Your temperature naturally dips at night, starting two hours before sleep and bottoming out at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., according to a 1997 study conducted by New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. When you soak in a hot tub, your temperature risesand the rapid cool-down period immediately afterward relaxes you.
Late in the evening, your body releases the chemical melatonin, which makes you sleepybut only if it receives the right cues from your environment. "Melatonin is your hormone of darknessit won't flow with the lights on," says Walsleben. "You want to transition to dark as early as 9 or 10 o'clock." Sitting in a dimly lit room before getting ready for bed can put you in the right mindset for sleep.
You can help your body recognize that bedtime is imminent by setting routines and repeating them every night. "We suggest that people establish regular nightly routines before they get into bed, to help their brain shift into sleep mode," says Gary Zammit, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Institute in New York City. "Laying out your pajamas, brushing your hair or your teeththese habits can be very sleep-conducive."
Skipping your normal cup of joeeven as early as lunchtimeshould help you fall asleep quicker, since caffeine is a stimulant. "I don't like people having caffeine after noontime if they have poor sleep, because it can hang out in the system for a long time," says Walsleben.
Shut down electronics
You may find it relaxing to catch up on correspondence with friends just before turning in for the night, but the practice may be increasing the amount of time you toss and turn. Lit screens are stimulating says Walsleben (that includes televisions too), so it's best to avoid them. "Before your targeted bedtime, begin slowing down your brain by doing something calming, like reading in a comfy chairsomewhere other than bed," she says. "Stop watching TV and checking email."
If cold feet keeping you awakeespecially during the winterwarm them up with a soft pair of socks. The extra layer under the covers can help improve circulation in your extremities, which can help you fall asleep more quickly, according to Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
A large meal or spicy snack too close to bedtime can leave your digestive system working overtime while the rest of your body lies awake. And alcohol with dinneror as a nightcapmay make you drowsy, but it will disrupt your sleep patterns later in the night and keep you from getting the deep, restorative REM sleep you need to feel refreshed.