A Checklist for Getting Enough Sleep
If counting sheep to drift off to sleep is not working for you, you’re not alone. More than a quarter of American adults report occasional trouble getting enough sleep, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And nearly 10 percent of those experience chronic insomnia, a medical condition that keeps you from falling asleep and staying asleep. While most people experience insomnia at some point in their lives, ongoing sleeplessness can lead to a higher risk for chronic illnesses such as heart disease and stroke.
Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep to function properly, but adequate sleep can be hard to come by if we are stressed or don’t have a routine sleep schedule. William Hart, M.D., who heads the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Santa Cruz Sleep Disorders Center,Opens new window says there are things you can do that help.
“Getting enough sleep is very important for both your physical and emotional health,” Dr. Hart says. “Although you shouldn’t have to work at falling asleep, creating the right conditions will help sleep come naturally.”
Follow these tips, recommended by Dr. Hart, to improve your sleep.
Daily Habits to Help You Sleep
- Establish a routine sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each day, including on weekends.
- Manage your stress level. Try to reduce the stressors in your life. Making a list of all the things on your mind earlier in the evening may help to reduce nighttime anxiety.
- Restrict your time in bed. Limit the time you spend in bed trying to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. The harder you try to get to sleep, the more difficult it may become.
- Only use your bed for sleeping or sex. Don’t read, watch television, eat, do work assignments, or use computers or smart phones while in bed. Train your brain to associate your bed only with sleep.
- Avoid or limit naps. If you need to nap, do so before 3 p.m. and limit the nap to 30 minutes or less. A short nap can refresh you during the day, but when you sleep longer than 30 minutes your body starts to go into a deeper sleep cycle, and you may wake up groggy.
- Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine intake. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that worsen insomnia. Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m. as half the caffeine will still be in your body six hours later. Avoid nicotine at least two hours before bed, and avoid alcohol two to four hours before bed. While alcohol may initially make you drowsy, it usually causes you to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Get regular exercise. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily, but avoid exercising within three to four hours before bedtime. Exercise in the morning, outdoors if possible, as sunlight helps set your circadian clock, and the exercise increases your energy for the day.
Prepare Your Bedroom
- Make it comfortable. Keep your bedroom dark and at a comfortable temperature. A cooler bedroom promotes better sleep.
- Keep it quiet. Earplugs, a white noise machine or fan can block out disturbing sounds.
- Use essential oils. If you find that fragrances such as lavender help you relax, use a whole-room diffuser and essential oils to surround yourself in calming scents.
Getting Ready for Bed
- Avoid large meals and drinks close to bedtime. Eating and drinking too much and too late can disrupt sleep. If you are hungry, choose a light snack.
- Incorporate a “buffer zone.” Build in a transition time of about 30 to 60 minutes between your day activities and bedtime to help you prepare for sleep. Relaxing bedtime routines may include reading a book, soft music, meditation or prayer. Avoid screen time, including computers, television, smartphones and tablets, one hour before bedtime. Brightly lit screens suppress your normal nighttime release of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Set aside a “worry time.” Many people have racing thoughts or worries at night. Don’t try to suppress them. Instead, write them down in a journal before bedtime, and think about how you’ll deal with them the next day.
If You Can’t Sleep
- Don’t look at the clock. Set your alarm and then turn the clock face away from you. Knowing what time it is when you’re awake at night, or knowing that you have to get up soon, may increase your anxiety.
- Go to bed when you’re sleepy and don’t stay in bed if you’re not sleeping. If you’re unable to sleep for about 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed and go back to doing a buffer zone activity.
- Take your medications in the morning. Many medications can disrupt sleep, including antidepressants, some high blood pressure drugs and antihistamines. Ask your doctor about changing your pill schedule.
If you try these sleep hygiene techniques and your sleeplessness persists, consult your physician. Keep a two-week sleep diary outlining your sleep problems and possible triggers using our sleep log, and take it to your appointment. This will help your doctor identify your sleep patterns and habits.