You know the typical pattern: the blare of your alarm clock forces you up, but you can’t shake the zombie-like trance from another less-than-restful night. You chug espresso shots to make it through the day, but by bedtime you’re so wired, you lie awake in the dark scrolling through Facebook. After a fitful few hours of tossing and turning, the cycle starts again.
If this sounds like it’s ripped from the pages of your sleep journal, then you’re in good company. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 50 and 70 million U.S. adults don’t get enough sleep. The deficit is more than just an inconvenient consequence of a busy life; it’s a public health problem. Insufficient sleep has been linked to accidents on the job and behind the wheel, and it can even increase the odds of developing certain chronic diseases.
Luckily, a good night’s rest doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. With a few easy tweaks, you can start sleeping soundly and feeling better fast.
Why You Need Sleep and Why You’re Not Getting Enough
You know you should be getting shuteye, but do you know why? Sleep does so much more than leave you feeling rested — it’s crucial for your brain and body.
“Sleep is absolutely essential in nourishing our mind, body and spirit,” says Dan Dinenberg, a One Medical doctor in San Francisco. “Much like our laptops need to occasionally shut down in order to optimally perform, we need to ‘shut down’ every day too. This allows us to develop resilience, increase concentration, attention, creativity, and to get much needed overall health benefits.”
And speaking of laptops, yours might seriously be getting in the way of your nighttime opportunity to recharge. Yes, modern conveniences like electricity are awesome for obvious reasons, but the glare of bright lights and the glow of your devices can have a negative impact on your body’s natural sleep cycle.
This is a big deal for a lot of reasons. Beyond feeling burnt out, a chronic lack of sleep can increase your risk for serious illness like heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more.
7 Natural Ways to Get More Sleep Tonight
While you’ve likely seen plenty of sleep remedies on the pharmacy shelf, you can get more sleep the natural way by just implementing a few simple steps:
1. Cut back on caffeine.
This one may be painful, but you can do it with the right support. “My patients who are chronically sleep deprived typically reach for caffeine and medications to help with the afternoon energy crash,” Dinenberg says. “However, these substances interfere with our ability to get good quality sleep that night, so it becomes a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle.” To increase your odds of a good night’s sleep, limit your caffeine intake to 250 mg per day (the size of a tall Starbucks order) and switch to decaf or water later in the day.
2. Create a good sleep environment.
There are plenty of ways to make your bedroom more restful: blackout curtains and an eye mask can help you stay in the dark, and keeping the temperature below 67 degrees will give your body the chance to cool down, a natural sign that it’s time to sleep. Lastly, consider your bedroom a sanctuary for sex and sleep by removing any distractions — that includes TV!
3. Power down your devices or wear protective glasses.
The best thing you can do to sleep well is to shut down all electronics two hours before bedtime. Laptops, tablets and phones emit blue light, which lowers your levels of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. But if that’s totally unrealistic, consider getting a pair of blue-light blocking glasses to limit your exposure.
4. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week.
Studies show that simple physical activity, like walking for 150 minutes per week, can help people with insomnia get to sleep faster. “For many of my patients, the combination of increasing daily exercise and creating a ritual around going to sleep is a very successful first step in improving quality and quantity of sleep,” Dinenberg says.
5. Create a sleep schedule and stick to it every day.
Here’s where you have to be a little strict with yourself. Sticking to a sleep schedule isn’t just important during the workweek — it’s critical on the weekends too. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to rise and shine at 6 a.m. on Saturdays, but resist the urge to sleep in more than an extra hour or two and keep late-night partying in check as much as possible.
6. Draw a hot bath before bed.
Not only is it a relaxing nighttime ritual, but taking a hot bath will boost your body temperature. When you dry off, you’ll quickly cool down, which can help bring on that drowsy feeling.
7. Try meditation or deep breathing to calm your mind.
Rather than counting sheep, try focusing on your breath for 20 minutes before bed. Not sure how to meditate? Here are some tips to get you started.