Human beings need seven to nine hours of sleep a night to function properly. The optimal amount varies from person to person and changes as we grow older, but one thing sleep specialists agree on is that most Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.
A 2008 study found that only a quarter of Americans receive eight hours of sleep on weekdays. Insomnia is one of the most widespread health problems facing Americans, causing far-reaching problems.
Not only can insomnia make you irritable, unfocused, and easily frazzled, it can have a depressant effect on your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to disease.
While sleep medications are one way of dealing with insomnia, they often come with side effects, and some put you at risk for forming a habit. If it takes you hours to fall asleep each night, you might want to consider making one of these lifestyle changes, all of which are proven to help people suffering from insomnia.
1. Wear Yourself Out Physically
One reason Americans sleep poorly is our sedentary culture, in which many of us spend both our work day and our leisure time seated, rather than engaged in the strenuous physical exercise we’re evolved for. A half hour of aerobic activity every day exerts enough energy to get your body physically tired, helping you fall asleep much faster.
That means thirty minutes on the treadmill could save you hours of tossing and turning when you head to bed.
2. Descend into Darkness
Just as we’re not disposed to be sleepy after a long day of doing nothing, humans haven’t evolved to adjust to the advent of 24/7 electric lighting. This means our levels of melatonin are thrown out of wack by the irregular schedules of light and dark reaching our brains.
Turning off the lights in your home an hour before bed, blacking out your bedroom with heavy curtains, and avoiding TV before you head to bed can help you fall asleep faster.
3. Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
The next time you’re tempted to grab a cup of coffee around 4 p.m. to power through the end of your work day, keep in mind that caffeine stays in your system up to eight hours.
That cup of joe could be the reason you’re wide awake at midnight. It can also lead to restless sleep, as it keeps your brain in limbo, letting you doze off but not fall all the way into REM sleep.
Cut out caffeine after noon and try to reduce your overall intake.
4. Restart Your Biological Clock
Your irregular sleep schedule has likely interfered with your body’s internal clock. One way to get past this and get a reset: expose yourself to bright light within the first few minutes after you wake up.
This triggers the beginning of your daily sleep cycle, as you’ll experience a drop in melatonin in response to the light. Then, roughly sixteen hours later, your melatonin will surge again, giving you the urge to sleep at bedtime.