Getting enough sleep may supercharge your willpower and even help shrink your waistline. But falling asleep isn’t always as easy as it sounds — even if you can barely keep your eyes open at your desk during the day, you might find yourself tossing and turning once you’re under the covers. Then the stress about how exhausted you’re going to be the next day kicks in, and that makes it even harder to doze off or get back to sleep.
You’re not alone. Up to 1 in 5 Americans have trouble sleeping, but there are a few simple tips that can help you sleep better. Best of all, they’re all natural —no sleeping pills needed! — so you can mix and match them until you find the sleep solution that works best for you.
1. Work Up a Sweat
Exercise is a great energy booster, so it might seem counterintuitive that it can also help you sleep. But research has shown that regular workouts not only lower your stress levels but can also improve sleep quality. Just try to leave some space between your workout and your bedtime, especially if strenuous exercise leaves you feeling recharged. “Recognize your body — are you wired after a workout, or so tired you can sleep?” says Elika Kormeili, a clinical psychologist and insomnia therapist in Los Angeles. If you find yourself up until the wee hours after a late-night workout, see if you can squeeze in a morning workout or lunch-hour run instead.
2. Ditch the Late-Night Comfort Foods
We know watching Sunday night football without a beer in hand just feels wrong, but what you eat (and drink!) before bed can play a big role in how well you sleep. Obviously full-caff coffee is a bad choice, but alcohol — or even a big dinner — can also interfere with sleep. “You don’t want a heavy meal before bed,” Kormeili says. Still, if your stomach is growling it can make it hard to go to sleep, so if you’re hungry before bed, Kormeili recommends a small, protein-rich snack to keep you feeling full.
3. Turn Down The Heat
Don’t get too warm and cozy under the covers — research has shown heat can affect slow-wave sleep and REM sleep. “Ideally, you want to sleep in a cooler room,” Kormeili says. “Your body temperature needs to drop to help you sleep.” Turn your thermostat down a few degrees at night, and avoid taking a warm bath or shower right before bed.
4. Sniff Something Lavender
Plenty of herbs and scents are rumored to help you unwind, but the science behind them is pretty inconclusive. Lavender, however, shows promise for restless sleepers — a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser may increase sleep quality.
5. End Screen Time Earlier
When the sun goes down, the pineal gland releases the hormone melatonin, which signals the brain that it’s time to go to sleep. Since darkness is the trigger for melatonin, studies show the bright, blue light emitted by electronics can suppress your natural melatonin production. “TV, cell phones, and computer screens all stimulate our brain and make sleep more difficult,” Kormeili says, so resist the urge to check your email one last time before going to bed.“For people with insomnia, be sure to power down at least an hour before bedtime.”
Easier said than done, right? But yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques — like tensing and relaxing each muscle group, one by one — have all been shown to improve sleep quality. If your brain still won’t stop going a mile a minute at night, it may be worth talking to a doctor to rule out anxiety or sleep disorders. “These techniques are just band-aids if you don’t work with someone to address the thoughts that prevent you from sleeping,” Kormeili says.
7. Give Yourself a Break
If you’re still having trouble falling sleep, don’t force it. “After 20 minutes, if you’re not asleep, get out of bed and give yourself 20 minutes before trying again,” Kormeili says. “Otherwise you just reinforce negative thoughts like ‘I’ll never sleep’ or ‘It takes forever to fall asleep.'” Just don’t reach for the phone or flip on the television — instead, read a book or listen to relaxing music. You’ll doze off eventually, so try not to sweat it.