Having trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. About 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it means more than feeling tired: Lack of sleep is associated with injuries, accidents, chronic diseases, mental illnesses, poor quality of life and well-being and lost work productivity.
Trouble sleeping? Contact our Center for Sleep Medicine.
“Sleep hygiene” habits can help you maximize the number of hours you spend sleeping, even when you are challenged by a bout of insomnia, jet lag or the impact of shift work.
Want to stop tossing and turning? Try these sleep hygiene strategies.
1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Although alcohol may initially make you drowsy, a few hours later it acts as a stimulant and may increase the number of awakenings and decrease the quality of sleep later in the night. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate and cola, so avoiding these products in the afternoon and evening may help your sleep. Nicotine can also act as a stimulant that will delay the onset of sleep.
2. Stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time each day.
Keeping a consistent schedule helps to regulate your body’s internal clock. It’s not always easy to do this on the weekend, when many of us want to catch up on sleep, but it is a strategy that works. Also, avoid naps during the daytime. Napping, especially late in the day, tends to decrease the drive for sleep at bedtime. Try to reserve napping for situations where it becomes a health or safety concern, such as becoming drowsy while you are driving.
3. Exercise earlier in the day.
We know that people who exercise regularly tend to sleep more soundly, but doing so within a few hours of your bedtime may have the effect of energizing you due to the production of the stress hormone cortisol, making it harder to fall asleep.
4. Create a good sleep environment.
A room that is quiet, cool and dark helps to promote sound sleep. Using room-darkening shades to block out light or a white noise machine to block outside noises can be helpful. A room temperature between 65 degrees and 70 degrees is best for sleeping. And, of course, a comfortable mattress and pillows are important.
5. Have a good pre-sleep routine to wind down.
Your body needs some time to shift into a slower gear in order to fall asleep. Taking an hour or so before bed to engage in a calming activity such as taking a warm bath, reading or doing some type of relaxation practice helps to quiet your mind down. Avoid stressful activities such as dealing with your finances or that project for work.
6. Break away from high-tech sleep robbers.
The pervasiveness of technology has introduced a new obstacle to sleep. We have so many electronic devices now—laptops, tablets, smart phones—all of which emanate light from their screens. This light and nighttime engagement activate the brain so it’s a good idea to go low-tech for an hour or so before bedtime. Given how plugged in some of us are, this is not always an easy thing to do. It may be even harder for your tech-tied teenager.
7. Seek help for chronic insomnia.
If you consistently practice good sleep hygiene but still experience too many sleepless nights, it’s a good idea to see your primary care provider to make sure that your sleep difficulties aren’t related to a health issue. We want you to rest easy.