How to overcome the 5 most common sleep problems and get a good night's rest
If you could buy a product that made you think better, feel better, and be healthier, would you invest? Sleep does all that for free, but more than a third of adults aren’t getting the recommended seven hours of sleep each night. We’ve outlined five common sleep problems and asked the experts how to overcome them so you (and your partner) can enjoy sleep’s restorative powers at last.
1The problem: snoring
The solution: The important tools are patience and persistence: Most people have to try a few potential fixes. Snoring tends to be related to loose tissue at the back of the throat that partially blocks your airway when you’re lying down. Breathing makes it flap like a tarp on a car in the wind—sleeping on your back makes it worse.
To get a back-sleeper to turn over, “use the tennis ball trick,” says Shelby Harris, Psy.D., a sleep psychologist in Westchester, NY. Here’s how: Sew a small ball in the pocket of a T-shirt and wear it to bed backward. The discomfort will train you to sleep in a different position. Or ask your dentist about getting a mouth guard that stops tissue at the back of the throat from blocking airflow.
Sleep apnea happens when your airways become completely blocked during sleep. The gold standard remedy is a CPAP machine—you wear a mask that delivers continuous air pressure to keep your airways open.
2The problem: tossing and turning
The solution: Although you can’t prevent a partner from moving around, you can minimize the effects. Certain beds reduce the reverb, or motion, you feel from the tossing. Consider two twin mattresses with a mattress connector, Harris says. A bed without coils, like a foam one, may also help. “Some people even put large pillows between partners,” she says. Or consider sleeping separately. Some couples create nighttime wind-down routines, starting out together then retiring to individual rooms. “It takes away any resentment and can make a big difference,” Harris says.
3The problem: I can’t fall asleep
The solution: Many people expect to go from a day of flying at full throttle to a complete stop on command, says Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. But even fighter planes decelerate before touching down. Do the same for yourself by establishing a bedtime routine that signals to your brain and body when it’s time to release the energy of the day. The most crucial step: Disconnecting from screens at least an hour before bed. The light they emit (even in nighttime mode, some research recently discovered) suppresses melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep.
It’s OK if it takes you a while to get situated and comfortable when you get into bed, but if you’re tossing for 20 minutes or more, get up and do something relaxing in dim light. Staying awake in bed creates what experts call learned insomnia, which means you’re learning to associate the bed with restlessness and frustration.
4The problem: I wake up and can’t fall back asleep
The solution: Lingering in bed agitated is what keeps you awake, Naiman says. Though it’s normal to have four or five “microawakenings” throughout the night, the problem is when you become alert and then stress about it. If that happens, get out of bed without looking at the clock and leave the frustration behind.
Try to turn your attention away from the fact that you’re up. Instead, tap into whatever will calm you: knitting, focusing on your breath, progressively tensing and relaxing your muscles (start at your toes and work up to your head). When you start to feel sleepy, get back in bed.
5The problem: I don’t have enough hours in the day
The solution: Not getting enough sleep actually makes you less effective, so as tough as it is, try to let go of the mindset that running on few hours of sleep means you’re hard-driving and productive. Your body loves consistency, so decide on a bedtime, set an alarm for 30 minutes before to start winding down, and manage your schedule around that. Think about what might be optional (that half hour of online solitaire?) and also about efficiencies. For example, try cleaning for 15 minutes a day rather than staying up an hour late on Thursday.
Other than waking up feeling refreshed, there are a few ways to know if you’re sleeping long enough. You shouldn’t feel ready to doze off while in a car stopped in traffic for a few minutes, in a public place like a theater, in the car passenger seat for an hour, or while reading or watching television.
Looking for more advice for getting adequate sleep and feeling your best? You can also try a temperature-regulating mattress, weighted sleep mask, or weighted blanket to relax and fall asleep faster.