If you’ve become accustomed to staring at the ceiling for hours on end as part of your nightly ritual, it’s time to take action. Difficulty falling or staying asleep isn't just an annoyance. Sleep disorders—as you may have noticed—result in sleep deprivation, which can interfere with your job, social activities, and overall health. We spend a third of our lives asleep because we need that time to repair and restore our cognitive function and physical energy, sustain our immune and nervous systems, and help manage our hormones and weight.
At least 40 million Americans endure chronic sleep disorders each year, and 20 million more experience occasional sleeping problems, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. If you’re among the 60 million, try some of the natural sleep remedies we’ve cultivated from trusted sources like the National Sleep Foundation. Here’s to a brighter tomorow—and hoping one or more of these methods knocks you out cold.
1. Strategize your cat naps
Sure, there are some major benefits to taking a 20-minute snooze mid-day, but napping isn’t for everyone, according to the Mayo Clinic. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10- to 30-minute naps for short-term alertness and improved performance; any longer and you up your odds of experiencing sleep inertia, which is characterized by short-term grogginess and disorientation. What's more, napping at the "wrong" time of day can affect your sleep quality, making it difficult to fall asleep or sleep soundly through the night. For example, if you take a nap late in the evening, it can throw off your natural sleep patterns. But a quick nap on your commute in to work in the morning, or a midday power nap in your office can be beneficial to restoring alertness.
2. Constrain your coffee consumption
Sure, you know you shouldn't have coffee right before bed. But did you know that your 3pm brew could be responsible for wrecking your sleep? A study from the Wayne State College of Medicine found evidence that caffeine taken 0, 3, and 6 hours before bed disrupts sleep, so get your jolt in the morning, and be sure to leave a minimum of six hours of stimulant-free food and beverage consumption before bed.
3. Quit the cigs
People who smoke cigarettes are four times as likely as nonsmokers to feel exhausted and unrested after a night’s sleep, according to a study from the American College of Chest Physicians. The researchers believe the stimulating effect (similar to coffee) of nicotine prevents smokers from staying in deep sleep because their bodies experience withdrawal symptoms each night.
4. Vet your vigorous activities
Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine measured the effects of 10 different physical activities on approximately 430,000 men and women’s quality and duration of sleep (relative to walking or no activity at all). In the study, those who did yoga, Pilates, aerobics and calisthenics, biked, gardened, golfed, ran, and lifted weights experienced low instances of insufficient sleep. Just keep the super intense workouts to the a.m.—otherwise your body could be too fired up to relax before bed, which is conducive to sleep. And the activities that encouraged poor sleep habits? Adults who did household chores and took care of children. We know what you’re thinking, but it’s probably not a good idea to skimp on these activities. If anything, try to share the responsibility with your roommate or significant other; a study actually found couples who share chore responsibilities are happier.
5. Nix the spicy, fatty, fried foods
You obviously don’t want to go to bed with a full three-course meal in your belly, nor do you want to be starving—both will impede your ability to fall asleep. But it's not just about the amount of food, you eat. The type of grub you snack on before bed can also have a marked influence on how well you sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Foods like eggs, chicken, fish, and nuts contain roughly the same amount of tryptophan (an amino acid that gets converted into melatonin—a sleep-inducing hormone) as turkey. But whole wheat crackers with a bit of peanut butter, or cereal with milk might even be a better choice, the NSF says. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more readily available to the brain, so pair carb-rich foods with tryptophan-rich foods. Just steer clear of spicy, fatty, and fried foods, as these can upset your stomach (i.e. acid reflux) the NSF adds.
6. Soak in the sunlight
Bad news if your office has no windows: Natural light exposure during the day improves sleep, physical activity, and overall quality of life. The study, from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found employees who work near windows received 173 percent more white light exposure during work and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night than employees who had no natural light exposure. Take your coworker up on his or her offer for coffee. Even if you don’t buy anything, the stroll can help you get to sleep faster and stay asleep for longer at night.
7. Don't go toward the (blue) light
Your circadian clock needs complete and utter darkness to produce the hormone melatonin. So you can see the problem electronics in the bedroom pose. You may enjoy scrolling through your Twitter feed before bed, but the photoreceptors in your retina signal your brain that it’s time to be alert, not settle down, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It’s also easy to lose track of time trolling through your social media feeds and answering work emails. Put down the phone at least an hour before bed; you’ll feel less stressed and have an easier time falling asleep.
8. Cool things down
To fall asleep and stay asleep, you need to achieve thermoneutrality. In short, to get maximal sleep, you need to be in an environment where your body temperature can dip and maintain that temperature throughout the night. Research has found the ideal temperature for thermoneutrality is 60-65 degrees Farenheit if you’re wearing pajamas and sleep with bedding. If you get too hot, you become restless, and your body will wake itself up. Another alternative: Sleep naked. There are a slew of health benefits to snoozing nude.
9. Get mindful
If you want Zzz's, you've got to say ohm—well, sort of. Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine discovered practicing mindfulness meditation, a practice focused on breathing and overall awareness of the present moment, can help diminish sleep disturbances like difficulties falling or staying asleep. Intrigued? Read How to Meditate: An Athlete’s Guide to Mindful Meditation.
10. Sniff some lavender
We get it, you’re not into aromatherapy, but smelling lavender can be the part of your evening regimen that solves your sleeping setbacks. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, lavender can calm your nervous system, improve sleep quality, and promote relaxation in men and women who suffer from sleep disorders. Still not convinced? Research suggests massage with lavender essential oil can also result in improved sleep quality.
11. Only use your bed for sleep (and sex)
The National Sleep Foundation advises against watching TV, listening to music, or reading in bed. Sure, it’s comfortable, but you want to create a mind-body connection with your bed and sleep—not a Netflix marathon. Keep your extracurricular activities to other spaces in your home or apartment. The one exception? Sex.
12. Soak in a tub
Research has shown a hot bath or shower can prompt your body to go to sleep. The warmth increases your internal body temperature, and when you get out, that temperature drops significantly. It mimics your body’s natural temperature dip when falling asleep and signals it's time for bed. Selecting a relaxing bedtime ritual, like taking a hot bath or listening to calming music can help ease you into sleep, according to the NSF.
13. Steep some tea
Make like the British and brew some herbal tea, particularly chamomile. Research shows chamomile tea can be used as a mild sedative to calm the nerves, reduce anxiety, nightmares, and insomnia. Drink up!
14. Try cognitive behavioral therapy
If you suffer from insomnia, cognitive behavioral yherapy might be the best plan of action. It includes regular, even weekly, visits to a clinician, who will give you a series of sleep assessments, a sleep diary, and work with you in sessions to help change the way you sleep, according to the NSF. Research backs up the efficiency of CBT-I; it can help you fall asleep faster, improve your overall total sleep time, and sleep quality.
15. Try stimulus control therapy
If you struggle to fall asleep nearly every night, you’ve probably developed some bad habits like watching your alarm clock, counting the exact number of hours and minutes until you have to wake up, stressing about how miserable you’re going to feel the next day, and worrying about all the work that needs to get done. That needs to stop, according to the Ohio Sleep Medicine Institute, which uses stimulus control therapy to break negative associations insomnia patients have with their bed as a place of frustration. Follow suit. Turn your alarm clock against the wall so you can’t see the time or flip your phone screen-down and place it across the room to avoid the temptation to check. If you can’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes (we know, we just told you to hide your clocks, but use your best judgment), then get out of bed; this will break the association of bed=dread. And put a bad night’s sleep in a positive light; instead of seeing it as a catastrophe, think it’ll be easier to fall asleep the following night.