SLEEP IN A DARK PLACE. To fool Mother Nature, shift workers need to use blackout shades, says Charmane Eastman.
KEEP THE BEDROOM CHILLY. The body sleeps best when it’s colder, says Eastman. And avoid hot showers right before bed. “Your brain and body like to go to sleep when brain and body temperature are dropping,” says James Wyatt.
SLEEP FOR AN EXTRA HOUR. It promotes good health—and, as noted by Kristen Knutson, a biomedical anthropologist at the U. of C., it’s easier to do than exercising more and eating better.
DECREASE CAFFEINE CONSUMPTION. Stop drinking caffeine by 2 p.m., says Knutson, and don’t rely on it too heavily. “It helps you fight the lack of energy and the deficit in cognitive performance,” says Eve Van Cauter. “But it will not help you avoid the negative impact of sleep deprivation on the rest of the body.”
STICK TO A REGULAR SCHEDULE. “I’m always going to bed at 10:00, so my body knows it’s bedtime,” says Knutson.
EXERCISE. In a study published in the October issue of Sleep Medicine, Northwestern University researchers found that aerobic exercise caused the most dramatic nondrug improvement in the quality of sleep among insomnia patients. But exercise at least two hours before going to bed.
TRY NOT TO DEPEND TOO MUCH ON AN ALARM CLOCK. “The alarm clock is a very nonnatural, nonphysiological way to wake up,” says Van Cauter, and it promotes an immediate stress response.
GO EASY ON THE ALCOHOL. Booze is a central nervous system depressant, but once it clears the body, it can produce insomnia, says Wyatt. “There’s a rebound, an overshoot in arousal level.”
DON’T OVERUSE SLEEPING PILLS. They cause a “hangover effect,” says Eastman, “and are still in the system when you wake up.” Sleep with pills is not as natural, she says, and people acquire a tolerance to them—which means they no longer work as well if taken too often.