Don’t Stay in Bed
If you’re having difficulty falling asleep, don’t stay under the covers in hopes of somehow becoming drowsy, says Nitun Verma, MD, a sleep specialist and the medical director of the Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders in Fremont, Calif. “You don’t want to lie in bed and frown your eyebrows and force yourself to sleep,” Dr. Verma explains. “That almost universally backfires.” Instead, get up and try to find an activity that is somewhere between stimulating and boring, like reading a few chapters from a favorite book. “You’re trying to guide your mind into focusing on something, but not something overly exciting,” he says. After you’ve done that for a while, get back into bed and see if it puts an end to insomnia.
Don’t Drink Alcohol
Having a late-night cocktail or glass of wine just before bedtime might seem like the perfect way to drift into dreamland, but it’s not a good solution. Though you may initially be sleepy from the alcohol, once it wears off you’ll likely wake up several times during the night. “Your arousal threshold is lower,” Verma says. “If there’s a noise in the house above that level, it’s going to wake you up.” A smart solution to avoid insomnia? Cut off all alcoholic beverages several hours before you plan to go to bed.
Don’t Indulge in Late-Night Web Surfing
Thanks to smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, the entire Internet is at your fingertips while you lie in bed at night. However, the light that emanates from these gizmos can actually keep you alert when you should be getting sleepy. “If your eyes are getting really bright light before bedtime, that bright light is telling your brain to stay awake,” Verma says. To avoid this effect, begin dimming all the lights in your house three hours before bedtime and put away the electronics completely.
Don’t Drink Caffeine
Of course you know not to have a double-shot espresso late at night, but could your 5 p.m. cup of coffee still be keeping you awake at 10? And what about that before-bed hot cocoa? The caffeine in your coffee, chocolate, tea, and some soft drinks is a stimulant, and its effects can last many hours after you sip. In fact, it takes about 6 hours for half of the caffeine you take in to be eliminated by your body. To keep you from singing the sleepless latte blues, limit your daily caffeine intake to a moderate amount (about three 8-ounce cups of coffee) and stop consuming caffeinated beverages or foods well before the evening.
Don’t Work Out Late at Night
With the advent of 24-hour health clubs, it’s now possible to work out well past dinnertime. But exercising within 2 hours of bedtime can thwart your sleep by keeping your body temperature higher than it should be. “In the evening, your body temperature drops slightly,” Verma says. “It’s one of the signals that your brain gets that it’s time to fall asleep. But if you’re doing something fairly strenuous, your metabolism is up and your heart rate is up, and you can cover up that signal.” Wrap up your treadmill and iron-pumping sessions by the early evening at the latest to avoid paying the price of sleeplessness later.
Don’t Work in Bed
It may seem efficient to pay bills or answer your work e-mail from the comfort of your bed, but turning your sleeping space into a miniature office can have serious drawbacks. “You don’t want your brain to associate work stress or problems with sleeping,” Verma says. Reserve your bed exclusively for sleep and sex, and you may find yourself getting more restful shut-eye at night.