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You toss. You turn. You stare at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to come. Still, it evades you. Why can’t you just get to sleep? Routine shut-eye has been proven to boost our energy, improve our mood, and increase our life span. Problem is, many of us can’t seem to get enough sleep, a problem that can harm our health. Skimping on sleep—and failing to find a healthy sleep routine—can put you in the fast lane to several major chronic illnesses, from depression to heart disease.
Even a few days of missed sleep can have dramatic effects on everything from your weight to your blood pressure, claims Bruce McEwan, head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at the Rockefeller University. “Chronic circadian disruption and reduced sleep time are associated with elevated cortisol, increased obesity, and reduced volume of the temporal lobe,” he says. Lack of sleep can literally shrink your brain.
Before you worry yourself into yet another sleepless night, check out our tips for an effective sleep routine (just don’t read them in bed!).
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1. Exercise regularly.
Authors of a study of 43 elderly adults with insomnia found that brisk walking and moderate strength training helped patients fall asleep faster, stay asleep for longer, and gain a better quality of sleep. Exercising too close to bed can have the opposite effect, so aim to work out no less than three hours before lights out.
2. Create a sleep oasis.
A comfortable mattress, pillow (not too high or too stiff) and sheets (cotton stay cooler) should be part of your sleep routine, found a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation. Add a white noise machine or fan into the mix to help lull you to sleep, especially if you live in an area with a lot of distracting outside noise. Another tip: Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only.
3. Set a sleep schedule.
Make good sleep a habit. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same hour each morning. Bonus points for doing this on the weekend, too.
4. Say “no” to alcohol.
If you’re having a drink with dinner, make sure you’ve finished it at least an hour or two before going to sleep. While drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep (by releasing adenosine—a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain), it can also cause you to awaken in the middle of the night, says the National Sleep Foundation.
THINGS NOT TO DO BEFORE BEDTIME
Can’t fall asleep? Stop doing these 10 things!
- Consuming alcohol
- Drinking coffee
- Eating spicy, fatty, fried or sugary foods
- Exercising vigorously
- Having emotionally upsetting conversations
- Napping, especially late in the day
- Reading or playing on a tablet or phone with blue light
- Watching TV
- Worrying about things that need to be done tomorrow
5. Beware of caffeine.
Coffee, tea, and many carbonated beverages contain caffeine, a natural stimulant that makes it even tougher to fall and stay asleep. These effects can last hours after your last drink, so be sure to avoid caffeine after noon, suggests the American Sleep Association. While you’re at it, say no to the stimulant nicotine.
6. Write a to-do list.
Sleep eludes the most anxious and worried. Get one step ahead of your stress by noting your to-dos before you fall asleep. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found those who jotted down their upcoming tasks as part of a sleep routine fell asleep more quickly than those who didn’t.
7. Become one with the light.
Our bodies come equipped with a natural circadian rhythm (kind of like an internal clock) that tells us when to feel sleepy or awake. If this is disrupted (by lights being turned on in the middle of the night, for instance) your “clock” gets out of whack. Use blackout blinds and ban all lights (including cell phones and TVs) to ensure complete darkness as you doze. In the morning, throw open the curtains to keep your rhythm in check.
8. Keep your bedroom cool.
When you’re tired, your body temperature falls. This causes a release of melatonin, a hormone that makes it easier to fall (and stay) asleep. If you’re too hot, the opposite can happen, leaving you feeling restless during the night. While the right sleeping temperature varies slightly for everyone, the National Sleep Foundation suggests keeping your room between 60 and 65 degrees as part of your sleep routine.
9. Warm your feet.
The warmer your feet, the faster you’ll fall asleep, say Swiss researchers. Blood vessels in the warm skin dilate to cool you down, which tells your brain it’s time for sleep. Use a hot water bottle at the end of the bed or wear a pair of socks to achieve the best results.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?
According to the National Sleep Association, the average adult aged 18 to 64 needs between seven and nine hours between the sheets to observe sleep’s health benefits. Those over 65 can get away with six to eight hours.
WHO’S NOT SLEEPING?
Between 20 and 40 percent of adults in the United States are sleeping less than the minimum seven hours needed to maintain regular performance on cognitive tasks, claims a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
10. Please your nose.
A relaxing scent may be all you need to nod off. A 2015 study found that smelling lavender and bitter orange scents as part of a sleep routine improved the sleep quality of postmenopausal women. Add a few drops of essential oil to a spray bottle and spritz your pillow.
11. Have a nice, long soak.
A warm bath is a great way to relax before bed, says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The warm water helps increase your body temperature. Once your body hits the cool air outside the tub, it begins to cool down, releasing melatonin, which tells your brain it’s time for sleep.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
For related reading on insomnia, please visit these posts:
- “Is Twitching While Sleeping a Problem?“
- “Why Can’t I Sleep?“
- “How Much Sleep Do I Need?“
- “Can I Catch Up on Sleep?“
And for helpful posts on sleep remedies, please see these posts: