7 Secrets about getting a good night's sleep

Reader's Digest Editors

Getting a good night's sleep is so essential for functioning well in your daily activities—here are seven secrets for making sure you're getting plenty of shut-eye

1. Get your ZZZ’s for better memory

If you go to your doctor complaining that you no longer remember the cat’s name and you forgot your dentist appointment twice, he might give you a short quiz, pat you on the back, and tell you that you’re fine—we’re all getting older. But will he ask you the critical question: How much sleep are you getting? Probably not. And that’s a shame, because a major study from Harvard Medical School sleep researchers found that the amount and quality of sleep you get significantly affects your memory, particularly the type of memory that helps you remember facts and events in time.

 

2. Skip the sleeping pill

Ever wonder why docs are so quick to whip out the prescription pad when you complain about insomnia? Because it’s easy, quick, and it works—temporarily. They also have only five minutes before they need to see their next patient, and it would take longer than that to explain the most effective therapy for insomnia— cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT. This therapy teaches you to realistically evaluate your insomnia and find ways to address it. For instance, you might learn that missing a night’s sleep isn’t so terrible. That, in turn, helps you feel less anxious about not falling asleep so you can, well, fall asleep! One study followed 63 adults with insomnia for eight weeks and found CBT worked better than the prescription medication Ambien (zolpidem).

 

3. Check your meds if you can’t sleep

Doctors are always supposed to ask you what medications you’re taking (or know by looking at your chart), but we’ve found they rarely do. So when you complain of insomnia, they may not think to connect your sleeplessness with some drug you’re taking. Yet many medications can interfere with sleep, says Dr. Mary Hardy of UCLA. These include beta blockers, thyroid medication, certain antidepressants like the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), decongestants, corticosteroids, and medications with caffeine (like Excedrin). If you’re seeing your doctor about insomnia, make a list of all drugs you’re taking—including over-thecounter medications and herbal and nutritional supplements. List the dosages you’re taking, too, and take them to the doctor with you.

 

4. Boil some lettuce for a good night’s sleep

It sounds yucky (and might make a bit of a mess) but lettuce contains a compound called lectucarium, which works similarly to opium in your brain. Since opium is a bit difficult to get these days (not to mention illegal), try this: Simmer three to four large lettuce leaves in a cup of water for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add two sprigs of mint, strain, and sip just before bed. Any kind of lettuce works, so go for the cheapest—plain ol’ iceberg.

 

5. Calm those restless legs with a bar of soap

It’s a common cause of insomnia: You go to bed, tired and ready to get a solid eight hours. Just as you’re drifting off, however, your legs jerk. And they continue to do this throughout the night, either keeping you from falling asleep or waking you up. While there is now an approved prescription medication for restless legs syndrome (there seems to be a drug for everything these days) side effects include confusion, dizziness, nausea and hallucinations. We have a better solution: Slip a bar of Ivory soap under your legs and the restlessness should disappear in about 3 to 5 minutes, says Dr. Lou Schlachter. It must be plain soap, she says, not a deodorant bar like Dial or Zest. The high magnesium content of the soap helps, she says. And, indeed, research links low levels of magnesium to restless legs. In one study of ten patients with restless legs syndrome, those taking 150 to 300 milligrams of elemental magnesium and 300 to 600 milligrams of calcium a half hour before bed woke less often and experienced fewer jerks after supplementing for four to six weeks.

 

6. Take a vitamin for better sleep

If your restless legs are keeping you awake, by all means try the bar of soap recommended above. But also pop a B vitamin. In one small study, researchers found that women with restless legs syndrome were deficient in folic acid, which is required for proper brain and nerve function. Supplementing with this vitamin, however, improved symptoms. Take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid a day, along with a 50-milligram B complex supplement to maintain a balance of B vitamins.

 

7. Exercise at the right time

It has been shown time and again that even mild exercise, like a half-hour of walking, can help you sleep better. But when you exercise is also important. Exercise is stimulating; it’s not something to do just before bedtime. Instead, plan your exercise for early evening—about four to six hours before bedtime. This is the time it takes for your body’s metabolism and temperature to drop after exercise, which primes your body for sleep.