Improve your sleep
Getting a good night’s rest can be difficult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-quarter of the U.S. population reports not getting enough sleep from time to time. Insufficient sleep raises your risk of accidental injury and many chronic health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
Getting the rest you need may require some lifestyle changes. It's important to develop habits that promote good health and eliminate those that keep you up at night. Here are some tips to help you improve your sleep hygiene and prepare the perfect environment to catch some Zzz’s.
Establish a routine
A consistent sleep schedule is a critical part of developing good sleep hygiene. According to the Mayo Clinic, frequently changing the times you go to bed and wake up confuses your body's biological clock. Following a regular schedule, even on weekends and holidays, can help you get the rest you need.
To stick to a schedule, prepare your mind and body for sleep by developing a relaxing bedtime routine that begins around the same time each evening. For example, take a warm bath, listen to soothing music, read a book, or do other activities that help you wind down. This will signal to your body that bedtime is coming and help you fall asleep more quickly and easily.
Keep electronics out of your bed
Try to separate your bedroom from other facets of your life that may cause stress, tension, or stimulation. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the presence of electronic devices such as laptops and cell phones can make it harder to fall asleep.
The blue light from glowing electronic screens suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, an important hormone for sleep. If you tend to associate your bed with activities other than sleep or sex, that can also make it harder to calm your mind and drift off.
Avoid watching television, using your computer, or checking your phone in bed. You should also avoid working, eating, or even having a heated discussion with your significant other in your sleeping environment. Strengthening the association between your bed and sleep may help you clear your mind at bedtime.
Set the scene
Imagine yourself in a perfect slumber. What does the room look like? How does that compare to your current bedroom? According to the Mayo Clinic, improving your sleep may mean making changes to your environment.
First, examine your bed. Is it large enough? Do you wake up with a sore neck? Do you constantly bump knees with your spouse? A new bed, mattress, pillow, or comforter could make a huge difference.
Next, think about your bedroom at night. Light, sound, and temperature are some of the most common causes of sleep disruption. Try finding ways to moderate those factors and create a consistently quiet, dark, and cool environment.
If you can't ignore the noises around you, invest in earplugs, a fan, or a sound machine that produces soothing white noise. Use window shades or blinds to block light from outside and make sure any indoor lights are off. Lastly, keep the temperature of your room consistently comfortable and cool.
Mind what you drink
What you drink in the hours before bedtime can make or break your ability to fall asleep. Caffeine and alcohol are two common sleep disrupting culprits.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, the effects of caffeine can take six to eight hours to wear off. So avoid drinking caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or soda, in the late afternoon or evening.
Alcohol is a sedative that can make you tired, but it also disrupts the quality of your sleep. It can result in lighter and less restorative stages of sleep, which can leave you feeling groggy the next morning. Avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime, and limit yourself to one to two alcoholic beverages per day.
Try drinking a small cup of something with a calming effect before bed, such as hot herbal tea or milk. Drinking too much of any liquid before bed may lead to bathroom trips during the night, which can also disrupt your sleep.
Get up and try again
Even with these tips, you might find it hard to fall asleep sometimes. While following a regular sleep schedule is important, forcing yourself to sleep rarely works.
If you’re still lying awake after 15 minutes of trying to fall asleep, get out of bed and do something else, suggests the Mayo Clinic. For example, go through your bedtime relaxation ritual again. Take a bath, read, or listen to soothing music. Then go back to bed when the anxiety of not being able to fall asleep is gone.
No matter how tempted you are, don’t turn on the television, get on your computer, or check your texts or email. Try not to expose yourself to bright light, extreme temperatures, or loud sounds. These stimulating activities will only make it harder for you to get into sleep mode.
What you can do now
Practicing good sleep hygiene can help you fall asleep more quickly and enjoy better quality sleep. Follow a regular sleep schedule, develop a relaxing bedtime routine, and create an environment that helps you doze off. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and glowing electronic screens in the hours before bedtime. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t force it. Get up and enjoy some relaxing activities. Then try again when you feel more restful.
If sleep still remains a struggle, speak to your doctor. An underlying health condition or other factors may be affecting your ability to sleep. Your doctor may recommend additional lifestyle changes, medications, or other strategies to help you get the rest you need.