#1 Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep
Caffeinated products decrease a person’s quality of sleep. As any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. So avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Although alcohol may help bring on sleep, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is therefore best to limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.
#2 Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment
A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a "white noise" appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it's time to wake up. Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated. And make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows. (Remember that most mattresses wear out after ten years.) Also, if a pet regularly wakes you during the night, you may want to consider keeping it out of your bedroom. It may help to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
#3 Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine
Light reading before bed is a good way to prepare yourself for sleep. Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities—doing work, discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.
#4 Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher
Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you. And if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity such as reading or listening to music. And keep the lights dim; bright light can stimulate your internal clock. When your eyelids are drooping and you are ready to sleep, return to bed.
#5 Use Light to Your Advantage
Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day. Investing in a full spectrum light to utilize in the morning upon waking can also help regulate a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
#6 Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s "internal clock" to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock, and even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra sleep drive will help you consolidate sleep the following night.
#7 Nap Early—Or Not at All
Many people make naps a regular part of their day. However, for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic, afternoon napping may be one of the culprits. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.
#8 Lighten Up on Evening Meals
Finish dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion. If you get hungry at night and you absolutely can’t refrain from eating, you may snack on a few nuts or seeds. Sugary, starchy, or carbohydrate-rich foods will disrupt the sleep cycle and disrupt digestion.
#9 Balance Fluid Intake
Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty—but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.
#10 Exercise Early
Exercise helps promote restful sleep if it is done several hours before you go to bed. Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly—as long as it's done at the right time. Exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine, unless you're trying to fall asleep. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or work out earlier in the day.