Say you clamber into bed, prepared for a healthy seven or eight hours and then stare at the clock for four of them. Is all lost? If you have trouble sleeping for a few days here and there, taking steps to improve your sleep should get you back on track. And you can be assured that you have plenty of company. According to the National Sleep Foundations 2011 Sleep in America Poll, 60% of US adults say they have sleep problems every night, or almost every night.
The first step for anyone with sleep problems should be to take a careful look at your sleep hygiene, Harris says. This means organizing your surroundings and activities to promote sleep as bedtime approaches. Skip caffeine after noon, she advises (and dont forget that diet soda, herbal teas, and chocolate can contain caffeine too). Avoid alcohol or heavy meals within three hours of bedtime.
Exercise is great for sleep, especially falling asleep. You’ll get the most benefit by working out five to six hours for bedtime. A hot shower or bath about an hour and a half before bedtime can also be helpful.
Reserve your bed for sleep. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed, go somewhere else, do something quiet, calm and relaxing, go back to bed when you’re sleepy again.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time—within a half hour—every day.
Finally, don’t make your Facebook page, BlackBerry, or TV your final destination of the evening. Using these devices for communication is clearly eating into our sleep time, Dr. Somers says. “People are spending more time being connected than sleeping.” Texting friends, playing computer games, or just watching TV stimulates our brains and bodies at a time when we should be winding down, and the extra light we expose ourselves to when we peer at a screen could be throwing off our body clocks.
This is because when it gets dark, our bodies release a hormone called melatonin that helps make us sleepy, and pre-bedtime bright light exposure—especially exposure to the blue light emitted by screens large and small—weakens melatonin release.
A lot of people say, they are just watching YouTube videos on their iPhone at night. It might be calming, but it’s actually doing something to the melatonin in your brain. It is advisable to cut off screen time an hour before going to bed.
People with long-standing, chronic insomnia need more than a sleep hygiene tune up. A few sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of counseling designed to help people change the way they think about challenging situations—like insomnia—and respond more positively to them. Four to eight sessions are usually enough.
But what if you seem to thrive on six hours of sleep a night? There’s no question that there’s a range of sleep needs, like there’s a range of every physical function, but exactly what the normal boundaries of that range are?
The best way to be sure that you’re sleeping enough, is to wake up spontaneously without the use of an alarm clock and to feel rested when you wake up. If those things happen and you’re not feeling sleepy during the day, then you’re probably sleeping enough.
7 best sleep routines for a great night’s rest
Taking a warm shower or bath before bedtime helps prime the body for sleep. A study published in 2010 found that small changes in the body’s internal temperature sends powerful signals to brain’s master clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This light-sensitive region of the brain is responsible for controlling circadian rhythms and many physiological functions within the 24-hour cycle. The SCN sends a signal to lower your core temperature as day becomes night.
A short (5 to 10 minute) shower will temporarily warm up the body. Stepping out of the steamy bathroom into a cooler bedroom will cause your body temperature to drop slightly, setting off a chain reaction of sleepy-time brain signals. And showering at night is one less thing you’ll have to do in the morning.
2. Work Out
No matter what time of day you do it, regular exercise promotes restful sleep. Just 20 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity had the effect of improving quality of sleep and boosting energy throughout the day, according to a sleep study published in 2011. The notion that exercising close to bedtime disrupts sleep is actually a myth, so here are some late-night workout routines worth trying.
3. Prepare for Tomorrow
Be kind to your future self by prepping as much as you can the night before. Check the next day’s weather forecast and lay out your clothing for tomorrow. Pack up your lunch. Get your coffee maker ready with fresh grounds and water so all you have to do in the morning is push a button. Review your day planner for upcoming appointments. The more things you can get done in the evening usually means a lot less chaos in the morning.
4. Take a Few Moments to Reflect
Set aside a few minutes each evening and reflect upon the events of the day. The point is not to ruminate on what went wrong (or engage in negative self-talk) but to focus on the positive instead. Even on the most epically awful days, there is usually at least one good thing that happened. Practicing gratitude is a powerful thing, and studies have shown that people who express gratitude internally or outwardly on a regular basis are more optimistic, more satisfied with their lives, have improved relationships with others, and enjoy better physical health.
We all know by now that falling asleep in the glow of our smart phones, televisions, and other electronics is detrimental to sleep quality. If you need something to replace this night-time ritual, try reading a real, physical, printed-on-paper book. Reading just 15 to 30 minutes before bedtime makes you smarter by increasing vocabulary and boosting memory; thinking about (and feeling for) fictional characters fosters empathy for others in real life; being absorbed by an imaginary world reduces stress substantially; and the eye movement and brain power needed to scan the words on the page has a tiring effect for many people, allowing them a quick and easy transition to dreamland.
6. Stretch it Out
Stress can be carried in the body, expressing itself as back pain, a crimp in the neck, or sore muscles throughout. Alleviate the tension by doing a few yoga stretches before bed – which will not only promote sleep and relaxation, but your body will certainly be much better off as well!
7. Just Breathe
If, even after doing everything right and practicing good sleep hygiene, you still find yourself unable to turn off your mind and fall asleep, there are other things you can do besides count sheep. An ancient practice steeped in Eastern medicine, the idea behind mindful breathing techniques is that deep, focused breathing allows more oxygen to circulate your body, which has a calming effect. Adherents of the “4-7-8” technique say that it can lull you to sleep in less than a minute. Here’s how to do it:
- Breathe deeply through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds
- Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds