Nearly all of us have struggled with sleep at some point. Between careers, families, activities and everyday life, sleep can take a backseat to our “more important” priorities. But the fact is, getting enough sleep is crucial for us to function at 100%, affecting everything from our weight to our performance at the office. Whether you’re a chronic insomniac or just up late worrying about tomorrow’s big presentation, these tips can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that helps regulate our sleep schedules. It plays a role in when we wake up and when we go to sleep. When we’re getting ready for bed, our melatonin levels begin to rise. They stay high through the night while we’re sleeping, and then taper off and drop when we wake up and start the day. It’d be great if we could control this hormone, feeling sleepy or awake whenever we needed to, right? Well, there are supplements to help us do just that.
While you can’t fully control how your body produces and regulates melatonin, many people report that taking a melatonin supplement an hour or two before they go to bed helps them fall asleep and stay asleep at night. It’s a great solution for people who find their mind racing when their head hits the people and for those who work abnormal hours and need to sleep while it’s light outside. Recommended doses vary widely between healthy adults, so consult with your doctor about the proper supplement size for you.
2) Work Out–Early
Studies have shown that getting in a good workout during the day leads to better and less restless sleep at night. They key, though, is working out early enough in the day so that it doesn’t do more harm than good. Though many of us like to hit the gym after work, experts say exercising that late in the day could actually be keeping you up at night because you’re kicking your energy level into high gear. If you find you have trouble falling asleep at night, try incorporating an early-morning workout or even a lunch break power walk. It might make all the difference, and you’ll reap a host of other physical benefits from exercise, too!
Easier said than done, right? When you’re juggling, work, family and other life obligations, stress tends to rear its ugly head pretty frequently. Unfortunately, it affects more than just your blood pressure. When you’re stressed out, your body produces more of a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol leads to lower immunity to sickness, weight gain, and you guessed it–poor sleep.
There are a few things you can do to help de-stress and bring down your cortisol levels to sleep better at night. First, dim the lights. The melatonin we talked about earlier? Your body naturally produces more of it when it’s darker, plus the dim lighting will help put you in a sleepy mood. Next, take a hot, relaxing bath. Focus on letting go of what happened to you that day and putting your to-do list out of your mind until the next morning. Finally, practice deep breathing. Oftentimes when you’re faced with a stressful situation, a few deep breaths will help you calm down and look at the scenario from a clearer perspective.
4) Snack on (Healthy) Carbs
You know that sluggish 3 p.m. feeling you get when you binge on a snack like chips in the middle of the workday? That’s exactly what we’re going for here, only without the greasy, unhealthy chips (sorry!). Having a small bedtime snack of a healthy carbohydrate, like whole wheat toast, helps your body produce serotonin and tryptophan, both of which induce feelings of sleepiness. Just be sure not to overdo it—a couple bites is enough! If you overindulge, your stomach will actually be up even later working to break down what you ate.
Which leads us to our next piece of advice…
5) Eat Dinner Early
Expert opinions vary on the perfect time to eat dinner, but most agree it should be at least two to three hours before your intended bed time. This gives your body plenty of time to break down things like sugar and insulin, both of which can keep you up at night. Plus, studies have shown that eating earlier leads to improved weight loss, so your skinny jeans will thank you as well!
Most of us are wired to our cell phones and tablets nearly 24/7 (don’t feel bad—we’re guilty of it too!). But the fact is, being “connected” causes our brains to function in high gear. This applies not only to our mobile devices, but to the television, making it harder to settle into sleep mode. For ideal sleep, give your body at least an hour of technology downtime before bed—no phone, no TV. If you’re accustomed to falling asleep with the tube on, try switching to soothing music or reading a chapter of a book every night before bed. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much quicker you nod off.
7) Cut Out Alcohol
Many people have the misconception that alcohol makes them sleepy. While your mind may feel foggy, alcohol is in fact a stimulant, which leads to poor quality sleep if you drink it before bed (that’s why hangovers are so awful—not only are you physically ill, your body is exhausted too!). If you find you have trouble falling or staying asleep, stick to no more than one glass of wine or beer per evening, preferably a few hours before bed. This will give your body plenty of time to process the alcohol content so that it doesn’t keep you awake.
If you’re otherwise healthy and your chronic sleep problems persist, see your doctor. He or she may recommend a form of medical treatment to help you get more sleep.