5 Strategies to Snag More Shut-Eye

Logging enough sleep is more than a luxury—it’s key to controlling your weight, keeping your brain sharp and reducing your risk for a slew of illnesses, including heart disease. But work, stress and social obligations can cut into your sleep time. Use these snooze solutions to rest easy tonight:

Avoid eating (or eat light) before bed. Eating a heavy dinner will leave you feeling uncomfortably full when you lie down, making it difficult to fall asleep. Even worse, you may develop heartburn or gas, which will further disturb your rest. Aim to eat dinner at least three hours before you hit the sack. And steer clear of foods like thick, creamy sauces and greasy fried dishes. If you need to have a pre-bedtime bite (hunger pangs can also keep you from catching 40 winks), find a no-fuss, low-calorie (200 calories or less) snack to satisfy without leaving you stuffed.

Skip sipping. Sure, a nightcap can make you feel sleepy and help you nod off, but alcohol tends to rouse you during REM sleep (the phase of sleep when you’re dreaming) and makes it more difficult to fall back to sleep. Studies show that drinking within an hour of bedtime leads to a lighter, less restful night. A better bedtime beverage: Warm milk. It contains an amino acid called tryptophan, one of the ingredients necessary for the body to make serotonin, a brain chemical best known for creating feelings of calm.

Get your melatonin. Melatonin is a neurohormone that has been linked to sleep. Some people with sleep issues also have low melatonin levels, so taking a supplement could be helpful. You can find over-the-counter pills in just about any pharmacy in the supplement or sleep-aid aisle, but as with starting any kind of therapy, be sure to speak with your doctor before giving it a try. Meanwhile, it’s also worth increasing your intake of foods that naturally contain melatonin, like tart cherries (the whole fruit or the juice), walnuts and ginger root.

Stick to a caffeine cut-off. The tiniest dose of caffeine can leave you tossing and turning if you’re sensitive to the ingredient. Your caffeine cut-off is 5 pm (earlier if you have difficulty falling asleep). That includes both regular and decaf coffee, which has a miniscule amount of caffeine, and chocolate (sorry!). Opt for a relaxing mug of naturally decaffeinated herbal tea instead.

Track your ZZZs. Some activity monitors can help track your sleep duration and quality, keeping tabs on how many hours you log as well as how many times you wake over the course of the night. You can use this info to troubleshoot and make tweaks when necessary.