15 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight, According to Experts
Despite all the information out there about how to catch more zzz’s — from meditating before bed to avoiding screens — many of us are still struggling. Indeed, one in three American adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And while there are many potential reasons why we can’t get enough shut-eye, part of the problem may be that we don’t know what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to healthy sleep habits. In a recent study published in Sleep Health, researchers looked at 8,000 websites to determine some common myths about sleep and found that many commonly held beliefs — like drinking a glass of wine before bed helps you snooze — are flat-out wrong.
“The population generally knows a lot about nutrition and exercise, but there are some things about sleep that still persist, whether they’re old wives tales or things people just aren’t sure about,” says Rebecca Robbins, PhD, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health.
So how do you know what actually works? Here are 15 science-backed ways to start sleeping better, according to experts:
1. Establish a routine.
Going to bed at around the same time every night isn’t just a good idea for kids. If you’ve ever felt the effects of jet lag, then you know how just a few hours difference can throw off your brain and your body, even lowering the quality of the sleep you do get.
“If sometimes your bedtime is at 10 p.m. and sometimes it’s 2 a.m., your body doesn’t know when it’s supposed to be asleep,” says Ilene Rosen, MD, program director for the University of Pennsylvania Sleep Fellowship and the former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). “It will go into a lighter stage of sleep.”
2. Skip the nightcap.
“What we see in the literature is that people often consume alcohol before bedtime,” Dr. Robbins says. Unfortunately, a nightly glass of wine (or two) to unwind isn’t doing you any favors in the sleep department.
Not only do the latest dietary guidelines advise women to consume no more than seven drinks per week, but that evening cocktail can cause sleep fragmentation and disruption overnight. “It may help you fall it asleep, but it ruins the quality of your sleep,” explains Dr. Robbins. Instead, try sipping a caffeine-free herbal tea — like lavender or chamomile — to help you unwind.
3. Turn down the thermostat.
Think “cave” when you’re setting up your bedroom for sleep, Dr. Rosen advises: “You want it to be very dark, cool, and quiet.” Lowering the temperature — at least below 70 — sends a special physiological signal to your brain that it’s time for bed because your core body temperature drops when you’re snoozing, she explains.
4. Avoid screens.
Watching The Office until you pass out can quickly become a go-to routine, but the laptop, tablet, phone, or TV you’re binging on is counteracting your body’s natural sleepiness by emitting blue light, a specific wavelength also found in sunlight. “If you walk outside on a bright, sunny day, you’re instantly awake,” Dr. Robbins says. “Blue light is one of the triggers to our circadian rhythm, our biological clock for becoming awake.”
Likewise, the absence of light contributes to that heavy-eyelid feeling. So having a bright screen near your face right before bed? Not so great. Cut off the binge-watching at least 30 minutes beforehand to minimize the effects, the AASM advises.
5. Use your bed only for sleep.
Hanging out in bed — whether you’re reading books or even just lying there wide awake — isn’t the best idea. “There’s a belief that if you stay in bed and toss and turn, you’ll at least get some sleep — that some is better than none,” Dr. Robbins says. “That is not ideal because our bed becomes a stressful place where you really want your bed to be a sanctuary.”
Instead, get out of the bed after 15 minutes of trying to fall asleep, and do a boring activity in another room, like folding laundry. “This subconsciously tells the brain that it should be doing nothing else but sleep when the body is in the bed,” says Pradeep Bollu, M.D., a board-certified sleep specialist and neurologist with MU Health Care.
6. Don’t hit snooze.
It’s tempting to hit that button and grab an extra 10 minutes in the morning, but it’s really not worth your while, the study in Sleep Health indicated. “The sleep you’ll get subsequent to hitting the snooze bar is very, very poor quality,” Dr. Robbins says.
7. Exercise (in the morning).
Besides lowering your chronic disease risk, reducing feelings of anxiety, and promoting a healthy weight, working out also helps you feel more rested. “Aerobic exercises promote sleep and improve the sleep quality,” says Dr. Bollu.
Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises, and everything from brisk walking to active yoga to yard work counts.
Having said that, time your workout so you’re not getting stimulated late at night. “My general rule is to not exercise in the last couple hours before bedtime,” Dr. Bollu advises.
8. Nix naps.
Many people think taking a short siesta will help them catch up on the sleep that they’re struggling to get at night — but most experts polled in the Sleep Health paper rated this strategy as the wrong way to go.
If it takes you a really long time to fall asleep at night, you should give up on napping during the day, Dr. Rosen advises. Naps reduce the homeostatic sleep drive, which is the force that makes you feel tired at night. If you can’t hold out until bedtime, cap your nap to no longer than 30 minutes so you don’t enter deeper stages of sleep, Dr. Bollu says.
9. Watch your caffeine intake.
One Starbucks Venti can contain your entire daily recommended amount of caffeine — 300-400 mg per day, according to the most recent dietary guidelines. While this stimulant affects everyone differently, generally steer clear of it at least six hours before bed, says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute.
10. Try a white noise machine.
Listening to the latest Taylor Swift single isn’t exactly the best wind-down method. “Depending on how into the music you are, it may be hard to fall asleep and stay asleep,” Dr. Rosen says. “If you’re picking a noise to distract you, I would go with a white noise machine or one of the zen soundtracks.” The soothing sounds, lack of lyrics, and consistent volume will make it easier to zone out (and they’re less likely to wake you up if you leave them on).
11. Clean your room.
Washing your bedding will cut down on potential allergens like dust mites and pet dander than can trigger congestion, sneezing, and obstructed breathing and in turn, poor sleep, Dr. Rosen says. Ditch the throw pillows and stick with just the ones that support your body, she adds. Less clutter also means fewer potential distractions, so keep your reading, electronics, and work in another room.
12. Give pets their own beds.
Your dogs might be in for a rude awakening if they’re used to hopping under the covers with you. Not only do our animal friends leave behind allergens, but the fidgeting and noise can disrupt your sleep, especially during lighter stages. “The number one distractor is often pets,” Dr. Rosen says. “In those normal arousals that our brains are all having, having a pet right next you moving, doing whatever, might be just enough to wake you up.”
13. Don’t have a heavy dinner right before bed.
Since a high-fat meal takes so much longer to digest and absorb than a lighter one, it can keep you awake, London explains. Not only is your metabolism chugging along, but lying down can also contribute to acid reflux.
14. Eat more cherries and kiwi.
If hunger’s keeping you up, snack smartly by choosing cherry juice or a handful of dried cherries. “They can help boost melatonin production, which can help you fall asleep faster,” London says.
Not a cherry fan? Try eating a couple of kiwis, which appears to promote and enhance sleep in some initial studies. “The combination of serotonin and antioxidants found in kiwi may help with sleep quality,” London explains.
15. Embrace what relaxes you.
Whether it’s taking a warm bath or using a scented night cream, do whatever helps you unwind at night. “If you like aromatherapy and find lavender relaxes you, add it to your routine,” Dr. Rosen says. That said, don’t be afraid to try something new — and don’t give up if it doesn’t work right away: “You’re developing a habit, so try to stick to it for many nights in a row as you can to see if it helps,” she recommends.