How to fall asleep and stay asleep

Contrary to what you might hear, falling asleep and staying asleep are part of a natural process for most people. Some call this luck. Others understand it is likely the result of conscious lifestyle and dietary choices that promote restful sleep. Called "sleep hygiene", these behaviors can actually support sleep before, during, and after bedtime.

The following is a list of practices supported by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as conducive to restful sleep:

  • Go to bed only when you are drowsy.
  • If you can't fall asleep or stay asleep, leave your bedroom and engage in a quiet activity elsewhere. Do not allow yourself to fall asleep outside the bedroom. Return to bed once you are sleepy.
  • Maintain a regular wake-up time, even on weekends, holidays, and vacations.
  • Use your bed only for sleep, illness, and intimacy.
  • Avoid daytime naps; if you must nap, limit it to less than one hour and no later than 3 p.m.
  • If you are a nighttime worrier, schedule your planning, worrying, and problem-solving for earlier in the day.┬áMake it a task you complete before bedtime. If you're still prone to worry at night, have a notepad or stack of cards by the bed to write down your concerns, confident they will keep until morning.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine for four to six hours before bedtime.
  • Although a light snack a few hours before bedtime can help promote sound sleep, a heavy meal can thwart it.
  • Participate in regular exercise, but schedule strenuous workouts at least four hours before bedtime.
  • Distract your mind: Read, listen to music, watch a videotape, or get lost in a book on tape.
  • Minimize light, noise, and temperature extremes in the bedroom. Block light with a black-out shade or by wearing an eye shade, and mitigate noise with earplugs or by listening to white noise.
  • Avoid watching the clock. Face it away from you to avoid obsessing about the passing hours.
  • Take a warm bath, have a massage, meditate, pray, sip some decaffeinated tea, or choose other soothing rituals before getting into bed.