It doesn’t take too long for tossing and turning in bed to get really annoying. The average person falls asleep in about fifteen minutes, says Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach. But shut-eye doesn’t always come so fast. Spend much longer than that trying to doze off and you’ll likely start feeling agitated and stressed. This, in turn, makes falling asleep even more difficult.
Having a tough time dozing off could be a sign of a medical problem, such as sleep apnea. This is a condition where your breathing stops and starts erratically while you snooze. If you suspect an underlying health issue, consult with a doctor. But for most people, says Brantner, “difficulty falling asleep has more to do with their sleep hygiene. [These are] the behaviors we exhibit throughout the day that have either positive or negative impacts on our sleep.”
Here are some of the common issues with sleep hygiene and how they contribute to insomnia—plus how to clean up your act so can fall asleep faster.
Set an alarm for bedtime—and stick to it.
You already set an alarm to get up in the morning. Setting one to remind you to head to bed at the same time each night can help your body adjust to a consistent bedtime and ensure a full eight hours of sleep. Unfortunately, this bedtime isn’t just for weekdays when you have to be up early for work. For the best results, says Brantner, you need to try to wind down at a consistent time on the weekends too. “Your body craves routines,” he explains. “By getting in and out of bed at the same times every day, you have a greater chance of training your mind and body to shut down.”
Be smart with your smartphone.
The number-one problem when it comes to sleep hygiene is right in your hand. Using your smartphone within an hour of bedtime (which more than 80 percent of people do, according to a recent survey by Deloitte) is a major no-no. The light patterns from digital screens can screw up your circadian rhythm, according to a recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics.
“Your phone’s blue light inhibits melatonin production,” says Brantner. “When you’re looking at it in a darkened bedroom, your pupils are dilated, letting more of the harsh light in.” Plus, social media and work emails can cause a spike in anxiety. “It’s hard to wind down and get to sleep when you’re enveloped in all that,” says Brantner. He advises putting down your phone an hour before hitting the hay and charging it far from your bed. Get a regular alarm clock and stash your smartphone in a different room entirely.
Make a bedtime routine.
In addition to a set bedtime, having a full routine before you hit the sheets can help you snooze sooner. Brantner suggests dimming the lights an hour or so before bed. Additionally, set aside some time to take a hot bath or shower, read a book, sip hot tea, or write in a journal. If you find yourself stressing about what tomorrow has in store and it’s keeping you from nodding off, taking a minute to jot down a to-do list that you’ll tackle in the morning can help clear your head, says Brantner.
Cut off caffeine early.
It’s time to quit that mid-afternoon coffee-run habit. “Not only does caffeine trick your brain into thinking your body isn’t tired, but it can also exacerbate anxiety. [This] is often a key cause of insomnia,” says Brantner. Coffee tends to stay in your system for about six hours, so he recommends steering clear after 2 p.m. And don’t just assume that because you can fall asleep after a cup of coffee it doesn’t affect your z’s. “Even if you are one of those people who can fall asleep easily after drinking coffee, research shows that it affects your sleep cycle. So you won’t be able to get into a deep sleep the way you need to after drinking coffee,” he says.
Snack on dairy.
A very common sleep hygiene problem Brantner sees often is people snacking on processed carbs (cookies, crackers, etc.) before bedtime. The problem is these foods can spike your insulin. This can make falling asleep difficult. And then when your blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night, your cortisol levels may rise and melatonin production can diminish, he says. This can disrupt your sleep. If you need a midnight snack, go for a warm glass of milk or cheese, suggests Brantner. “The calcium in dairy promotes melatonin production, which promotes sleep.”
Clear your space—and your mind.
“Nothing triggers anxiety like busy nightstands or laundry lying around the bedroom,” says Brantner. If you notice that the spaces in your room are starting to resemble a junk drawer, he suggests taking some time to declutter. “Create a clean, minimalist environment so you can relax,” he says.
Beyond clearing out clutter, paying attention to the light, sound, and temperature of your bedroom is also an important part of the equation. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask to shut out light, suggests Brantner, and consider earplugs or a sound machine. He also recommends dialing down the temperature of the room as low as the mid-60s. Doing so will lower your core temperature and help you snooze soundly.
Get out of bed.
If you’ve been in bed more than half an hour without falling asleep, it’s time to get up, says Brantner. It might seem counterintuitive to move around. However, “continuing to lie there will just make you feel anxious and miserable,” Brantner says. Instead, do something calming, and maybe even monotonous. For example, read in dim lighting or fold laundry. Just steer clear of anything with a lit screen (that smartphone is still off-limits!).
Sleep is like water in that we can’t live without it. Pay attention to your sleep hygiene this week and gradually employ some of these strategies to fall asleep faster. You’ll start feeling more refreshed in no time.
To check out some sleep-focused yoga and meditation classes, head to Aaptiv’s Sleep Soundly Collection live in-app.