Insomnia can do worse than just tire you out the next day. If you're suffering from chronic lack of sleep, it can take a toll on your overall health.
Ongoing sleep deficiency can lower your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight infections. It can trigger mood changes like irritability, depression, and anxiety. And studies have linked insufficient sleep to weight gain; increased risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes; and even shorter life expectancy.
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In the same vein, good sleep habits promote everything from memory (your brain needs rest to form new neural pathways to learn and retain information) to good mental health (you’re better able to regulate emotions, solve problems, and make decisions when you’re rested) to hormone regulation and healing. (Psst! Here are 10 ways to sleep better for under $150.)
But what if you just can’t fall asleep no matter how hard you try? We asked sleep experts to share their go-to insomnia hacks to find out the best ways to nod off at night.
Put away technology.
“This is number one—most of us have this reflex where our cellphone has to be within arm's length, even when we go to bed," says Raj Dasgupta, MD, sleep expert and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. "We need to break that habit.” Studies have shown that the blue light generated by electronic devices can delay the onset of sleep. (Here's how spending just one extra minute on your phone before bed can rob you of 60 minutes of sleep.) Turn your phone on silent and keep it on a dresser or far end of the bedside table so you’re not tempted to text, check one last email, or get lost in social media.
Get out of bed.
Abide by Dasgupta’s 20-minute rule: If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, leave your bed and do something non-stimulating in another room. “Read a real book—not an e-book—and avoid anything that may cause you stress or aggravation, which further prevents sleep,” he says. Once you feel drowsy, crawl back into bed.
Try bedtime yoga.
Yoga relaxes your body and mind, making it perfectly primed for sleep. Rachel Salas, MD, associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, suggests simple poses that allow you to focus on your breathing and releasing the tension of the day. Try sitting cross-legged and bending all the way forward, reaching your arms out straight in front of you with your head facing the ground. (Or ease into slumber with these 9 relaxing stretches you can do right in bed.)
Avoid binge-watching TV.
It might seem like a good idea to doze off to your favorite sitcom, but research now shows it’s quite the opposite. A new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that young adults who watched multiple consecutive episodes of the same television show were 98% more likely to have poor sleep quality and reported experiencing more insomnia symptoms and next-day fatigue than those who didn’t binge-watch. Turns out, binge-watching actually caused them to be more cognitively aroused—exactly how you don’t want your brain to work right before bed. “Turn off the program after one episode and choose shows that won’t stimulate you,” says Dasgupta.