Consider these tips for better quality sleep every night.
We live in a very "go go" society, where we're lead to feel guilty if we're not busy around the clock. If you're like fifty percent of the American populace, you're not getting enough sleep most nights. You may even see getting a full night's sleep as an "indulgence." However, the importance of sleep to physical health and mental well-being really can't be overstated. Getting adequate sleep helps you commit new experiences to your short-term memory (sleep-deprived college students take note: arguably, getting enough sleep is just as important as studying!), helps control weight gain by keeping hormones that affect your appetite in check, improves mood (when was the last time you felt chipper and upbeat on a few hours of sleep?), decreases stress on your heart, and keeps your immune system healthy. Given how important sleep is to brain function and general well-being, I would argue that sleep should be viewed not as an "indulgence," but as a worthy commitment that is just as crucial to fueling your body as eating is.
Now... how to get that coveted full night's sleep? A full night's sleep for most adults is between 7 and 9 hours, which can vary based on age, activity, and genetics. A good first step if you're chronically sleep-deprived is to aim for 7 hours minimum per night, and work your way up from there if you're still feeling groggy. Here are some tips to make dozing off easier, and improve the quality of your sleep.
1. Keep it dark and quiet. Even small, seemingly unobtrusive sources of light can keep light sleepers awake and make it harder to doze off in the first place. Draw shades or curtains at night if outdoor lighting is coming in. Also be aware that the light from screens like laptops and televisions can stimulate your brain, making it harder to get to sleep. Try turning off the computer and tv and putting away your cell phone an hour before bed. If you have an alarm clock with a light-up screen, turn the face away from you.
2. Keep it cool. It may seem counterintuitive, but turning down the temperature can actually help you get to sleep faster and sleep more deeply. Our bodies naturally experience a slight drop in temperature when we get tired (you may have noticed you feel slightly chillier when you're sleepy), and keeping your room on the cooler side mimics this natural effect. The ideal temperature for sleep varies from person to person, but doctors generally recommend keeping your bedroom somewhere between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit for improved sleep quality. (In cooler climates, in the winter, this is also much more environmentally friendly! We shouldn't be sweating in our sleep in the middle of January...)
3. Set a consistent bedtime. As much as possible, aim to go to bed and get up at approximately the same time each day. Having a wildly inconsistent schedule makes it harder for your brain to know when it's time to relax and go to sleep.
4. Avoid caffeine in the evening. There's nothing wrong with a cup or two of coffee in the morning, but if you're tossing and turning by bedtime, try eliminating caffeine after lunch.
5. Take it easy on the wine. While the immediate effect of an alcoholic drink can often make you feel more sleepy, alcohol in excess actually disrupts your sleep, diminishing the overall quality of your sleep. If you do drink (and there's nothing wrong with a glass of wine per day), limit your intake to one or two servings (that's one glass of wine, one bottle of beer, or one shot) per day, and try to drink with meals.
6. Establish a ritual. Whether it's pre-bedtime yoga, drinking a cup of herbal tea, or reading a book, it can be helpful to give your brain a consistent "cue" that it's time for bed.
7. Don't go to bed hungry. While sleeping on a full stomach might make you uncomfortable, there's no reason to go to bed with your stomach growling; it'll just make it harder to drift off. Have a small, healthy snack that's a mix of complex carbs and healthy protein. A small bowl of oatmeal with some nuts, some fruit and yogurt, or a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter or hummus are some good examples.
8. Write down your worries. If anxiety is keeping you awake at night, you may find it therapeutic to write down your worries or your "to-do" list an hour or so before bed. Sometimes seeing the things you need to accomplish or things that are making you preoccupied written out on a sheet of paper can make them seem more manageable.
9. If you can't sleep, don't sweat it. Panicking about how long it's taking you to get to sleep won't help. If you've been lying in bed and unable to sleep for more than half an hour, get up, and try doing an activity that you find relaxing- again, reading and yoga come to mind, but try whatever works for you (although I would avoid using computers or tv, as the bright lights from these screens can send signals to your brain to be alert). Don't focus on getting back to sleep, just enjoy the activity that you choose until you feel sleepy again.
10. Exercise! While working out immediately before bed might make you temporarily less restful, exercising consistently during the day can help ensure a much deeper, more restful sleep.