The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night, according to the National Institute of Health. But the truth is, most us are not meeting our sleep requirements. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 50 to 70 million American adults have a sleep disorder or excessive daytime sleepiness. Beyond excessive daytime fatigue, getting too little sleep – generally understood to mean six hours or less a night – can impact everything from your chances of developing chronic disease to your risk for injury. Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to ensure a better night’s sleep! Here are some habits to incorporate into your daily routine:
1. Develop a Sleep Schedule
When possible, go to bed and get up at the same time each day – even on weekends. Allow yourself a week or two of time to experiment with different sleeping and waking times. To avoid tossing and turning, set a bedtime when you normally begin to feel tired and let yourself wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock, you may want to adjust your bedtime to an earlier time. Adjusting your bedtime in 15-minute increments each day will help you to land on a natural sleep schedule that works best for you.
2. Watch What You Eat & Drink
Avoid large meals before bedtime.
If you are used to eating later at night, try implementing an earlier dinnertime, and avoid rich foods within two hours of bed. Fatty foods are known to cause your stomach to work harder to digest, possibility disrupting your sleep schedule.
Don't drink alcohol close to bedtime.
Though you may think alcohol will help you fall asleep faster, it can lead to poorer quality of sleep, as it causes you to wake up later on during the night.
Cut out caffeine.
The effects of caffeine may not wear off until up to 12 hours after drinking. If you have sleep problems, consider cutting back on afternoon caffeine consumption or cutting it out altogether.
Drink fewer liquids at night.
Drinking too many fluids close to bedtime may cause frequent bathroom trips throughout the night, therefore disturbing your sleep.
3. Get Regular Exercise
Daily exercise leads to better sleep and vice versa. Aim for at least two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week to enjoy full sleep benefits. Schedule your activity in the mornings and early afternoons, because exercising too close to bedtime can lead to restlessness.
4. Quit Smoking
If you are a smoker, there are a number of reasons to quit. You already know that smoking increases your risk for lung cancer and heart disease, but what you may not know is it is a common cause for chronic sleep troubles. The nicotine found in cigarettes and other tobacco products works as a stimulant, disrupting your ability to sleep and causing withdrawal throughout the night.
5. Avoid Napping When Possible
For some people, napping to make up for lack of sleep can be a good way to recharge. However, napping can lead to a cycle of poor sleep patterns in people who struggle with insomnia and other sleep problems. If you struggle with insomnia, consider eliminating napping. If you must take a nap, schedule a time in the early afternoon and limit it to 10 to 30 minutes.
6. Turn Off Electronics at Night
Watching television or using a computer is a common way to unwind at the end of the day, but it can have negative effects on your ability to fall asleep. Studies show the light emitted from these devices suppresses melatonin production (the naturally-occurring hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle) and stimulates the mind. Instead of browsing the web or watching a movie, read a book or listen to music to relax before bedtime.
7. Get Natural Light
Natural light also helps your internal clock maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle. When you first wake up, open your curtains/blinds to let in the morning sunlight. Throughout the day, take breaks to go outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunlight.
8. Manage Stress Levels
High stress and anxiety levels are known to be disruptive to sleep. When you feel overwhelmed, practice healthy ways to manage your stress by getting organized and setting priorities. Eating healthy and exercising are also important ways to properly channel unwanted stress and maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit.
9. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment
Creating a dark, quiet and cool sleeping environment can promote better sleep. In addition to sleeping on a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillow, you may want to experiment with black out curtains, eye shades, “white noise” machines, fans, humidifiers and other devises to reduce sleep distractions.
10. Call a Sleep Specialist
Nearly everyone experiences a restless night on occasion, but if you are regularly suffering sleep problems, call the sleep specialists at the C. Duane Morgan Sleep Disorders Center for a sleep evaluation. Chronic sleep problems can be a sign of something more serious, and we can help identify and treat the underlying issues so you achieve healthier sleep and enjoy a better quality of life.
Getting a full night's sleep is just as important to your health as eating healthy and exercising regularly. Incorporate these habits to overcome sleep problems and maximize your chances of getting a healthy night's sleep both tonight and many nights to come!