The essential guide to a deeper sleep

The essential guide to a deeper sleep

Doing everything right and still not sleeping?
You’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. You pour your last cup of coffee for the day approximately five minutes after you get up in the morning, and your bedtime routine is so calming, it could put a wired four year old into a coma. You banish worries by writing them down in a special notebook you keep by the bed, right next to your warm milk and drug-free, homeopathic, fragrance-based sleep aids. So why do you still find yourself staring at the ceiling?

It’s time to listen to what some unexpected experts have to say. Their jobs don’t necessarily include long hours in a laboratory studying sleep problems, but what they know about a multitude of other irritants – stomach ills and back pain and windows in need of shades – just might put you out for the night.

Rethink your mattress
“You don’t need a really expensive mattress or one with a lot of space-age bells and whistles. There’s really only one good study on mattresses, and it confirmed the Goldilocks theory: most people prefer a mattress that’s not too hard and not too soft. So look for something medium firm.”
Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Andrew Hecht

“If you can, try the type of mattress you’re considering in a hotel or at a friend’s house. Some stores may even let you sleep on it for a night. Some mattress companies will also give you a full refund if you don’t like it after a month.”

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, cofounder of the Apartment Therapy website

Stick to one pillow
“I’m not a fan of sleeping with two pillows if you’re a back sleeper because it makes your upper back curve and strains the neck and back. If you need to sleep up high for medical reasons, get a wedge and put your pillow on it.”

Chiropractor Dr Karen Erickson

Don’t harp on your number
“We expect to sleep for eight solid hours, but that’s actually not normal compared with global populations and our own evolutionary history. People naturally wake up two or three times a night. It’s worrying about it that’s the problem.”

Anthropologist Carol Worthman

Avoid tummy trouble
“If you’re not sleeping well, you may have acid reflux, even if you don’t feel heartburn. Try elevating your head by putting blocks under the top of the bed and sleeping on your left side. Or you can take a dose of Gaviscon [an over-the-counter remedy that creates a protective barrier against stomach acid].”
Gastroenterologist Dr Patricia Raymond

Take a slumber-triggering supplement
“Low magnesium is associated with irritability and jumpiness. It’s also known to cause chronic inflammatory stress, and insomniacs often have chronic inflammatory stress. So it’s possible that taking a magnesium supplement – 100 to 200 milligrams a day – will help with sleep.”

Specialist research nutritionist Dr Forrest Nielsen

Make sleeping pets lie
“You may not need a white noise machine, but your dog might. A lot of dogs are very sensitive to noises outside, such as other dogs barking or neighbours coming home late. A white noise machine or fan will drown out the noises that are keeping your pet up, which will keep your pet from waking you.”

Pet-training consultant Tracey Schowalter

“Dogs sleep when they’re bored. If you keep them awake during the day, they’re more likely to sleep at night.”

Dog handler Kathy Diamond Davis

Learn to share
“If you like a firmer mattress and [your partner] likes a softer one, you don’t have to compromise. Get two singles, push them together, and use king sheets. Or you can buy a strap that attaches the mattresses to each other.”
Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics

“One of the biggest disrupters of sleep is the pulling and tugging of sheets and blankets. I tell couples that each person should have a sheet and blanket. If you pull a big comforter or duvet over the top when you make the bed, you really can’t tell. Couples call me after I suggest that and say, ‘Wow – you changed our marriage.’”

Chiropractor and sleep expert Robert Oexman

Go to bed angry
“The classic line is that you shouldn’t go to bed angry, but that’s sometimes impossible. If you’re lying in the same bed but mentally throwing darts at each other, go to sleep on the couch.”

Psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber

Nod off with the right scent
“My research has found that any new smell, even one associated with relaxation, such as lavender, can make you feel more alert and vigilant. You’re better off with a scent that makes you feel safe and comfortable. There really is something to cuddling up with your spouse’s undershirt.”

Pamela Dalton, odour-perception expert and sensory psychologist

Be smart about allergies
“Pillows and bed coverings advertised as ‘hypoallergenic’ aren’t necessarily worth buying. That just means a product is made out of a substance you can’t be allergic to, not that it prevents allergies. Instead, get dustmite-proof covers for your pillow, mattress, and box spring.”

Allergist Dr Jacqueline Eghari-Sabet

Heat up to keep your cool
“A hot bath will increase your skin temperature, which eventually decreases your core body temperature. Do the same thing for yourself that you’d do for a young child – make sure you take a bath a half hour or so before bed time.”

Robert Oexman

Tamp down hot flashes
“If you wake up with hot flashes, of course you should keep the room cool and wear layered sleep clothing. But also keep a glass of ice water by the bed; sipping it will help lower your body temperature so you can get back to sleep.”

Dr Becky Wang-Cheng, coeditor of Menopause

Reduce use of technology
“The cooler white and blue light emitted by a computer monitor stimulates brain activity and makes it difficult for your brain to wind down. Download the software at stereopsis.com/flux. It gradually dims your screen at sundown, shifting your monitor’s colours to warmer red hues.”

Time-management coach Colin Grey

“Watching TV at night may seem relaxing, but it beams light into your eyes, which is an ‘alert’ signal for the brain. Read a book before bed instead.”

Psychiatrist Dr Tara Brass

Avoid ‘anti-sleeping’ pills containing caffeine
“A lot of people take bedtime pain relievers that contain caffeine and don’t even realise it. Check the label: caffeine is always listed as an active ingredient.”

Jan Engle, professor of pharmacy

“An oral decongestant might help you breathe better, but it can increase your heart rate, which makes it hard to sleep. A nasal decongestant can rev you up too. At night, try a saline spray or wash instead.”

Pharmacist Eric Alvarez

Written by Michelle Crouch. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.