You’ve done all the obvious stuff—cut out late-night caffeine, made sure your bedroom is dark and cozy, avoided scary movies or struggling with your to-do list right before bed. So why are you still tossing and turning? “Certain habits you’re unaware of could be sabotaging your sleep,” says Kristen L. Knutson, PhD, assistant professor and sleep specialist at the University of Chicago’s Department of Medicine.
And, as you may know, lack of shut-eye doesn’t just leave you foggy the next day: Chronic, long-term insufficient sleep ups your odds of diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, even weight gain. So what to do? Try these unexpected tweaks, and wake up feeling incredibly well-rested.
It’s a no-brainer that drinking coffee or tea right before you hit the sack won’t do you any sleep favors. But you also need to watch your afternoon drinks, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, a clinical associate professor at Boston University. Love your 4 p.m. peach tea? It’s got caffeine, and so do some flavored waters and even orange sodas, Blake warns. Check the labels on your favorite midday drinks—any that boast energy-boosting benefits are likely culprits. Then, if possible, stop sipping them by 2 p.m., so there’s time for their effects to wear off. Naturally, coffee drinks pack a real wallop, so stay away from them after lunch.
While it’s important to avoid a big, heavy meal right before bed (a full stomach will disturb your sleep), some foods may actually help you snooze, Blake says. If you’ve had a few nights of restless sleep, make a light whole-wheat-pasta dish with fresh vegetables, a little diced chicken breast, tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of Parmesan for dinner. This meal contains a snooze-friendly combination of protein and tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to sleep-promoting serotonin in the body.
If your stomach’s growling late at night, try a small bowl of cottage cheese with banana slices, another dish that serves up tryptophan. Other combos of healthy carbs and protein, such as milk and graham crackers or yogurt sprinkled with cereal, will also do the trick.
Even though a nightcap may help you relax and fall asleep faster, it’ll make the second half of your sleep cycle restless and unsatisfying. Alcohol decreases deep sleep and increases arousals from sleep, says John E. Brown, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland. If you like a glass of wine in the evening, have it with dinner—around 6 p.m. rather than 11—and drink in moderation, so it’ll wear off by the time you lie down.
Like to unwind in the tub before you snooze? Surprisingly, a hot bath might make it harder for you to drift off: Doing anything that raises your body temperature too close to bedtime may actually hinder you from falling asleep, because your body needs to cool to a certain temperature in order to reach a sound slumber, says J. Todd Arnedt, PhD, director of the University of Michigan Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program. That doesn’t mean you can’t soak after a rough day—when you get home from work, not right before turning in.