Getting enough good-quality sleep is essential to staying healthy and aging well. Certain sleep problems — for example, sleep apnea — require medical treatment. Falling asleep may seem like an impossible dream when you’re awake at 3 a.m., but good sleep is more under your control than you might think. Following healthy sleep habits can make the difference between restlessness and restful sleep. But these simple steps can help you overcome general sleep difficulties, including insomnia.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule and routine.
Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. A set sleep routine will “train” you to fall asleep and wake up more easily. Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock, and even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra sleep drive will help you consolidate sleep the following night.
- Use the bed only for sleep and sex.
A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. Why do you think bats congregate in caves for their daytime sleep? To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs. Locate generators far away. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light which is a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up. Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated. And make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows. (Remember that most mattresses wear out after ten years.) It may help to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
- Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine.
Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities—doing work, discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.
- Cut down on caffeine.
For some people, a single cup of coffee in the morning means a sleepless night. Caffeine can also increase the need to urinate during the night.
- Be physically active.
Regular aerobic exercise like walking, running, or swimming provides three important sleep benefits: you fall asleep faster, attain a higher percentage of restorative deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night. Exercise helps promote restful sleep if it is done several hours before you go to bed. Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly—as long as it’s done at the right time. Exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine, unless you’re trying to fall asleep. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or work out earlier in the day
- Limit daytime naps.
Prolonged napping can disrupt your natural sleep cycle and prevent you from feeling tired enough to fall asleep.
- If you use tobacco in any form, quit.
Nicotine makes it harder to fall asleep.
- Use alcohol cautiously.
Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so a nightcap may help some people fall asleep. But this effect disappears after a few hours and may lead to waking up throughout the night. Alcohol can also worsen snoring and other sleep breathing problems.
- Try to avoid taking sleeping pills.
If you do take a prescription sleep medicine, work with your doctor to use it effectively and for as short a time as possible. Do not use sleep medications on your own. Most are addictive. You will not be able to sleep in future without them.
- Go to Sleep When you’re Truly Tired.
Struggling to fall sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep. Otherwise, you’ll set yourself up for tossing and turning.
- Use Light to Your Advantage
Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.
- Balance Fluid Intake
Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty—but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Ps 127: 2