Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better. If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, you’ll feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times, even if you only alter your sleep schedule by an hour or two.
Each of us has different patterns of high and low states of energy throughout the day. Some people find that exercise in the morning can go a long way toward keeping their energy level consistent during the afternoon. A secret known to those who have become habitual exercisers is that effort creates energy. Don’t wait for energy to come when you are tired; as soon as you begin to feel that afternoon slump, shake it off by moving your body. Try taking a brisk walk after lunch. It may be what you need to keep you awake and alert the rest of the day.
Wear socks to bed. While a cooler core body temperature helps you fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep, cold extremities (hands and feet) can have the opposite effect. If you tend to have cold feet at bedtime, put on a pair of cozy socks, rest your feet on a heating pad, or pile an extra blanket on the foot of your bed. If none of those appeal to you, try wearing a pair of warm slippers in the evening so that your feet will be toasty when you climb in bed for the night.
An ultra short episode of sleep is sufficient to promote declarative memory performance. Lahl O, Wispel C, Willigens B. Journal of sleep research, 2008, Apr.;17(1):1365-2869. But try to avoid napping after 3:00 or 4:00pm, as this can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime. Effects of afternoon "siesta" naps on sleep, alertness, performance, and circadian rhythms in the elderly. Monk TH, Buysse DJ, Carrier J. Sleep, 2002, Feb.;24(6):0161-8105.
Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
Journaling. You might think that writing stuff down would make you dwell on it. But when you focus on the things that you appreciate, you might actually sleep better. One recent study, published in Applied Psychology, found that students who wrote in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes per night worried less at bedtime—and achieved better sleep.
SOUND: We focus on sound a lot. Quiet environments are going to improve your sleep quality. Your brain has these micro arousals throughout the night without you being consciously aware of it—even an air-conditioning unit turning on wakes up your brain. So blocking out noises is a low-hanging fruit to improve your sleep quality. Bose just released an earbud that you can sleep with, for example.
If pretending you’re tired sounds like too much work for you, you might want to look into hypnosis. Get that image of a creepy guy swinging his pocket watch back and forth until you bark like a dog out of your head. We’re talking about watching a five-minute hypnosis video while tucked in your bed. (YouTube is full of them; search “hypnosis for sleep.”) It might sound like a bit of hogwash, but researchers from the universities of Zurich and Fribourg beg to differ. Their 2014 study on the subject concluded that hypnosis can actually increase the quality of sleep. Huzzah.
Genes may play a significant role in how much sleep we need. Scientists have identified several genes involved with sleep and sleep disorders, including genes that control the excitability of neurons, and "clock" genes such as Per, tim, and Cry that influence our circadian rhythms and the timing of sleep. Genome-wide association studies have identified sites on various chromosomes that increase our susceptibility to sleep disorders. Also, different genes have been identified with such sleep disorders as familial advanced sleep-phase disorder, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome. Some of the genes expressed in the cerebral cortex and other brain areas change their level of expression between sleep and wake. Several genetic models–including the worm, fruit fly, and zebrafish–are helping scientists to identify molecular mechanisms and genetic variants involved in normal sleep and sleep disorders. Additional research will provide better understand of inherited sleep patterns and risks of circadian and sleep disorders.
However, if you’re increasing your sleep debt over a longer period of time- say, if you’ve just had a child and aren’t able to get a full eight hours every night- you can’t easily make it up over just a few nights. In cases like these, it may take a few weeks to really fill your sleep debt. Your best bet is to plan a vacation or stay-cation with a light schedule and no obligations, and then turn off your alarm clock and go to bed and wake up when it feels natural. This will “reset” your sleep system so that while you may be sleeping 12 hours a night at the beginning, you’ll eventually settle back in to the amount that is your basal sleep need.
Some small studies have suggested that magnesium can help with insomnia, but the research isn’t conclusive. One study found that while total sleep time didn’t change significantly for participants receiving magnesium supplements, there was improvement in the participants' Insomnia Severity Index score, which measures the nature, severity, and impact of insomnia in adults, as well as improvement in sleep onset latency (the length of time that it takes to fall asleep), sleep efficiency, early morning awakening, and more.
Do not use in children under 12 years of age. Ask a doctor before use if you have: a breathing problem such as asthma, emphysema or chronic bronchitis; glaucoma; trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland. Ask a doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking any other drugs. When using this product: avoid alcoholic beverages; take only at bedtime. Stop use and ask a doctor if: sleeplessness persists continuously for more than two weeks. Insomnia may be a symptom of serious underlying medical illness. If pregnant or breast-feeding, ask a health professional before use. Keep out of reach of children. In case of overdose, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away. (1-800-222-1222)
Though I’m not promising or claiming (nor does Weil) that practicing this breathing technique can fight disease or provide clinical benefits, I can tell you one thing: If it affects you like it did me, it will help you fall asleep way faster. Not only is it free, it also works for a number of different instances. In addition to using it to fall asleep in a pinch, you can practice it if you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself thinking about something you have to do the next day, in order to fall back asleep; if you are nervous before an event (like a wedding, or giving a speech); if you are angry about something and want to calm down. My friend (the bride-to-be who slept like a baby the week before her wedding), who gets nervous to fly, uses it before flights and during if the plane encounters turbulence.
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).