The finest minds in medicine still don't exactly understand why we sleep. But they do know this: Many of us aren't getting enough of it and, often, what we do get isn't very restorative. Check out these tips to help you get more rest.
As a nation of under sleepers, we not only survive but thrive on caffeine. But caffeine locks us into a feedback loop where we use it in ever-increasing amounts to overcome the sleep deficit that it helps cause. So avoid caffeine after noon -- it can stay in the system up to 12 hours.
Rearrange your activities so things get progressively quieter as bedtime approaches. Family finances, overflow from work, or planning that visit from your in-laws may be necessary, but don't do it in the few hours before bedtime. "Make the bedroom a haven," recommends Donna Arand, clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio. "Remove computers and televisions from the bedroom and don't use it as an office or for work-related activities."
Alcohol and nicotine are major sleep disrupters. Avoid them several hours before bedtime. While alcohol will initially make you sleepy, after a few hours it acts like a stimulant, causing you to toss and turn.
A cup of warm milk really does work. Milk is a source of L-tryptophan, an amino acid long known to help sleep. A light snack at bedtime can help too. Protein foods, especially poultry, are good sources of tryptophan.
If you can't go to bed early, getting ready -- washing up, putting on your pajamas, setting the alarm clock, lowering the lights, fluffing the bedclothes -- an hour before usually puts you in the mind-set for sleep.
Thick bedclothes and attire are a comfort when you first crawl into bed, but as you sleep they can overinsulate your body and turn uncomfortably hot. Wear something light, set the thermostat a few degrees cooler, and use a fan to keep air circulating.
Everyone has an internal body clock that controls cycles of sleepiness and wakefulness. Bright light from the sun resets our body clock every day. No matter what time we go to bed, sunlight streaming through the window can wake us up. Blackout drapes can be an easy way of squeezing a little more sleep out of the morning, especially on weekends.
Hitting the snooze button so the alarm goes off repeatedly in the morning only loses you quality sleep time. Make the most of your time in bed by setting the alarm for the latest time possible. If you must use the snooze alarm, hit it only once.