Sleep. There's nothing like the feeling of waking up rested and ready to tackle the day, but approximately 25 percent of adults in the United States report getting insufficient sleep.1 So what steps can we take to get a better night’s sleep?
Don’t eat or drink too much close to bedtime
Eating too close to bed time can lead to acid reflux and indigestion, even if you don’t suffer from these problems during the day. Getting horizontal too soon after eating makes it much easier for stomach acid to flow in the wrong direction, creating heartburn which could keep you awake during the night.
Drinking too close to bed time can have the obvious effect of making you wake to use the bathroom throughout the night. However, timing is not the only concern. Although consuming alcohol may initially make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep, alcohol increases your chances of waking up after a few hours and having a difficult time getting back to sleep. “Alcohol may seem to be helping you to sleep, as it helps induce sleep, but overall it is more disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night,” says researcher Irshaad Ebrahim. He is the medical director at The London Sleep Centre in the U.K. “Alcohol also suppresses breathing and can precipitate sleep apnea,” or pauses in breathing that happen throughout the night.
Reduce light exposure before bedtime and during sleep
Light plays an important role in our sleep cycle. Light increases a human’s alertness and reaction time. While this is good news during the day, light can keep us from achieving a deep and restful sleep during the night. According to Harvard Health, “While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully.” The biggest offenders of blue light emission comes from cell phones and computer screens. Harvard Health suggests the following ways to limit blue light exposure at night:
- Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light is less likely to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
- Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
- If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.
- Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.
Stop consuming caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime
According to the Sleep Foundation, “While it is important to note that caffeine cannot replace sleep, it can temporarily make us feel more alert by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production.” Eliminating caffeine intake at least 6 hours before bed time gives your body time to process out the caffeine, making it possible for your body to produce sleep-inducing chemicals, including melatonin, and prepare your body and mind for a better night’s sleep.
Stay on a consistent sleep schedule
Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein asserts, “Keeping a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends—maintains the timing of the body's internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.”2
Design your bedroom environment for optimal sleep
- Noise – Do your best to limit noise inside your bedroom and home, as well as blocking external noise. Even while sleeping, your brain is processing sound and noise. Less noise means less work for your brain and a better night’s sleep.
- External light – Block as much external light as possible, using blackout curtains or other window treatments that completely block light.
- Temperature – According to the Sleep Foundation, “Many sleep experts say that a cool room, somewhere around 65 degrees, makes for the best sleep, and research backs this notion. During the course of a normal day, your body temperature rises and falls slightly. This pattern is tied to your sleep cycle. As you become drowsy, your temperature goes down, reaches its lowest level around 5:00 a.m., and climbs slightly as morning begins. This is why the air in your room can affect the quality of your sleep: if it’s too hot, it may interfere with your body’s natural dip and make you more restless through the night. In fact, studies indicate that some forms of insomnia are associated with an improper regulation in body temperature. Of course each of us has a slightly different optimal temperature for sleep, so experiment with keeping your room cool and find what makes you most comfortable.”
- Relaxing and enjoyable décor – Colors and décor have a profound effect on our moods. When you enter your bedroom, the décor should make you feel relaxed, your pillows and bedding should be inviting to you. Décor and bedding that makes you relaxed and comfortable sets the stage for better sleep. Select products that address your specific needs, such as blackout curtains if you have external light that could interrupt your sleep, a comforter that provides warmth without overheating if you “sleep hot”, and pillows that provide your optimal comfort level.
Relax and clear your mind
Having a bedtime routine is more than brushing your teeth and putting on your pajamas. Creating a consistent bedtime routine can help you transition from daytime mode to being ready for sleep. Here are some suggestions for things that may help you relax and clear your mind so you are prepared to let your day fade into the background.
- Take a hot bath
- Read a book
- Listen to relaxing music
Once you’ve created a calming sleep environment and a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, you’ll be on your way to sleeping better. If you are changing your bedtime routine, remember to give yourself ample time to adjust. While change isn’t always easy, remind yourself that creating this new, more relaxing environment and routine will have a positive effect on the quality of your sleep and may lead to a healthier you!
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perceived Insufficient Rest or Sleep Among Adults—United States, 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 58:1179.