A few weeks ago, I took a sleep hygiene class thru my managed healthcare plan, focusing on sleep improvement. Here are a few things from the class I wanted to share (this was written by Eric Egli, Ph.D. and Valerie Wolfe, Ph.D):
Caffeine - Avoid after 2pm, or at least 8 hours before bedtime. Caffeine has a half-life of 8 hours which means that 8 hours after you drink a cup of coffee, you still have half of the caffeine content in your system. Also, try to limit daytime consumption to under 4-5 cups/day (avoid entirely if you are sensitive.
Alcohol - Avoid alcohol after dinner. Alcohol makes people sleepy at first but will wake them several hours later as the liver finishes metabolizing the alcohol. Alcohol also causes poor quality sleep.
Food - Light snack at bedtime may help sleep. Snacking on carbohydrates or items containing L-Tryptophan (milk or turkey) can aid sleep. However, avoid large meals and fatty foods. Do not make a habit of eating in the middle of the night.
Exercise - In addition to improving your health and mood, exercise can deepen sleep. In order to get the maximal sleeping benefits, exercise 4-5 hours before bedtime. This will initially raise your body's temperature, the later drop in temperature helps induce sleep. Vigorous exercise right before bedtime can active the body and cause sleep difficulties.
Nicotine - Avoid around bedtime. Although it's best to quit altogether, smoking should be reduced prior to bedtime. Do not smoke when you wake up in the middle of the night. If you do, your body may become used to that nightly nicotine dose. You will then experience urges to smoke that may wake you up.
Don't clock watch - Most people just get increasingly miserable every time they check the time - not a good way to fall asleep! They use the time and frequency of checking to determine how miserable the next day will be. If done regularly enough, your mind will start waking you up just to check the time.
Avoid Naps - Especially in the afternoon, naps over about 20 minutes will tend to subtract from that night's sleep.
Make your bed a place for sleep only. Don't read, watch TV, work, pay the bills, or spend time worrying your bed/bedroom either during the day or at night. If you don't fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and perform a quiet activity, such as reading a short story until you can barely keep your eyes open. Then return to bed.
Wake at the same time Sunday Through Sunday. This should be done consistently regardless of the time you went to bed or the amount of sleep obtained the previous night.
Use fatigue to train your body to fall asleep quickly and to sleep through the night. Many people exacerbate a minor sleep problem by going to bed too early (because they feel tired); this can cause people to wake through the night or to spend less time in deep sleep. Fatigue is critical in retraining the body to sleep well.