Whether it’s a snoring spouse, financial anxiety or trips to the bathroom that wake you up in the middle of the night, there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to get back to sleep. You’re not alone in watching the clock tick away—about one in three Americans (about 100 million people) is wide-eyed in the wee hours. In order to return to dreamland quickly, it’s important to do the right thing when you wake up, says Dr. Michael J. Breus, clinical psychologist, diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Use these expert-approved strategies to get your zzzzs.
Warm feet, not milk — While the tryptophan in warm milk promotes relaxation, its old-wives’-tale placebo effect may be its main benefit. Instead, try wrapping your feet in warm washcloths. Heating the skin causes a drop in internal body temperature that promotes sleep, says Dr. Tracey Marks, psychiatrist and author of Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified.
Bore yourself — “Allowing our brains to fully wake up by watching TV or checking email makes it harder to return to sleep,” says Dr. Jason Coles, of Spectrum Health Sleep Disorders Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. He suggests getting out of bed, going to another room, keeping lights low and reading a boring book or doing a crossword puzzle until you feel sleepy.
Clear your nose and throat — “The number-one reason for waking up is breathing pauses,” says Dr. Steven Y. Park, author of Sleep, Interrupted: A Physician Reveals the #1 Reason Why So Many Of Us Are Sick and Tired. If your nose is stuffy, use a Neti pot (an at-home device that flushes out the nasal passages) before bed and Breathe Rite strips while you sleep.
Don’t eat — Skip the midnight snack: Park says having food in your stomach can cause juices to come up into your throat, resulting in breathing pauses.
Make some noise — Many people are tempted to turn on the tube to fall back asleep. Bad idea—television engages the mind, and its light suppresses melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Instead, go for the radio or buy a white-noise machine, and “set the timer for 15 or 30 minutes with the same sound to help the brain calm,” suggests Sari Hands, registered craniosacral therapist in Scottsdale, Ariz. (The humming of a fan might work, too.)
Play a mind (and body) trick — “Massaging the big toes for one to two minutes each can do wonders for clearing the mind,” says Jolene Harrison, a certified dietitian and reiki and reflexology practitioner in New York City.
Make a switch — The next time you find yourself tossing and turning, try completely reversing your head-foot orientation, says Tom Potisk, author of Whole Health Healing: The Budget Friendly Natural Wellness Bible for All Ages. “Stand up, loosen the covers at the foot of your bed, place your pillow where your feet were, and crawl back in,” he says. “Don’t ask me why that works; maybe it has something to do with your orientation in the cosmos.” We don’t know about that, but it’s worth a try!