In our can’t-stop-won’t-stop modern-day world, powering down our cell phones for a few hours or passing on that late-afternoon coffee can be a crippling thought. But here’s the thing: Thirty-five percent of Americans say their sleep quality sucks, according to the National Sleep Foundation—and there’s a pretty big connection between our crazy lifestyles and poor snooze quality.
Like it or not, if you want solid shuteye you’ll have to break up with a few old habits and pick up some new ones. But, c’mon, how good does not waking up tired sound?
Follow these expert-backed guidelines to reclaim your Zzz’s.
Get Your Morning Glow On
Setting yourself up for sleep starts in the morning. “The sooner you get a good dose of sunlight in the A.M., the easier it’ll be to fall asleep later that night,” says Robert S. Rosenberg, D.O., F.C.C.P., author of Sleep Solutions for Stress and Anxiety. Light triggers your brain’s release of chemicals that either help you wake up or feel sleepy (like melatonin), he explains. Bright sun in the morning helps to set your circadian rhythm so your body gets on schedule to wind down at night.
Yet another perk of hitting the gym: It helps you slumber. “People who exercise sleep better than those who don’t,” says Rosenberg. Yes, even if you exercise at night. While morning or afternoon workouts are ideal, you can work out within a few hours of bedtime and still sleep better than non-sweaters, he explains.
Cut The Caffeine
Seriously. It’s time to quit the late-afternoon java. Most adults need about six hours to metabolize caffeine, and it takes longer and longer as we age, says Rosenberg. (By the time you hit 50, you may need 12 hours to get that caffeine out of your system.) That means if you hit the hay around ten o’clock, you shouldn’t drink caffeine past three or four o’clock in the afternoon, he says.
That means most people shouldn’t drink caffeine past three or four o’clock in the afternoon, he says.
Here’s a downer: There’s caffeine in chocolate, too. (Your average cup of joe contains somewhere around 150mg caffeine, while a dark chocolate bar can land somewhere around 30mg, says the National Sleep Foundation.)
Swap The Vino For Tart Cherry Juice
You may think your cabernet nightcap helps you sleep better because you feel drowsy halfway through the glass, but drinking alcohol before bedtime can lead to sleep disturbances and waking later in the night, says Tori Schmitt, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., owner of YES! Nutrition, LLC.
If you’re really hankering to sip something red, go for tart cherry juice instead. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that drinking tart cherry juice morning and night reduced sleep disturbances in older men. What’s the secret here? “Tart cherries actually contain melatonin,” says Schmitt. This hormone helps regulate your internal clock and kicks up to settle your body down for sleep.
Step Away From Spicy Foods
Eating hot or spicy foods at night can sabotage your sleep, as spicy foods can raise your body temperature and sleep requires your body temperature to go down,” explains Rosenberg. .” Not to mention, if you’re prone to acid reflux, the last thing you want to do is spice up your stomach and then lie down, he says.
Make This Bedtime Snack Instead
Relax, you can still have a late-night nosh—as long as it’s the right one. Rosenberg recommends a combo of complex carbs and a little protein, like whole wheat crackers and almond butter. The carbs trigger an insulin response in your body by raising your blood sugar, he explains. That insulin then helps tryptophan (an amino acid found in most protein sources) convert to serotonin and melatonin, which help your body wind down.
Another star sleep ingredient: magnesium. “This mineral helps bind serotonin and dopamine in your body, relaxing your nervous system,” Rosenberg says. “It also blocks a stimulatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which also helps you calm down.” Magnesium can be found in many leafy greens, legumes, and nuts, according to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Schmitt likes to drink her magnesium before bed: “I mix a magnesium powder called Natural Calm into warm water every night,” she says.
Find Your Zen
Remember the bedtime routine you had as a kid? You may not be interested in digging up your old copy of Charlotte’s Web, but you can still benefit from a similar nighttime ritual. “Find a non-work-related activity to do for the hour before bedtime,” says Rosenberg. “That might be taking a warm bath, reading a book, listening to music, or even flipping through a catalog.” That way, you’re feeling super chill by the time you shuffle off to bed.
Please—Put Away The Phone
You’ve heard it before and we’ll tell you again. Using devices like your phone, laptop, or the TV at bedtime seriously screws with your body. “When blue light waves hit your retina, your brain gets the signal to shut down melatonin production,” says Rosenberg. You are literally tricking your body into thinking it’s morning and that you should be awake.
Don’t Force It
‘I have to get up at six o’clock tomorrow morning, so I need to go to sleep right now to get eight hours.’ Sound familiar? When your bedtime is based on the clock and not on your body, you set yourself up for stress—and possibly even later insomnia. “If you get in bed but feel wide awake, you often become anxious,” says Rosenberg. Just a few nights of staring at the ceiling and stressing about being awake can condition your brain to shoot out cortisol and adrenaline every time you hit the sheets—hello, insomnia.
When counting sheep is driving you crazy, “leave the bedroom and go read a book or put on some music,” says Rosenberg. Go back to bed when you actually start to feel sleepy, he says. Voila: You’ve found your natural bedtime.
Leave Your Anxiety Elsewhere
Even when you hit the hay feeling exhausted, tomorrow’s long to-do list and that earlier fight with your mom threaten to keep you up for hours. Remember that cortisol and adrenaline situation we talked about earlier? You’re there. Again.
“To keep your worries out of your bedroom, take a few minutes around dinner time to write down the stresses or troubles on your mind,” says Rosenberg. “Then, write down your solution or next step for each issue, close your laptop or journal, and return to it the following evening.” The practice might quiet your mind prior to bedtime.