You've done all the obvious stuff--cut out late-night caffeine, made sure your bedroom is dark and cozy, avoided scary movies or struggling with your to-do list right before bed. So why are you still tossing and turning?
"Certain habits you're unaware of could be sabotaging your sleep," says Kristen L. Knutson, PhD, assistant professor and sleep specialist at the University of Chicago's Department of Medicine.
And, as you may know, lack of shut-eye doesn't just leave you foggy the next day: Chronic, long-term insufficient sleep ups your odds of diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, even weight gain. So what to do? Try these unexpected tweaks, and wake up feeling incredibly well-rested.
Step 1: Halt your afternoon habit It's a no-brainer that drinking coffee or tea right before you hit the sack won't do you any sleep favors. But you also need to watch your afternoon drinks, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, a clinical associate professor at Boston University. Love your 4 p.m. peach tea? It's got caffeine, and so do some flavored waters and even orange sodas, Blake warns. Check the labels on your favorite midday drinks--any that boast energy-boosting benefits are likely culprits. Then, if possible, stop sipping them by 2 p.m., so there's time for their effects to wear off. Naturally, coffee drinks pack a real wallop, so stay away from them after lunch.
Step 2: Choose sleep superfoods While it's important to avoid a big, heavy meal right before bed (a full stomach will disturb your sleep), some foods may actually help you snooze, Blake says. If you've had a few nights of restless sleep, make a light whole-wheat-pasta dish with fresh vegetables, a little diced chicken breast, tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of Parmesan for dinner. This meal contains a snooze-friendly combination of protein and tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to sleep-promoting serotonin in the body. If your stomach's growling late at night, try a small bowl of cottage cheese with banana slices, another dish that serves up tryptophan. Other combos of healthy carbs and protein, such as milk and graham crackers or yogurt sprinkled with cereal, will also do the trick.
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Step 3: Sip wine sooner Even though a nightcap may help you relax and fall asleep faster, it'll make the second half of your sleep cycle restless and unsatisfying. Alcohol decreases deep sleep and increases arousals from sleep, says John E. Brown, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland. If you like a glass of wine in the evening, have it with dinner--around 6 p.m. rather than 11--and drink in moderation, so it'll wear off by the time you lie down.
Step 4: Take an early soak Like to unwind in the tub before you snooze? Surprisingly, a hot bath might make it harder for you to drift off: Doing anything that raises your body temperature too close to bedtime may actually hinder you from falling asleep, because your body needs to cool to a certain temperature in order to reach a sound slumber, says J. Todd Arnedt, PhD, director of the University of Michigan Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program. That doesn't mean you can't soak after a rough day--when you get home from work, not right before turning in.
Step 5: Stretch for sleep You probably already know that exercising at night can disrupt sleep. (Dr. Brown recommends doing any intense workouts at least six hours before you slip between the sheets.) But getting in a little gentle, restorative yoga before you hit the sack can help put your mind at ease, steady your breath, and reduce muscle tension without revving up your heart. Try this restful Reclined Butterfly pose from Tanya Boulton, managing teacher at Pure Yoga East in New York City: Lie on your back with the soles of your feet together and your knees bent and dropping toward the floor. Place your arms, palms up, by your sides, keeping your shoulders back and your chest open. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose while slowly counting to four, then exhale while counting back down to one. Continue for 10 minutes, or as long as it takes you to feel fully relaxed.
Step 6: Set the mood for slumber Keeping your room dark while you sleep is a great start, but bringing the lights down before bed is also important. "Bright light too close to bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep," Arnedt says. That's because dimness signals the biological clock that it's time to wind down, while bright light says "daytime!" Swap out überbright bedroom bulbs for low-watt ones, or install a dimmer switch and keep it low. Like to read in bed? Do it in the lowest light that's still comfortable.
Step 7: Ban your BlackBerry Need to send out one last e-mail before you "officially" turn in? Not so fast. Typing in bed can wind you up, so when you do unplug, it will be harder to fall asleep, Knutson says. "It's possible that even the vibration of a BlackBerry could disturb sleep if a person is cued to hear or respond to it," she says.
For tech-free Zzz's, disconnect an hour before bed, turn your smartphone off, and put any gadgets on an out-of-reach dresser or in another room so you won't be able to grab it if you get the late-night urge. Also, invest in a real alarm clock (using your cell will only give you another excuse to keep it close)--and get ready to wake up feeling so refreshed that you won't even need to press snooze.