2. Navigating a corn maze
Don’t underestimate the mental gymnastics of partaking in a complex corn maze. Tiring the brain can lead to tiring of the body.
"Research shows that high-demand cognitive work can help you feel tired and, as a result, ready for a better night's sleep,” reveals Lapin, who recommends light brain activity to also distract you from the insomnia-causing thoughts that surround everyday life.
Consider a crossword or Sudoku puzzle before bed, which will put your mind through the ringer and, as a result, have you dozing off in practically no time at all.
3. Leaf peeping
No matter whether you go looking for fall colors by foot, car, or train, going leaf peeping for the day will have you ready to snuggle up at night.
Hiking to see the fall colors provides you with fresh air, sunlight, and physical activity, all things that are a crucial part of getting a good night’s sleep. However, if you choose to go leaf peeping in a vehicle, you may start to feel the call of slumber sooner than bedtime. A small study looked at the effect of vibration on sleepiness and heart rate variability during a two-hour drive and found that participants grew increasingly drowsy within 15 minutes.
Schedule your leaf peeping for the early afternoon. That way you’re alert enough to enjoy the fall foliage but don’t have to wait long until you can cozy up at home in your pajamas.
4. Reading by a fireplace
“A fireplace is very soothing and calming and will make you want to curl up under the covers and rest,” says Lapin, and studies have proven it. A 2014 study found that a fire’s relaxing properties may lower blood pressure and boost melatonin levels. Extended exposure to heat can also make you tired, much like submerging your feet in hot water to increase blood circulation and regulate body temperature.
Reading, of course, can also be quite taxing on the mind and lead to immediate tiredness. Your eye muscles grow weaker, and your brain operates in overtime to translate text into mental images. Additionally, fall is a great time to pick up a book as there is always a plethora of new releases coming out throughout the fall season.
5. Baking pumpkin pie
“People tend to eat more hearty foods as the weather drops and, although it may not be good for the waistline, dinners that are more rich and full of carbs will make people sleepy,” reminds Lapin.
But perhaps the most quintessential fall dessert is pumpkin pie, which, aside from its high carb content, contains tryptophan, the same sleep-inducing amino acid famously found in turkey. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves have also been proven to be effective sleep aids by increasing melatonin and, as a result, relaxing muscles and easing tension.
That said, Lapin and other medical professionals attribute most sudden changes in post-meal energy levels to eating carbs and heavier foods in excess and in a short time period. It doesn’t have to be a Thanksgiving spread, but heartier comfort foods like stews, roasts, casseroles, and pastas at dinner will likely do the trick.
6. Going camping
“I am a big believer in the healing power of nature,” says Lapin. “Disconnecting from all things electronic and social media, of course, is a basic principle of sleep hygiene.”
“But there is also something uniquely restorative about spending time outdoors,” he adds, bringing attention to a movement called Nature Rx that essentially “prescribes” fresh air time for its therapeutic health benefits. Fall can be an opportune time to go camping, particularly in the beginning of the season. Not only can you get a glimpse of fall foliage, camping in autumn means less crowds, more availability, and — best of all — fewer bugs.
Nature sounds like birds chirping, leaves rustling, and water flowing can also calm, restore, and “heal” the mind and body by creating those coveted ASMR tingles and goosebumps that are proven to promote feelings of relaxation.
Bonus: Taking a camping trip in the fall may also lead you into running into local fall festivals where you can enjoy some fresh autumn treats, activities, and smells.
Fall for fall
No matter which of the aforementioned activities you choose to partake in this fall, be sure to keep one thing in mind: Mother Nature (at least in the northern hemisphere) usually hits pause and produces a gray, cool environment that’s particularly conducive to sleep during this season. Take advantage of it now so that you can refresh, recharge, and then ring in the holidays with gusto. It’s the only time you’ll have before going into complete hibernation mode for winter and dreading anything that requires stepping out of the house.