You can sleep better starting tonight. To quit tossing and turning, begin with these four simple lifestyle steps:
1. Spend less time in bed.
You may not need to go to bed earlier. Instead, you might just need to true up your sleep schedule. You can do that with a method called "sleep restriction."
The goal is simple: to stay in bed only when you’re actually asleep. So if you get 6 hours of sleep then toss and turn for 2 hours, just stay in bed for 6 hours. Your body will gradually get the message to sleep when you’re in bed. Then you can slowly add more sleep time.
Once you’re getting a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep, be consistent about when you go to bed and when you get up.
Likewise, you might need to cut back on long naps. They can throw your body clock off schedule and make it harder to sleep at night.
2. Shun your couch.
Do you tend to snooze on your sofa? Your bed is jealous. Try not to sleep nestled into any other furniture, not even your comfiest loveseat. You want to train yourself to associate "sleep" with "bed."
There’s another good reason to give your couch the cold shoulder. The more active you are, the better you sleep. A good workout makes for a great night’s sleep.
Keep in mind, though, this caveat from Andrew Westwood, MD, a neurologist and sleep specialist with Columbia Doctors in New York: "Aerobic exercise gets the heart pumping and gives a surge of adrenaline, which will make it harder for you to fall asleep." Just make sure you give yourself enough time to wind down before bed.
3. Breathe the 4-7-8 technique.
You know you need to relax before bedtime. Westwood recommends this simple breathing technique:
Inhale through your nose for a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight.
Repeat this three times.
If you still have a lot on your mind, write it down. For instance, make a to-do list for tomorrow.
continued...4. Leave your bedroom.
If you wake up at night and can’t drift back to sleep within about 15 minutes, don’t fight it. Get up and move to another room. Do something relaxing until you feel ready to go back to sleep. Maybe have a small snack, like crackers and cheese, to prime your body for sleep (never eat a lot right before bed).
Just follow this one rule: Don’t do anything that will rev you up, like checking your phone. Remember, the light on your phone, tablet, or TV will keep you awake. Put it in a drawer so you’re not tempted.
Still Need More Help?If you’ve tried all of these steps and you still have trouble sleeping, ask your doctor for advice. Your doctor can look for the cause and recommend treatment.
Some people find it helps to get behavioral therapy. With it, you can learn new ways to handle stress during the day so you can sleep better at night.
Your doctor may also recommend that you spend a night at a sleep lab to find out what the problem is.
If you have sleep apnea, in which you briefly stop breathing several times a night, you may need a CPAP -- which stands for continuous positive airway pressure -- machine.
For some other disorders, such as insomnia, your doctor may prescribe medicines. Just remember that they don’t fix the root cause of what’s keeping you up. And you may become dependent on them. So while they may help in the short run, they aren’t a good long-term solution.
What About Supplements?It’s always best to ask your doctor before you try a supplement. Your doctor can check to make sure it’s OK for you.
"Natural remedies like melatonin, relaxation, and aromatherapy may all be useful to improve sleep," says Matthew Epstein, MD, of Atlantic Health Sleep Centers in Morristown, NJ.
Others aren’t proven to help you get your ZZZs, and some have risks. For example, kava, which is an herb, is linked to a risk of severe liver damage.
What About Supplements? continued...If you use a natural supplement, take it for a short time only. One or two weeks is best.
Melatonin may help your sleep a bit. It’s best for sleep problems caused by jet lag and shift work.
Valerian is an herb that helps some people sleep. Studies have had mixed results on how well it works or whether it’s safe if you take it for a long time.
Chamomile tea is a soothing drink before bed. Although there’s not a lot of science to prove it works, if it helps you get rest, that’s great. If you’re allergic to ragweed, you might need to avoid chamomile -- so choose another bedtime beverage.