Sleep has earned a bad reputation as a waste of time, but if you don’t get your forty winks, you may face worse problems than dark circles and crankiness. “Rest isn’t frivolous; it is absolutely part of the best health,” says Param Dedhia, MD, a sleep specialist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, AZ. Skimping on sleep can cause a host of troubles — from dreaded under-eye bags and sallow skin to an increased risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, and depression.
1. Find Your Magic Sleep Number
You may pride yourself on being like Madonna or Martha Stewart and needing only four hours of sleep a night, but most adults should get at least seven hours of shut-eye. Even though someone can function outside of that, it doesn’t mean that they’re doing the best for themselves. Your health depends on that downtime. Sleep is a time for recovery. It relates to better internal health, better brain health, and better heart health. Hormonal balance can also be greatly affected because lack of sleep can cause a stress response in the body. If you consistently feel groggy in the morning, try these tips or consult a sleep specialist.
2. Establish a Sleep Routine
The most important part of getting a good night’s sleep is having the time and space for it. If you try to relax and then go back and do dishes or laundry, you’ll just stimulate yourself again. Whether you sip on a cup of chamomile tea each night or take a warm bath (or both!) to wind down in the evening, establishing a sleep routine will help signal your brain that it’s time to wind down. “I’m a big believer in transitioning so you’re preparing your body for sleep. Another way to signal your body to relax for sleep is to stick to a regular schedule. Because sleep is one of your rhythms, going to sleep and waking up at the same times is very helpful.
3. Power Down Your Gadgets
About an hour and a half before you go to bed, start shutting down the screens — all of them. I have this concept of an electronic sundown, where by nine or ten o’clock, I switch off any gadgets. If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist the temptation to grab a gadget. The blue light emitted by electronic devices is especially disruptive of sleep because it suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin — in other words, you make the problem worse.
4. Watch What You Eat and Drink
When it comes to eating and sleep, it’s more about what you don’t eat than what you do. Consuming a high-fat meal or foods that you’re sensitive to (such as wheat, in some cases) can trigger inflammation, which may make your body work extra hard and prevent you from sleep. Heartburn is another major sleep disruptor brought on by food. You have to look for trigger foods [like chocolate or coffee] since the acid in our gut is highest around 2 AM. Avoid alcohol, which may make you sleepy at first but doesn’t actually promote restful slumber. For every serving of alcohol, you get one hour of being more relaxed followed by one hour of being more aroused. So if you want to go to bed around 11 p.m., make sure you finish that glass of wine by 9.
5. Take a Warm Bath
One of the most effective sleep inducers is also one of the easiest to try: a warm bath (or shower) at night. When you come out, you’ll be cool but not cold, which helps induce deep sleep. Aim for a water temperature of around 100 degrees or slightly warmer than body temperature. If it’s too hot, it stimulates the body. While you’re at it, add some aromatherapy.
6. Create the Ideal Sleep Environment
The single most important factor in creating the best bedroom is the elimination of light. If your room is pitch dark, your body’s going to secrete melatonin. If there’s light in the room, your body won’t produce it. Draw the curtains and, if you can’t get the room pitch dark, wear an eye mask. If you have a digital alarm clock, turn it to face the wall. Also, turn the thermostat down to around 60 to 65 degrees. Your room should be cooler than you think so your body can produce melatonin.
7. Pop a Melatonin Pill
While melatonin has been a go-to aid for frequent travelers dealing with jet lag, troubled sleepers can also turn to the supplement instead of over-the-counter sleep aids. The pills can be especially helpful as you get older because melatonin production decreases as you age. There are a handful of people who may experience side effects, including headaches, feeling hungover, or having vivid dreams but melatonin isn’t habit forming. Look for pills with a dose of 1 to 3 milligrams of melatonin.