We’ve all muddled through days when we feel sleep deprived. Our productivity and performance suffer. Our motivation is in the toilet. But while occasionally getting by on a few hours of sleep is not ideal, it’s normal. Chronic sleep deprivation is more serious. Going without sleep on a regular basis can compromise the immune system, lead to weight gain and increase heart disease risk factors. It’s essential to fix sleep problems before they become too overwhelming.

It’s easy to Google well-written articles on good sleep hygiene. So instead, I want to give you four ways to fix your sleep problems that aren’t discussed nearly enough.  

  1. Sleep like a child. Consistency matters. Children often have strict sleep schedules. Parents ensure they go to bed and awaken at the same time every day. Parents may even limit fluid consumption before bedtime, so children are more likely to sleep through the night. It’s smart for adults to do the same thing. Keeping a sleep schedule routine, even on weekends, helps train your body’s internal clock. Eventually, it will be easier for you to fall asleep and wake up.
  2. Enjoy a pre-bed snack. The combination of protein, complex carbs and a little magnesium can help make you sleepy. Also, athletes who are training hard should snack on fiber and protein before going to sleep to help with tissue repair and recovery. Just don’t make it an entire meal. Some smart 100-calorie options include a sliced apple with one ounce of cheese; a hard-boiled egg and one slice of whole-grain toast; or organic yogurt topped with a chopped almonds.
  3. Supplement with valerian extract. Valerian is an herb that promotes relaxation. It may also reduce insomnia, increasing your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Valerian is generally considered safe, and unlike other sleep medications, you are unlikely to become dependent on it. Just don’t take it with alcohol, sedatives or anti-anxiety medications. For best results, take 400–900 mg of valerian extract about 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime or have it as a tea.
  4. Relax by learning to box breathe. You may be in bed, but your mind is racing. Sound familiar? Clear your mind by slowing your breathing. Box breathing is a simple relaxation technique used by people with high-stress jobs.
Box Breathing Illustration
Box Breathing Illustration

There are four easy steps:

  1. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose while slowly counting to four.
  2. Hold your breath inside while counting slowly to four.
  3. Slowly exhale while counting to four.
  4. Repeat the first three steps until you feel calm.

If sleep problems persist, see a healthcare professional to make sure there are no underlying medical problems such as obstructive sleep apnea.