1. Regularize your schedule. Get up about the same time every day, regardless of how much sleep you got. This is the single most effective way to keep body rhythms in tune. A consistent bedtime helps too, although it is less crucial.
2. Program yourself mentally for sleep with daily rituals. Walk the dog, watch the news, have a snack. Include tactics you can "take along" on trips.
3. Keep your bedroom dark or wear eyeshades. Darkness tells the brain it is time to sleep. Open window shades or curtains as soon as you get up in the morning, when sunlight provides an alerting signal. If you have a secluded bedroom, leave the windows uncovered and let sunlight awaken you gradually.
4. Keep your bedroom quiet. This sends another sleep signal to the brain.
5. Keep your bedroom cool. This will promote the decline in body temperature critical to restful sleep.
6. Go to bed only when sleepy. You're already halfway there.
7. Reserve bed and bedroom for sleep and sex. If you watch TV, snack, chat on the phone, and do paperwork in bed, you create cues for wakefulness, not sleep. Some people aren't bothered by this, but you may be.
8. If you can't fall asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed. When the gate to sleep is closed, you can't force it open. You have to wait until it opens on its own. Be patient, but be ready. Don't start baking a cake.
9. If you nap, limit time lying down to 30 minutes in mid-afternoon. A regular nap at the sleepiest time of the waking day may help you sleep better at night by easing worries about not getting enough sleep.
A 20-minute nap is enough to boost alertness for several hours. If you're really sleep-deprived and need to catch up, set an alarm to awaken you after either 90 minutes or three hours, allowing you to enjoy one or two full sleep cycles.
Caution: Avoid naps if they make your nighttime sleep worse.
10. Take a hot bath 90 minutes before bedtime. Soaking in 105 degree F water for 30 minutes raised body temperature by nearly one degree in a group of women with insomnia, Cynthia Dorsey found in a study at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA. On getting out of the tub, the women's temperatures plummeted.
And they got more deep sleep afterward. The hot bath improved sleep as much as widely prescribed sleeping pills.
11. Exercise regularly. Some people have trouble falling asleep after intense and prolonged stimulating exercise. But exercise that is not too strenuous can serve as a time cue to help foster sleep several hours later, particularly if you do it outside in daylight hours. Within a few hours of bedtime, it also may promote sleep by raising body temperature temporarily, much as hot bath does.
12. Avoid caffeine within five hours of bedtime. Even if it does not keep you from falling asleep, it's likely to make sleep more restless.
13. Don't drink alcohol or smoke near bedtime. A so-called "nightcap" may make you sleepy, but alcohol's rebound effect disturbs sleep. Nicotine is another stimulant that interferes with sleep.
14. If you are a bedtime worrier, find 30 minutes earlier in the day to focus on problems. Write your worries down, a tactic that often points to possible solutions. Or try Napoleon's trick: To combat bedtime worries, he allegedly envisioned a chest with many drawers.
He mentally stuffed each problem into a drawer and shut it tight. When all his problems were tucked away, he fell asleep.
15. Forget about counting sheep. It's too slow a method of distraction, according to Richard Bootzin of the University of Arizona. "A person can count sheep and still worry," he said, adding, "It's better to get out of bed, jot down some notes, and think about the problem in the morning, when problems seldom loom as large."
16. Use escapist fantasy. Robert Louis Stevenson said his father put himself to sleep every night of his life with stories of ships, roadside inns, robbers, old sailors, and commercial travelers before the era of steam.
"He never finished one of these romances," Stevenson wrote. "The lucky man did not require to!"
17. Learn relaxation techniques, such as muscle relaxation, meditation, or yoga, and use them regularly. These may help reduce stress both day and night.
18. If you awaken frequently in the night, turn your clock around so you can't see it. This may keep you from obsessing about how much sleep you have gotten so far, how long you've been awake, and how badly you may feel tomorrow if you don't get to sleep right away.
19. If you sleep poorly, use a sleep diary to help identify possible triggers. Note what helps and what harms your sleep. Sleep problems fall into four basic categories: "I can't sleep," "I sleep too much,"
"My bed partner says strange things happen when I sleep," And "I can't sleep when I want to." The first and last of these may reflect "circadian rhythm" sleep disorders. (See "Word to the Wise," below.)
20. If sleep problems persist, see your doctor. Medications you may be taking for other illnesses may be disturbing your sleep, or you may have a sleep disorder. If you snore loudly and are excessively sleepy in the daytime, for example, you may have sleep apnea -- and you may need a sleep specialist. Find accredited sleep centers near you at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's website (www.aasmnet.org).
Learn more about sleep at websites of the National Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org), and Sleep Research Society (www.sleephomepages.org). The American Sleep Apnea Association is at www.sleepapnea.org.
(Ed. Note: The above article was reproduced with permission from "The Body Clock Guide to Better Health: How to Use Your Body's Natural Clock to Fight Illness and Achieve Maximum Health," by Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., and Lynne Lamberg
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