At least 70% of American adults say they lose sleep at least one night a month, with 11% reporting that it happens every night. And that can lead to decreased productivity, along with an increased risk for disease. Of course, most of us yearn to just fall asleep with no problem, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.
Here are some tips on creating conditions that are conducive to sleep to help make your sweet dreams within reach.
1. Practice good health habits all day long.
What you do during the day can have a great effect on how you sleep at night. Experts advise cutting back on caffeine by noon (or even before if your body is particularly sensitive) and getting ample exercise during the day so that your body feels tired. Some people can exercise closer to bed with no repercussions, while others feel more revved up and should make sure to complete their exercise a few hours before bedtime. Also, try to finish eating three hours before bedtime to give your body time to digest the food before you hit the hay. And, no, a glass of wine isn’t the sleep inducer you think it is. Alcohol can not only promote its own health risks but can often interfere with your slumber.
2. Make a to-do list.
Sometimes what wakes us up at night is worrying about what faces us in the morning. That’s why it can help clear your mind to create a “to-do” list before you go to bed to help quiet your mind so it’s not thinking about that report you have to send or an early morning meeting. If you tend to worry at night, you can make a worry list, too. Really: Things DO look better in the morning, and your 3 a.m. ruminating is solving nothing—except making it that much harder to cope with real life the next day.
3. Go to bed earlier.
Most of us can’t move the time we have to wake up (you know, work and all) so if you want to get more hours of shut-eye, pure math shows us that you have to go to bed earlier. So take the time you ideally want to be in bed, and subtract how long your nightly “routine” takes. For example, if you want to go to bed at 10 p.m. but you also have to take the dog out, set the coffee maker, pack the lunches, turn off all the lights and do your hygiene routine, you can’t decide to get ready for bed at 9:45 and reasonably get all that done before 10 p.m. It’s smart to track the time your routine actually takes for a few days so you have realistic expectations for what time you need to head to bed to actually get to bed when you need to.
4. Stick to a sleep schedule.
Oh, those delightful late weekend mornings snoozing an extra four hours. Yes, it might feel like you’re catching up on sleep, but it might also mess with your body clock (AKA “circadian rhythms”) and make it harder to fall asleep during the week. While there is some evidence emerging that you can erase your sleep debt on the weekend, it’s wiser to just aim for more sleep during the week, which will also allow you to function better all week long.
5. Ditch the electronics.
Checking your work email before bed hardly promotes a relaxing environment—and neither does scrolling through your social media feed. But here’s another reason you might want to leave them off (or set up only to ping you for emergency calls). You know how we’ve been hearing for years how that “blue light” your devices emit was messing with our circadian rhythms? Turns out that night mode in electronics may not be any better. That’s because that blue light apparently was helpful to simulate “twilight,” which night mode limits. With all this confusion, wouldn’t it be better to just keep the device off and read a book?
6. Create a nighttime routine.
Speaking of books, you’ll want to create a routine that signals to your body that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. No, we’re not talking about the “get the house ready” routine above, but rather once you’re in your room, what do you do to shut down? That might include gentle yoga stretches, a mind/body relaxation app or some reading. Whatever helps you get ready to sleep calmly is something you should incorporate and practice regularly so your body recognizes the cues.
7. Make sure your sleep environment is comfortable.
Finally, aim for the ambience that is most conducive to sleep for you. That might mean a room that’s a little cooler than normal so you can burrow in the covers, black-out curtains and a white noise machine. (Speaking of noise machines, pets can quickly become a distraction so make sure that they are in another room or they are ready to snooze too.)
With some practice and forethought, you’ll find that you can create a better sleep routine in the blink of an eye.