Falling asleep is a natural process, so it should be easy, right? Ha! We wish. Of course, we've all had trouble getting to sleep at some point. But for many of us, it's a nightly struggle.
According to the CDC, about a third of us get fewer than six hours of sleep every night. But insomnia is actually more common among women than men. Without sleep, we have a harder time feeling optimistic and having gratitude. Weirdly, we also find it harder to have a sense of humor. And unfortunately, sleep deprivation can cause some seriously impaired driving.
We've heard all the classic advice (keep your timing consistent, limit caffeine, get your exercise in), but we're ready for the next steps. To help all of us get those necessary ZZZs, we're collecting our favorite sleep tips — all backed by recent studies.
Take A Break From Your Tracker
There are definitely some situations in which tracking your sleep is a good idea. For instance, it can help you connect the dots between a stressful team meeting every Tuesday and your tossing and turning every Tuesday night. Bu, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, there are other scenarios in which those fitness trackers might be causing our bad sleep.
In particular, the authors are concerned that our quest for perfect sleep is actually increasing our anxiety and giving us unrealistic expectations for what being well-rested feels like. Plus, because they're not always totally accurate, trackers might mislead you into thinking you had a rough night even if you got a solid amount of deep sleep.
So, if you think your tracker is helping you out, that's great. But if thinking about your sleep data brings on more questions than answers, then it might be time to give it a rest.
Stick With Sushi
You probably already know that what you eat can mess with your sleep. But that doesn’t mean that takeout is totally off the table. When we talked to Lisa Young, PhD, RD, CDN last month, she told us that sushi is a solid bet because it comes with the perfect ratio of carbs to lean protein — and you might get a little avocado or cucumber in there for added nutrients too.
But be sure to pass on the spicy rolls, fried tempura, and wasabi if you can since those are harder for your body to digest and may leave you awake (and uncomfortable).
Really, Clean Your Room
Sorry to sound like your mom all of a sudden, but according to a fair amount of recent research, the clutter in your bedroom may be keeping you awake.
And it does, unfortunately make sense: Seeing your half-put-away laundry and half-washed dishes gives you the sense that you’ve still got work to do (even just thinking about the need to organize is a significant source of stress for many). That can cause an uneasy sense of alertness and anxiety, making it hard to relax enough to get to sleep.
That means that cleaning your room — and keeping it clean — is really as necessary as mom always made it sound.
Don’t Forget The Moon
It’s not just light from the sun that can mess with your sleep habits — according to a small 2013 study that appeared in Current Biology, the moon might be keeping you awake, too. The researchers measured how long it took 17 participants to fall asleep, how well they slept, and what their brain activity was doing during the night. They found that participants took an extra five minutes to fall asleep on nights with a full moon — and they slept an average of 20 minutes less during those nights, too.
Although those numbers aren’t huge, they might be significant for those of us dealing with chronic sleep issues. So, if you think the moon might be interrupting your slumber, keep track of the lunar phases and prep with some melatonin or a nice, hot bath before hitting the hay on the days when the moon is full.
Block Out The Sun
Of course it’s easier to fall asleep in a darker room, but it’s also easier to stay asleep that way too. And new research suggests that might be even more important for women than men.
The study, published recently in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that women’s circadian rhythms are operating about two hours ahead of those in men. As a result, women are more likely to have sleep issues, including waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep. So those black-out curtains are a must. And, if you do find yourself awake in the early morning hours, avoid as much light exposure as possible (including your phone) so you can get a few more ZZZs in before your alarm goes off.
Work Out Relationship Issues
We’ve known for a while now that the quality of your sleep affects your relationship. And it makes sense, right? If you’re tossing and turning, your anxiety is going to be dialed up, leading to some unfortunate tension with your partner. But a new study published in the journal Social Personality and Psychological Science suggests that the effect goes both ways: Not only does your sleep mess with your relationship, but if things are stressful with your partner, you can expect that to translate into some sleepless nights (and not the fun kind).
So it’s easy to see how one argument or one string of nights of poor sleep could set up a vicious cycle. That means the key is breaking that cycle. And, if your relationship has become a source of anxiety in your life, it’s time to take a look at what’s going on. Talk it out with your partner (and don’t be afraid to call in a professional), and you’ll be on the road to sweeter nights — in every way.
Indulge In A “Second Sleep”
It sounds too good to be true, but a few researchers recently argued that sleeping twice a day is actually good for us. In fact, having a “second sleep” was the norm until around the 17th century, when industrial jobs made that more difficult. Since then, getting good sleep has become a luxury, and sleeping more than once a day has become but a dream. But so many of us are so sleep-deprived that this kind of "bi-phasic" sleep may be the only way for us to feel truly rested.
Plus, if your circumstances allow and you're really having trouble falling asleep at night, there may be benefits to taking the modern equivalent of a second period of sleep: a nap. Research suggests that taking a quick afternoon nap gives us more energy than an extra cup of coffee (which can affect your ability to fall asleep later that night) — and it may actually help undo some of the physical effects of office stress. But be sure to keep it under 30 minutes, and don't forget to bring your pillow.
Get Out Of Bed
If you've had a rough night of rolling around, it's tempting to stay in bed later, take a nap, and even go to bed earlier. While that will likely make you feel better in the short-term, a recent study suggests that spending that extra time under the covers might set you up for even more poor sleep in the future.
For the study, over 500 people kept detailed sleep diaries for six months. Of those, 67 developed insomnia during that time. But the participants who spent less time in bed (meaning they tried their best to stick to their normal sleep schedule) were more likely to recover, while those who spent more and more time in bed developed chronic insomnia. The takeaway: To keep your problems from getting worse, do your best to stick to your trusty sleep schedule, even if you're extra tired. The researchers think this works because it trains your body to fall asleep at the right times.
Check Your Thyroid
Speaking of professionals, if you've tried all the usual sleep advice (e.g. going to bed at the same time every night and avoiding caffeine) and you're still having trouble, it might be time to see a doctor. One thing that could be going on is thyroid trouble. This butterfly-shaped gland in your neck is responsible for the production of hormones that affect both your mood and your energy — two things very closely related to sleep. And when your thyroid gets out of whack, either producing too much or too little of those hormones, it can cause you to feel tired all the time — or to feel extra wired.
Thyroid issues aren't the most common reason for sleep troubles. But your doctor can check your thyroid hormone levels and if needed, prescribe medications that can help get you back on track.
Make A Ritual
When we talked to Arianna Huffington about achieving better sleep, her biggest piece of advice was to get a ritual going. She suggests taking a nice warm bath, taking your phone out of your room, and turning off your lights well before you actually want to fall asleep.
Other sleep experts have long advised doing the same few things before going to bed — every single night. The idea is to get your body and your mind into a relaxed Sleep Mode before your head hits the pillow. And consistency makes those cues stick. Having that solid routine will hopefully minimize tossing and turning — and maximize your time in dreamland.
Track Your Period
It's no secret that our hormones play a role in pretty much every major bodily function. So perhaps it's no surprise that the monthly ebb and flow of estrogen and progesterone can affect our sleep.
The change that's most noticeable comes right before you get your period. Here, melatonin levels will drop as progesterone rises. It may be especially hard to fall asleep during these nights, but if you're tracking your cycle, you'll have a better idea of when to preemptively take that extra melatonin, warm bath, or Sleepytime tea.
Grab Some Extra Fiber
Our meals and our ZZZ's are more connected than we realize. So what you eat can have a huge impact on how you sleep that night. And, as new research suggests, you can plan your food for the ultimate snooze.
The study, published recently in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, tracked what 26 participants ate and how they slept for five nights in a lab. Interestingly, they found that participants who ate more saturated fats and refined carbs tended to wake up more often during the night and spend less time in the deepest, more restorative stages of sleep.
On the flip side, those who ate more fiber experienced a deeper sleep. So try to fill up on leafy greens and whole grains during the day for more refreshing dream-filled nights.
Curb The Social Media Madness
We know that using our various screens too close to bedtime can mess with our ability to drift off into dreamland. But a new study suggests there may be something particularly troubling about using those screens to catch up with our social media platform of choice.
In the study, to be published in an upcoming issue of Preventive Medicine, about 1,800 young adults (between the ages of 19 and 32) were asked about their social media use and sleeping habits. Those who used their various social media apps more often and for longer durations reported more frequent sleep disturbances.
So it's not just that you're looking at the screen, but what you're looking at. And as our own Lucie Fink recently found out, cutting down that virtual friend time may also help us remember what matters most IRL.
Try Melatonin — But Not Every Night
Supplements are tricky. What works for one person won't for another — or maybe, it'll give that person insane dreams and fatigue the next day. And because supplements aren't regulated like other drugs, there's not always a lot of solid research out there to go on. But melatonin is a pretty solid choice for sleep troubles, just know it's more effective in some situations than others.
In one study, melatonin was able to knock out participants in a hospital — even when surrounded by noise. But it doesn't seem like those beneficial effects stick around for too long. In a 2013 study of long-term melatonin use, the benefits wore off after 6 to 12 months of consistent use. So although melatonin may be great for emergency use, it's not something you want to end up relying on.
Don't Be Afraid To Call On A Professional
If you're dealing with nearly constant insomnia, you might want to seek some outside help. And although that might sound intimidating, a recent study found that most people got better sleep after just one session of therapy.
Specifically, this and other research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help those with insomnia. This type of therapy focuses on giving people tools to assess their thought and behavior patterns and make concrete steps towards improving them. But this study suggests that getting that improvement doesn't have to be a huge investment.