How to Win at Sleep

Nine ways to stop you from losing the can’t-fall-asleep, can’t-stay asleep battle every night.

By Marygrace Taylor


Turn on the Lights as Soon as You Wake
Slinking around in the dark may feel like easing into your day, but “bright light helps set your body’s circadian rhythm,” says Shelby Harris, Psy.D., director of behavioral sleep medicine at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “With that comes consistent production of melatonin—the hormone that triggers sleepiness—at night.”

Work Out First Thing
A brisk 30-minute morning walk helped adults sleep longer and more deeply the evening following the exercise than those who did the same workout later in the day, according to an Appalachian State University study.

Keep Your Office Blinds Open
Adults who work in sun-filled offices stay asleep 47 minutes longer at night than those in windowless rooms, Northwestern University researchers found. No window? Get outside at some point. “We’ve evolved to need light exposure during the day,” says study author Ivy Cheung. “Anything is better than none at all.”

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Add Salmon to Your Meal Rotation
It’s the best source of omega-3s; when eaten regularly, those heart-healthy fats (also found in flaxseed and grass-fed beef) may boost the effects of melatonin, finds a recent University of Oxford study. Supplements work too. Just give either option time to kick in: “Typically, people respond after six to eight weeks,” says study coauthor Paul Montgomery, Ph.D.

Don’t Eat Fatty Foods Before You Hit the Sack
Pizza, nachos, fried whatever—”your body has to work hard to process high-fat foods, which wakes up the digestion process and keeps you up,” says Harris. Hungry? A banana with almond or peanut butter has a healthy mix of protein and carbs that will help you sleep.

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Ban Bright Electronics at Least 90 Minutes Before Bed
That means no phone, computer, or TV. “The eyes associate the blue light emitted with daylight”—signaling your body to stay awake, says Robert Rosenberg, D.O., author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day.

Write Down Anything That’s Bothering You
"Then place the note in a drawer and leave it there," says Rosenberg. "Getting worries onto a sheet of paper where you can acknowledge them is enough to calm the mind."

Hit the Sack at the Same Time You Did Yesterday
You’ve heard this before because it works: “The body has a natural sleep cycle,” says Audrey Liu, M.D., medical director of The Sleep Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “A regular schedule can help you find your natural rhythm.”

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photo: David Tsay