Can’t sleep? Join the crowd. About 70 million Americans have trouble getting enough restorative shuteye. With recent research linking lack of sleep to health problems from hypertension to weight gain, there’s more reason than ever to make over your sleep habits. But how?
You may have tried medication. You know to stay away from saboteurs like caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. And you’ve probably heard it’s not wise to exercise too vigorously or eat too big a meal a couple of hours before bedtime. Perhaps you’ve even tried to stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule. Here, experts offer some snooze tips you may not have heard before:
Let Go of Your Worries
Anxieties often seem magnified in the still of the night. Dealing with them can help you sleep. Just writing down worries, deadlines or to-dos before hitting the pillow can make them feel more manageable.
Do whatever helps you relax. Ask your partner to give you a massage. Or have sensual, not-too-athletic sex. Try simple yoga exercises, like the forward bend: Standing with your legs hip-width apart, bend at your waist, letting your arms and head dangle while releasing the tension in your neck and shoulders. Or while lying on your back, do progressive muscle relaxation, tensing and then releasing body parts, beginning with your feet and progressing toward your forehead.
Find yourself constantly yawning? Some experts say it may be linked to not getting enough oxygen to the brain. Deep-breathing exercises, in which you focus on taking long, deep abdominal breaths, may help relieve pent-up tension (and the yawns).
Cut the Light at Night
Avoid bright light, which signals the brain to be alert, within two to three hours of bedtime or if you wake up during the night. Michael Breus, PhD, author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health, suggests aiming for no more than 45 to 60 watts of light in the room when winding down before bedtime, and no more than 30 to 40 watts of indirect light when you’re trying to sleep. Use low-wattage or shielded night-lights in hallways and bathrooms. Make sure your bed is out of the way of direct sunlight, moonlight or streetlights. Consider blackout shades or an eyeshade to keep out early morning light, or use clips to hold curtains closed.
Help cement the sleep-wake cycle by exposing yourself to bright light within an hour of waking up for the day, either by taking a 30-minute walk outside or by lingering in a part of the house that gets a lot of sunlight.
Follow the 20-Minute Rule
If you can’t fall asleep in about 20 minutes, whether at bedtime or after awakening in the night, go into another room and do something else until you get drowsy. “The bedroom needs to be associated with sleeping, not with being restless,” says Clete Kushida, MD, director of the Stanford University Center for Human Sleep Research. Estimate the 20 minutes; don’t use a clock or watch, which causes alertness and possible stress.
Avoid things requiring concentration, such as video games; stimulating activities, like vigorous exercise or cleaning; or anything upsetting, like watching the news or paying bills. Try light reading or listening to music.
Redo Your Bedroom
Make your bedroom more sleep-friendly. If noise from an adjacent room keeps you up, move your bed to another wall. Replace a sagging mattress and deflated pillows. If you must keep a computer in the bedroom, cover the green light on the monitor with black electrical tape. If you insist on falling asleep with the television on, use a timer. Eliminate clutter, another possible anxiety inducer. And adjust the thermostat: The best sleeping temperature for most people is comfortably cool but not cold. Breus recommends 68 to 72 degrees.