Listen to soft music. Background music has been shown to help improve sleep. In one recent study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, senior citizens in Taiwan who had difficulty sleeping listened to calming music for 45 minutes before bedtime. They subsequently slept significantly longer and more deeply than those who didn’t hear the music.
Try: Whatever music you find soothing and relaxing. The Taiwan study used various selections, including harp music by Georgia Kelly, quiet jazz by Paul Desmond, and synthesized sounds by Steven Halpern.
Sip warm drinks. Chamomile tea works for many people, as does hot milk. “Some teas have mild soporific effects,” says Emsellem. “When you warm milk, it releases tryptophan,” an amino acid used by the body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter believed to promote sleep. “But over time the body can develop an immunity to tryptophan,” she adds, “and its sleep-promoting properties dissipate.” Some doctors suspect the power of warm drinks resides largely in the ritual of sipping them. “Biologically, we can’t find much evidence for these drinks,” Maas says. “But psychologically, if they make people relax and reduce stress, they work.”
Try: Warm milk, caffeine-free herbal tea, or hot water with lemon and honey. These drinks may help get your body ready for rest.
Breathe soothing scents. Lavender, in particular, is a scent that is said to help lull the body to sleep. But no scientific evidence supports this claim, so experts neither recommend nor discourage it. “It’s like 300-thread-count sheets,” Neubauer says. “If you believe it works, it will.”
Try: Anything that relaxes you before bedtime―a gentle scent or a nice, warm bath. Or combine them by adding a drop of lavender oil, like Divine Calm from the Body Shop ($16, thebodyshop.com) or from Purple Haze Lavender Farm (see calming sleep aid) to your bath.