The average person spends more than one third of his/her life asleep. But don’t be fooled—just because the body is sleeping doesn’t mean it’s slacking off. During sleep, the body repairs itself so that when the alarm clock goes off, our bodies are renewed and refreshed. Tossing and turning all night can affect judgment, productivity, and the ability to retain information the next day. Over time, it can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and—of course—a chronic bad attitude. (Did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?) So whether or not you're a morning person, check out our list on how to sleep better tonight—and thank us in the morning.
Disclaimer: While factors like stress or big life changes can bring on a few sleepless nights, prolonged trouble sleeping could be a sign of another issue like depression or a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. If these are worries, schedule a doctor’s visit to get things checked out. A medical professional might suggest a hormone test or another kind of evaluation to make sure everything’s okay.
1. Establish a bedtime routine
This lets the body know it’s time to unwind from the day’s stress and chill. Figure out a schedule and stick to it every night of the week—even weekends!
Thinking about or doing stressful activities can cause the body to release stress hormones, leading to alertness. But writing out stressful thoughts in a journal can help us avoid restlessness once we hit the sheets. Studies suggest certain types of journaling allow us to focus on the positive instead of the negative aspects of our day Journaling about stressful events: effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Ullrich, P.M, Lutgendorf, S.K. Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2002 Summer;24(3):244-50. .
3. Munch on magnesium
Research suggests magnesium plays a key role in our ability to sleep through the night Magnesium involvement in sleep: genetic and nutritional models. Chollet, D., Franken, P., Raffin, Y., et al. Department of Psychiatry, University of Geneva, Switzerland. Behavior Genetics 2001 Sep;31(5):413-25. . Try chowing on magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, spinach, and swiss chard The bioavailablity of magnesium in spinach and the effect of oxalic acid on magnesium utilization examined in diets of magnesium-deficient rats. Kikunaga, S., Ishii, H., Takahashi, M. Faculty of Home Economics, Notre Dame Seishin University, Okayama, Japan. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology 1995 Dec;41(6):671-85. . Or pop a ZMA supplement, another form of magnesium, about half an hour before bedtime.
4. Try a cup of chamomile tea
This herbal drink can reduce anxiety that might make it more difficult to fall asleep A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral Matricaria recuttia (chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Amsterdam, J.D., Li, Y., Soeller, I., et al. Depression Research Unit, University Science Center, Philadelphia, PA. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 2009 Aug;29(4):378-82. .
5. Exercise regularly
Studies suggest some aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety and improve quality of sleep in people who suffer from insomnia Moderators and mediators of exercise-induced objective sleep improvements in midlife and older adults with sleep complaints. Buman, MP, Hekler, EB, Bliwise, DL, et al. Health Psychology. 2011 Jun 20. .
6. Work out earlier in the day
While exercise can help improve sleep quality, it’s important to schedule workouts that end at least two hours before hitting the hay so that post-workout adrenaline boost doesn’t keep you up.
7. Take a power nap during the day
8. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep
While many of us don’t get nearly that much, sleep deprivation has been linked to high cortisol levels (aka more stress) Metabolic, endocrine, and immune consequences of sleep deprivation. Aldabal, L, Bahammam, AS. Open Respiratory Medicine Journal. 2011; 5:31-43. Epub 2011 Jun 23. . Recent research also suggests not sleeping enough is linked to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body can’t process insulin efficiently and a risk factor for diabetes Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a randomized, crossover study. Broussard, J.L., Ehrmann, D.A., Van Cauter, E. et al. University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Annals of Internal Medicine 2012 Oct 16;157(8):549-57. .
9. Bedroom activities only, please
Reserve the bed for bedtime-only activities so the mind associates the bedroom with relaxation. Sleep and sex, yes. Work and bills, not so much Sleep hygiene practices of good and poor sleepers in the United States: an internet-based study. Gellis, LA, Lichstein, KL. Philadelphia Veterans Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Behavior Therapy. 2009 Mar;40(1):1-9. Epub 2008 Jul 14. .
10. Create a comfortable environment
Whether that means picking the perfect mattress, splurging on 800-thread-count sheets, getting heavy-duty curtains to block out light, or keeping a fan in the room for background noise, make sure it’s comfy before climbing into bed. Share a bed? Work with your partner to make any changes necessary so everyone sleeps well.
11. Keep the bedroom slightly cool
Between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. A room with extreme temperatures leads to more frequent awakenings and lighter sleep.
12. Take a hot shower or bath before bed
13. Set a daily wakeup time
Just like it’s best to go to bed at the same time every day, it’s a good idea to keep a consistent wakeup time—even on the weekends. Irregular bedtime and wake-up hours can lead to poor sleep patterns Prevalence of insomnia and sleep characteristics in the general population of Spain. Ohayon, MM, Sagales, T. Stanford Sleep Epidermiology Research Center, Stanford University, School of Medicine, Stanford, CA. Sleep Medicine. 2010 Dec;11(1):1010-8. Epub 2010 Nov 18. .
14. Make up for lost sleep
Stayed up too late the past few nights? Tack on an extra hour tonight to repay sleep debt and get back on track.
15. Keep caffeine fixes to mornings and early afternoons
Drinking it too late in the evening can lead to an unwelcome bedtime boost. For some people, the effects of caffeine can last the whole work day—up to 10 hours after that last venti macchiato.
16. Don’t toss and turn
Can’t fall asleep? If you’ve been lying in bed awake for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and try a relaxing activity like reading or listening to mellow music. Thinking about not sleeping will bring on even more anxiousness—it’s a vicious cycle.
17. Check the medicine cabinet
Certain medications might be interfering with sleep. Think a prescription is the culprit to a sleepless night? Talk to a doctor about potential side effects and how to deal with them.
18. Leave Fluffy on the floor
Sleeping with pets can interfere with sleep. Snuggle before bedtime and then let them get comfortable elsewhere.
19. Face the alarm clock away
Watching the time tick by can actually cause more stress and make it harder to fall asleep. Plus, artificial light from electronic gadgets can mess up our circadian rhythm, making our bodies think it’s time to stay up and party.
20. Get techy
Check out the variety of smartphone apps and other gadgets designed to help usher in a better night’s sleep. Tracking sleep over a long period of time can also help us pinpoint what’s helping—and hurting—our snooze time.
21. Listen to soothing music
It can improve both sleep quality and duration Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Lai HL, Good, M. Community Health Center, Buddhist Tzu-Chi General Hospital, Hualien, Taiwan. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2005 Feb;49(3):234-44. . Try classical, folk, or slow-paced contemporary styles for some soothing sounds.
22. Sniff some lavender
This scent can actually be an antidote to insomnia. Try burning lavender-scented candles or essential oils to ease into sleep A single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula augustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia. Lewith, GT, Godfrey, AD, Prescott, P. University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom. Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 2005 Aug; 11(4):631-7. .
23. Try progressive muscle relaxation
Starting with the feet, tense the muscles. Hold for a count of five and then relax. Do this for every muscle group in the body, working up from the feet to the top of the head Treating insomnia with a self-administered muscle relaxation training program: a follow-up. Gustafson, R. Department of Social Sciences, University of Orebro, Sweden. Psychological Reports. 1992 Feb; 70(1): 124-6. . A nightly meditation practice that involves focusing on the breath can also help prepare the body for sleep.
24. Dim the lights
Bright lighting, in particular the “blue light” emitted by most electronic devices, might contribute to sleep disturbances. Tech-savvy insomniacs might want to check out the special glasses designed to block blue light and help us snooze through the night Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Burkhart, K., Phelps, J.R. University of Toledo, Ohio. Chronobiology International 2009 Dec;26(8):1602-12. .
25. Get some fresh air
26. Establish an “electronic curfew”
The artificial lights from computers, TVs, and cell phones might make it more difficult for the body to understand when it’s time to wind down. And one study suggests limiting TV at bedtime can reduce sleep debt Dubious bargain: trading sleep for Leno and Letterman. Basner, M, Dinges, DF. Sleep. 2009 Jun;32(6):747-52. .
27. Drink something warm
While a glass of warm milk might not be medically proven to bring on sleep, the relaxation that comes with sipping on a mug of a “comfort drink” like warm milk, hot chocolate, or tea can make those eyelids a bit heavier.
Like it? Put a pin in it!
Special thanks to Dr. Eugene Babenko for his contributions to this article.
This article originally posted August 2011. Updated March 2013 by Shana Lebowitz.