Lack of sleep leaves you feeling wiped out and can spell serious problems for your health. Climbing into bed at a decent time should do the trick, but turning off the lights and lying down doesn’t necessarily mean a swift drift to dreamland. Somewhere around 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and even more have occasional difficulties. This really has to come to an end. After all, a lot of very successful people get plenty of shut-eye.
While most folks employ a few tricks to help them catch some more Zs, not all of them work. Some attempts to make yourself sleep could actually worsen the problem. Take a look at these worst and best strategies so you can start getting a more solid night’s sleep.
1. Worst: Using computers, smartphones, and other electronics
Taking some time to unwind at the end of the day can help your body prepare for sleep. When bed time looms, many plop on the couch to watch TV, surf their favorite websites, or delve into a book on their electronic reading device. While it’s true these activities are low key, they can actually confuse your body’s internal clock into thinking sleep time is far away. One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found those who read from a light-emitting device took longer to fall asleep and felt less alert the next day compared to folks who read from a regular book.
Researchers believe this has to do with the light produced by electronics at a time when our bodies are accustomed to dark. Exposing yourself to light from your phone, computer, TV, or any other electronic device sends the signal it isn’t time to sleep yet. A small study published in Current Biology indicated just how true this is by sending a group of eight participants to camp in the Rocky Mountains where they only experienced natural light. After a week, participants’ sleep cycles more closely aligned with the rising and setting of the sun.
2. Worst: Reading before bed
People who prefer print books shouldn’t celebrate the advantage over electronic devices just yet because even this type of reading can negatively affect sleep. It all comes down to the type of content you’re viewing before hitting the hay. Results from a 2009 study published in Behavior Therapy indicated individuals who engage in activities that were emotional, exciting, or required a lot of concentration suffer from poor sleep. If your preferred genres involve a lot of mysteries or brain work, your pre-bed routine is probably doing more harm than good.
3. Worst: Working out late at night
Getting enough exercise is a good way to promote sleep, so long as you do it early enough in the day. More and more gyms offer extended hours or even round-the-clock access, making it possible to fit in a sweat session just before bed. Such late-night workouts can be problematic for people who have trouble falling asleep, though. Every person is different, so you may have to experiment to find a time that works for your schedule and keeps you from feeling too revved up later in the evening. Try exercising early in the morning or during your lunch break, if possible.
4. Worst: Drinking alcohol
Anyone who enjoys a few drinks knows all about alcohol’s snooze-inducing effect. This makes a nightcap the perfect way to drift off to a good night’s sleep, right? Maybe not. A number of studies have looked at the link between alcohol and sleep; one of the most recent examples was published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The study discovered consuming alcohol before bed made participants fall asleep faster, but it also had an arousal effect on part of the brain, leading to disrupted snoozing. Restless sleep is just as bad as lack of sleep, so it’s best to avoid relying on booze.
5. Worst: Thinking about falling asleep
People who feel stressed or anxious often have difficulty catching Zs, and it’s even worse if you’re concerned with sleep itself. The more you obsess about how you aren’t falling asleep, the worse the problem becomes because you’ll just get worked up. Suddenly, you’re more awake than you were the rest of the day. If you find yourself in this situation, getting out of bed is probably the best way to go. Find some sort of soothing activity to calm you down. Try reading something dull or assembling a puzzle. The more boring the activity, the better.
6. Best: Turn down the heat
Now for what you should do, starting with temperature. A toasty bedroom can help you nod off, but the same temperature after a few hours isn’t going to be nearly as helpful. Dr. Rachel Salas, a neurologist, tells Men’s Health the ideal temperature typically falls somewhere between 65 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit. While that may seem on the chilly side, your core temperature drops when you sleep. If you feel comfortable when you doze off, you’ll likely wake up sweaty in a few hours. You’ll probably have to adjust the temperature a bit until you find the ideal setting.
7. Best: Be consistent
Keeping a consistent schedule is a pretty easy tip to normalize your sleep cycle. Unfortunately, few people actually follow through. A great TV show might sail past your usual bedtime and there’s always the temptation to sleep in hours past your regular waking time on the weekend. Frequently altering the time you turn out the lights as well as the time you get out of bed makes it nearly impossible to settle into a rhythm. According to BBC Science, these changes especially disrupt our deepest, most restful sleep. If you really want to snooze a bit longer on the weekends, keep it to no later than 90 minutes past your typical wake time.
8. Best: Design your bedroom for sleep
Though the bedroom of your dreams might include a 50-inch TV, keeping such forms of entertainment in the place where you sleep isn’t a good idea. It’s too tempting to stay up late watching shows. The same goes for computers and other electronics. Keeping your bedroom designated as a sleeping zone will help you separate from all these stimuli, reminding you and your body it’s time to hit the hay.
And keep in mind, your room should be a sleep-only zone for you, not you and your pet. Having Mr. Tibbles walk all over you as you’re trying to drift off isn’t going to be very helpful, so your bed should be off limits. If your dog or cat can’t stand to be away, set up a pet bed in the corner.
9. Best: Keep naps short
Supplementing your regular nighttime sleep with a nap here or there is only going to be a useful strategy if you do it the right way. For the most part, they need to be on the short side. A study published in Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine found naps ranging from 10 to 30 minutes can make you feel more awake and promote alertness. Anything much longer than a half hour, on the other hand, can make you feel even more tired and can disrupt your nighttime sleep.
10. Best: Eat right
Eating a balanced diet can help you maintain your weight, reduce cravings, and help improve the quality of your sleep. Everyday Health explains sticking to healthy foods, including those rich in B vitamins and complex carbohydrates, will help you doze off while foods with too much sugar or caffeine will make you feel buzzed. Need some ideas? Try cherries, salmon, or tea.