12 Steps to Better Sleep
Cozying up to your beloved laptop in bed or nodding off to Jimmy Fallon could disrupt your zzz’s. Not only is the content on the screen stimulating, but electronics emit a blue hue that mimics daylight. “It stops your body from producing the sleep hormone melatonin,” says Pete Bils, vice chair of the Better Sleep council. As a rule, turn off all gadgets at least one hour before bedtime; true screen addicts can download the F.lux app to your computer—it’ll dim the screen as it gets later.
Ease up on Caffeine
Whether your drug of choice is diet cola, dark chocolate, or skim lattes, it’s time to pull back. Caffeine lingers in your system for up to 12 hours, so that 3 p.m. java can still have a hold on you come bedtime. When coffee cravings hit after noon, reach for a cup of decaf, says Phyllis C. Zee, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the Sleep Disorders Program at Northwestern University. If you’re desperate for an energy boost, try going for a brisk walk around the block instead of drinking that cup of joe.
Sucking down too much liquid in the evening is a sure-fire way to guarantee rest-wrecking midnight bathroom trips. Even though your body helps by naturally reducing urine production during sleep, it’s a good idea to cut off liquids at least one hour prior to going to bed.
Build a Great Nest
Considering how many hours you spend in your bed, it might be overdue for an upgrade. First, the mattress: the most common bedding mistake people make, says Zee, is not replacing it often enough. Most can last about five to 10 years; if yours is sagging, it’s probably already past its prime. When buying sheets, make breathability the top priority. “Your body’s temperature changes as you move through different sleep stages,” says Zee, “so you need sheets that can handle the fluctuations.” go for natural fibers like cotton and silk, or try the new high-tech bedding made from moisture-wicking fabrics, such as sheex (sets from $159; sheex.com). The right pillow— down vs. poly, flat vs. full—is also key to nighttime comfort. For a customized fit, try the pillowology line (from $130; sleepnumber.com).
Keep Your Cool
Set the thermostat to around 65°F, plus or minus 5 degrees. “That’s the range in which your body can stay comfortable without having to do anything, like shiver to heat itself up or perspire to cool down,” says Bils.
Hit the Gym in the A.M.
“Exercise reduces stress, so it’s good for sleep, but it also increases your body’s core temperature, making it tough to drift off,” says Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, MO. a recent study presented to the American College of Sports Medicine found that 7 a.m. workouts improved sleep quality more than late-day exercise. If you can’t give up your 7 p.m. spin class, take a steamy shower after- ward. It sounds counterintuitive, but heating your skin and then stepping into the air makes your core cool down quickly—a cue to your body that it’s time to drift off.
Make your Bed
Once you’ve got your pretty new threads, don’t leave them in a heap when you get up in the morning. Aesthetics aside, taking a moment to tidy up may help you sleep better at night. In fact, 44 percent of people who make their beds daily report snoozing more soundly than those who don’t, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Researchers speculate that a messy room can make you feel more stressed and restless.
Get up on Sundays
Sleeping in on weekends only seems like a dreamy idea. “Wide variations in your get-out-of-bed time can throw off your sleep-wake cycle, putting you at risk for insomnia,” says Joseph Ojile, M.D., director of the Clayton Sleep Institute in Maplewood, MO. If you’re dying to sneak in extra rest, keep it to within an hour of your weekday wake-up time.
Nix the Nightcap
If you think alcohol can help you fall asleep, you’re only partially right. “You may seemingly slip into a peaceful slumber, but alcohol gets in the way of the deep, quality rest your body needs,” says Zee. You don’t have to swear off all spirits, but limit yourself to one glass per night and consume it at least three hours before turning in.
Swap Warm Milk for Cherry Juice
Milk does have small amounts of tryptophan, the hormone that induces sleep. But if the beverage leaves you cold, opt for an evening and morning glass of tart cherry juice, which contains the sleep hormone melatonin. According to a British study, people who drink it regularly sleep longer (an extra 25 minutes) and more deeply than those who don’t.
Follow Your Nose
The scent of lavender may improve your sleep quality, according to a study conducted at Wesleyan University. Researchers found that people who took a whiff of lavender oil before going to bed spent more time in deep slumber and awoke feeling more energetic than those who sniffed plain water. Try Good home Co. Sheet & Clothing Spray in lavender (from $12; goodhomestore.com) or Bath & Body Works aromatherapy pillow mist ($10; bathandbodyworks.com).
Seek a Pro’s Help
If all else fails—meaning you’ve been battling insomnia for more than a month or you often feel groggy despite spending seven-plus hours in the sack—a specially trained doctor can help you pinpoint the problem and suggest an appropriate treatment. Depending on what’s plaguing you, you might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, herbal remedies, prescription medication, or treatment for a condition like sleep apnea. To find a sleep professional, go to sleepfoundation.org.