By Barbara Brody
Must-know info to help you get your zzz's
Can't sleep? You have plenty of company. About half of all adults experience insomnia on occasion, and 1 in 10 battle insomnia on a regular basis, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you fall into one of those groups, chances are you're already following the tried-and-true rules for a good night's sleep: Don't have too much caffeine (especially late in the day), don't exercise late at night, keep your bedroom at a cool, comfortable temperature, and make sure your bed, pillows and linens are comfy. Those are all good tips, but there are lesser-known things you can try to help you get more rest.
1. Set a Bedtime Alert
Most of us already use an alarm to wake up in the morning, but sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep, suggests setting it at night as well.
"I tell people to set their alarm for one hour before bedtime, which reminds them to begin what I call the power-down hour," says Dr. Breus, who is also a spokesman for the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach.
He says you should spend the first 20 minutes of that hour taking care of any necessary chores (like walking the dog or making your kids' lunches), then spend the next 20 minutes on hygiene (washing up, brushing your teeth, etc.), and save the last 20 minutes before bed for relaxation.
You don't necessarily have to meditate, if that doesn't appeal to you; you can also do deep breathing exercises, read a book or even watch a little TV (as long as it's not too stimulating).
2. Don't Clear Your Mind
Experts say anxiety and depression top the list of reasons people have trouble sleeping.
Part of the problem is that many of us just can't seem to quiet that internal voice that starts rambling on about the worries of the day.
Of course, if you can clear your mind, go ahead and do it. But if that's impossible, don't force it--you'll only end up panicking about the fact that you're not sleeping, says Paul McKenna, PhD, author of the soon-to-be-released book I Can Make You Sleep.
Instead, try slowing down your thoughts. "Practice saying anything and everything that comes into your mind to yourself in a slow, monotonous, drowsy tone," says Dr. McKenna.
It doesn't matter if you're thinking about what to buy tomorrow at the grocery store or how a big presentation at work is going to go. If you slow everything down and talk to yourself in an even tone, you'll find it's that much harder to keep worrying (or stay awake).
3. Count Numbers--Not Sheep
Another great way to quiet those racing thoughts is to count backward from 300 by 3s, says Dr. Breus.
Unless you're a math ace, you probably won't be able to focus on anything else while you're doing this, which means you'll end up distracting yourself from your stressful thoughts.
4. Get Up a Half-Hour Earlier
Yes, you read that right! If you're suffering from chronic insomnia, try getting up, for example, at 6:30 instead of your usual 7 wakeup time--no matter what time you fell asleep the night before.
You may be extra-sleepy for a little while, but this is hands-down the most effective way to reset your body clock, says Dr. McKenna.
It works because it teaches your body that it can't catch up on sleep in the morning, so eventually you'll start feeling drowsier earlier in the evening.
5. Consider Seeing a Professional
A sleep psychologist is someone who specializes in gathering info about your emotions and your behaviors specifically as they relate to sleep. Often found at sleep centers, a sleep psychologist can usually help resolve your sleep issues in just four to six sessions, says Joseph Ojile, MD, founder of the Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis and a spokesman for the National Sleep Foundation.
6. Don't Worry If You Can't Sleep Right Away
You shouldn't pass out the second your head hits the pillow. If that happens all the time, it's a sign that you're sleep deprived. (Ditto for nodding off during boring meetings and long movies.) Ideally, it should take 15 to 25 minutes from when you lie down to when you drift off to sleep, says Dr. Breus.
7. Go to Bed When You're Tired
If you're having ongoing sleep troubles, don't worry so much about the fact that it's almost midnight and you have to get up in less than seven hours.
Forcing yourself to stay in bed when you're not sleepy is just going to contribute to more tossing and turning, says Dr. Ojile.
Instead, get up, do something relaxing, and go back to bed whenever you do feel tired. You might end up exhausted the next day (but that was bound to happen either way under these circumstances), and the following night you should have better luck getting to bed earlier.