6 Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
From the computer to coffee, what you should avoid.
It’s 2 a.m., and you’re staring at a crack on the ceiling, or walking restlessly up and down the hall, or finally falling asleep—and waking up at 2:20 a.m. You might not find much comfort in this, but the fact is that across the country, millions of women are doing exactly what you’re doing. About half of all women report having trouble falling or staying asleep two to three times a week, according to Raj Kakar, MD, MPH, medical director of the Dallas Center for Sleep Disorders.
Insomnia is often the result of life stresses like a move or a divorce. But when it lasts more than a month or two, it can lead to health problems like impaired judgment, depression, obesity and high blood pressure. If that’s happening to you, it’s time to seek medical attention. But for occasional insomnia, try these techniques.
Log off your computer. There’s nothing wrong with updating your Facebook status or chatting with an old classmate, but using the computer less than an hour before bedtime exposes you to unnecessary light that can mess with your levels of melatonin, the brain-generated hormone that regulates your sleeping and waking cycles. And going online late at night may also give you a second wind, snapping you back to alertness and making it hard to fall asleep afterward. Set a computer shutdown time – say, 9:30 or 10:00 – and find a calmer activity to help you relax before bed.
Steer clear of bad news. Zoning out in front of the TV can be more calming than surfing the Web—if you choose your programs carefully. “Watching the news or something violent can raise your stress levels,” says Dr. Kakar. Think Dancing with the Stars or Glee, not CSI or Cold Case. (TiVo the dramas and watch them over the weekend.) And do your viewing in the family room: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends using your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Too much caffeine late in the day can keep you up for hours. Have your last cup of coffee before noon and stick to herbal tea after that. Drinking alcohol too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep, so if you crave a glass of wine, have it with dinner.
Don’t exercise. Working out in the evening may make you feel great, but it also raises your body temperature and adrenaline levels, making it tough to relax come bedtime. That’s not an excuse to cancel your Zumba class; just reschedule it for late afternoon.
Get busy. If you’re not asleep within 20 minutes of hitting the sheets, get out of bed and read or do something else relaxing or even boring (no computer, remember!) until you feel drowsy.
Make your spouse shut up. Your significant other is fast asleep, but that constant zzzzzhhhhnooooooorrrkkk means you’ll be up all night. To block the sound, you could wear earplugs or even sleep in the guest room. But if this is a nightly nightmare – especially if your partner feels tired in the daytime or briefly stops breathing during snoring spells – then your best bet is a sleep specialist. A condition known as obstructive sleep apnea may be to blame. People who suffer from sleep apnea experience brief, repeated episodes of shallow breathing or even suspension of breathing. Sleep apnea should be treated right away. (Treatments range from losing weight to facial surgery.) Says Dr. Kakar, “It [sleep apnea] increases the risk for obesity, heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmia and mood disorders. With treatment, your partner’s sleep can improve tremendously, and as a side benefit, you’ll sleep better too.”
For more tips on improving your sleep or to find a sleep professional, check out the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (sleepeducation.com) or the National Sleep Foundation (sleepfoundation.org).
Shana Aborn is a freelance writer based in New York City.