Getting a good night’s sleep
If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. On an average night, tens of millions have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Even people who usually sleep well may have trouble when they’re under extra stress or away from home.
If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep or want to make sure that you’re getting enough rest, the following tips can help.
Why it’s important to get enough sleep
Most adults need between 7 ½ and 8 ½ hours of sleep a night regularly to function at their best, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. However, some people may need more than that, especially if they have health conditions. Getting too little sleep, even for a night or two, can leave you feeling exhausted, forgetful, irritable, and more likely to make mistakes.
Regular sleep deprivation has also been linked to long-term health consequences, including chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, according to Harvard’s Division of Sleep Medicine.
Develop healthy habits
Take these steps to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. A predictable schedule will set your “body clock.” This refers to your body’s circadian rhythm, a process which controls many biological functions within our body, including the release of certain hormones into our blood stream. The release of these hormones can have a strong impact on our levels of sleepiness and wakefulness, so it is important to maintain a daily routine to ensure that this process is not disrupted.
Have a bedtime routine. Following a daily routine allows you to wind down in the evening, creating an atmosphere conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Go to bed when you feel drowsy. You can’t force yourself to sleep if you’re not tired. Learn to recognize your signs of sleepiness and use those as your cue to turn out the lights and go to bed.
Get regular exercise. Daily exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly, but exercise too near bedtime can keep you awake because it stimulates the secretion of the hormone cortisol. Try not to exercise at least three hours before bedtime.
Watch what—and when—you eat at night. Finish your meal several hours before bedtime, and avoid foods that you know upset your stomach.
Create a comfortable sleep environment
Your bedroom should be conducive to sleep. A few simple changes could make a big difference in helping you get the rest you need.
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable. This will help you to remain calm and have a positive association between your bedroom and sleep. Keep the blinds or curtains closed. If the room is still too light, consider getting blackout curtains or using an eye mask. You may also want to use earplugs or a “white noise” machine to block out some sounds.
Sleep on a comfortable bed. If you share a bedroom with someone who likes the room colder or warmer than you do, keep an extra blanket at the foot or side of the bed.
Don’t keep a light on. It can affect your body’s internal clock and make it harder to fall asleep. If you may need to get up during the night, use a nightlight in a hallway or bathroom.
Things to avoid
Many factors can interfere with both the quantity and quality of sleep.
Limit daytime naps. Short naps restore your energy and focus, but napping for more than 45 minutes may do more harm than good. Napping disrupts our circadian rhythm and makes it difficult to enter a regular pattern leaving you with a feeling similar to jet lag.
Use your bed only for sleeping, enabling relaxation. Spending extended periods of time awake in bed can result in spending longer periods of time lying awake at night unable to sleep.
Deal with demanding tasks earlier in the day. It may be harder to get to sleep if you pay bills, try to solve a work problem, or deal with a difficult parenting issue just before bed.
Do not watch television or use electronics in bed. Electronic devices all require focus and attention and will heighten your levels of wakefulness. Research has also highlighted an association between the light that these screens emit, and a disruption in circadian rhythm patterns.
Avoid or limit nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants that can make it harder to sleep and alcohol is not conducive to good sleep quality. Ask your doctor to recommend an alternative if you’re having trouble sleeping.
If you still have trouble sleeping
Many sleep problems are temporary and go away on their own. Others result from physical or emotional health conditions that require medical help. If you have sleep problems that last longer than two weeks, see your health care provider. A doctor can help you identify and treat the problem so you can get the rest you need to do your best every day.
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