Not getting enough sleep — or not getting good enough sleep — has become a public health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 50 to 70 million adults in the United States now suffer from a sleep or wakefulness disorder.
A lack of sleep is not only frustrating, it can be debilitating, too. And while yawning during the morning meeting won't do your career any favors, nodding off during your commute has even graver consequences. To get a solid night’s sleep and wake up more easily, try these minor changes. You’ll feel rested in no time.
Hide Your Alarm Clock
It might seem counterintuitive to stash the device that's supposed to wake you up, but doing so may help you fall asleep easier, says psychologist Troy Dvorak. "The only alarm clocks I would recommend are ones that you cannot see," he says. "Clocks keep us focused on time, which is the antithesis of relaxation and sleep." (How many of us have watched the minutes ticking by, becoming more and more stressed that we still haven’t fallen asleep?)
This hack is as analog as they come: Just place your alarm out of sight, like in a drawer or another place you can’t see from your bed, so you're not tempted to check the time as you drift off or if you wake up in the middle of the night, Dvorak says.
Lose the Blue Light
One of the reasons electronic devices — and even just typical light bulbs — keep us awake is because they emit a blue light, which can be majorly disruptive at night, according to a Harvard Medical School report.
Richard L. Hansler, PhD, who did research on light for GE Lighting for 42 years, says that using ordinary light in the evening, before you even hit the sheets, inhibits your body from producing the sleep hormone melatonin. To combat this problem, he developed bulbs without the blue wavelengths, which are designed to help people fall asleep more easily when used a couple of hours before bedtime. (If you tend to read in bed before falling asleep, for instance, you’ll want to switch out the bulb in your bedside lamp.) Alternatively, you can cancel out the blue light from your cell phone by using an anti-blue-light screen protector or an app such as Twilight if you just have to check Instagram right before bed.
Manage Your Daylight and Darkness
Another component to sleeping well has to do with getting enough light during the day. Cathy Goldstein, MD, a neurologist who specializes in circadian rhythms and sleep disorders at the University of Michigan Health System Sleep Disorders Center, explains that our internal clocks are made to coordinate with natural light and darkness, but we can get out of whack by working in a dark office all day. Getting enough light during the day signals to our brains that we should be alert — sleep problems can come at night when we don’t. If you don’t work near a window, take a walk during lunch or an afternoon break to soak up some sunshine during your waking hours. If a walk isn't possible, try keeping a natural sunlight lamp on your desk to approximate some time outdoors.
It's also crucial to sleep in a dark room so that your body gets the sleep signal. If you don't have curtains or work the night shift, invest in a sleep mask that can block the light. (We like this one by Slip, which protects your delicate under-eye area and won't absorb night cream like a traditional cotton mask will.)
If you need to sleep with a night light, use one that doesn’t emit blue light.
Watch What — and When — You Eat
What you put into your body before bed can have a big impact on your sleep quality, according to health coaches Michele Periquet and Firouze Zeroual, who both trained as nutritional balance counselors. They suggest eating dinner at least three hours before you want to go to bed.
If you have trouble at bedtime, keep in mind that studies have shown sugar and caffeine make it harder to fall and stay asleep. If you can’t imagine parting with your cup of coffee or dessert, then have them toward the beginning of the day and not when you’re trying to wind down.
Certain vitamins and nutrients are also key in aiding better sleep. None are as important as magnesium, which is known as the anti-stress, anti-anxiety mineral and is a natural sleep aid, Dean says. Yet many people do not get nearly enough of their recommended magnesium, she notes. In order to up your daily intake, she recommends mixing magnesium citrate powder with hot or cold water and sipping it at work or at home throughout the day.
Check Your Temperature
While it might sound chilly, the ideal setting for your bedroom is 68 degrees Fahrenheit, Dean says, since a warmer temperature can make it harder to fall asleep and disrupt sleep throughout the night. Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, says that you can even go down as low as 65 degrees for optimal sleep.
Oexman also notes that your ideal temperature will vary depending on how many blankets you keep on the bed. You might even want to use separate sheets or blankets if you sleep with a partner, he says, since one of the biggest causes of sleep disturbance is stolen covers. "You can have one fitted sheet, but for each side of the bed use your own top sheet and blanket," he says. "Simply cover it up with a duvet and no one will see the difference."
Breathe In, Breathe Out
If you have a lot on your mind from the day, or anxiety about the next day, falling asleep can be a huge challenge. But controlled breathing exercises can relax your body enough to get you to sleep, says neuroscientist Dr. Leslie Sherlin, PhD, chief science officer at SenseLabs. In fact, research shows that these exercises can help you enter deep sleep in less time, reduce the number of times you wake up during the night, and improve your sleep quality overall.
To try it, first lie down and get as comfortable as possible. Then begin the breathing exercise by taking at least 18 deep breaths. Each breath should last 10 seconds, with a five-second inhale followed by a five-second exhale.
After you’ve completed the 18 breaths, take note of how calm your body feels. If you're still too active to fall asleep, he says, repeat the breathing exercise until you can.
In some cases, you just can't fall asleep, no matter what you try. But rather than lie there and get anxious about how tired you'll be the next day, Dvorak suggests a totally different strategy so that you don't condition yourself to think in bed, which will only establish a hard-to-break pattern.
"The antidote sounds crazy, but is effective: If you are not asleep in about 25 minutes, get out of bed," he says. "Go sit on the kitchen floor or some other place you are not likely to fall asleep — do not sit in a comfy chair or lie on the couch." When you start to feel sleepy, go back to bed. This will help you break the cycle of worrying in bed, and give you a better chance of dozing off.