When you’re awake at 3 a.m., falling asleep may seem impossible, but good sleep is more within your control than you might think. Healthy sleeping habits can mean the difference between restless sleep and restful sleep. Researchers have identified a number of “sleep hygiene” practices and habits that can help anyone, including those suffering from insomnia, jet lag, or shift work, get the most out of their sleep.

Sleep hygiene may seem unimaginative, but it may be the best way to get the sleep you need in this 24/7 age. Here are a few simple tips to help you get the sleep you need every night:

Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Disrupt Sleep Should be Avoided.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake, as any coffee drinker knows. For four to six hours before bedtime, avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers). Smokers should avoid using tobacco products too close to bedtime as well.

Although alcohol may aid sleep, it acts as a stimulant after a few hours, increasing the number of awakenings and decreasing the overall quality of sleep later in the night. Limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and avoid drinking within three hours of going to bed.

Create a Sleep-Inducing Environment in Your Bedroom

Sound slumber can be aided by a quiet, dark, and cool environment. Why do you think bats spend their days sleeping in caves? Reduce the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance to create this environment.

Blocking light with heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask is a powerful cue for the brain to wake up. Keep the room cool (between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and well ventilated. Also, ensure that your bedroom has a comfortable mattress and pillows. (Keep in mind that most mattresses last about ten years.)

Also, if your pet regularly wakes you up in the middle of the night, you might want to keep it out of your bedroom.

Limiting your bedroom activities to sleep and sex may be beneficial. Keeping computers, televisions, and work materials out of your bedroom will strengthen the mental link between sleep and your bedroom.

Create a Relaxing Pre-Sleep Routine

Allow an hour or so before bedtime to relax and ease the transition from wake time to sleep time. Take a bath, read a book, watch TV, or do relaxation exercises (the rise and fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness). 

Work, discussing emotional issues, and other stressful, stimulating activities should be avoided. Stressful physical and psychological activities can cause the body to secrete cortisol, a stress hormone linked to increased alertness. If you have a habit of bringing your problems to bed with you, try writing them down and then putting them aside.

Early Exercise

Exercise, when done at the right time, can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better. Exercise causes the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which aids in the activation of the brain’s alerting mechanism. Unless you’re trying to fall asleep, this is fine. Exercising at least three hours before bedtime or working out earlier in the day is recommended.

Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule to Maintain Your Internal Clock

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day trains the body’s “internal clock” to anticipate sleep at the same time every night. To avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover, try to stick to your routine as much as possible on weekends. The best way to set your clock is to wake up at the same time every day, and even if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, the extra sleep drive will help you sleep better the next night.

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