You don’t need a scientific study to tell you how important it is to get enough sleep every night; just one day of stumbling through your to-do list like a zombie should convince you to get enough shut-eye. But more than a third of Americans aren’t getting the seven or more hours of sleep recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to be at their best. And even worse, 30 to 35 percent of Americans suffer from insomnia—trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. If you find yourself losing even more sleep thinking about those lost zzzs, here are some things to try to send yourself back to dreamland.
1. Don’t look at your phone. It’s tempting to use your phone as a clock, or to pick it up for a quick scroll through Instagram or Twitter when you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night. But doing that could keep you up for longer. A small study found that exposure to short wavelength light (the blue light that your phone emits) was significantly disruptive to sleep. The researchers found that blue light messed up the body’s natural nocturnal rhythm, reducing the decline in body temperature and the secretion of melatonin that normally happens at night. When the participants were exposed to blue light, they didn’t sleep through the night as well and were more tired the next morning.
2. Don’t watch the clock. You know the saying, “a watched pot never boils”? Well, when it comes to time, a watched clock seems to move waaaay slower than one you can’t see. If you find yourself with eyes wide open in the dark, turn around your clock (yes, a clock—not your phone!) or place it somewhere you can’t see it. The more you look at those digits, the more likely you are to stress yourself out about losing zzzs—which is the exact opposite of what you want to do to fall back asleep.
3. Relax your body. Sure, relaxing sounds easier said than done. But practicing mindfulness meditation can help you get back to snoozing. In a small study of middle-aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping, half were taught meditation and other mindful exercises, while the other half took a class on how to improve their sleep habits. After six sessions, the mindfulness group reported experiencing less insomnia, fatigue, and depression symptoms. Try practicing mindfulness meditation during the day (there are apps for that!) to train your body so you know what to do when you need to chill out in the middle of the night.
4. Do something boring. Surely you’ve found yourself nodding off while reading a boring book or watching a slow-moving show during the day. Use that to your advantage at night. Pick up a mind-numbing biography that’s been lying around or cue up some calming instrumental music, and wait for your eyelids to start drooping.
5. Lower the temperature. When you lie down in bed at night, your body temperature starts to decrease to prepare for sleep. The National Sleep Foundation’s recommended temperature for your bedroom is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. If you find yourself up in the wee hours of the morning, check your thermostat. If it’s on the high end of that range, dial it down a notch and see if that primes you to nod off again.
6. Get up. The only thing worse than lying in bed, not able to fall back asleep, is thinking about how long you’ve been lying in bed, not able to fall back asleep. If about 20 minutes have passed since you woke up, get out of bed and do something else. The longer you stay in bed thinking about being awake, the harder it will be to get back to sleep—and you might stop thinking of your bed as the restful place it should be.