Your alarm goes off at 7 a.m. — are you well-rested? Or are you one of the roughly 35% of Americans who aren't getting enough sleep?
Despite the benefits of sleep, many adults aren't getting the 7 to 8 hours they need. However, it's not just about how much sleep you're getting — it's also about the quality of sleep each night.
Sleep is essential to your well-being. How you feel when you wake depends largely on how you slept the night before. During a good night's sleep, your body is working hard to keep your brain and body healthy.
Not getting enough sleep can be harmful over time and may lead to health issues, such as decreased productivity, depression, and even heart disease.
There are a number of causes of sleep deprivation, including lack of time, stress, or medical conditions, such as insomnia and sleep apnea. No matter the reason, there are effective and simple strategies to sleep better, making you happier, healthier, and more productive each day.
Here are 5 ways to get enough sleep each night.
1. Set a Routine — and Stick to It
Remember when you had a bedtime as a child? That routine may have been frustrating at the time, but consistency can actually benefit sleep — and not just in children.
Going to sleep and waking up at the same each day helps your body regulate its internal clock. That way, when your "bedtime" rolls around, your body is already adjusting to sleep mode. The same goes for when you wake up. Waking up at the same time each morning will ensure your body is ready to go for the day.
Your sleep schedule is just as important on the weekends as it is on weekdays. It's normal to want to change your routine for weekend activities, but try to limit the time difference to an hour. Too much variation can disrupt your body clock's sleep and wake rhythm.
There are other ways to incorporate consistency into your sleep routine, such as:
- Preserving the hour before bed for quiet time and avoiding exercise or artificial lights, such as from a television or computer screen
- Avoiding other activities in bed, such as eating or talking on the phone
- Following a routine before sleeping, such as reading or listening to music
Your body craves consistency — especially when it comes to sleep. Following a routine can help it transition smoothly in and out of sleep to improve its quality each night.
2. Set the Scene for a Good Night's Sleep
Whether it's light shining through your curtains or your neighbor's barking dog, there are plenty of ways your environment can disrupt your sleep. Your bedroom should be a haven for sleep — and it's up to you to set the mood.
Some ways you can make sure your environment promotes good sleep include:
- Managing noise levels by using earplugs to block out unwanted sounds or consistent noise, such as a fan or white noise machine
- Finding a comfortable room temperature — usually between 54°F and 75°F and typically leaning towards the cooler side
- Dimming the lights for about an hour before bed and using room darkening shades during the night
- Using a sleep-conducive mattress and pillow that you find comfortable — and replacing them when they become worn
You can also try some creative ways to create a sleep-friendly environment, such as painting your walls a relaxing color or using scents like lavender, which may decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.
Another factor that can diminish the quality of your sleep environment is a bed partner who snores. In addition to using earplugs, you may want to talk to your partner about seeing a physician to be tested for a sleep disorder. Certain disorders, such as sleep apnea, can cause snoring that can be stopped with airway pressure devices or oral appliances.
3. Watch What You Eat and Drink Before Bedtime
A glass of wine at night may sound relaxing — but it may be what's actually keeping you up at night. What you eat and drink, especially right before bed, can have a significant impact on the amount and quality of sleep you're getting.
Some ways you can prepare your body for sleep include:
- Not eating large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime (a light snack is usually okay)
- Avoiding alcoholic drinks before bed
- Not using nicotine, such as in cigarettes, before bed
- Limiting caffeinated drinks — the effects of caffeine can last as long as 8 hours
Try to schedule your meals and drinks according to when you plan to go to sleep. For example, adjust your dinner routine to allow time for your body to digest before bed or drink decaffeinated coffee in the evenings.
4. Get Moving, Especially Outdoors
You already know the numerous benefits of physical activity, such as weight management, heart health, and bone strength. But did you know that exercise can actually help you sleep better at night?
After as little as a month of regular exercise, adults with insomnia may fall asleep quicker, sleep for longer durations, and experience better sleep quality than before they began exercising.
Exercise can promote quality sleep by reducing stress, depression, and anxiety — all of which make it harder for you to sleep. It may also reset your sleep and wake cycle to help you fall asleep faster.
Exercising before bed used to be thought of as detrimental to sleep. However, some people find that exercise actually tires them out, causing them to fall asleep more quickly. Find out what works for you, and keep doing it.
If you can find a way to exercise outside — or simply spend some time outdoors — that may improve your sleep, as well. Spending time outdoors each day can make it easier to fall asleep at night.
5. Use Relaxation Techniques to Fall Asleep
Counting sheep may sound outdated, but it may actually be an effective way to fall asleep. If sheep aren't your thing, there are plenty of other relaxation techniques that can help you feel more relaxed and ease into sleep mode.
In order to fall asleep, it's helpful to quiet your mind and calm your body. Some ways to do this include:
- Taking a hot bath
- Doing breathing exercises, which involve focusing on your breath and releasing tension
- Using guided imagery, such as visualizing a scene, memory, or story that you find calming
- Practicing muscle relaxation, where you tense and relax each muscle group in your body to remove tension
If you're lying awake in bed for more than 20 minutes, go to another room of your house (with the lights dimmed) and do something relaxing, such as read. Then, come back to bed when you feel tired.
It can also be helpful to turn your clock away and put your electronic devices out of reach. Focusing on the time can create anxiety, and it's best to let your body do its job without the pressure of a ticking clock.
When Sleep Strategies Aren't Enough
If you've tried all the tricks and you've (literally) exhausted your options, you may want to try other methods, such as sleeping pills or melatonin. However, it's important to check with your physician before taking these, as they can interact with other medications. They may also cause side effects, such as daytime drowsiness, dizziness, or sleepwalking.
You may also consider seeing your physician to be tested for a sleep disorder. Signs of a sleep disorder include:
- Snoring, especially if it's frequent and loud
- Pauses in breathing when you sleep
- Difficulty waking up in the morning
- Trouble staying awake during the day
- Discomfort or itchiness in your legs or arms at night that goes away when you move or massage them
Be prepared to provide your physician with plenty of information about your sleep habits, including how often you have trouble sleeping, how long you've had this problem, and what your daily routine consists of.
You may want to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks prior to your appointment, where you record when you sleep, wake up, and take naps and how rested you feel each day.
Sleep is essential to your health — and it's important not to ignore signs of sleep deprivation. A good night's sleep tonight is critical for a healthy and productive tomorrow.
Do you have questions about how to get enough sleep or getting tested for a sleep disorder? Call 610-738-2300 to find a sleep medicine physician near you.
Related Information from Chester County Hospital: