Half the trouble with getting enough sleep is actually falling asleep. If you find that you’re not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, use the tips below to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
1) Lower your thermostat. Dropping the thermostat in your house to between 65 and 72 degrees has been shown to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. While these temperatures are the typical recommendations, you may need to experiment and find what temperature helps you sleep best.
2) Be in bed by 10 p.m. Research has shown that sleeping from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. is optimal for physical and psychological recovery, and it's been linked to healthier eating habits. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day will help you create a routine and regulate your sleep patterns. To fall asleep faster, try calming activities before bed—drink herbal tea, stretch, meditate, or read (no reading the news before bedtime).
3) Breathe yourself to sleep. Using a breathing technique drawn from pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that basically means “regulation of breath,” you can tame your heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, and more. It can also help you fall asleep. When you lie down for the night follow this breathing pattern: (1) inhale through your nose for 6 counts, (2) hold for 3 counts, (3) exhale through your nose for 6 counts, (4) hold for 3 counts, (5) repeat this series 4 more times.
4) Avoid too much caffeine. You don't have to give up your morning cup of Joe, but drinking caffeine-heavy drinks at night can affect your sleep. Caffeine increase catecholamines, hormones that increase energy, heart rate, and blood vessel constriction, and prepare your body to respond to any challenge. While everyone's body reacts differently to caffeine, it's recommended that you stop drinking coffee about six hours before bed (for some as little as four hours and for others as much as eight hours).
5) Unplug your electronics. Keep all electronics (phone, computer, TV, iPad, etc.) in another room. Having them in your bedroom keeps your brain active and can affect sleep. Using your bedroom for sleeping only will help your body and your brain calm down at night.
6) Skip your nightcap. Downing a drink or two before bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. It also impacts REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep cycles, which account for 25 percent of your total sleep time. This is when your brain activity and heart rate rises, you breathe erratically, and you commit things to long-term memory. If you don't spend enough time in this critical sleep cycle, you could wake up exhausted.
7) Make time for the gym. Spend 30 minutes in the morning or afternoon working out. It can help you fall asleep faster at night. If you like to exercise later in the day, give yourself at least six hours, if you can, between working out and bedtime. Your body will be stimulated from exercising, so this gives it a chance to wind down before you sleep.
8) Make a doctor's appointment. If you're still fighting sleep after trying all the tips above, talk to your doctor. Unpredictable sleep patterns and lack of sleep can lower your immunity and impact both your mental and physical health.
Our friends at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Brain and Body Health Program also say to avoid your phone or tablet if you wake up in the middle of the night, and to limit the amount of TV and social media you use just before going to bed.