AS IMPORTANT AS sleep is to how well we perform at work, in the gym, and between the sheets, it’s a shame it’s always getting shafted. About 50-70 million Americans suffer from a sleep or wakefulness disorder, clipping the amount of time they spend in deep sleep, according to the CDC.
This slow-wave sleep is absolutely crucial for physical restoration, while rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a lighter stage, is essential for restoring mental clarity and alertness. And, while both are important, a helpful strategy is to focus on “solid, unbroken sleep” overall, says J. Todd Arnedt, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Michigan.
Your goal should be to get three or more nights per week of unbroken sleep, he says. Anything less and you should consult your doctor. “There are safe and effective medication and non-medication treatments available to help,” Arnedt says.
Here, we highlight 10 natural ways to get your sleep on the right track.
1. Ensure a sleep-friendly bedroom environment
Organize your sleep environment so it feels comfortable for you, but keep it quiet and dark with a “generally cooler” temperature, says Arnedt. Stick to about 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. This range is backed by research and ensures you won’t wake sweating or shivering in the middle of the night.
As for a particular fabric for the bed, or pillow style, it’s an individual choice rather than a scientific conclusion, he suggests. “In my experience, people have to figure out what works for them personally,” Arnedt says.
2. Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.
“Caffeine doesn’t allow you to get into deep sleep,” says Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep. “It keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep.”
To avoid the “sleep-dampening” effects of caffeine, which has a half-life of 8 to 10 hours, shut down caffeine intake after 2 p.m.
If you have your last cup of joe at 2 p.m., figure you can go to bed by 10 p.m., says Breus.
3. Exercise your mind and body
Exercise will take a couple of months to positively affect your sleep, but a regular routine will help, according to Breus. Vigorous exercise led to better sleep for twice as many respondents in the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 “Sleep in America” poll. However, don’t exercise more than two hours before bedtime, says Breus.
Meanwhile, meditation may help treat insomnia, according to a 2009 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Practice effective stress-management strategies,” such as meditation or relaxation exercises, advises Arnedt.
Click Read More for more tips including if you have sleep apnea.