Q. I have a hard time falling asleep. I tried an over-the-counter sleep drug, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel the next morning. I don’t want to take anymore drugs. What can I do naturally to help me fall asleep?
A: Too often, people reach for a pill to help with sleep before practicing what doctors call “sleep hygiene.” Here are some ways to help you fall asleep:
• Set up a regular bedtime and a relaxing bedtime routine. Examples might include taking a warm bath or listening to soothing music.
• Use your bed only for sleeping or lovemaking. Avoid reading and watching television in bed.
• Whenever possible, schedule stressful or demanding tasks early in the day and less challenging activities later. This helps you wind down at the end of the day.
• Limit caffeine and drink none after 2 p.m.
• Be sure your bed is comfortable and your bedroom is dark and quiet. Consider a sleep mask or earplugs.
• Get plenty of exercise. Build up to 45 minutes of moderate exercise nearly every day. Get your exercise early in the day. Try some easy stretching exercises or yoga to relax your muscles and your mind at bedtime.
• Don’t take long naps during the day. If you need a nap, restrict it to 20 to 30 minutes in the early afternoon.
• Turn the alarm clock around so you won’t worry that you’re still awake.
• Practice relaxation breathing. Use slow breaths, especially when you exhale.
If you can’t sleep after 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed and go into another room. Read quietly with a dim light. Don’t watch television, since the light from the TV has an arousing effect. When you feel sleepy, get back into bed. Don’t delay your scheduled wake-up time to make up for lost sleep.