Count on Science — Not Sheep — for a Good Nights Sleep

By Wendy Bacigalupi-Bednarz, Editorial Contributor

If you envy friends who claim they can fall asleep “the second my head hits the pillow,” you’re not alone. More than a third of Americans report not getting enough sleep, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But before you head down the path toward prescription sleep aids, you may want to consider some alternatives that don’t include counting sheep, says Dr. Orlando Ruiz-Rodriguez of Orlando Health Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine Group.

They may sound simple, but Dr. Ruiz-Rodriguez and other medical experts across the country back these 10 sleep strategies rooted in science.

Set an alarm to go to bed. 

 Alarm clocks aren’t just for mornings. Set an alarm that alerts you when it’s bedtime. 

Establish (and stick to) a regular bedtime routine. 

Spend your last hour before bedtime doing a relaxing nightly routine. Take a bath, read a book or listen to soothing music before you get into bed. Sleep experts say that the routine creates positive conditioning and prepares your body for rest.

Get up at the same time daily, even on weekends.  This helps to keep your internal clock properly set.

Skip the snooze button.  Each morning when you hit the snooze button, you can disrupt REM sleep, which can leave you feeling groggy. Instead, set your alarm clock to wake you at a slightly later time. 

Avoid caffeinated drinks before bedtime. 

Caffeine is notorious for disrupting sleep patterns. Don’t consume caffeinated beverages for at least six hours before bedtime. 

Cap the nightcap. 

You may want to rethink your nightcap drink, too. While alcohol can make you feel drowsy, the effect will wear off and may cause you to wake up frequently.

Exercise daily. 

Exercise, even walking, can help calibrate your internal clock and improve your sleep. Be sure to finish your workout in the late afternoon or early evening. 

Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.

Install light-blocking curtains or shades, and use ear plugs, a fan or a white-noise machine to block out disruptive sounds.

Keep your bedroom cooler. 

The ideal room temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Because our body temperatures drop naturally to induce sleep, keeping your room cool can help speed up the process.

Get out of bed.

If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. In another room, enjoy a quiet activity such as reading in low light until you feel drowsy enough to go back to bed.

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