Before you run to the doctor or start popping sleeping pills, check your routine for these possible sleep stealers, suggests Joyce Walsleben, PhD, associate professor at the New York University School of Medicine.
Computer or TV use before bed
You might think it's helping you to relax, but Letterman's Top 10 List may be too stimulating for your mind to unwind. Using the computer takes even more brainpower, since it requires interaction instead of just watching. In order to relax, you might have to unplug electronics every night, set a household computer curfew, or turn email devices off after dinner.
Books in the bedroom
Work late into the night
Avoid doing work or paying bills at night, particularly in the bedroom. They require too much concentration and have the potential to be upsetting or frustrating. Discovering you don't have enough to cover the rent is not relaxing at any time of day, let alone at bedtime.
Your body craves coolness during sleep, but eating spicy foods actually raises your temperature. And if spicy food gives you heartburn on top of that, it's a double whammy. The burning and discomfort get worse when you lie down and can wake you up in the middle of the night. Big, heavy meals are sleep killers too, because they're harder to digest.
An after-dinner drink
Initially, alcohol acts as a sedative and will put you to sleepone of the reasons it's in nighttime cough and cold medications. But in the second half of the night, sleep is often disrupted. If you're a heavy drinker, the effects are worse: Your brain develops a tolerance to alcohol's sedative qualities, so a few drinks will increase your light sleep but rob you of restorative, deep sleep.
Staying up late (and then sleeping in)
Shifting your sleep schedule during the weekends, even if you're still getting the same amount of sleep or more, throws off your circadian rhythm, the internal clock that programs your body to sleep and wake at regular times.
Sleeping an extra three hours on Sunday effectively sets your body clock ahead three hours, so when you try to go to sleep on time, your body's not ready. "Many people jet lag themselves on the weekend. You may as well go to Paris and enjoy yourself," says Walsleben.