34 Sleep Hacks for Your Most Restful Night Ever
How to fall asleep
Eyes fluttering closed as you read this? Wish you could take a snooze under your desk? If you're having trouble falling asleep lately, you're not alone. Some 42% of Americans average fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, according to a 2015 Gallup poll. And we feel it: Besides spending our days bleary, weary, and punked by brain fog, little sleep raises our risk for depression, colds and flu, and weight gain, not to mention high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. "The good news is that poor sleep mostly comes from bad habits and lack of routine," says neurologist Charles Bae, MD, a sleep medicine doctor at the Sleep Disorders Center at the Cleveland Clinic, "which means it's usually easy to correct." Get on the fast train to Zzzzsville by adopting these 30 healthy sleep habits. Sweet dreams!
It's pretty much impossible to slip into slumber on command. "Sleep is not an on-off switch," says Michael Breus, PhD, author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-week program to Better Sleep and Better Health ($15; amazon.com)."It's like slowly taking the foot off the gas and putting on the breakthere's a process that has to occur." One hour before bed, begin to gradually power down. Spend 20 minutes preparing for the next daymaking lunches, laying out clothes. Spend the next 20 minutes washing up and getting into PJs, and then use the last 20 minutes for some type of soothing activity that brings on the z's.
No matter how tempting it may be to sleep in on weekends, it's better to wake up at your normal time. "This is so important," says Cathy Goldstein, MD, neurologist at the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Michigan. "If we shift our sleep and wake times later—for example, sleeping 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., during the week and 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. during the weekends—we push our internal clock later, then come Monday morning it's like we've flown from California to New York over the weekend—we have social jet lag." As a bonus, if you get up at the same time every single day you may stop needing an alarm clock. (Or at least you'll grope for the snooze button less.)
Go to the dark side
Create a sleep sanctuary
Make your bedroom a haven for sleep: Feather your nest with soft sheets, warm blankets and a pillow that provides adequate support for your regular sleep position. Block out as much light as possible using blackout shades or other heavy curtains because light can be detected even through closed eyelids—and the brain won't produce melatonin if it's confused between day and night. And seriously, banish the TV. "Too many of our patients are doing everything in bed except sleeping," says Samuel L. Krachman, MD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. "They're watching TV in bed, which is bad because you start associating the bedroom with things other than sleep and romance." You should also remove all devices that could beep, ping, or buzz in the night, disturbing your slumber.
Keep it cool
Ban stress in the bedroom
Impose a kitchen curfew
It's a good idea to close the kitchen well before lights out. "If dinner is your largest meal of the day, make sure it's at least two the three hours before bedtime," says Dr. Krieger, or you could force your digestive system to work overtime in a way that keeps you up. This is especially true with meals that are large, spicy, rich, or fatty, which can exacerbate acid reflux, another sleep-buster.
"Stress and anxiety can play a big role in insomnia," Dr. Bae says. To quiet the mental noise, consider meditation. Research from the British Psychological Society has found that mindfulness meditation, which helps you become aware of your thoughts and emotions in a positive way, can reduce the kind of ruminating that keeps us up at night. A 2011 study found mindfulness-based stress reduction, a similar type of meditation, to be as effective as a prescription drug in a small group of people with insomnia. Check out the great collection of sleep apps on iTunes, including Mindfulness Meditation by Stephan Bodian, author of Meditation for Dummies, or try this sleep meditation with Deepak Chopra, M.D..
Strike a pose
If meditation isn't shushing your monkey mind, don't worry: It's really your bodyyour breathing and heart rate specificallythat have to slow. "You can't enter into a state of unconsciousness if your heart is racing," Breus says. Certain yoga moves can put your mind at ease, steady your breath, and reduce muscle tension without revving up the heart. Lauren Imparato, author of the February 2016 book RETOX: Yoga*Food*Attitude Healthy Solutions for Real Life ($12; amazon.com) recommends the gentle, restorative "Legs Up the Wall" pose: Lie on the bed, bringing your butt to the wall. Lift your legs up onto the wall, with feet touching or flopped out to the sides. Open your arms wide, palms up, keeping your shoulders back and your chest open. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose while slowly counting to four, then exhale while counting back down to one. Continue for 10 minutes or until you feel fully relaxed.
Watch those beverages
No one takes a shot of espresso before bed and then expects to doze off. But drinking caffeinated beverages in the afternoon can also sabotage sleep. According to new UK findings, caffeine not only gives us a jolt of energy but actually delays the circadian clock that tells us when to get ready for sleep and when to prepare to wake up. Beware of caffeine hiding in some of your favorite non-java drinks, including some "herbal teas" that actually contain black, green, or white tea, bottled Kombucha tea, Snapple iced teas, flavored waters, and even orange soda, root beer, and cream sodas. Check the labels and plan to stop sipping any drinks with caffeine for four to six hours before lights out, so the effects have plenty of time to wear off.
Skip the nightcap
Step away from the screen
Yes, we're giving your electronics a curfew. About an hour before lights out, say goodnight to all your devices—TV, computer, smartphone, and tablet. "Our body's internal clock is highly sensitive to the blue spectrum light emitted by the screens," says Dr. Goldstein, because it sends a signal to the brain that it's daytime. A recent Harvard University study showed that screen time before bed suppresses melatonin secretion, makes falling asleep take longer, and leaves you feeling less alert the next morning. If you must email, Facetime, or catch up on Homeland before bed, Dr. Krieger suggests wearing goggles that filter out the blue light to reduce its stimulating effect.
Upgrade from warm milk
Grab a page-turner
Good old-fashioned reading can help you relax, in part because getting engrossed in a story frees your mind from the clutches of day-to-day stresses. But sorry, your Kindle doesn't count. In a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paperback readers were found to fall asleep 10 minutes earlier than people who got their lit fix from a digital download. So whether you choose a somber biography or rollicking pulp fiction, just make sure it's a page-turner, literally.
Use common scents
Block out noise
Background sounds at night—buses, train whistles, cars driving by, clanging radiators, doors closing, or your neighbor's TV—may not be loud enough to wake you up, but they can rouse you out of deep, restorative sleep. Nighttime noise has also been shown to raise your blood pressure, even during sleep, triggering the release of stress hormones, according to a European study. While the researchers tested participants living near airports, other sounds, such as traffic and snoring, can have a similar effect. Consider drowning them out with a fan or white noise—or better, pink noise, which is less harsh. In a 2013 study, 75% of people who listened to pink noise slept more restfully compared to people who slept with no noise. The researchers say it slows and regulates brain waves for deeper sleep.
Kick out the dog
Leave your troubles behind
Play a game
Check your medicine cabinet
Silence the snoring
Stick to a schedule
According to W. Chris Winter, MD, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center, one key to better sleep is waking up at the same time every day (weekends included—sorry!).
"Our circadian rhythm relies on time cues," Dr. Winter explained to Health in an email. "Keeping a consistent wake-up time helps your brain understand not only when the day begins, but also anticipate when it will end." Translation: Rising and shining at the same time each day can help you doze off around the same time each night, too.
You’re probably not going to fall asleep while watching a thriller. "Most people find it easier to fall asleep when their mind is calm," says Dr. Winter. "For some, disturbing images or unsettling content can create anxiety which may prolong sleep onset." Instead, do something before bed that will soothe you, such reading an ultra-dense historical biography or listening to a guided meditation to prep your mind and body for rest.
Brag a little bit
Yep, you read that right. A 2017 study found that when partners shared good news from the day with their significant other—and received a supportive response—they fell asleep faster and also slept better that night. Those who received a less-enthusiastic reaction from their S.O. didn’t reap the same sleep benefits. The takeaway: Celebrating your partner’s daily successes could not only strengthen your bond, but also benefit their sleep.
Invest in your rest
For most people, conditions need to be just right in order for them to get their snooze on. (If you’re one of the lucky ones who can nap anywhere, we’re jealous.) To soothe your sleep woes, first ID the factor that’s messing with your shut-eye most, then find a product that addresses that issue. Is there light coming through the cracks in your curtains? Try a silk eye mask. Loud neighbors? Invest in a white noise machine, like the popular Lectrofan.