Since a third of our lives is spent sleeping, you’d think we’d all be experts at it. Yet, for the estimated 70 million Americans suffering from chronic sleep problems, falling asleep — and staying asleep — is anything but easy. If you’ve spent restless nights tossing and turning chasing sleep that just won’t seem to come, you don’t have to live in groggy agony. Here are steps to fine-tune your sleep routine so you, too, can drift off to dreamland more easily.
who specializes in behavioral sleep medicine. Go to bed when you feel sleepy. Wake up when your body wakes up naturally. If you find yourself feeling alert and well rested as a result, make this natural sleep-wake cycle your go-to going forward, and read more about your chronotype to tap into more tips.
Try skipping naps
If you’re struggling to get to sleep or stay asleep at night and you’re also taking daytime naps, they could be part of the problem. Every person has a maximum amount of hours their body likes to sleep per 24-hour time frame, and if you’re tapping into that total for daytime naps, your nighttime sleep may suffer, says Mohan Dutt, M.D., a sleep specialist at the University of Michigan Health Sleep Disorders Centers and cocreator of White Noise: A Sleep Medicine Podcast. If you must take a daily nap, limit it to 15-20 minutes, Dutt advises. If you have a habit of napping at a certain time or place each day, say in your recliner after lunch, switch up your routine and add a walk at that time to avoid the temptation of prolonged daytime snoozing.
Exercise your brain and body
Getting adequate daily exercise improves overall sleep quality and can help you fall asleep more quickly, research has regularly shown. One 2015 study even showed getting just 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week helped improve participants’ chronic insomnia. “I like to say exercise is the best sleeping pill,” Roth says. “I very much advocate for people who have retired to find ways to stay mentally or physically active during the day — it’s very important to your sleep,” she adds. Many sleep guidelines recommend avoiding high-intensity physical activity in the hour or two before bedtime, but recent research has begun to question even that restriction, finding no solid link between nighttime exercise and sleep disruption for most people. So, feel free to get moving, whenever it fits into your schedule.
intimacy. That’s it. Unless you’re diligent about drawing this line, your “mind starts to associate the bed as a place where you do other things, as opposed to a place where you sleep,” says Dutt. If your sleep quality has been suffering, move your pre-sleep wind-down routine to the living room and head to the bedroom only when you feel ready to close your eyes.
have also been linked to a host of potential health side effects with long-term use, including hallucinations, cardiovascular disease and even an increased risk of cancer. While very occasional use of over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids may be safe, don’t fall into a pattern of dependency on them. Studies have suggested that long-term, frequent use of certain OTC sleep medications can lead to an increased risk of dementia. “If you find yourself reaching for these bottles every night, it’s time to have a talk with a professional,” says Singh.
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