9 Steps To Getting Your Best Sleep Ever (No Pills Necessary)

What's one thing you can do starting tonight to help beat the aging process and boost vitality?

Get the right sleep.

Not only does a lack of sleep cause health problems, but health problems also cause a lack of sleep. Plus, we need sleep so we can dream. You can’t live your best life unless you can dream. So if you’re not sleeping, it’s a clue that something besides your sheets isn’t working the way it should be.

Sleeps seems as if it should be easy and automatic: Change into PJs, brush teeth, crawl into bed, shut eyes, see you in seven. But sometimes we just can’t tear ourselves away from the TV until Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver, or that Stephen Colbert fellow have finished making us laugh. As everyone with sleep problems knows, sleep is about as easy as making the final four in The Voice. We believe that’s because many of us don’t know the tricks and solutions that can help put our mind—and body—at rest.

Here, we're sharing some of our favorite tips to ensure better zzz's, starting tonight:

1. Plan for it.

We’re big on planning, so decide when you want to wake up and count backward about seven hours. Now take about a fifteen-minute period before that to start your slowdown process. That means using about five minute to finish up must-do chores, followed by five minutes of hygiene stuff — flossing, washing face, and so on — and five minutes of relaxing into your sleep state, through things like meditation and saying “I love you” as you lie in bed.

2. Create a smart nighttime ritual.

Most of us do things at night that are counterproductive to sleeping. Instead, make slight changes in your rituals to prepare your body for rest:

  • Dim your lights several hours before bed to avoid the stimulation caused by artificial light pollution — which is all around us through TV, computers and indoor lighting — and serves to stimulate us.
  • Come up with a regular, rhythmic evening ritual that allows you to embrace anxieties that are released when you slow down. Meditation, prayer, and deep breathing are all good methods.
  • Surrender to sleep. After all, you go to the movies; you shouldn’t "go" to sleep. There is nothing you have to do to sleep — except let go of waking. Practice “dying” into sleep, rather than forcing yourself to sleep, and cultivate awareness of your personal twilight zone.

3. Make your bedroom a red-light district.

Your pineal gland “sees” only blue light, informing your brain it's daytime — that's the reason depression of the SAD variety is treated with blue light. But red-light wavelengths don’t suppress melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep. So clocks and bathroom lights in your sleep area should emit red-light wavelengths only. Soon, you'll even be able to make your computer and iPhone emit red wavelengths only for the two hours prior to bedtime. A true health app.

4. Attack insomnia with light activity.

Tossing and turning works for salads, not sleep problems. If you can’t fall asleep within fifteen minutes, the answer is not to keep trying. Don’t force yourself to stay in bed, because the wait will be interminable. Instead, get out of bed and do some light activity. Getting your mind off sleep resets and reboots your system. Try a yoga pose, meditation, or a short walk. To get back to sleep, music and meditation seem to work best.

5. Avoid these four "no"s before bed.

Generally, we don’t like telling you not to do something unless it’s smoking, slurping trans fats, or spending sixteen hours in front of the tube. But for optimum sleep preparation, there are a few things you should avoid to increase your chance of falling—and staying—asleep.

  • No alcohol or nicotine for one and a half hours before bed.
  • No exercise that makes you sweat for one and a half hours before bed (doing things that make you sweat in bed are OK).
  • No caffeine, caffeinated beverages or food, or caffeine pills for at least three hours before bed, or as long as your body dictates.
  • No eating for three hours before bed, so you can avoid reflux issues that can disturb sleep.

6. Manage pain.

Some sleep problems don’t arise because of worry or melatonin problems. Some are caused because your back hurts like the dickens. Truth is, some people get through general back pain or knee pain during the day because they’re so focused on other things. But when trying to get to sleep, they feel the pain and focus on it.

A simple over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can help — not specifically to get you to sleep but to help alleviate the pain that’s preventing you from sleeping. Take aspirin with a glass of water at least one hour before bedtime so that the acid doesn’t have as much chance of refluxing up from your stomach to your esophagus.

7. Treat your allergies.

Allergies can make sleeping trouble worse because of the congestion they cause. About 40 percent of people with allergic rhinitis have trouble sleeping. Over-the-counter nasal strips and sprays help open up everything and clear up symptoms like headaches, watery eyes, runny nose, or new-onset snoring.

If you experience those symptoms and aren’t aware of any allergies, search for the source in unexpected places. Some people have allergies to gluten (wheat, barely, oats), which can lead to congestion and increase insomnia, as can allergies to detergents and the cleaning products you use on your clothes or sheets. One note: Decongestant nasal sprays are addictive and rai

se your blood pressure. Saline or antihistamine sprays (or a prescription steroid spray) are better options.

8. Try an opposite approach.

You’d think that the way to treat a lack of sleep is to get more of it, but one way that sleep docs treat insomnia is by making their patients actually sleep less.

For instance, they’ll take a patient getting five hours a night and force her to get only four a night, and then gradually increase by ten or fifteen minutes a night once a week.

The sleep deprivation approach can work as a way to force your body to reset back into a regular sleeping pattern.

9. Consider herbals.

Several supplements have been shown to decrease sleep problems. These are the ones we recommend:

  • Valerian root: It contains ingredients with sedative properties and is generally considered one of the more effective herbal therapies for sleep. Our recommendation: 300 milligrams.
  • Ginseng: Studies have shown that the ingredients in ginseng help decrease the amount of wakefulness in a twelve-hour period and increase the amount of slow-wave sleep. Try 200 to 600 milligrams of the extract.

Of all the strategies co-author Dr. Mehmet Oz and I outline in the new edition of our book, You: Staying Young, we consider sleep to be one of the most vital. Sleep should serve as a major health barometer.

This was an excerpt co-authored with Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. You: Staying Young by Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. and Michael F. Roizen, M.D. Copyright © 2007 by Michael F. Roizen, M.D. and Oz Works LLC. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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