Nothing beats a good night's rest. But, there are times you may have difficulty falling or staying asleep. If it's just occasional, there's probably no need for alarm. But if you find yourself tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep several nights a week, you may have insomnia, restless leg syndrome, untreated heartburn or asthma, or, most commonly, sleep apnea.
Before making an appointment with a sleep doctor, try these tips to get a good night's sleep:
- Keep a regular schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. "No matter when you actually fall asleep, always wake up to an alarm set at your preferred time," says Jigme Sethi, MD, chief of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island. "And, keep the same time on workdays and weekends."
- Relax first.Take time in the evening to address any troubling concerns. Then, dim the lights in your living room and spend half an hour relaxing your body and mind with soft music or reading a book.
- Restrict bed use. Don't use your bed to read, watch TV, use a laptop, or relax. "Train your mind to associate your bed only as a place to sleep or for sex," Dr. Sethi advises. "Once you go to bed, if you can't fall asleep in about 20 minutes, return to quiet activity in the living room. Do not stay in bed hoping for sleep to come to you. It will not. Only return to bed when you are very tired." If you ultimately fall asleep very late, but still wake up at your set time in the morning and don't nap during the day, the lack of sleep will help you fall asleep the next night.
- Watch what you drink. Avoid all fluids late in the day so you don't find yourself waking up to go to the bathroom. Do not drink anything caffeinated after noon, and think again about using alcohol as a sleep aid. "It will cause you to wake up early or repeatedly during the night," Dr. Sethi says.
- Skip the nap. If you are yawning long before bedtime, try a mildly stimulating activity like light housework or calling a friend to perk you up. If you give in to drowsiness, it could hinder your evening rest.
- Dim the lights. Avoid using the computer or TV later in the evening. "The bright light of the screen tricks your mind into thinking it is still light outside and delays sleep onset," Dr. Sethi says.
- Create a dark environment."The darker it is, the better you'll sleep," Dr. Sethi says. Replace bright light bulbs with lower wattage ones. Install room darkening shades. Consider wearing a sleep mask. Use a table lamp to light your way to the bathroom during the night.
- Keep the noise down. Don't let outdoor noise keep you awake. Drown it out with a fan or something that makes white noise or relaxing sounds.
- Turn the clock away. Tilt your clock so it doesn't face you. "Worrying about the time it takes to fall asleep only increases anxiety, agitates the mind and makes falling asleep even more difficult," Dr. Sethi says.
- Choose cool over warm. It's hard to get quality sleep if you're too cold or hot. Dr. Sethi advises setting your thermostat to a comfortable temperature.
- Be comfortable. Make sure your bed is large enough for you to move comfortably. A pillow should provide good support. If you wake up feeling sore, it may be time to go shopping for something better.
If you don't have any success with the above, or are troubled by any of the symptoms below, consider seeing a sleep specialist:
- Ongoing fatigue or daytime sleepiness
- Falling asleep when it's not appropriate
- Loud snoring with pauses in breathing
- Frequent morning headaches