Regular exercise will go a long way toward improving your sleep, Cralle says. Finding the perfect time in your day where a workout won’t hinder your sleep is crucial—some people have no problem falling asleep after an evening workout, but others may need to hit the gym first thing in the morning. The key is working out at least several times a week, whether it’s a 10-minute walk, a yoga class, or a sweaty weight-lifting session.
It actually may be normal to wake up at night. When we find ourselves waking in the night, no matter the cause, we may conclude that something is wrong. If there are no consequences in daytime function, however, this may not be the case. It is normal to wake to roll over, adjust the covers, respond to noise, and maybe even to get up to urinate. (Waking to go to the bathroom is so common as we get older that you would be hard-pressed to call it "abnormal.") Many people get back to sleep easily and are unaffected. The problem begins when our poor sleep compromises our lives. If difficulty falling or staying asleep at night begins to have consequences, there is a motivation to seek the cause.
Unfortunately, some sleep medications can actually make the problem worse. Sleep aids frequently disrupt sleep cycles, causing less restorative sleep. Even if they help you sleep through the night, the sleep is not necessarily deep or restful. People can become dependent on these meds, requiring them to sleep, and many develop a tolerance to sleep meds over time, requiring more medication to get the same effect. These meds can also cause rebound insomnia, meaning it becomes even harder to fall asleep without the medication. So before you pop that pill for your sleep problems, try these methods instead:
Memory consolidation: While you sleep, the brain repeatedly replays remembered events from that day; if these phases are interrupted, memories aren’t fully formed, or even not formed at all. This is part of what helps you learn new skills. One study found that mice doing an hour’s training followed by sleep would ‘learn more’ than mice who did three hours of training but were then sleep deprived. This process is the result of connections forming between neurons, which happens more often during sleep.
Of course logging your troubles is all well and good, but it's a habit you build in the light of day, during the hours when you're supposed to be studious and bright. It's not particularly helpful when you're wide awake at 4 a.m. At that point, Walia suggests, "jotting down all your worries on a piece of paper so it's out of your head." And try the breathing, muscle relaxation and visualization techniques above.
For those who have difficulty with insomnia, there are a handful of options to help you sleep. One treatment option is sleep restriction. This involves limiting the amount of time that you spend in bed (often to 7-8 hours) so that the time you are there you are more likely to spend asleep. It can also be useful to observe a behavioral change called stimulus control. Stimulus control helps break the association between your bedroom and not being able to sleep.
Researchers from Louisiana State University had seven older adults with insomnia drink eight ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks, followed by two weeks of no juice, and then two more weeks of drinking a placebo beverage. Compared to the placebo, drinking the cherry juice resulted in an average of 84 more minutes of sleep time each night.
“I’m a strong advocate of mindfulness and meditation for relaxation,” says Barone, who recommends shutting off electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bed and sitting quietly, focusing on soft music or deep breathing. “And if someone wakes up in the middle of the night, I tell them to do a 10- to 15-minute session of meditation then, too.” If you’re new to meditation, Barone recommends finding a mobile app, audio program, or online video to guide you through some exercises.
“This is number one—most of us have this reflex where our cellphone has to be within arm's length, even when we go to bed," says Raj Dasgupta, MD, sleep expert and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. "We need to break that habit.” Studies have shown that the blue light generated by electronic devices can delay the onset of sleep. (Here's how spending just one extra minute on your phone before bed can rob you of 60 minutes of sleep.) Turn your phone on silent and keep it on a dresser or far end of the bedside table so you’re not tempted to text, check one last email, or get lost in social media.
There’s this new finding where playing sounds at a certain frequency when your brain is in deep sleep actually increases the percentage of time spent in deep sleep. We’re publishing this paper in Society for Neuroscience Conference in a couple of weeks, and it’s basically what my TED talk is about. Playing these pulses at the same frequency as your deep-sleep brainwaves primes more deep sleep. Scientifically speaking, it’s a similar process as transcranial direct-current stimulation, except it doesn’t use electricity—just sound. Sound gets transmitted into electricity because you’re picking up on the auditory cortex while you’re sleeping.
Worry Earlier in the Day. When your mind is racing with concerns while you’re trying to fall asleep, that can make it nearly impossible to drift off. Instead, dedicate 15 minutes during the day to process these thoughts. Writing a to-do list or thinking about solutions can be a healthy way to deal with stress and prevent it from interfering with sleep later.
How magnesium helps sleep: This mineral has a range of scientifically-backed connections to sleep. Magnesium helps to regulate the body’s bio clock and melatonin. Low levels of magnesium are linked to low levels of melatonin. Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people who sleep poorly. Magnesium can also help insomnia that’s linked to the sleep disorder restless-leg syndrome. This mineral can help with symptoms both mild-to-moderate anxiety and mild-to-moderate depression, which in turn can help you rest better.
The most important thing is taking that time off—it’s more conducive to your productivity. A lot of times people think they can like fight through and push harder and harder and harder to get better results, but sleep can give you that, too. When you transition in and out of sleep, your brain produces theta waves, which help you think more divergently. That’s why a lot of times when you wake up from a power nap or from sleeping, you’ll be able to solve that intractable problem that you couldn’t earlier in the day. That’s one of the reasons I think taking a break—whether it’s meditation or nap—during that circadian dip can be much more conducive to productivity.
If your mind tends to race as soon as your head hits the pillow, put the brakes on this sleep-stealing habit by distracting yourself from rehashing the day’s events. One tip Breus offers his patients: Count down from 300 in multiples of three. “Because this task is mathematically complicated to do in your head,” he explains, “it forces your brain to focus on something else besides your worries.”
Exercise has long been associated with higher quality sleep. While the research has mainly been done on those who don’t have insomnia, studies are suggesting that staying committed to a regular exercise routine can indeed improve the quality and duration of your sleep if you do. A study published in October 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research showed that after six months of exercising 150 minutes a week, participants reported significantly reduced insomnia symptoms. They also had significantly reduced depression and anxiety scores.
A dark, cool bedroom environment helps promote restful sleep. Program the thermostat so the bedroom’s temperature is between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (experiment to find what works best for you), and use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block lights. Also be sure to charge phones and laptops outside the bedroom—even this tiny bit of light can disrupt sleep. If you live in a studio or can’t get away from blue lights for any reason, consider making a (very small) investment in blue light blocking glasses.
Probably the most commonly known characteristic that can help through food is tryptophan — yes, that sleepiness from the Thanksgiving turkey is no joke. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can help the brain get into a relaxed state, similar to serotonin and melatonin. You can obtain tryptophan and serotonin from carbohydrates, particularly 100 percent whole grain oats, brown rice, corn or quinoa.
But remember: It's important to talk with your doctors about consistent sleep problems. You should also let them know if you're taking any type of sleep aid, natural or otherwise, to ensure there isn't a potential risk with existing health conditions or other medications you're taking, says clinical sleep educator Terry Cralle, RN. "Like all drugs, natural sleep remedies can have side effects and risks. I think it's good to get information about them and then discuss it with a healthcare provider."
Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Choose a bed time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock, you may need an earlier bedtime.
During the late '60s and early '70s, sleep studies suggested that the neurotransmitter serotonin may play a role in sleep induction. Later on, research in animals showed that destruction of parts of the brain that housed nerve cells containing serotonin could produce total insomnia. Partial damage to these areas of the brain caused variable decreases in sleep. The percentage of destruction of these particular nerve cells correlated with the amount of slow-wave sleep.
It might seem like a good idea to doze off to your favorite sitcom, but research now shows it’s quite the opposite. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that young adults who watched multiple consecutive episodes of the same television show were 98% more likely to have poor sleep quality and reported experiencing more insomnia symptoms and next-day fatigue than those who didn’t binge-watch. Turns out, binge-watching actually caused them to be more cognitively aroused—exactly how you don’t want your brain to work right before bed. “Turn off the program after one episode and choose shows that won’t stimulate you,” says Dr. Dasgupta.
Block out unwanted noises. Noise can impact your ability to get to sleep as well as your overall sleep quality. Try listening to a radio program or podcast that's not too engaging to help block out noise distractions such as traffic, as well as worrisome thoughts. Listen to something that is soft-spoken instead of loud, and something you enjoy but not so much that you will stay up just to listen to it. Recommended podcasts include: 
Innovative fibers like Celliant may help you drift off sooner. Used in Amerisleep mattress covers, Celliant is a fabric infused with minerals that absorbs body heat and converts it to infrared waves. It’s been shown to help regulate body temperature (to avoid overheating) and to boost circulation. In one study, people fell asleep 15 minutes faster on a mattress with a Celliant cover.