With more than half of Americans between the ages of 25-55 struggling to sleep at night, and more research pointing to the dangers of sleep debt for any age, it’s safe to say sleep — or lack therof – has big consequences, both for our health and well-being. From higher risk of obesity to the development of psychiatric disorders and heart conditions, losing sleep impacts us in a big way.
So just get more of it, right?
If only it were that easy.
Many of us have busy lives as we try to juggle it all. Responsibilities, worries, and fears keep us up late into the night. Add to that bad habits like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and overeating before bed, and you’ve got a recipe for one very sleepless America.
But you’re not alone! Most people need at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night but many of us fall short – so we enlisted help from one of our medical directors, Larry Wu, MD, to share some tried and true do’s and don’ts to help you catch some more zzzz’s.
You can also follow us on Facebook to check out the graphics we created for #BetterSleepMonth to give you inspiration as you try out these tips and tricks.
- Don’t exercise right before bed. It might be tempting, but for some, late-night physical exercise might wake you up more than it wears you out.
- Don’t have anything with caffeine before bed. Your nightcap might be your nemesis in getting a good night’s sleep. Switch to decaf or herbal tea.
- Don’t watch television or read in bed. We know it’s a ritual for some, but the noise and distraction—or the thrilling plot lines—can often prevent you from slipping into silent sleep.
- Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full. In this case, moderation is key. Too little to eat, and you’ll wake up with a growling stomach. Too much, and you’ll be tossing and turning all night with heartburn. Dr. Wu suggests something healthy and high in fiber if you need a snack.
- Don’t take daytime naps. When you’re exhausted, any sleep can feel refreshing. But if it comes at the cost of your nighttime snoozing, it’s not worth it.
- Don’t “command” yourself to fall asleep. If it isn’t happening, don’t force it.
- Don’t share your bed with children or pets. We know, we know. Those snuggly fur babies are the sweetest. But not so much when their whining, twitching, and licking keeps you from sleep.
- Don’t smoke. As if you needed another reason to quit, smoking can make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
- Don’t use alcohol to help you sleep. While it can be tempting to nightcap yourself to a sleepy state, it’s bad practice. Instead, try herbal tea as part of your ritual.
- Don’t check the clock all the time. Really, it’ll just stress you out more. Turn your clock away, hide it, and make sure to turn off the alarms on your devices, too.
- Go to bed at the same time each day. Be prompt. You’ll set your internal clock that way, too.
- Wake up at the same time each day. Even if you’re still a little sleepy, you’ll get in the rhythm and it’ll start to feel like second nature.
- Exercise regularly every day. Your mind gets tired, but your body needs to, too. Lack of exercise can lead to a variety of health problems, including achy joints and heart palpitations, but it can also mean restless legs and wide-awake nights.
- Get regular exposure to natural light. That doesn’t mean the glow of your TV or your iPhone. Make sure to get a daily dose of sunlight (?) and spend some good old-fashioned time outside.
- Make the bedroom as comfortable as possible. Soft sheets, fluffy pillows, and a good mattress. Clean and comfortable. A happy place!
- Relax before bed. Stretch. Do some yoga. Breathe deep. Prepare your mind and body for rest.
- Keep your hands and feet warm. Chilly extremities can interrupt sleep or wake you up when you should be snug and warm.
- Be realistic about your sleep needs. As we mentioned, most people need 7-9 hours of sleep. So give yourself some lead time and prepare to be refreshed.
- Keep the bedroom quiet when sleeping. Turn off the noise. The beeps. The tick-tocks. The hums. Anything that could distract you.
- Keep the bedroom dark to facilitate sleep. All those indicator lights on televisions, computers, alarm clocks and other devices can make it hard to find your way to sleepy darkness.
Following Dr. Wu’s expert advice will hopefully help you wind down more restful nights ahead. Let us know if you’ve found any other tips to help get a good night’s sleep in the comments.
Larry Wu, MD, is a regional medical director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and provides consultative services for employee health solutions, prevention, chronic disease and care management. He is a family physician with more than 20 years in clinical practice and maintains a part-time clinical practice.