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Can’t sleep? These experts’ 5 tips may help you get the 7 to 9 hours of rest you need every night

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Spending too many nights trying to fall asleep – or worrying there are not enough ZZZs in your day? You are not alone.

Nearly one-third of American adults say they do not get the recommended seven to nine hours a night. Some of the major causes: stress, anxiety and a culture that experts say is about productivity, not rest.

“You need to understand what your body needs and try your hardest to prioritise that and not just see sleep as kind of what’s left over of the day,” said Molly Atwood, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States.

Do not fall for online fads or unproven methods to fall asleep and stay asleep. Instead, try these five simple tricks recommended by sleep experts.
According to experts, some of the major causes of sleeplessness are stress, anxiety and a culture that experts say is about productivity, not rest. Photo: Shutterstock

1. Set up a buffer zone

Work-related stress is inevitable, and it can be hard to disconnect. Try creating a “buffer zone” between the end of your work day and your bedtime.

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Experts suggest leaving career work and daily responsibilities alone about an hour before bed. Do not check email, pay bills, do chores or scroll endlessly through social media. Instead, create a routine where you relax with a book, indulge in a hobby or spend time with loved ones.

“It goes back to the core value of mindfulness,” said Dr Annise Wilson, an assistant professor of neurology and medicine at Baylor University in the US state of Texas.

“Anything that helps to centre you and just helps you focus and release a lot of that tension from the day will then help promote sleep.”

Don’t go to bed super hungry. Have a light snack high in protein and fat, such as peanut butter on whole wheat toast. Photo: Shutterstock

2. Eat dinner early

Eating a large meal right before bedtime can disrupt your sleep, so try to eat in the early evening hours.

“I would say that eating a large meal is impactful simply because it’s like giving your body a really large job to do right before sleep at a time when things are supposed to be shutting down,” Atwood said.

But do not go to bed super-hungry, either. Try snacks with protein or healthy fats, like avocado, almonds or peanut butter on whole grain bread.

It can take up to 10 hours to clear your body of caffeine – a stimulant that may prevent you from falling asleep. Photo: Blue Bottle Coffee

3. Avoid alcohol and caffeine

Having a nightcap or post-dinner espresso might feel relaxing, but it could lead to a long night.

While alcohol can help you fall asleep initially, it can disrupt your sleep cycle, reducing the quality of sleep and increasing the chances you will wake up more often in the middle of the night.

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Caffeine is a stimulant that blocks adenosine, a chemical that contributes to the feeling of sleepiness – and it can take your body up to 10 hours to clear caffeine.

Experts suggest finishing up your caffeinated or boozy beverages several hours before bed.

4. Turn off digital devices

Light from phones and computer screens can disrupt the circadian rhythm – or the internal clock that naturally wakes us up – by suppressing melatonin, which assists with sleep.
The light from a phone can disrupt the circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin, which helps with sleep. Photo: Shutterstock

But you will need self-discipline to stop streaming or scrolling, said Dr Dianne Augelli, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

“TikTok doesn’t want you to stop,” Augelli said. “Only you can stop you, so you have to learn to put that stuff away.”

5. See a doctor

If nothing is working and you have struggled to get a good night’s sleep for more than a month, experts say it is time to go to a doctor. This is especially true if your sleepless nights are interfering with your work performance or your mood.

“It doesn’t matter how much relaxation you do. At a certain point, it’s not going to be effective if there’s a significant amount of stress,” Atwood said. “It might involve some problem-solving to figure that out.”

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