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Bad Night?

You’re dragging after a night of tossing and turning. It’s probably going to be a tough day at work. What can you do to make things a little easier and make sure you sleep better tonight?  

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Don't: Hit The Snooze Button

Is there anything sweeter? It’s not like you’re really “sleeping in,” and that extra 10 minutes is just the thing to give you a bit of extra energy, right? Not really. You need up to an hour of extra ZZZs before it helps. Otherwise, you’re really just creating stress for yourself by shortening your morning prep time.   

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Don't: Sleep In

You decide to take the morning off. You can make up that sleep from 9 to noon, right? Tempting, but probably a bad idea. You set your body’s “internal clock” when you go to bed and get up at the same time each day. It’s best to stick to that routine, even if you didn’t sleep well. It'll help get your cycle back on track.

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Do: Get Some Sun

It helps your body set its clock. It can also help counter sleeplessness by helping your mood and brain. So if you want to get more sleep tonight than last night, wake up and greet the light of the day. It helps to get out in the middle of the day, too. If you’re in an office, maybe take a little stroll through the park around lunchtime.

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person holding coffee cup
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Do: Get Some Caffeine, but Not Too Much

If you skip your regular morning coffee, you may get even groggier. It could also make you irritable and give you a headache. So have some. A little extra might even help you stay alert. Remember, though, that it sticks around in your system for several hours. So don’t overdo it. And don’t have caffeine -- coffee or otherwise -- close to bedtime.

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Do: Exercise -- at The Right Time

It can improve your sleep and help you fall asleep more quickly. But don’t do it too close to bedtime because it stimulates your body to make something called cortisol. That's a hormone that makes you more alert. That’s good when you’re trying to wake up for work. But it's not so good when you’re trying to get back to sleep. If you must exercise in the afternoon or evening, try to finish at least 3 hours before you go to bed.

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Do: Nap -- the Right Amount

A 20-minute nap will sharpen your attention and motor skills. A 90-minute one may improve your creative thinking. But naps between 20 and 90 minutes  (or your own personal sweet spot) can leave you more groggy than when you started. Set an alarm. Keep in mind that a nap of any length, especially later in the day, can make it harder to get to sleep in the evening. That can lead to a vicious cycle of sleeplessness and a messed-up sleep routine.   

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whiskey in glasses
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Don't: Drink Alcohol

It can make you sleepy. But after a few hours, as your body processes the alcohol, it wakes you up. And the quality of the sleep you do get after a few drinks may not be as good.

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Maybe: Take Melatonin

Your body makes it naturally and usually makes enough. But you can try a supplement of 1 to 3 milligrams 2 hours before bedtime after a sleepless night. It doesn’t make you sleepy, but can have a calming effect that can lead to sleep.  Don’t take it if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Also stay away if you have seizures, an autoimmune disease, or depression. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before you take it.  

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Do: Eat Light and Early

If you don't want to repeat last night’s lack of sleep, a big greasy burger, fries, and a shake at 11 p.m. probably won't help. Eat a lighter dinner several hours before bed. If you’re hungry later, snack lightly on foods that don’t disturb your sleep. Toast or yogurt are often easy on the system. 

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Don't: Smoke

You probably know that smoking is bad for your health. But if you’re already a smoker and you’re trying for a good night’s sleep, try not to do it too close to bedtime. Like caffeine, tobacco is a stimulant that can keep you from getting to sleep. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit smoking for good. 

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Don't: Surf the Internet

Too much of any light after the sun goes down can mess up your sleep, but the “blue light” given off by your smartphone, computer, or tablet is especially bad. Calm yourself before bed. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet, too.   

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Do: Hydrate

You want to drink enough fluids so that you don’t wake up thirsty in the middle of the night, but not so much that you wake up because you need to pee. And of course, avoid alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime.

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Don't: Make Big Decisions

Without proper sleep, your judgment goes down the tubes. Overworked brain cells can’t put thoughts together or remember basic information. Even your basic understanding of an event as it happens may be different. So keep your head together and wait. Things may be clearer after a good night’s rest.    

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Do: Chill Out for Bedtime

Start to relax as bedtime approaches: no bright lights or stressful talks or activities. All of that can make it hard to fall asleep. Try to keep your bedroom dark and quiet. And cool, too: 60-67 F is ideal.

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When to See Your Doctor

Sometimes sleeplessness is natural. A big event in your life -- good or bad -- may cause it. If this happens now and then, it may be nothing to worry about. If sleep problems start to change your general mood and work habits, it may be time to talk to your doctor. It's especially true if problems stick around for a month or more. Together, you can figure out why you're having trouble sleeping and what to do next.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/25/2017 Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 25, 2017


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Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine: “Sleep, Learning, and Memory,” “Sleep and Disease Risk,” “Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety,” “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep,” “Address Your Sleep Issues.”

John Hopkins Medicine: “Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?”

National Sleep Foundation: “Insomnia,” “A great night's sleep can depend on the visual conditions in your bedroom environment,” “Surprising ways a quick snooze is good for you,” “Caffeine and Sleep.”

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 25, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.