Surprising Ways to Get a Better Night's Sleep

There is no natural remedy more powerful than a good slumber. And yet so few of us get enough of it. Here's how to power up your sleep routine.

It's called beauty sleep for a reason. Not only does more of it lead to less stress—which means fewer pimples, slower aging, and more hair on your head—the act itself allows our faces a break from wrinkle-forming scowls and smiles.

While our understanding of sleep is limited, we know a few things for certain: It helps us fight free radical damage, which is good news for skin; a slew of studies have also linked sleep deprivation to obesity, possibly due to an increase in hunger hormones, or maybe a decrease in metabolism. (Either way, the less we sleep, the more calories we consume.)

Despite all this, most of us are not getting enough sleep. Many of us log just six hours a night, and some 35 percent of the population reports having trouble sleeping. So, how many hours are you getting a night? If you want more, here's how:

Exercise. Cardio exercise seems to be a natural cure for insomnia. A recent study indicated that in women over 55, 20 minutes of cardio four times a week could change “poor sleepers” into “good sleepers.” Other perks include more energy during the day, better circulation, a boosted immune system, lower stress, and a firmer body.

Do yoga. Yes, yoga is exercise too, but the focus on breath and relaxation may offer even more stress-reducing benefits to the sleep deprived. We’ve talked about this before, but studies have shown that just 20 minutes of yoga a day can help you fall asleep faster and keep you asleep longer. Meditation—the conscious act of clearing the mind and focusing on the breath—is a proven asset to falling asleep as well.

Take naps. If you can’t log enough Zs at night you may want to try indulging in an afternoon snooze. According to scientists at NIMH and Harvard, napping can reverse information overload and prevent burnout. They also up productivity, which makes us wonder why they aren't a mandatory part of the workday, kindergarten styles.

Don’t have that nightcap. While alcohol may help you nod off at first, studies show it actually disrupts your sleep pattern. Booze-induced sleep does not have the same quality to it because the ratio of REM to non-REM time is disturbed. If it's really just one glass, you're probably in the clear. If it was three at dinner? You're definitely not getting your best sleep on.

Ease off the caffeine. Caffeine affects everyone differently—and while it comes with significant perks, it can be a curse for even the mildest insomniacs. Some studies suggest that morning coffee alone can mess with your ability to sleep at night. If you’re not ready to fully abandon it though, look at ways to cut back. Don’t drink it in the afternoon, know that certain coffee chains, like Starbucks, come with higher caffeine kicks, so maybe opt for tea instead.

Try natural remedies. Sleeping pills can leave you with a hangover worse than tequila. Trusted alterna-doctor Andrew Weil recommends valerian and melatonin as a gentler option. A word about "natural" though: Just because it doesn't come with a prescription, does not mean that you want to create a dependence. We always suggest looking for root causes.

Reset your internal clock. According to Ayurveda, the day is divided into energetic cycles, making different activities ideal at different times. Roll your eyes all you want but we think they're onto something—after all, it is one of the oldest medical traditions. See if this breakdown doesn't ring a little true: From 2:00 to 6:00 p.m., you probably feel restless and unfocused (a good time to take a walk or do some yoga); 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. is when you wind down, and could fall asleep easily if you dared; and 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. is when your mind starts up again and you're more likely to toss and turn (though not a bad slot to say, cram for a midterm). If you really need help sleeping, try going to bed just before 10:00 p.m. and waking before 6:00 a.m.

Power down. Again, we are repeating ourselves, but not enough of us turn off the gadgets. That means no televisions or laptops at least an hour before bed, and no cuddling with your smart phone either. Ideally you shut it all the way down—no emails buzzing or texts chirping—which should help you.

Bore yourself to bed. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t just lie there—but don’t grab the remote either. The first will give you clock-watching anxiety while the latter may keep you up with late-night programming. Read some Tolstoy, or try to.

Picture nature and other peaceful scenes. Don't count sheep though—apparently it doesn't work. However, imagining some kind of serene environment like nature (sounds a little bit like meditation to us), has shown good results.

Got any other good tips for turning in?

This is a series inspired by No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, a book by GOOD's features editor Siobhan O'Connor and her co-author Alexandra Spunt.

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Illustrations by Brianna Harden

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