I've Always Had Trouble Sleeping—Until I Made This Simple Change

Some people are “good sleepers,” drifting off in minutes, then resting soundly until the blast of an alarm. Unfortunately, that’s def not the case for me. In those groggy moments after lights out, I cycle through my to-do list and have all sorts of unrestful thoughts spinning through my brain. Then, after I finally pass out, I often wake up around 4 a.m. and have difficulty getting back to sleep. So yeah, the struggle is REAL.

I’m not alone in my difficulties to get—and stay—asleep, either. Seventy million Americans have chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And about 30 percent of American adults are living with short-term insomnia, or a difficulty sleeping for nights or even weeks at a time, the American Sleep Association (ASA) notes.

Laymik/Noun Project

But recently, I decided that I didn’t want “bad sleeper” to be part of my permanent identity. I was sick and tired of feeling groggy 24/7, so I chose three science-backed snooze strategies I felt I could stick with and gave them a test run for three weeks. Here’s how they affected my shut-eye—and how making similar bedtime changes might impact your sleep quality, too.

Change #1: I got a new mattress

After 10 years sleeping on my mattress, its divots and sags felt familiar to me; you could almost see the weight disparity between my husband and me just by looking at it. It turns out, those were sure signs my mattress had been used beyond its lifespan.

Experts at the National Sleep Foundation say mattresses typically need replacing after eight years; The Better Sleep Council pegs it at seven years. While the number of years may vary, both groups agree: Visible sagging is a sign your mattress is kaput. So to kick off my sleep makeover, I started with the obvious: a new mattress.

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Melissa Kruse

I opted for one from Avocado, a husband-and-wife-led natural mattress company. I was attracted to the idea of an eco-friendly mattress because conventional ones tend to contain potentially toxic materials. In contrast, Avocado mattresses are made from familiar products like GOTS certified wool and cotton, along with all-natural latex and hydrated silica, which naturally protect against fire.

To my delight, my mattress (and my new mattress protector and pillows) arrived in a box sans any weird “new car” chemical odors.

My husband compares my sleep to a brick, then a log, before running out of inert, heavy objects.

After a few nights sleeping on my new mattress, I noticed that my morning back pain was a thing of the past. My mid-sleep insomnia moments seemed to go away, and I actually woke up feeling rested. The mattress sleeps cool, too. That’s a big deal since my husband is a heat-emitting furnace, and sleep experts recommend cooler temperatures in the bedroom for better sleep.

It’s not just me that sees the difference, either. After a week or so in, my husband COMPARED my sleep to, first, a brick, and then a log, before running out of inert, heavy objects.

Change #2: I eliminated late-night eating

Anyone who’s ever indulged in midnight pizza—and suffered through unsettled sleep and distressing dreams afterward—knows all too well that late-night eating can mess with your shut-eye like whoa. I’ve totally been there, and yet, as the witching hour approaches, my cravings for sweets and snacks (kept under tight control all day) heighten.

Nick Green/Noun Project

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends avoiding large meals before bedtime and eating a light, healthy snack if you’re hungry. (I’m guessing a peanut butter cup doesn’t count? 🤷🏻‍♀️) I made a new rule for myself: No eating after 9 p.m. Bedtime for me is typically between 11 and midnight, so that gave me a couple of solid hours of food-free time before lights out.

This self-imposed guideline was a bigger challenge than I expected. The first hitch came just a few days in: I went out for happy hour drinks, and making dinner once I got back home took longer than I anticipated. I was still eating when my “stop eating” alarm went off. 😬😬😬

Water became my biggest support. Let’s just say, I’m profoundly well hydrated.

Late-night dinners weren’t the only challenge I encountered. Next, my niece’s Girl Scout cookies arrived. My husband wasn’t participating in my food curfew, and it required extreme levels of self-restraint to watch him nosh on Somoas and Thin Mints and not grab a handful for myself. Water became my biggest support.

Now, I sip it whenever I crave something sweet or salty, or just something to nibble on. Let’s just say, I’m profoundly well hydrated.

Change #3: I ditched screens before bed

By now, you’re probably well aware: Electronic screens (that includes TVs and smartphones) before bed are a big mistake. According to The National Sleep Foundation, screen time can reduce your production on melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone. In turn, your brain feels totally wired. (Turns out, the segue from news and emails to rest is not a smooth one.) So for 30 minutes before bed, I went screen-free. No Netflix binging, no Instagram double-tapping, and absolutely no checking my email.

Sandra/Noun Project

This wasn’t easy. Turns out, I somehow forgot how to go to bed without my phone and time spent roaming around online. I opted to read an old-fashioned paperback instead. I tried to read in the living room until I got sleepy, then go right to bed; I also tried reading in bed before shutting out my bedside light.

Basically, this meant I went into my bedroom and crawled under the covers when I got sleepy (as opposed to using the clock as my cue). The experts are correct: I drifted off easier this way. And, I’m very pleased that my work-related dreams seemed to dial down as well.

So, how did my experiment go?

I went into this three-week trial feeling optimistic. But I’m still astounded by just how effective these changes were—it’s uncommon now for me to obsess over my to-do list before bed. I wouldn’t say I drift off in minutes, but I definitely do fall asleep faster. I wake up less in the middle of the night, too, and feel better rested in the morning.

These changes may have been simple, but I can tell already that sticking to them—not snacking late night, and not scrolling on my phone groggily—won’t necessarily be easy. (Flopping onto my new mattress, in contrast, is an easy-breezy adjustment.) Bottom line: My phone and late-night cookies may be tempting, but the lure of an easy entry into shuteye and restful, deep sleep is far more alluring.

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