Tips for Great Sleep

Six Ways to Improve Your Sleep

By Anika Nayak

Having difficulty getting a good night’s sleep? You are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about a third of U.S. adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep.

Getting enough hours of shut-eye is not a luxury. Adults need at least seven hours of sleep for good health, otherwise they can be at-risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and other diseases.  Make your sleep a priority for your well-being!

Quality sleep can be difficult to navigate sometimes. While you may not be able to directly influence the factors that impact your sleep, you can take healthy steps towards optimizing your sleep at night. From setting a schedule, to seeking professional help, try these simple sleep hygiene practices.

Build a sleep schedule with constant sleep and wake times. 

Make sure you build a consistent sleep routine for yourself to get in at least seven hours of sleep each night. Aim to sleep and wake up at specific times and stick to this schedule.  This plan should be honored as much as possible, even on weekends as it helps your body get accustomed to a sleep-wake cycle.

“The most important thing you can do is to set a wake-up time for yourself and stick to it 7 days a week. Even if you go to bed late one night, or have trouble falling asleep, keep your wake-up time the same,” says Annie Miller, LCSW-C, LICSW, a psychotherapist of DC Metro Therapy. Yes, you may be tired the next day, but it will help you to build sleep drive and fall asleep more easily in the coming nights.”

Avoid naps longer than 20 minutes. 

Naps can be quite tempting, especially if you are quarantined in your home all day. As tempting as they seem, limiting your naps to 20 minutes a day helps you sleep better at night.  There are also certain ideal times to take a nap, such as the early afternoon that gives your body a good enough rest before bedtime in the evening, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic.  It may be difficult to significantly decrease or eliminate your naps, so slowly ease into ultimately taking one short nap a day.

“If you nap too long during the day, you may feel groggy and it also can make it difficult to fall asleep that night. Long naps can negatively affect sleep drive, our innate need for sleep,” says Miller.

Eliminate light exposure during bedtime. 

The amount of light exposure in your room can interfere with your sleep. The CDC recommends removing electronic devices, such as TVs, laptops, and smartphones from the bedroom at nighttime as it can interfere with your sleep. Specifically, electronics emit a sort of blue light that messes with the “sleep” hormone melatonin, making it challenging to fall asleep quickly. . Make sure to take away gadgets and block other sources of light, like using a curtain to bar the luminosity of an outdoor street lamp, for great sleep.

While there is evidence that blue light at night can negatively impact sleep, it is not something individuals should get hung up about, explains Miller. “People who struggle with insomnia or difficulty sleeping tend to get super focused or even worried about blue light, but really it is more of an issue for individuals with circadian rhythm problems. Using the blue light filter on your phone or tablet can help at night. Most people with trouble sleeping can do just fine with the night shift filters. It’s more important to focus on sleep, which is a driving factor for insomnia.”

Limit caffeine and heavy meals before bed. 

Avoid going to bed super full, as the discomfort can keep you awake for a while. Large meals, caffeine, and alcohol should not really be consumed right before bedtime, says the CDC. While a warm cup of tea may be relaxing at night,  it can take four to six hours for half the caffeine you have consumed to exit your body. If you need a quick refreshment before lying down in bed, opt for a caffeine-free drink or healthy fruit instead.

“Drinking [something] before bed can help you fall asleep faster but it worsens sleep quality,” says Miller. She recommends avoiding alcohol and drinking heavy amounts of liquid before bedtime.

 Create a comfortable nighttime environment. 

Find a setting that is ideal for sleeping to receive the best shuteye. Make sure the room is dark, quiet, and cool. While you take care of your physical surroundings for optimal comfort, also make space for yourself to ease into sleep.  Engaging in calming activities can promote relaxation as you transition into a slumber. Try meditation, deep breathing, and other mindfulness practices to focus into your present state.

“It helps to like your sleep environment, but you want to make sure that the only thing you are doing in bed is sleeping,” says Miller. “That means no reading, watching TV, or looking at your phone. Your bed should be the place where you sleep and that’s it. Right now, many people are working from home and end up working from bed. But it’s important to keep your bed just for sleep and work in a separate space.”

Seek professional help if your difficult falling asleep persists. 

There may be a lot of underlying factors that could be keeping you up. We all have bad nights occasionally, which is okay. However, if you are experiencing difficulties falling or staying asleep for longer than a month, it may be time to seek professional help.  There are experts out there specialized in behavioral sleep medicine who can help you on the path to wellness and good sleep, Miller says.

Dr. Joel Gould, DDS, the founder of Sleep Restoration Program at Modern American Dentistry recommends seeing a sleep specialist with “an organic focus on sleep and a kind caring program to help those who know they are not sleeping properly.” You can also speak to your primary healthcare provider about finding a specialized expert for better sleep.

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