There are few feelings as terrible as rolling out of bed still exhausted, aching from a night of tossing and turning. Sleep is such a simple, natural thing, but for a lot of people a good night’s sleep has become a distant dream. If you’ve tried everything with no success, talk to your physician or perhaps consider spending the night at a sleep clinic. Before that, though, here are our top seven tips to help you sleep like a baby.

1. Think ahead throughout the day

Do some exercise to tire yourself out a bit. Don’t push yourself until you’re exhausted, but do enough that you increase your heart rate for a little while. However, be careful when you exercise. Doing activity right before bed will get you worked up and make it even more difficult to fall asleep, so try to avoid much exercise after dinner. Also avoid napping after midafternoon or you might not be tired enough to drift off when bedtime rolls around.

Also watch what you eat and drink, especially in the hours before bed. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants. If possible, avoid them for at least four hours before you turn in. Additionally, keep in mind that caffeine isn’t only in coffee. Tea, chocolate, soda, and even some pain medications (particularly those for migraines) have caffeine.

Alcohol might seem like it eases you off to sleep easily, but that’s not really the case. After a few hours, alcohol begins to act like a stimulant, too, which means it can lower sleep quality later on. Avoid alcoholic drinks for about three hours before bedtime.

2. Establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine

This is pretty straight-forward. Prepare yourself for bedtime by going through a relaxing routine. Don’t do anything that gets you stressed, excited, or worked up. Instead, choose something that relaxes you. A few ideas include:

  • Read a book
  • Take a bath
  • Do some light, sleep-promoting yoga
  • Listen to music or an audiobook
  • Call a friend to chat
  • Set clothes out for the next day

Be warned, though: electronic screens suppress the production of melatonin and stimulate the mind, so watching TV, using a computer or laptop, playing with a smartphone, or reading on a lit e-reader are not good ideas.

3. Stay on a fairly regular sleep schedule

Train your body to know when it’s time to go to sleep and time to wake up. If your bedtime varies wildly between eight and midnight, your body won’t know for sure if it’s supposed to sleep yet or not. Similarly, if you get up at the same time each weekday morning, don’t sleep in an extra three hours on the weekend. It’ll throw off your entire sleep schedule when you’re not tired at the normal time.

To figure out when you ought to go to bed, work backwards from when you have to get up. The average adult needs around seven or eight hours of sleep. If you get up at six each morning, get to bed around ten each night. Keep to your schedule long enough, and your body will learn it so well that you almost won’t need an alarm in the mornings.

4. Make your bedroom a sanctuary

The biggest thing you can do to make your bedroom a sanctuary is to use it only for sleep and sex. If you spend hours watching TV in bed, your body will become conditioned to reclining in bed without sleeping. Train your body to expect sleep when you lie down in bed, and it’ll get a little easier to doze off at bedtime.

Keep your bedroom quiet. If you have to, use a “white noise” device or a smartphone app, or pick up some earplugs.

You can also use light to help yourself sleep. If it’s still light out when you hit the sack, invest in some blackout curtains or an eye mask. Avoid very bright lights, including the ultra-bright lights popular in bathrooms; consider installing dimmers or swapping out your light bulbs for lower-light ones. When you get up in the morning, let in the morning light and allow it to help you wake up.

5. Get the perfect bed

Make sure you’ve got a comfortable mattress and pillow. This means replacing them when they’re getting worn or lumpy. Mattresses are good for about eight years. Pillows’ lifespans vary depending on quality, so replace it when you notice you’re waking with a sore neck or having to fluff your pillow more often than you used to. Look for pillows that are suggested for your sleeping position, like side-sleeper or back-sleeper pillows.

When you buy a new mattress, the most important thing to remember is that it’s your mattress, so make sure it’s comfortable to you. Try mattresses out in the store, and don’t be afraid to lay on a mattress for 20 minutes. Don’t get talked into a more expensive mattress if you found a cheaper one that’s more comfortable. If you share the bed, consider a bed that allows you to adjust the firmness on each side, like the Sleep Number bed. For anyone with allergies, look for a hypoallergenic mattress.

Check before buying a mattress to make sure you can return it if it doesn’t work, because there’s no better test of a mattress than to sleep on it every night for a week. Many mattress stores allow exchange for a month or more after purchase.

If you can’t afford a new mattress at the moment, look into foam mattress toppers or pillow top covers to make your old mattress a little more comfortable. You can also find hypoallergenic mattress covers.

6. If it’s not working, get up and try again later

The digital clock on the nightstand can get downright infuriating if you just can’t get to sleep, so turn it around to avoid the dreaded “If I fall asleep now..” countdown. Try for a while to fall asleep, but if it’s just not working, don’t lay there worrying over how long it’s taking you to fall asleep. Get up, go to a different room, do something relaxing (without using any electronic screens or very bright lights), and try again when you’re feeling tired.

When you go back to bed, try to find a comfortable sleeping position and stay there. Tossing and turning aren’t going to help.

7. Know when to ask for help

If nothing is working and your fatigue is interfering with your day-to-day life, ask for a little help. Talk to your physician about your sleep problems and why you think you have trouble. Ask about natural sleep remedies, as well as sleep studies or prescription sleep aids.

What helps you get to sleep and stay asleep?

Image by Tamaki Sono via Flickr

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