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Can’t Fall Asleep? 7 Habits That Will Help You Get More Zzzs

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By Emily Shiffer

You’ve probably heard many times that you should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. But let’s be real — for most adults, this is a dream (no pun intended) scenario rather than a reality. If you can’t fall asleep it might be because you’re not properly preparing your body to rest. You’re not alone; more than one-third of Americans get under seven hours of sleep at night according to a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This can have some serious negative health effects. Studies have found that not getting enough sleep has both short and long-term health consequences, including memory issues, mood disorders, hypertension, heart disease, and weight gain. There’s a reason you wake up a little crankier after too little sleep — your body is suffering the consequences! Getting enough sleep should be a priority for your physical and mental health.

If you struggle to get enough sleep each night, making adjustments to your pre-bedtime routine can help you fall (and stay!) asleep. Don’t have a routine? There’s no time like the present to start one! Your routine doesn’t need to be complicated — you’re just going to bed! Here are seven science-backed things to try.

1. Eat Breakfast

You read that right — the first meal of the day can set you up for successful sleep at night. A 2018 study actually found that young adults who ate breakfast (rather than skipping it) reported improved sleep quality and ability to fall asleep.

2. Turn Down Your Thermostat

The temperature of your room can greatly affect your quality of sleep; sleeping in a cooler environment can be beneficial. Although there is not one proven temperature that provides optimal sleep, temperatures between 60°F to 67°F are ideal. A cool room is important because in preparation for sleep, our body temperature falls in order to induce sleep.

3. Slip on a Pair of Socks

Although sleeping in a cooler temperature is key, having cold feet might prevent you from falling asleep due to a lack of vasodilation. This means that when your feet are cold, the blood vessels in your feet constrict, preventing blood to circulate and therefore making it harder for your body to prepare for sleep. One 2018 study found that wearing socks helped participants fall asleep an average of seven and a half minutes faster.

4. Don’t Exercise Too Close to Bedtime

While it was previously thought that exercising at night may negatively impact sleep, a 2018 review of 23 studies on sleep and evening exercise, published in Sports Medicine, found that as long as exercisers finished their workout an hour before bedtime, it did not impact their ability to fall asleep. In fact, evening exercise had a slightly positive effect on sleep, with 21.2 % of exercisers reporting time in deep sleep compared to 19.9% who didn’t exercise at night.

5. Sip on Valerian Tea

A cup of valerian tea before bed could help you fall asleep because valerian root may contain antioxidants with sedative properties. An October 2020 study in the ​Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine​ found that valerian promoted sleep in participants with anxiety.

6. Make Sure Your Room Is Pitch-Dark

Turn off all the lights before you hit the sack. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that sleeping in total darkness led to the best quality of sleep. Researchers believe that exposure to light at night may throw off the body’s internal clock for sleep, as well as impair its ability to secrete the sleep hormone melatonin.

7. Do Some Breathing Exercises

If you struggle with stress or anxiety, implementing breathing techniques into your bedtime routine can help you sleep better. A 2021 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that frontline COVID-19 nurses who implemented a 30-minute diaphragmatic breathing relaxation training (DBRT), which included 20 minutes of eight-ten diaphragmatic breaths per minute, before bed reported better sleep quality and lessened anxiety. The technique for DBRT is simple: lie on your back on a flat surface (your bed works!) with your knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly; begin breathing deeply through your nose, letting your belly fill with air, then out through your mouth.

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