A tired brain is its own worst enemy. When you’re at work, all you can think about is a nap. When it’s actually time to sleep, you can’t stop thinking about how to make tomorrow more productive.
If that sounds familiar, you’re in good company. More than three in four Americans struggle with sleep issues ranging from insomnia to sleep apnea. Even more worryingly, about a third of them get less than six hours of sleep per night.
Getting enough sleep doesn’t just feel good, either. A good night’s sleep is important for everything from memory to healthy skin to weight control to stress management. Without one, your mind and body can’t do their best work.
Putting Restlessness to Rest
If counting sheep isn’t your style, try these tactics to get to sleep faster and wake up feeling refreshed:
1. Ban digital devices from the bedroom.
As tempting as it is to scroll through your social media feeds before hitting the hay, research suggests looking at screens delays sleep. The National Sleep Foundation explains that digital devices emit short-wavelength light that fools your brain into thinking it’s daytime, suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin.
To signal to yourself that it’s a place for sleep, keep all smartphones, computers, and tablets out of your bedroom. Better yet, set (and stick to) a rule against using digital devices two hours before bedtime. If you sometimes get business calls during the evening, set up an auto-responder. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, buy a dedicated one. Whatever the barrier is, it isn’t worth sacrificing sleep over.
Which do you think would be more effective at helping older adults get to sleep: a sleep hygiene course, which teaches practices like setting a regular bedtime and avoiding caffeine; or a mindfulness meditation class? When University of Southern California researchers put the question to the test, they found the latter’s benefit was “large and above and beyond” that of the sleep hygiene class.
Not is mindfulness meditation free in terms of both cost and side effects, but it’s incredibly easy to practice. The USC study participants took a two-hour class, but their activities were as simple as sitting quietly, focusing on love and kindness, and taking short walks. If you can’t sleep, try listening to your breath. If that doesn’t work, think about what you’re grateful for or take a brief walk.
3. Turn down the thermostat.
Sleep is picky about ambient temperature. Too hot, and you wind up in a knot of sweaty sheets. Too cool, and you wake up shivering. Although personal preferences play a role, try to keep your bedroom between 60 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Seniors and babies should stick to an even narrower range: 65 to 70.
What if you don’t like air conditioning blowing on you all night? Try cooling sheets. Open the windows and let the breeze blow in. If you live in a multi-story home, move your bed to the basement. Just be sure to consult your partner, whose perfect temperature might be different than yours.
4. Skip the nightcap.
It’s no secret that a drink or two can calm your nerves, but it’s not a good way to get to sleep. Studies show that while alcohol can help healthy people fall asleep faster, it interrupts REM sleep, the restorative stage when people dream. In other words, alcohol makes what sleep you do get less restful.
But alcohol’s sleep disturbances don’t stop there. Drinking before bed can cause sleep apnea, even in individuals who don’t normally struggle with it. For chronic sufferers of sleep apnea, alcohol can be dangerous: When someone with sleep apnea stops breathing, carbon dioxide levels can build up in the blood, known as hypercapnia. If breathing is sufficiently impaired, the condition can be fatal.
5. Try natural supplements.
Rather than reach for the bottle, give non-addictive sleep supplements a shot. Chamomile tea contains apigenin, an antioxidant known to reduce insomnia. Valerian, which is typically taken in capsules or a tincture, inhibits the breakdown of GABA, a neurotransmitter associated with calmness and rest.
If anxiety or pain are the source of your sleep issues, consider CBD or adaptogens. Multiple studies have concluded that the legal cannabis compound is effective against anxiety, while a 2017 review found that CBD may reset sleep and wake cycles. Look for a product with broad-spectrum CBD, which contains a wide range of beneficial cannabinoids without THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana that may actually inhibit sleep.
Better relationships, greater productivity, and a brighter life outlook all start with a better night’s sleep. Use smart habits and supplements to put your sleep troubles to bed. Your brain and body deserve it.