If you have trouble sleeping, try these tips from sleep medicine specialist Lisa Shives, MD, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill.
- No TV or computer two hours before bedtime. It’s not just because the TV and computer are stimulating; it’s also because of their light. “We’re very sensitive to the cue that light gives you that it’s time to be up and about,” Shives says. She recommends light, calming reading lit by a lamp that doesn’t shine directly into your eyes.
- No heavy exercise close to bedtime. Light stretching is OK, but vigorous activity will heat up your body’s core temperature, which makes it harder to sleep. “If you’re working up a sweat, you’re working too hard right before bed,” Shives says.
- Take a hot bath. That will heat up your core body temperature, but when you get out of the bath, your core temperature will fall, which may help you get to sleep. Plus, the bath “relaxes you mentally,” Shives says. She adds that having a hot, noncaffeinated drink, such as chamomile tea, may also help.
- Set a regular sleep schedule. When Shives treats insomnia patients, she tells them that although they can’t make themselves fall asleep, they can make themselves get up at a certain time the next morning. And though they may be tired at first, if they don’t nap, they may start sleeping better during the following nights. “We’re going to get nowhere if they take big naps during the day and keep a very erratic sleep schedule; it’s chaos then,” Shives says.
- Don’t count on weekend catch-up sleep. If you have chronic sleep problems, you probably can’t make up for that on the weekends. But if you generally sleep well and have a rough week, go ahead and sleep in on the weekend. “I actually think that’s good for the body,” Shives says.
- Don’t ignore chronic sleep problems. “Don’t let sleep troubles linger for months or years. Get to a sleep specialist earlier rather than later, before bad habits set in,” Shives says.
- Prioritize good sleep. “This is as important as diet and exercise,” Shives says. She says that in our society, “we disdain sleep, we admire energy and hard work and [have] this notion that sleep is just something that gets in the way.”