You know how important a good night’s sleep is for body and mind. But you don’t want to rely on over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills, which can lead to dependency and are downright dangerous. You want a healthy approach, and you know the “sleep hygiene” basics such as making your bedroom a restful oasis.
But did you know that blowing into an Australian bamboo trumpet prevents sleep-disrupting snores? That a certain pillow can cool your head—and send your body off to dreamland? That there’s a spot on your thumb that you can press to head back to sleep when you’ve woken up at 3:00 am?
We dug into our trove of great sleep stories to bring you 21 amazing, surprising—and effective—ways to improve your sleep. Each practical suggestion also links to the original article so that you can learn more any time you want. Read on—and sleep well!
1. Forget that firm mattress.
Doctors used to recommend firm mattresses for back health, but they have since concluded that firm mattresses actually provide poor spine support. Backs do best in beds that allow the spine to be straight and supported as you sleep—and for the vast majority of sleepers, a medium-firm mattress is the best choice, according to “How to Buy a Mattress and Still Sleep at Night: 7 Traps to Avoid.” It helps to have the right pillow, too.
2. Block out the new street light.
Superbright LED street lamps are increasingly common in towns and cities—and have been proven to disrupt sleep. If they shine into your bedroom, invest in dark shades—perhaps with a timer so that they’ll go up automatically in the morning to let you wake up to natural sunlight.
3. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier.
It’s easy to stay up to watch the latest Netflix binge stream or to read one more chapter of that great mystery, but learning how to tackle sleep procrastination is important to getting restful sleep. Health bonus: Getting to bed as little as one-half hour earlier than you usually do will make it easier to eat healthier and cut your sedentary time. See “The One Sleep Habit That Most Helps Your Health.”
4. Get chill in the bedroom.
We’re not talking about your attitude, but the temperature. Most people sleep best when the room is in the 60°F to 70°F range. What if your partner likes it warmer? One inexpensive solution, according to sleep expert Joseph M. Ojile, MD, is the Iso-Cool memory foam pillow (around $40), which adapts to your body with tiny beads that absorb or release heat as needed. Explore more “cool” products, including mattresses, in the Bottom Line article, “4 New Products for Better Sleep.”
5. Exercise anytime…even right before bedtime.
Advice to not exercise a few hours before bedtime used to be standard. But more current research by the National Sleep Foundation finds that people who regularly exercise get better quality sleep, fall asleep faster and are more likely to stay asleep all night—and that’s true even for people who exercise within the four-hour window before they hit the sack. Each of us is individual, so if you find that late exercise keeps you up personally, by all means adjust your own schedule. But if evening exercise works for you, just do it! See “No More Taboo Against Evening Exercise.”
6. Stay upright after dinner.
It takes two to four hours to digest a meal, especially a big meal like dinner, and a full stomach works best in an upright position—like a top-loading washing machine, explains naturopathic physician and Bottom Line medical contributor Andrew Rubman, ND. So eat dinner two to four hours before lying down to sleep. Eat closer to bedtime, and you risk indigestion, including GERD, which can keep you up—or wake you up. A small snack an hour or so before bedtime? That’s fine. Get more tips in “Eat Right to Sleep Tight: How Digestive Problems Can Harm Your Sleep.”
7. Dine on broccoli, salmon, yogurt…and bananas
The vitamins and minerals essential to getting restful sleep every night include B vitamins found in broccoli, potatoes and whole grains…vitamin D, found in 15 minutes of sunlight a day and in salmon, tuna and vitamin D–fortified milk and cereals…calcium, found in dairy foods, leafy green vegetables and sardines canned with bones…magnesium, in avocados, bananas, halibut, pineapple, almonds and tofu…and zinc, in calf’s liver, oysters and other shellfish, wheat germ and pumpkin seeds. Learn more in “Potatoes, Bananas, Cheesecake and Other Foods That Help You Sleep Better.”
8. Savor a nonalcoholic brewsky.
Alcohol at dinner or before bed is no sleep aid—the alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, but it can disrupt the quality of your sleep and may lead you to wake in the middle of the night. Nonalcoholic beer does away with the alcohol but still contains hops, which has sedative qualities, and research links it to better sleep. See “How Nonalcoholic Beer Helps You Sleep Soundly.”
9. Watch that late night Häagen-Dazs.
Brace yourself for a restless night if you indulge in premium ice cream late at night. The richness comes mainly from fat—16 to 17 grams of fat in one-half cup of vanilla, and who eats just half a cup? Your body digests fat more slowly than it digests proteins or carbohydrates. When you eat a high-fat food within an hour or two of bedtime, your digestion will still be “active” when you lie down—and that can disturb sleep. For more tips, see “Foods That Sabotage Sleep.”
10. Eat the right evening snack.
If you’re still hungry at night, have a light snack with about 200 calories that includes protein and complex carbs—at least an hour before bedtime, according to sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD. Try yogurt with almonds and granola (even whole milk yogurt has far less fat than premium ice cream)…or oatmeal with milk and banana slices. Get more tips in “Sleep Your Way to Skinny.”
11. Spike your chamomile tea…with skullcap.
A cup of calming, healthful chamomile tea is a classic bedtime relaxer, and it’s been shown to have mild stomach-settling and antianxiety properties. On nights when that’s not working for you, though, consider adding the potent herb skullcap to your tea. According to naturopathic physician Jamison Starbuck, ND, skullcap can help relax the “busy brain” experience that often keeps people awake. Start with 10 drops of a skullcap tincture. You can increase it safely up to 30 to 60 tincture drops, but be aware that it’s a strong sedative, so monitor how it affects you. For more of Dr. Starbuck’s tips, see “Gentle Ways to Get Better Sleep.”
12. Ease evening anxiety with green tea…or a pill
The amino acid L-theanine, abundant in green tea, increases the brain’s alpha wave activity—the kind associated with the most relaxed sleep state. Start with a cup of soothing green tea as a nightcap, advises naturopathic physician Andrew Rubman, ND. That’ll give you about 50 mg of L-theanine—which also blocks the already-tiny amount of caffeine in green tea, he explains. If the tea doesn’t work for you, talk to your doctor about taking a 200-mg supplement of L-theanine for at least two weeks—either daily or on nights when a cuppa isn’t enough. Learn more in “If Anxiety Interferes with Good Sleep, Consider L-Theanine.”
13. Trouble staying asleep? 5-HTP might help.
This supplement is the active form of the amino acid tryptophan, which your body needs to make the neurotransmitter serotonin. “This neurotransmitter makes us feel happier, calmer and more balanced and plays an important role in sleep,” says naturopathic physician Laurie Steelsmith, ND, LAc. 5-HTP is often used to treat depression, but you can have low serotonin levels without being depressed—and it might be interfering with your sleep. She starts her patients on 100 mg of 5-HTP at least one hour before bed and then gradually increases the dose (up to 300 mg) if needed. Take 5-HTP only under medical supervision, and don’t take it if you’re already taking a serotonin-boosting prescription antidepressant. Learn more, including supplement suggestions for other sleep problems, in “Natural Cures Tailored To Your Sleep Problem.”
14. Get smart about melatonin.
Melatonin is the one supplement most people think of when it comes to sleep. But it’s misunderstood. While safe, it’s a powerful hormone, so instead of just popping it on a routine basis, use it for what it’s best for—helping you change your wake/sleep cycle on a short-term basis. It’s a great pill to help you get over jet lag, for example…or to readjust your body clock when you’re chronically staying up too late. Even then, it’s best to take micro-doses—closer to what your body naturally produces. Best approach: Use a pill cutter to cut a one-milligram pill into quarters, then take one-quarter pill six hours before your natural bedtime. Get more chronobiology tips in “Fall Asleep Faster by Resetting Your Inner Clock.”
15. Lift your legs, stretch in bed.
There is a yoga stretch called “reclining hand to big toe” that stretches the hamstrings, causing them to relax, and brings a sense of floating to the legs that signals the entire central nervous system to relax. You can do it on a mat on the floor—or even in bed! Get the details and the rest of this amazing mini sleep routine in “Overcome Insomnia in Seven Minutes.”
16. Get under the blankets…really heavy blankets.
Special weighted blankets, originally designed for children with anxiety and other disorders, have been catching on for grown-ups who also benefit from their calming, comforting feel. They are widely available for around $140 from companies such as Sommerfly and Mosaic Weighted Blankets. Learn more in “This Blanket May Help You Sleep.”
17. Get a sleep coach…on your phone!
Cognitive behavioral therapy—short-term, practical, focused sessions that help us modulate our thoughts, feelings and behaviors—is particularly effective for treating insomnia. Now you can get CBT therapy specifically for sleep problems in a free app developed by the Veterans Administration called CBT-I Coach. Learn more about this and other great CBT apps in “Let Your Phone Be Your Therapist: 7 Psych Apps That Really Work.”
18. Get stuck.
Many randomized clinical studies have found that acupuncture is effective for insomnia—one study even found it works as well as the sleep drug Ambien. One way to find a qualified acupuncturist is to visit the website of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. To learn more, see “Acupuncture Cure for Insomnia.”
19. Up in the middle of the night? Breathe this way.
It’s called the “4-7-8” method. Inhale for four seconds…hold your breath for seven…and exhale slowly for eight. Breathe in this manner for up to 15 to 20 minutes or until you fall asleep again. Inhaling and holding in air increases oxygen in the body, which means your body doesn’t have to expend as much energy. The slow exhale helps you unwind and mimics the slow breathing that takes place during sleep, which will help you fall asleep. Learn more “get back to sleep” tips in “It’s 3 in the Morning and You’re Awake…Again!”
20. Snoring keeping you up? Try this spray…or practice the didgeridoo!
Your bed partner’s snores can keep you up—or wake you up. Sometimes snoring signals sleep apnea, a serious breathing disorder that should be checked out by a doctor. But in many cases, snoring is simply the result of nasal congestion, according to otolaryngologist Murray Grossan, MD. Solution: Make your own preservative-free saline spray. Want more stop snoring tips? Check out these throat exercises—plus the wonders of the Australian wooden trumpet called the didgeridoo—in “Throat Exercise And Other Ways To Stop Snoring.”
21. Press your thumb right here.
In reflexology, a spot right in the middle of your thumb corresponds to the pituitary gland, which regulates sleep. Locate the middle of the “whorl” of your right thumbprint, and press the side of your left thumbnail into the center of the whorl for 45 seconds. Switch thumbs and hold for another 45 seconds. Get more details in “To Sleep Better, Press Your Thumb Right Here.”
Want even more amazing sleep tips? See Bottom Line’s “Guide to Better Sleep…No Sleeping Pills Needed.”