Anyone who has suffered from insomnia or had the privilege of caring for a newborn understands how a sleepless night can make you feel less than your best. Sleep restores the body, replenishes energy supply, strengthens the immune system and–just to be superficial for a moment–gives skin a glow that a lack of sleep immediately zaps. We should all aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but there are times in our lives when stress, anxiety, work and the demands of home life prevent that from happening. When sleep seems impossible, don’t lose hope; there are several tricks and tips that experts recommend to help you sleep through the night–and, yes, regain your sanity and gorgeous complexion.
1. Limit screen exposure before bed. It’s difficult to stop reading and responding to emails after a certain time, but it must be done for the sake of your health. “Blue light from screens disrupts melatonin production, which can make it difficult to fall asleep,” says Todd Nief, owner and director of training at South Loop Strength & Conditioning in downtown Chicago. “Theoretically, it would be wonderful to cut off all screen usage an hour or two before bed, but that’s not always realistic. There’s a free program called f.lux that reduces the blue light in computer screens after sunset. So, when you end up sending e-mails late at night, you can reduce the damage.”
2. Make your room pitch black. “Light in your room while you’re sleeping can disrupt sleep quality, even if it’s minimal (like an alarm clock),” Nief says. “Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. Blackout curtains area available everywhere, and it’s easy to remove electronics or turn them around so the light isn’t disruptive.”
3. Keep your room cool. “The body responds to cooler temperatures while it sleeps,” says Jennifer Owens, a holistic counseling and wellness expert. “Even a small drop in temp signifies to the body it is time to sleep. Bonus: sleeping in a slightly cooler room boosts your metabolism while you sleep.”
4. Set an alarm–for bedtime. “It can be hard to give up your late night time, since that may feel like the only time you have to yourself or the only time you can relax and do what you want to do,” Nief says. “Still, the body thrives on rhythms. So, if you can set an alarm for bedtime and go to sleep at around the same time every day, your circadian rhythm will adapt and you will start to feel consistently tired at the same time every day.”
5. Have a consistent wake-up time. If you’re sleeping in on the weekends or not waking up at the same time every day, it’s inevitably going to affect your nighttime sleep. “Many people who have insomnia will attempt to compensate by sleeping in late on weekends or by napping excessively in daytime, which is like the analogy: I don’t give my kids candy before dinner because it will ruin their appetite for their real dinner,” says Jose Colon, M.D., MPH, author, and founder of Paradise Sleep. “Sleeping in late or taking long naps to try to compensate for poor sleep is like ‘sleep candy’ that ruins your appetite for your healthy sleep.”
6. Don’t immediately turn to sleep drugs. It’s tempting to want to pop a pill (many of which are addictive) and end the torture of sleepless nights, but Colon reminds us that insomnia is a symptom, not the actual problem. “It may be from a sleep apnea, or restless legs, or anxiety, or psychophysiological insomnia,” Colon says. “And sleep aids may make someone comfortable, but they don’t treat the underlying symptom. It is prudent to work with a sleep specialist, not just a pulmonary doc that treats sleep apnea, but a true sleep specialist to identify and treat the underlying cause of insomnia.”
7. Relax. Whether you opt to meditate or try another relaxation technique, calming your body and your mind prior to bedtime is a surefire way to get to sleep faster. “Recent studies suggest that guided imagery can be especially helpful for people who have insomnia, or a host of other stress related issues such as high blood pressure, depression, or anxiety,” Owens says. “You can find guided mediations online for free, just remember to turn your screen off!”
Another option: progressive muscle relaxation. Owens explains how it works: “You tense and relax your muscles one at a time while taking deep breaths starting with your feet, legs, pelvis, core, arms, hands, and then your face. For example, your tense your right foot for about five seconds while inhaling and then your relax your foot for another five seconds while slowly exhaling. This is a very powerful and useful technique, that will leave you feeling completely relaxed and ready for sleep! Bonus, this technique reduces muscle tension and symptoms of chronic stress.”
8. Have a bedtime ritual. If you have kids, you know the importance of establishing a ritual that prepares them for a night of rest. Adults reap the same benefits from ritual. “I recommend for people engage in a bedtime ritual to increase the signals to your body that you are ready for sleep,” Owens says. “For example, drinking a warm cup of tea, brushing your teeth and reading for 20 minutes every single night will increase the chances of feeling sleepy, and this normalizes circadian rhythms, thus increasing the quality of your sleep.”
For more beauty and health tips, check out 6 things every woman should do to her hair before going to sleep and the pros and cons to the 3 most popular sleeping positions.