Most people tend to sleep more lightly as they age. Not only that, but if you're going through menopause you may find that "night sweats" wake you up in the wee hours. The good news is that you can outsmart Mother Nature with these tried-and-true strategies for getting the ZZZs you need in order to feel your best.
1. Establish A Regular Schedule If you've been tossing and turning lately, an unpredictable sleep-wake cycle may be the culprit. The solution is to reset your body's internal clock by going to bed at pretty much the same hour every night and getting up seven or eight hours later. Before long, you'll start feeling drowsy when your usual bedtime is near and you may not even need your alarm in order to wake up spontaneously. You'll no doubt feel well rested and ready to seize the day!
2. Cut Off Your Caffeine Intake By Early Afternoon Coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate are obvious offenders but even some decaffeinated products can keep you up if not all the caffeine has been removed. Enjoying a cup or two of coffee or tea first thing in the morning and during a break later on can actually be good for you, but switching to herbal teas as the day goes by will help you get a good night's rest. As for those colas, the jury is still out about whether diet colas make people fat but there’s no doubt that many of them have caffeine. Try substituting seltzer or club soda with a refreshing twist of lime.
3. If You Smoke, Do Yourself The Favor of Quitting Nicotine is a stimulant, yet many smokers light up right before bed. If that describes you, you're robbing yourself of the peaceful slumber you need. This is all the more true if you've developed a smoker's cough that disturbs your sleep. Of course you already know that you're putting yourself at risk for a host of health problems. Quitting isn't easy, however. You may want to try over-the-counter smoking cessation products or join a support group.
4. Not Too Hot And Not Too Cold Climate control in the bedroom is key. Especially if you're prone to hot flashes, keeping the temperature comfortable can go a long way toward lessening their frequency. Air conditioners and fans are your friends! Another option is to open the windows in fine weather unless you live in an area with air pollution or you're prone to pollen allergies. Also, avoid heavy blankets and choose cotton pajamas that wick away moisture. Synthetic fabrics can make you perspire even more than usual.
5. The Sun In The Morning When you wake up on a bright day, open the curtains and get good dose of those rays. Research has shown that sunlight in the morning helps keep your circadian rhythm in peak working order so that by evening, your body will know it's time for dozing off to dreamland. In the winter when days are short and you have to wake up before dawn, consider investing in a lamp designed for people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder. This also holds true if you live in an area such as the Pacific Northwest that has more than its share of gray and drizzly days.
6. Exercise In The Morning or Afternoon An active lifestyle goes a long way toward promoting healthy sleep patterns, but working out right before bed can keep you awake. Your body's inner stimulants will be coursing through your system just when you want to wind down. Fitting exercise into your daily routine isn't always easy, but you may be able to steal some time from your lunch hour for a brisk walk. If your schedule is more flexible because you're retired or telecommuting, so much the better. Build in a workout break and stick to it!
7. Skip The Nightcap A habit of sipping a glass of wine before bed may be one reason you're sleeping fitfully. Alcohol can make you feel relaxed but it actually delays your normal progression into the five stages of sleep that you should experience in order to feel refreshed in the morning. You're better off treating yourself to a cup of warm milk, a natural sedative because of certain amino acids. Another good option is time-honored: chamomile tea. The soothing benefits of this potion are not just an old wives' tale. Researchers from no less a source than the National Institutes of Health have shown that chamomile reduces symptoms of anxiety.
8. Try "White Noise" Any steady background sound will mask other noises that could startle you awake. The simple whirring of a fan or an air conditioner may lull you to sleep. Some people swear by more elaborate sources of white noise such as CDs with the gentle patter of rain, the lapping of waves on a beach, or a breeze rustling the leaves of trees in a forest. Even more sophisticated are the portable white noise machines that create a consistent sound of rushing air. Many frequent travelers swear by these.
9. Keep A Notebook And Pen On The Nightstand This may seem counterintuitive but if you typically go to bed with your mind racing about tasks and worries, knowing that you can jot down a thought or two should you wake up can put you at ease. And if you find that you're lying there not falling asleep at all, give yourself permission to get up for a little while. When you do, make some notes about whatever is stressing you out. Then snuggle back under the covers and you may find you're ready for some shut-eye after all.
10. Establish A Bedtime Ritual Quite possibly the most important strategy of all is one to borrow from your parenting days and your own childhood. Remember the nightly routine with bath time followed by a reading or two of "Goodnight Moon"? Upgrade that to the adult level with a tub full of soothing bubbles and a good book. Healthy habits are just as easy to get into as bad habits! You'll find yourself anticipating the pleasures of your evening soak-and-read session and then drifting off to the kind of sleep that restores body and soul. Sweet dreams!
Sondra Forsyth, a National Magazine Award winner, writes for major magazines and is the author or co-author of eleven books. She was Executive Editor at Ladies’ Home Journal, Features Editor at Cosmopolitan, and Articles Editor at Bride’s. A former ballerina, she is the Artistic Director of Ballet Ambassadors, an arts-in-education company in New York City.