If you find yourself counting sheep to no avail and often pop a sleeping pill in hopes of finally catching some zzz’s, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about a third of American adults aren’t getting the recommended 7–8 hours a night. Instead of relying on a sleep aid—which puts you at risk for side effects as seemingly minor as unusual dreams to more severe ones such as memory impairment and appetite swings—you can try nipping those insomnia buds naturally.
Sleep restriction therapy, a component of CBT-I or insomnia-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, helps you spend more time sleeping than trying to. Intrigued yet? The process begins with the patient logging the number of shut-eye hours they get per night for several weeks and then sticking to a consistent wake-up time every day. Once you’ve set your alarm clock to your desired time (and vowed not to hit snooze), make sure to hit the sack only when you’re fully exhausted. If you actually sleep through the night until the alarm rings, you’re encouraged to set a slightly earlier bedtime (about 15 minutes earlier than the night before) the next evening until you’ve clocked in your eight hours.
“By keeping patients awake for longer, we build up a strong sleep pressure,” Matthew Walker, the director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley wrote in his book Why We Sleep. Instead of going to sleep when you think you’re supposed to, hitting the pillow when you’re too sleepy to keep your eyes open—no matter how long it takes—can help you delve into the deep, restful slumber you’ve been seeking. Doing so will also condition your mind to associate bed with sleep rather than the frustrating failure to achieve it. And while you may feel like a zombie the first few weeks of trying this method, you’ll be thankful once you’ve cured chronic insomnia for good. For more tips to help you fully calibrate your circadian rhythm, check out these 25 Doctor’s Own Tips for Better Sleep.