Your head pounds. You feel unmotivated, irritable, and depressed. You can't concentrate or come up with creative ideas for your project at work. The dinner party you were looking forward to all week suddenly feels like an enormous burden on your dwindling energy reserves. You wish the world would leave you alone, at least until you had a chance to catch up on your sleep. But you can't help feeling this way. The neighbor's dog barked for half of the night, and the rest of the night you were restless and just couldn't seem to get comfortable.

Many environmental and behavioral factors can influence the quality and quantity of your sleep. The good news is that a number of these things are within your power to change. You can create a routine that is more conducive to healthy sleep by implementing the following strategies.

Environmental Strategies for Healthy Sleep

  • Make sure you have a comfortable, supportive mattress and foundation. Try out different mattresses before you buy a new one. If you share your bed, a queen or king-sized mattress will allow you enough room to stretch out comfortably while you sleep.
  • Your bedroom should be very dark. If you sleep during the day because of shift work, invest in shades and curtains that keep out the maximum of light. Sleep masks can also help.
  • If noise keeps you awake, buy some heavy duty earplugs. White noise—a steady, humming, relaxing noise from air conditioners, fans, heaters, and "white noise machines"—can drown out disturbing noises. Double-paned windows can also help.
  • Be sure that the temperature of the room is not too hot or too cold. Rather than turning up the heat, use more blankets. If you're too warm, try a fan or an air conditioner. A humidifier or dehumidifier can make your environment more comfortable by regulating dryness and humidity.
  • Get more sunlight during the day-or get a light box or light visor.
  • Some people find the use of scents or aromatherapy relaxing. Experiment with scented candles or incense that appeal to you.

Behavioral Strategies for Healthy Sleep

  • Go to bed at the same each night—even on the weekends.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine (coffee, tea, cola or chocolate) in the afternoon and evening. Also, beware that certain over-the-counter cold medications have a stimulant effect.
  • Use your bed for sleep and sex only.
  • Take a warm bath before going to bed.
  • Set aside some time during the day (well before bedtime) for worrying and dealing with upsetting situations.
  • Try some relaxation exercises before bedtime—deep breathing, relaxation tapes, etc.
  • Exercise regularly, but not within at least 6 hours of bedtime.
  • Don't go to bed hungry or full. A light snack about 3-4 hours before bed can help. Carbohydrates such as cereal, crackers, and bread are good choices. Foods with tryptophan such as turkey and dairy products can help make you sleepy. Avoid spicy foods, heavy foods, and eating too fast, all of which can cause ]]>heartburn]]> .
  • Avoid drinking a lot of water before bedtime or you may need to urinate frequently during the night. If you wake up frequently due to a need to urinate or shortness of breath, this could be a sign of a more serious medical problem. Consult with your physician immediately.
  • Try not to focus on falling asleep. Don't keep looking at the clock.
  • If you can't fall asleep, get up and do something. Do not lie in your bed for more than 20 minutes if you you're having difficulty sleeping.
  • Don't have any alcohol within six hours of bedtime, and don't smoke at least two hours before going to bed. It's best not to smoke at all; smokers tend to have more disrupted sleep than nonsmokers.
  • Don't stay up too late. Make sleep a priority.
  • Don't nap during the day if you have trouble sleeping at night.
  • If you have an infant who wakes you at night, take a nap during the day when he does. If you have young children, let them sleep in their own beds rather than with you at night.