Can’t sleep? Join the crowd. About 70 million Americans
have trouble getting enough restorative shuteye. With
recent research linking lack of sleep to health problems
from hypertension to weight gain, there’s more reason
than ever to make over your sleep habits. But how?
You may have tried medication. You know how to stay away
from saboteurs like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. And
you’ve probably heard it’s not wise to exercise too
vigorously or eat too big
a meal a couple of hours before bedtime. Perhaps you’ve
even tried to stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule.
Here, experts offer some snooze tips you may not have
GO OF YOUR WORRIES
– Anxieties often seem magnified in the still of the
night. Dealing with them can help you sleep. Just
writing down worries, deadlines or to-dos before hitting
the pillow can make them feel more manageable.
Do whatever helps you relax. Ask your partner to give
you a massage. Or have sensual, not-too-athletic sex.
Try simple yoga exercises, like the forward bend:
Standing with your legs hip width apart, bend at your
waist, letting your arms and head dangle while releasing
the tension in your neck and shoulders. Or while lying
on your back, do progressive muscle relaxation, tensing
and then releasing body parts, beginning with your feet
and progressing toward your forehead.
Find yourself constantly yawning? Some experts say it
may be linked to not getting enough oxygen to the brain.
Deep-breathing exercises, in which you focus on taking
long, deep abdominal breaths, may help relieve pent-up
tension (and the yawns).
THE LIGHT AT NIGHT
Avoid bright light, which signals the brain to be alert,
within two to three hours of bedtime or if you wake up
during the night. Michael Breus, PhD, author of Good
Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep
and Better Heath, suggests aiming for no more than 45 to
60 watts of light in the room when winding down before
bedtime, and nor than 30 to 40 watts of indirect light
when you’re trying to sleep. Use low-wattage or shielded
night-lights in hallways and bathrooms. Make sure your
bed is out of the way of direct sunlight, moonlight or
streetlights. Consider blackouts shades or an eyeshade
to keep out early morning light, or use clips to hold
Help cement the sleep-wake cycle by exposing yourself to
bright light within an hour of waking up for the day,
either by taking a 30-minute walk outside or by
lingering in part of the house that gets a lot of
FOLLOW THE 20-MINUTE RULE
If you can’t fall asleep in about minutes, whether at
bedtime or after awakening in the night, go into another
room and do something else until you get drowsy. “The
bedroom needs to be associated with sleeping, not with
being restless,” says Clete Kushida, MD, director of the
Stanford University Center of Human Sleep Research.
Estimate the 20 minutes; don’t use a clock or watch,
which causes alertness and possible stress.
Avoid things requiring concentration, such as video
games; stimulating activities, like vigorous exercise or
cleaning; or anything upsetting, like watching the news
or paying bills. Try light reading or listening to
– Make your bedroom more sleep-friendly. If noise from
an adjacent room keeps you up, move your bed to another
wall. Replace a sagging mattress and deflated pillows.
If you must keep a computer in the bedroom, cover the
green light on the monitor with black electrical tape.
If you insist on falling asleep with the television on,
use a time. Eliminate clutter, another possible anxiety
inducer. And adjust the thermostat: The best sleeping
temperature for most people is comfortably cool but not
cold. Breus recommends 68-72 degrees.
Reader’s Digest, May 2007 issue