Deep Sleep Now
Decide when you want to wake up and count backward about seven hours. Now take about a 15-minute period before that to start your slowdown process. That means taking five minutes to finish up must-do chores, followed by five minutes of hygiene stuff (flossing, washing your face and so on) and five minutes of relaxing into your sleep state, through things like meditation and saying "I love you" as you lie in bed.
Then, stop doing things at night that are counter-productive to actually sleeping. Instead, make slight changes in your rituals to prepare your body for rest.
- Dim your lights several hours before bed to avoid the stimulation caused by artificial light pollution—which is all around us through TV, computers and indoor lighting—and serves to stimulate us.
- Come up with a regular, rhythmic evening ritual that allows you to embrace anxieties that get released when you slow down. Meditation, prayer and deep breathing are all good methods.
- A Cool, Dark Room
Everyone, well almost everyone, is aware of personal hygiene—but most people don't think about sleep hygiene! Create the perfect sleep environment, and get the zzz's you deserve. The temperature and darkness is a signal to the pineal gland to kick up melatonin production and knock you out.
- No Laptops, No TV
Ideally, the bed is used for two things and two things only. If you have any other type of stimulus like work, or a TV, you're not sending your body the right message that it's time for sleep. Need more incentive to kick those late-night hosts to the living room? People who don't have a TV in the bedroom have 50 percent more sex than those who do.
- Add White Noise
Use a fan for background noise, or get one of those machines that lets you pick sounds, from the rainforest to the ocean. This drowns out the couple fighting next door and the drag races outside so your subconscious stays pristine as you count sheep.
- Dress Appropriately
The best clothing should be nonrestricting and nonallergenic (both the fabric and how it's washed). Your body is better at keeping itself hot than keeping itself cool, so you'll make it easier on yourself the fewer and looser clothes you wear.
- Establish a Standard Wake-up Time
This includes weekends! This helps reset your circadian rhythm and trains you to stay on schedule if your rhythms happen to wander, like during traveling.
We believe there are four things in life you should overpay for. The first three: Pillows, mattresses and their coverings. The fourth thing? A good kitchen knife (not to be used in the bed).
While there's no one standard mattress that works for everyone, you have to pick what feels right for you—and try it out with your partner if you sleep with one. But you can't judge that in 30 seconds in a store. Tell the salesperson to back off and give you 15 minutes to get the feel for a mattress before you pick it. Judge it for comfort, support and heat (you don't want heat dissipated too quickly, but a mattress pad may help).
One good option: A memory foam mattress, which bounces back to the original flat plane after you get out of bed (rather than forming an indentation). However, they can be costly—up to $2,500. Instead, you can take a standard mattress and flip it every couple months to avoid body indentations that will disrupt your sleep.
And get a 1 micron cover that blocks allergens from floating from the pillow or mattress to your nose and body.
Tossing and turning works for salads, not sleep problems. If you can't fall asleep within 15 minutes, the answer is not to keep trying. Don't force yourself to stay in bed, because the wait will be interminable. Instead, get out of bed and do some light activity. Getting your mind off sleep resets and reboots your system. Try a yoga pose, meditation or a short walk. To get back to sleep, music and meditation seem to work best.
Generally, we don't like telling you not to do something—unless it's smoking, slurping trans fats or spending 16 hours in front of the tube. But for optimum sleep preparation, there are a few things you should avoid to increase your chance of falling—and staying—asleep.
- No alcohol or nicotine for 1.5 hours before bed
- No exercise that makes you sweat for 1.5 hours before bed (doing things that make you sweat in bed are okay)
- No caffeine, caffeinated beverages or food or caffeine in pills for as long as you need to avoid (we recommend three hours) before bed
- No eating three hours before bed, so you can avoid reflux issues that can disturb sleep
Some sleep problems don't arise because of worry or melatonin problems. Some are caused because your back hurts like stink. Truth is, some people get through general back pain or knee pain during the day because they're so focused on other things. But when trying to get to sleep, they feel the pain—and focus on it.
A simple over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can help—not specifically to get you to sleep, but to help alleviate the pain that's preventing you from sleeping. Take aspirin with a glass of water at least one hour before bedtime so that the acid doesn't have as much chance of refluxing up from your stomach to your esophagus.
Allergies can make sleeping trouble worse because of the congestion they cause. About 40 percent of people with allergic rhinitis have trouble sleeping. Over-the-counter nasal strips and sprays help open up everything and clear up symptoms like headaches, watery eyes, runny nose or new-onset snoring.
If you experience those symptoms and aren't aware of any allergies, search for the source in unexpected places. Some have allergies to gluten (wheat, barley, oats), which can lead to congestion and increase insomnia, as can allergies to detergents and the cleaning products you use on your clothes or sheets.
One note: Decongestant nasal sprays are addictive and raise your blood pressure. Saline or antihistamine sprays (or a prescription steroid spray) are better options.
You'd think that the way to treat a lack of sleep is to get more of it, but one way that sleep docs treat insomnia is by making their patients sleep less. For instance, they'll take a patient getting five hours a night and force them to get only four a night, and then gradually increase for 10 or 15 minutes a night once a week. The sleep-deprivation approach can work as a way to force your body to reset back into a regular sleeping pattern.
Another option to consider is herbal remedies. Several supplements have been shown to decrease sleep problems. Valerian root (at a recommended dose of 300 milligrams) contains ingredients with sedative properties and is generally considered one of the more effective herbal therapies for sleep.
And studies have shown that the ingredients in ginseng (at a recommended dose of 200 to 600 milligrams of the extract) help decrease the amount of wakefulness in a 12-hour period and increase the amount of slow-wave sleep.
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