The average adult is supposed to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, which is probably about seven to eight hours more than you can spare. But since a well-rested life is a happy and healthy one, we've enlisted the help of specialists, doctors, nutritionists, yogis, acupuncturists, trainers, and more to nail down the best steps you can take throughout the day and night so you can get the most out of bedtime.
1. Catch 40 Winks
Power naps have gone pro with the help of sleep spas such as Yelo. David Edwards, YeloSpa's head of development, educated us on the business of napping. "A 20- to 40-minute nap during the day will actually help you sleep better at night," he said. "It prevents you from ingesting caffeine, helps you relax, makes you feel more alert during the day, and, hence, less anxious at night before you go to bed." But don't doze off for too long. "You have to keep the nap less than 40 minutes so that you don't fall into slow-wave sleep," he added. "If you do, you will experience sleep inertia and this will impact your nightly sleep."
2. Cut Down on Caffeine
It is okay to keep your Starbucks Gold card, as long as you put it away after your morning cup of coffee. BluePrint Cleanse nutritionist Julie Ruelle recommended not drinking anything caffeinated past noon (regardless of that post-lunch sleepy feeling). "Even if caffeine keeps you from falling asleep, it can also cause you to have restless sleep or wake you up in the middle of the night," she said. "Stick to noncaffeinated beverages like water, seltzer, or fresh-pressed juice." Noon too early to cut yourself off? No worries. Edwards recommends a more forgiving 3 p.m. cutoff time, adding, "Some people take longer to eliminate caffeine from their system, so you need to give your body time to cleanse."
Exercise can improve every aspect of your life, including how you sleep. Celebrity trainer Josh Holland (who has been behind Madonna's physique for the last five years) gave us the skinny on working out and our sleep. "High-intensity training and exercise can help the body's need to recover," he said. "Sleep and recovery go together hand in hand. The harder you train, the more recovery and sleep your body requires, so it's important to first create a baseline as to how well you sleep. (Try using sleep trackers such as Jawbone Up or Zeo.) Then it's important to create variables and make changes throughout your day that affect your sleep quality at night." This means doing something like working out in the morning to relieve stress and improve your mood, resulting in longer and more sound sleep later at night. Also be sure not to break too much of a sweat right before bed. Working out vigorously within three hours of hitting the sack actually makes it harder to sleep.
Related: How I Learned to Love Exercise
4. Consume Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain that helps control your sleep and wake cycles. It can be found in any number of foods, such as fish, fruit, grains, meat, and vegetables. Ruelle suggested you try fish for dinner, especially salmon and tuna. "These are rich in B6, which is vital to make the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin," she said. Chickpeas are also a good source of melatonin. If you're on the go, you can buy it as a supplement at your local grocery store.
5. Pop a 5-HTP
5-HTP is a supplement available in pill form that is said to aid in stress issues and sleep (note that there's still insufficient evidence as to its effectiveness and side effects). 5-HTP causes your brain to produce more serotonin, the body's neurotransmitter that affects your sleep (in addition to affecting your appetite, body temperature, and sexual behavior).
6. Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture pinpoints the root of your sleeping woes, literally. High stress, high anxiety, and digestive disorders are all culprits of insomnia, and are luckily all curable via this practice. "In Chinese medicine, there are many patterns or reasons that can lead to insomnia," said New York City-based acupuncturist Edith Lee. "These patterns are based on an individual's unique pulse and tongue diagnosis. Acupuncture combined with Chinese herb remedies can address the root of stress and anxiety, as well as aid in digestion."
7. Watch Your Diet
What you eat and how you digest it can affect how you sleep. Ruelle suggested eating an ounce of almonds or a tablespoon of almond butter about two hours before bed. "The protein in almonds will help keep blood sugar levels steady while you sleep," she said. "And it's believed that the magnesium in almonds may help you sleep soundly." Weak digestion can make falling asleep difficult so Lee said to avoid eating large, heavy meals late in the evening. You should also stay away from foods that are difficult to digest, such as spicy chili, hot peppers, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. You can prevent indigestion, however, by snacking on a rice cake or yogurt
Related: Health Eating Has Never Been Easier
8. Practice Yoga
A great way to clear your mind and relax your muscles before bedtime is by doing some yoga. "Yoga teaches us that in order to be present and productive in our lives, we have to create healthy habits and rituals," said Stefanie Eris, Exhale Spa's National Yoga Director. "Turning inward toward breath, love, and spirit allows us to feel more and think less, and therefore teaches us the importance of self-care." The exercises can involve something as simple as putting your legs up the wall for 10 minutes or taking 10 to 20 slow, deep breaths before bed. "Yoga helps to relieve stress and calm the nervous system, allowing us to shift from fight-or-flight mode to rest-and-digest mode," Eris explained. "When we practice yoga, we equip ourselves with tools to calm our spinning minds, allowing us to drift off to sleep and rest well." Just reading that explanation puts us at ease.
Bright light, even in small quantities such as from your computer or smartphone screen, can be a sleep stealer as it prevents the body's production of melatonin. Dr. Lisa Shives, the medical director of the Linden Center for Sleep & Weight Management, gave us some sound advice on building a buffer zone between a busy day and bedtime. "Turn off all screens and unplug yourself at least one hour before bed so that you have some peaceful downtime in a dimly lit room before hitting the hay," she said. "This encourages sleep in many ways, including helping your neurotransmitters switch from wake to sleep. Light is the most powerful signal to the brain that it is time to get up and feed the chickens, and the light from your computer/smartphone is enough to trigger your brain to stay awake."
10. Have a Healthy Relationship
Love is a many splendored thing, but it can also cause you more pain than peace. Never go to bed angry; just go to bed. "Try to only use your bedroom for sleeping and love-making," Edwards said. "Try to not fight before going to bed or in bed, as strong emotions affect your ability to sleep well. Start winding down at least one hour before going to bed. And, no, playing video games or sending e-mails do not qualify as winding down."
Related: The Sexual Fantasy Lives of Men
11. Listen to a Book
What's happening outside is sometimes just as important as what's going on inside. If you're having trouble sleeping, the answer may be as simple as opening an audiobook. "Consider relaxing in the dark, listening to an audiobook for the hour before sleep or while you are in bed trying to fall asleep," said Shives. "This will help your brain switch to the drowsy mode. Be sure to listen to a story that you are familiar with, or one that is not too exciting.
12. Sip a Cup of Tea
Humans have been using tea to overcome insomnia for over two thousand years. Herbal teas are naturally caffeine-free and help you relax through a combination of aromatherapy and natural sleep-inducing chemicals. Try teas infused with valerian root, which has mild sedative properties. Also try drinking chamomile, lavender, or lemon balm teas before bed.
13. Take a Bedtime Bath
You can soak away the stress of the day and prepare yourself for a restful sleep with a nice, calm, relaxing bath. Add lavender essential oils, which can enhance the already calming properties of a bath. Herbal bath blends, like Lush Dreamtime, help you sleep and moisturize your skin
14. Tuck In With Sleep-Inducing Crystals
Not all jewels are for decoration; some have healing properties that can help you slumber. Try tucking rose quartz or amethyst under your pillow. Rose quartz is said to balance emotions and induce calm, while amethyst has a gentle sedative energy that promotes peace.
15. Drift Off to Binaural Beats
Binaural beats, or binaural tones, are sounds that are said to activate certain areas of the brain. They can be used to increase focus, make you relax, or assist you in getting a good night's sleep as they help your brain reach that difficult stage where it produces delta waves at four hertz or below. That is where deep, restful sleep is obtained. You can download binaural beats for free, and all you'll need is a pair of headphones.
MORE on ELLE.com:
The Biggest Losers: Battle of the Fad Diets
How I Learned to Love Exercise
How to Work Out Like Rich People
Sexless Relationships: Does a Couple Have to be Hot and Happy to be Happy?