Scale back on caffeine, skip the nightcap, sign off electronics several hours before bed— we all know the standard how-to-get-your-slumber advice so well, we could recite it in our sleep…if only we could sleep! Yet many of us still toss and turn despite following all the top tips, then suffer the consequences in the form of brain fog, fatigue, and bad moods during our already-taxing days — a distressing cycle that repeats night after night.
What are we missing? To find out, we turned to sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD, author of The Power of When, and he clued us into some surprising science. “Culprits that women don’t typically suspect can rob them of the high-quality sleep they need.” And many of these sleep disrupters are actually part of many women’s nighttime routines. The good news: Once you know what the offenders are, outsmarting them is easy. Here, the sneaky saboteurs and the expert-backed strategies that defeat them so you can get the rest you deserve.
The scents of cinnamon and peppermint have invigorating effects that can boost alertness by 25 percent, according to research at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. “If these ingredients are included in the toothpaste you brush with before bed, their perking effects can impede the brain’s ability to wind down, keeping you from easing into sleep,” says W. Christopher Winter, MD, author of The Sleep Solution.
His advice to sync into sleep mode: “Save your zingy toothpaste for morning when you’ll benefit from the boost and switch to one with a milder flavor at night.” One to try: Cleure Flavor-Free Toothpaste ($4, Amazon).
Your Dark, Quiet Bedroom
Closing your bedroom door keeps out the light that can impede sleep, but Breus points to a downside: “Substances, such as dust and the carbon dioxide we exhale during respiration, can build up in closed-off bedrooms and interfere with breathing at night, causing sleep problems.” Indeed, research reveals that carbon dioxide can reach problematic levels in unventilated bedrooms within an hour, increasing the risk of delayed sleep onset by 45 percent and upping the odds of nighttime awakenings by 28 percent. To improve air quality and sleep quality, Breus advises opening a window several inches to let air circulate at night. If cold weather makes that impractical, consider wearing a light-blocking sleep mask and leaving the door ajar — a strategy researchers in the Netherlands found slashes carbon dioxide.
Your Sleep Supplement
Taking melatonin has been shown time and again to improve sleep, but it can backfire at the high doses found in many popular supplements. “Melatonin rises in the body at night to facilitate sleep, then falls to let you awaken in the morning,” notes Rubin Naiman, PhD, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson. “But high doses can cause levels to spike too fast, then drop too early, which triggers night-time awakenings.” His advice: Take a timed-release product with 300 mcg to 1 mg of melatonin (like Life Extension Melatonin 6 Hour Timed Release 300 mcg; $9, Amazon) 30 minutes before bed. “This sustains the levels that enhance the natural sleep process, rather than disrupting it.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.