It’s something everyone wants, but few of us get: a good night of sleep. In fact, about 20 percent of Americans are getting less than six hours a night on average. And feeling sluggish isn’t the only consequence of tossing and turning. Quality sleep is as vital to our health as eating well and exercising. Before you spend another night staring at the ceiling, try a few of these simple sleep-better tips that we’ve found actually do the trick.
Schedule it. Keeping your bedtime and wake-up times consistent (even on weekends) will help your body “remember” its own sleep-wake cycle—eventually making dozing off and getting up feel like second nature. An alarm clock is a good place to start, but keeping mealtimes and evening rituals consistent and predictable will help too. The key is sticking to it—your body should get the hang of it within a few weeks.
Medicate strategically. Some medications can make falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult. If you’re on beta-blockers, corticosteroids, or thyroid hormones, for example, consider taking them earlier in the day to help avoid insomnia. Just remember to check in with your doctor about the best regimen for you before making any changes.
Enhance your hygiene. Your sleep hygiene, that is. The National Sleep Foundation recommends reserving your bed for sleep—not eating, Web surfing, or TV watching. You’re also smart to do some rearranging with the goal of getting distractions (like a treadmill or computer) out of the bedroom. And avoid stimulants (like coffee and chocolate) in the evening. These habits are as important to better sleep as hand washing is to your overall health.
Give your bedroom a makeover. We’re not talking about pillow shams. According to the National Sleep Foundation, light-blocking shades, a moderate-to-chilly temperature (about 65 degrees), and a mattress that meets your support needs will all set you up for sleep success.
Power down. Put your electronic devices to bed before heading to bed yourself. The blue light in digital screens suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that helps you feel sleepy. You can still read before bed—but stick to the old-school paper books and magazines.
Lighten up. It’s not just digital light that affects your sleep cycle. A study comparing workers in windowless offices to those who had natural light suggests that a daily dose of sunshine can keep insomnia at bay. Open up those curtains during the day—or better yet, take a walk outside.
Work it. Ever notice how toddlers tucker themselves out? Exercise is beneficial for many things, and it turns out that quality of sleep is among them. Some people do best exercising in the morning, as working out near bedtime can sometimes disrupt sleep. But in general, research shows that moving your body any time during the day helps it rest better at night, if you suffer from insomnia.