It's official: Sleep is the new sex. We're obsessed with scoring more, making it better, and commiserating with friends who don't get enough. Problem is, many of the 60 million Americans who suffer from insomnia reach for meds in their quest to cop decent z's. Instead of popping a sedative, try these methods:
Eat a Few Carbs Before Bed
When you're hungry, your body releases stimulants that signal it's time to eat. If you go to bed on an empty stomach, a rush of these hormones can keep you awake. An hour before bedtime, have a small carb-based snack (e.g., a banana or a few multigrain crackers), advises Michael Murray, M.D., author of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Carbs speed your body's release of tryptophan, which steps up your brain's production of snoozeinducing serotonin.
Block out Artificial Light
Biologically, we haven't yet learned to distinguish man-made from natural light, so any brightness kick-starts our wake cycles, says Herbert Yue, M.D., a physician at Stanford University's Sleep Disorders Clinic. After-hours illumination also disrupts the brain's nocturnal production of the sleep hormone melatonin. The tiny red light on the DVR won't keep you from dozing off, but the glow from your laptop may. Turn off your TV and computer 30 minutes before bed and, if nature calls during the night, don't flip the switchÃ¢â‚¬”the sudden burst of light will perk you up all over again.
Make Your Bedroom Cool, but Wear Socks
Researchers have found that as we prepare for sleep, our thermoregulation system diverts blood from our core to our extremities, a process that lowers body temperature. (The average person can go as low as 94 degrees between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.) The reasons for this automatic cooldown aren't clear, but Yue says it's likely an evolutionary response designed to preserve energy for waking hours. Sleeping in a chilly roomÃ¢â‚¬”68Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â°F is optimalÃ¢â‚¬”will speed the process along so you can fall asleep faster. Also, put on a pair of socks; they'll help cause the blood vessels in your feet to expand, encouraging blood flow, which aids your body's cooling mechanism.
Cut Back on Booze
That second glass of Chardonnay might make you drowsy, but the grogginess won't last, says Yue. Alcohol fuels a neurotransmitter that helps you feel sleepy, but as the booze is metabolized, your ever-resilient brain works to rebound and cancel out its sedative effects. By the time your liver has processed the vino, your head has overcompensated, leaving you awake and restless