In today’s overscheduled society, sleep may feel like a luxury when, in fact it’s a necessity. Sleep is vital to our health, safety and overall well-being. Sleep recharges the brain, allowing it to learn and make memories. Insufficient sleep has been linked to car crashes, poor work performance and problems with mood and relationships. Sleep deprivation also raises the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and stroke.
Steps to Better Sleep
Consider the following steps that can be helpful in changing unhealthy habits and improving your sleep.
- Create a relaxing sleep environment. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and as quiet as possible and keep electronics such as a computer, TV and phones out of the bedroom. Exposure to stimulating objects and lights from computer and TV screens can affect levels of melatonin, a hormone that regulates your body’s internal clock.
- Don’t discuss or deal with stressful or anxiety-inducing situations right before bedtime. Just as exercise can increase energy levels and body temperature, discussing difficult topics will increase tension and may provoke a racing heartbeat. Protect the quality of your sleep by dealing with any stressful topics long before bedtime.
- Set a sleep schedule. Maintain a regular sleep routine. Go to bed and get up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. Don’t go to bed too early. If you hit the sack before you’re sleepy, you may lie in bed awake and start to feel anxious. That will only make it more difficult to drift off.
- Limit naps. Late afternoon naps can interfere with nighttime slumber.
- Maintain a regular exercise routine. Research shows that exercise increases total sleep time, particularly the slow-wave sleep that’s important for body repair and maintenance. However, don’t exercise too late in the day. Working out close to bedtime can boost energy levels and body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep.
- Avoid late night meals and alcohol consumption. Skip heavy meals before bed, and limit alcohol. Even if a cocktail seems to help you fall asleep, it can interfere with sleep quality and disrupt sleep later in the night.
- Curb nicotine and caffeine use. These stimulants can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, especially if consumed late in the day.
- Schedule down time before bed. Setting aside time to unwind and quiet your mind will help you get into a sleepy state of mind. Meditating, breathing exercises, taking a bath and listening to relaxing music are great ways to calm down at night.
- Don’t check the clock. Tallying how much sleep you’re losing can create anxiety and make it harder to fall asleep.
- Take notes. If you can’t stop the stream of thoughts, get up and write them down. Tell yourself you can check the list in the morning, so there’s no need to keep worrying tonight.
You can find more details about the relationship between stressful situations and how to deal with sleep deprivation or insomnia in my book Stress and Immunity.