Science-backed tips that are bound to help you sleep better
Reaching dreamland may seem like Mission Impossible when you’re watching the minutes tick by on your alarm clock at 3:00am. The good news is that there are plenty of things that you can do to get a more restful night’s sleep. In fact, scientists have tested some tried-and-true tricks (also called "sleep hygiene" tips) that you can practice regularly to ensure that you fall—and stay—asleep. Follow these six pieces of advice to sleep better tonight:
- Stick to a Schedule. Keep your sleep/wake cycle (also called your circadian rhythm on track by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day—even on weekends. If you must sleep in on Saturday or Sunday, try not to stay in bed for more than an extra hour or two, max.
- Pay Attention to Foods and Drinks. You already know that caffeine is a stimulant, so steer clear of coffee, tea, and other sneaky sources—such as chocolate, and even some pain relievers—at least four hours before bed, ideally after mid-day. Alcohol can wake you up in the middle of the night and should be avoided in the two to three hours before bedtime. Be mindful not to go to bed too stuffed (digesting food can make for less restful shut-eye) or famished (hunger pangs can wake you up).
- Create a Bedtime Ritual. Relaxation is vital in order to fall asleep faster, so try doing something regularly in the hour before bed that your brain will associate with sleep, such as listening to a calming playlist on your iPod, practicing a few simple yoga poses such as child’s pose or "legs up the wall," or taking a warm bath (the rise and fall in body temperature preps you to snooze).
- Step Away From the Light. Your body clock is affected by light, so turn off bright overhead lights, lamps, and LCD screens at least an hour before bed, since they will only rev you up. If it's too hard to turn off lights or screens completely, at least dim them to prep your body for sleep.
- Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Haven. Use this room for only sleep, relaxation, and sex, so you don’t associate it with other niggling distractions, such as work or paying bills. Use blackout curtains to block light from the outdoors, paint the walls a calming blue shade, and invest in a mattress, sheets, and pillows that you find comfortable. Using a white noise machine and keeping the room between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit can also help. In addition: Keep pets off your bed, as they are prime sleep-disrupters.
- Limit Tossing and Turning. Staring at the clock when you can’t sleep actually increases the stress hormone known as cortisol in your body, making it tougher to fall asleep. First, try turning your clock away from you. If that doesn't work, get up after 20 or 30 minutes and do something simple and repetitive (such as folding laundry) or relaxing (such as knitting). And if you’re worried about something, try putting it on paper to get it out of your head, so you can quiet your mind for sleep.