Sleep Soundly Without the Pills

Getting enough sleep — and restful sleep at that — can be difficult. However, don’t start popping pills just yet — as making a few changes can help you catch those Z’s.

Bask in the Sun

Light is the primary stimuli that govern your circadian sleep rhythm. Sunlight promotes the production of serotonin in your body, which gives you a boost of energy and alertness. Darkness promotes the production of melatonin, which relaxes the body and sends signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep. A few minutes of morning sunlight will reset your body’s internal clock, allowing you to sleep on time and wake up early the next day. A 15-minute light jog or a morning walk should be enough to trigger serotonin production and keep you awake for the whole day.

Of course, actual sunlight is important, as artificial lights don’t come near the brightness of the sun. As a bonus, sunlight also balances your mood and keeps your mind focused. It literally brightens up your day, warding off depression and giving you an extra spring in your step.

Exercise

Researchers at the John Hopkins Center for Sleep found clear correlations between the quality and length of sleep and exercise. Researchers noted that exercise increases the amount of slow-wave sleep or deep sleep. Your body shifts into its anabolic phase only in deep sleep. The anabolic phase is the time your body heals itself by releasing growth hormones and synthesizing proteins.

Physical activity later in the day is particularly effective in promoting sleep. Physical activity can allow your body to release pent-up stress accumulated throughout the day. Moderate exercise will also consume a bit of energy, and a little exhaustion (the good kind) will help you get to bed earlier. Exercise also keeps you fit, reducing the risk of sleep apnea.

Constant waking as you gasp for air can prevent your body from shifting to the anabolic phase — preventing your body from recovering from fatigue and healing from injuries. If you are overweight, losing a mere 10 percent of your weight can get rid of sleep apnea and get you sleeping properly.

Hold the Caffeine

It takes coffee 8 hours to leave your system. The same is true for sodas, tea, or any drink containing caffeine. That late-afternoon mocha-frappe can be the source of your sleepless nights. Avoid caffeine as early as 4 pm if you intend to sleep by 10. During dinner, opt for natural juice or maybe even wine. A glass of wine can help your body relax — although too much can knock you out too early and leave you up in the middle of the night. Milk is still the best beverage if you want to sleep. It contains tryptophan and melatonin, substances that naturally induce sleep.

Dim the Lights

Strong lights can affect your circadian rhythm or sleep cycle. While you might not have strong lights in your home, you probably have one right in front of you at this very moment. People can spend more than 5 hours in front of their phones, tablets, or laptops. Screen lights can be particularly bright, interfering with your body’s production of melatonin. Stay off your devices a couple of hours before you sleep or switch to nighttime mode if you have to use them. Dim the lights, an hour before bedtime and try to sleep with all the lights turned off.

Settle Down

woman doing yoga

Adrenaline can keep you up at night. Excitement can shift your body into fight or flight mode — keeping your mind awake and your body primed for action. A competitive video game or mobile game will set you on edge and an action/horror movie will similarly keep you awake. Keep things calm 1-2 hours before bedtime. Read a book, watch a documentary, or listen to soothing music as you prepare to go to bed.

Stay Comfortable

Sometimes the right mattress can be the difference between waking up refreshed or feeling exhausted — and the right mattress can depend on your sleeping position. You’ll need more firmness if you sleep on your back or your stomach, so opt for coil spring or latex mattresses. You’ll need more support if you sleep on your side, so opt for memory foam or pillow tops. Temperature can also play a significant role in relaxing your body, so keep the thermostat at 65°F.

Sleep is essential for your mind and body to recover and recharge. Follow a few guidelines throughout the day — and you won’t need to pop pills to get quality sleep.