Lying in bed awake for hours is the easiest way to ruin your work week, and the temptation to swallow a melatonin in the moment to stop you from tossing and turning is real. But as any sleep doctor will tell you, melatonin and sleeping pills are best used in advance when you want to reset your sleep schedule. For actual long-term insomnia prevention, it may require changing up your bedtime routine rather than simply popping one back whenever you can't sleep.
Below, we asked Dr. Param Dedhia—the Director of Sleep Medicine at Canyon Ranch in Tuscon—for his best advice on how to improve sleep quality and fall asleep faster by making a few small tweaks to our nighttime routine.
1. Skip the Nightcap
When a glass of wine close to bedtime (maybe even to help you nod off faster) sounds appealing, it's probably best to rethink it. Dedhia says, "If you must drink alcohol at night, make sure you finish at least two hours before going to sleep. Limiting the amount of alcohol intake will help ease into a better night's sleep as each serving of alcohol takes two hours to get through your system."
2. Smell the Roses
The benefits of using essential oils have been extolled by holistic health experts before and Dedhia says that certain scents are especially great sleep aids. "Sensual smells such as roses, vanilla, or lavender help with relaxation, so adding just a spritz of lavender on the pillow can help you fall asleep faster." Try This Works' best-selling deep sleep spray, infused with lavender and chamomile, for starters.
3. Eat Wisely
Even when it feels tempting to go for a midnight snack, Nigella Lawson-style, Dedhia suggests keeping pre-bedtime food to easily digestible snacks instead of bingeing on something heavy. "If you have a craving, it may mean that you are tired and it is reasonable to eat a light, natural snack to help you feel more relaxed," he said, but the most important thing is to choose something healthy, balanced, and easy to digest.
4. Lie Flat
Stomach sleepers, this one might be a tough pill to swallow. "Just as important as quantity of sleep is quality of sleep," Dedhia says, "and a large aspect of this is posture." The best sleep position for snoozing (and less back problems in your future)? "It is best to lie flat on your back as it allows your head, neck, and spine to rest in a neutral position."
5. Stay Active
Contrary to many New Year's resolutions, Dedhia reminds us that "exercise is not a luxury!" He says the way we eat and move impacts our sleep, so we need to be sufficiently tired to go to bed. "Even if you don't like doing cardio in the gym, stay active doing an activity that you enjoy, like gardening. You must use your great energy as part of an active lifestyle physically, mentally, and emotionally during the daytime."
6. Enjoy the Five Senses
Setting up an environment that's actually soothing to the senses for sleep is vital, which is why Dedhia recommends calming sounds, pleasant smells, dim lighting, soft clothing, and comfortable bedding, etc. to cultivate the ultimate experience." It takes at least ten days to even begin to know if these practices will be effective, so start visualizing a plan in a simple way that won't require you to rearrange your life."
7. Create Soothing Rituals
"If you can cultivate time before bed to focus on yourself and break away from the happenings of the day—physically, mentally, emotionally, personally, and professionally—this will better allow you to transition into a good night's rest," says Dedhia.
So even if you're not down to count sheep until you doze off, he says that focusing on something soothing like meditative breathing (where you're counting your breaths) or progressive relaxation can help immensely. "Focusing on a repetitive, calming, and peaceful experience will help stimulate one's spiritual and emotional state. Missing the opportunity to acknowledge your emotions before bed may invite these taxing thoughts to distract from a meaningful and restful sleep."
8. Set a Reasonable Target
Not only does your bedroom atmosphere matter, but establishing healthy life routines naturally sets you up for a good night's sleep, according to Dedhia. "Allowing 7-9 hours of sleep is an optimal target. People may not be able to hit this every night, but it is key to set a reasonable goal to work toward." This often means finding out what's best for your body and allowing yourself ample time to unwind before bed to meet your target goals.