You’d have to live in dreamland to follow most popular sleep advice: Turn your bedroom into a spa-like sanctuary, don’t drink caffeine after 2 p.m., and never bring your laptop into the bedroom. You can imagine our surprise when “Sleep Doctor” Michael Breus, Ph.D., admitted that he drifts off with the TV on and his dog and cat in the bed –two major no-nos. His refreshing philosophy: “Steer clear of all the hard-and-fast rules and do what makes sense for your lifestyle.” Now there’s some advice we can handle! Read on for more surprising sleep tips that’ll help you rest easy.
Sleep in on weekends
Forget all the blah-blah about maintaining a consistent wake-up time every day. Snoozing late on the weekend can have real benefits. Adults who were sleep deprived for five days made up for it somewhat — bouncing back closer to their baseline brain function and alertness — when they clocked 10 hours the next night, a study in the journal Sleep found. Still, it’s best to snooze only an extra hour or two on the weekend. Still tired? Try a 20-minute nap in the late afternoon.
Exercise before bed — it’s OK, really!
Working out after dinner has long been considered a “don’t” by sleep docs. But — surprise! — it may actually help you snooze better. Young adults who rode a stationary bike for about 35 minutes, finishing two hours before bedtime, conked out faster and slept more deeply than when they didn’t exercise, according to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research. If you have a hard time falling asleep after exercise, move your workout a little earlier in the evening until you find the time that works best for you.
Snuggle with Fluffy
Feel lonely? If so, you’re likely to wake up more often during the night, a University of Chicago study found. “I tell my patients who don’t like sleeping alone to consider getting a dog,” says Lisa Shives, M.D., a sleep specialist in Illinois. It’s also fine to break the no-pets-in-bed rule when you’re not lonely, especially if keeping your furry friends out creates more disruption than letting them in. “If I banned my cat from the bedroom, he would paw at the door all night long, and I would get even less sleep,” says Breus.
Play a bedtime story
When you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, Shives recommends a new strategy: Quiet your churning mind with an audiobook on your phone or music player. Plug in your earbuds, press “Play” and cover the display to block the glow. The story shouldn’t be too stimulating, so choose a biography or your favorite book from childhood. If TV has always been a snoozing aid for you, follow Breus’ trick: use a TV with a sleep timer and set it to switch off after 30 minutes.
Think before you drink
It’s generally a good idea to cut out coffee, soda and energy drinks seven to eight hours before bedtime. But the half-life of caffeine affects everyone differently. Look for an app that can help you predict the hour at which caffeine will still deliver a kick without stealing sleep. Be aware that a nightcap can be as disastrous for your slumber as an after-dinner cappuccino. Under the influence, you may snooze in seconds, but you’ll wake up four or five hours later. “The best rule: Have your last drink three hours before you turn in,” Breus says.
(Fitness is fuel for women who are serious about being healthy and staying strong. Online at www.fitnessmagazine.com.)
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.