On any given night, you go through a series of 90-minute sleep cycles, first entering light sleep, which then becomes deeper, followed by REM—rapid-eye-movement—sleep, a period associated with intense dreams. In the next 90 minutes, you experience deeper sleep, then REM sleep, and so on. To complete about five cycles—the number required for maximum cell repair—takes about seven hours (the sweet spot of sleeping). Here’s how to start getting more z’s.
Create transition time between the insanity of your day and the peace you require at night.
“Most of us don’t get any downtime until the moment we go to sleep, but we really need that to clear our minds, level ourselves, and prepare for sleep,” says Helene Emsellem, clinical professor of neurology at George Washington University and director of the Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase.
Take a lavender bubble bath (or use the scent in your evening shower).
A study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the floral scent helped insomniacs sleep more soundly.
Stretch it out instead of working out.
A few yoga poses before bed can relax the mind and body, but stay away from intense or heart-rate-boosting workouts before bedtime.
Fade to black 30 minutes before bedtime.
Most of us already know that TVs, computers, and cell phones make it harder to fall asleep by keeping us distracted and by emitting blue light that suppresses the production of sleep-inducing melatonin. But limiting all light exposure, even that from a bright bedside lamp, helps the brain prepare for sleep, says Emsellem. If you’re a nighttime reader, she recommends using a light that clips onto your book, or preferably listening to a book on tape in the dark.
Turn the alarm clock away from you.
Notwithstanding the bright glow, seeing the minutes tick away can heighten anxiety about not getting enough sleep, which adds to the insomniac’s Catch-22: The more you think about the sleep you’re not getting, the less sleep you get.
Invest in blackout curtains and a white-noise machine.
The former will keep you sleeping longer, and the latter will drown out any little noises that may wake you.
Drink warm milk instead of that glass of wine.
If your goal is shuteye, skip the alcohol and make like a four-year-old. A soothing glass of warm milk can help you fall asleep, just like Mom always told you.