Why is sleep so elusive for so many? Well, a big part of the problem is that many people are unwittingly sabotaging their natural ability to fall asleep. So how to get the job done without costly prescriptions and peculiar side effects (like sleep-eating and sleep-walking)?

The drug-free key is to start setting the stage long before you climb under the covers.

1. It’s Called a Bedroom for a Reason.

There are only two things you should do in bed, and they both begin with the letter “S,” as in sleep and sex. Conduct all other activities (e.g., watching TV, working on your laptop, and reading) elsewhere. Your bedroom should be a peaceful, distraction-free oasis that’s completely conducive to unwinding, resting, and, ultimately, sleeping (not to mention sex).

2. Take a Cue from the Vampires.

In other words, embrace the darkness. Though we may not realize it, even with the lights out, most of our bedrooms glow with the flicker of seemingly innocuous little lights blinking, flashing, and distracting our sleep—charging phones, flashing caller ID boxes, sleeping laptops, light-up alarm clocks, and night-lights to name a few. My advice? Banish them from the bedroom or cover the lighting mechanisms with electrical tape.

3. Chill Out, Literally.

Another simple way to improve sleep? To mimic our body’s own natural rhythm of cooling for sleep, lower your bedroom thermostat. A sleeping temperature of 60 to 65 degrees is best for most people, even in the dead of winter. Lower temperatures encourage the production and release of sleep hormones.

4. Break up with Starbucks.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant with a typical half-life of seven hours, which means that half of it is still coursing through your veins seven hours after you drink it! So, yes, that 3 p.m. latte can disrupt your ability to fall asleep (caffeine blocks sleep neurotransmitters, over-stimulates the adrenal glands, and throws off your circadian rhythms). The solution? Start slowly weaning yourself off all coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Don’t forget about those hidden sources of caffeine such as soft drinks, tea, even decaf coffee, some herbal teas, chocolate, and OTC medications like Anacin and Excedrin.

If that midday crash makes it nearly impossible to resist grabbing a cup of Joe or an energy drink, there are great ways to start and sustain energy all day long and proper napping techniques that can keep your engine running while needed and then turn it off to restore and revive.

5. Hold the Hi-Balls.

There’s nothing wrong with occasional glass of wine with dinner; however, in general, those with problems sleeping should avoid alcohol, as it can be as disruptive to the body’s sleep rhythms as caffeine. While alcohol has an initial sleep-inducing effect, as the body breaks it down, it can lighten and disrupt sleep by causing frequent and early awakening.

6. Set the Stage.

Ease into a nighttime routine. Turn down the bedroom lights an hour or so before lights out. Meditate or listen to calming classical music at low volume or try my favorite restorative yoga pose to chill out, Reclining Belt Pose. Take the time to slowly “power-down” your mind and body so you can drift happily into the good sleep you deserve.

Dr. Frank Lipman is an acclaimed Integrative Physician and the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. For over twenty years his personal brand of healing has helped thousands of people reclaim their vitality and recover their zest for life. Focused on sustainable wellness—instead of quick fixes—he offers patients a customized blend of Western medicine with acupuncture, nutritional counseling, vitamins and herbs, relaxation techniques, physical therapy, and bodywork. In 2010 he developed Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman, a line of leading-edge supplements and health programs. He is the author of Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again and Total Renewal: 7 Key Steps to Resilience, Vitality and Long-Term Health.

For more on Dr. Lipman, please visit his resourceful WEBSITE or on FACEBOOK or TWITTER.

*Photo by bitzcelt.