I knew I wasn’t getting great sleep, but I thought I could manage it myself. I would sleep sitting up in a recliner chair just to try to keep myself from waking up during the night, but I never felt completely rested. It wasn’t until I fell asleep at a traffic light that I realized this wasn’t something I could treat myself. It was hard, but I’m glad I finally got the CPAP treatment I need for my sleep apnea.
Sleep needs and patterns of sleep and wakefulness are not the same for everyone. The first step in determining your need for sleep is through self-evaluation. Ask yourself: "How tired do I feel during the daytime? When do I feel most alert? When does fatigue set in?" Even moments of sleepiness that you may think of as routine, for instance, falling asleep on the subway on the way to work, or during a lecture, are likely a sign that you are not getting enough sleep.
Go dark. It’s known that the light from a smartphone interferes with sleep. But what about your bathroom light? If you have the urge to go at night, don’t flick on the lights. “The latest recommendation is to use a flashlight if you need to get up at night,” Gamaldo says, because it offers less visual disruption. And remember: If you do wake up for a bathroom break, it might take up to 30 minutes to drift back off. This is completely normal, she says.
Unwind by keeping the lights low. Light signals the brain that it's time to wake up. Staying away from bright lights (including computer screens!), as well as meditating or listening to soothing music, can help your body relax. Try to avoid TV, computers and other electronics, and using your phone (including texting) at least 1 hour before you go to bed.
If sleep has plunged to the bottom of your to-do list, you're not alone. Although the National Sleep Foundation recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night, the average American logs only six hours and 40 minutes. What gives? Blame crazy schedules and, of course, sleeping woes. Before you rush to the drugstore to buy an over-the-counter (OTC) sleep medication, try one of the following natural sleep remedies. "These are safer and have fewer side effects than OTC medications," says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic and medical director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. Many of these can not only help you fall asleep and stay asleep, but they may also promote muscle relaxation.
If any of this resonates with you, you might be interested in a new book by Henry Nicholls called Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest. Nicholls, a science journalist in England, chose the topic of sleep in part because of his personal experience with narcolepsy, a rare neurological disorder that impacts the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles. So he decided to write a book about how to sleep better.
Watch something boring. Just about everything you read about improving sleep advises you to avoid screen time before bed. But the truth is, a lot of people do it anyway. If you’re going to watch TV or your laptop in bed, watch something unexciting. Think a Ken Burns documentary, or an episode of House Hunters. No scary movies, thrillers, or the 11 o’clock news. If it’s likely to get your pulse racing, turn it off. There’s even a website for it — Napflix, which serves up the most snooze-worthy videos on YouTube (think Bonsai tree pruning or tropical fish swimming in an aquarium).