What to Do If You Can't Fall Asleep
Sleepless nights aren't a modern invention. But modern life is making them increasingly common.Instead of winding down and relaxing before bed, we're doing chores, checking email, and getting riled up by the TV news till we hit the sack.
Here's a step-by-step guide to help you create a more snooze-inducing routine.
During the day
Squeeze in exercise whenever you can. Chris Kline, PhD, who studies the effect of exercise on sleep at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, says that doing even half of the recommended weekly 150 minutes of moderate activity and two muscle-training sessions has been shown to significantly reduce sleep problems in women, in part by regulating body temperature and reducing anxiety and depression.
Surprisingly, being active in the early evening may help you fall asleep more easily, Kline says, but see what timing works best for you.
Two hours before bedtime
Lower the lights. Turning off lights and lamps signals to the body that sleep time is near—the way twilight did before we had electric lighting.
The type of lightbulbs you use also matters. "Cold, harsh white light"—like that found in fluorescent bulbs—"contains a significant blue component, which is most likely to interfere with sleep onset," says Michael Terman, PhD, an expert on light and biological rhythms at Columbia University Medical Center. Blue light, more so than other colors in the light spectrum, suppresses the body's release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy.
Check lightbulb packaging for the words "soft" or "warm" and for a color temperature of 3000 kelvins or less, which is less likely to trigger insomnia, Terman says.
One hour before bedtime
Dim your screens. Watching TV or tooling around online may help you decompress, but most screens emit more blue light than lamps do, and that—plus any exciting or disturbing stuff you see—will keep your brain going.
So if you can't give up your late-night screen time, at least turn down the brightness on your TV, tablet, or computer. You can also install a free program called f.lux on your laptop to automatically reduce the blue light it emits at night.
Half an hour before bedtime
Power down. Now's the time to turn off the tube—experts recommend reading by low lamplight.
Pick an article or book that's not so suspenseful it keeps you up (think Bossypants, not Hunger Games), and nothing work- or school-related—too stressful!