Sleep is necessary for maintaining a healthy, optimally-functioning mind and body. Sleep needs vary from person to person. However, generally speaking, the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep, while school-aged children and adolescents need about ten hours per night. Getting less sleep than you’re your body needs, also referred to as sleep deprivation, may negatively impact many areas of your life including: memory, mood, learning, hormone production, and cardiovascular health.
Below are several tips, as outlined by the National Institutes of Health, to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. As creatures of habit, we have a hard time adjusting to changes in sleep patterns. Sleeping in later on weekends won’t fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week, and will make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning.
Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days, but not later than two to three hours before your bedtime.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, colas, certain teas, and chocolate contain the stimulant caffeine, and its effects can take as long as eight hours to fully wear off. Therefore, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night. Nicotine is also a stimulant, often causing smokers to sleep only very lightly. In addition, smokers often wake up too early in the morning because of nicotine withdrawal.
Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. Having a “nightcap” or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax, but heavy use robs you of deep sleep and REM sleep, keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep. Heavy alcohol ingestion also may contribute to impairment in breathing at night. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night once the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A light snack is okay, but a large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause frequent awakenings to urinate.
If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. Some commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, or asthma medications, as well as some over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies, can disrupt sleep patterns. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see whether any drugs you’re taking might be contributing to your insomnia and ask whether they can be taken at other times during the day or earlier in the evening.
Don’t take naps after 3:00 p.m. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Relax before bed. Don’t overschedule your day so that you don’t have any time left to unwind at the end of the day. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.
Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help you relax and slow down so you’re more ready to sleep.
Have a good sleeping environment. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures. You sleep better if the temperature in the room is kept on the cool side. A TV, cell phone, or computer in the bedroom can be a distraction and deprive you of needed sleep. Having a comfortable mattress and pillow can also help promote a good night’s sleep. Individuals who have insomnia often watch the clock. Turn the clock’s face out of view so you don’t worry about the time while trying to fall asleep.
Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. Sleep experts recommend that if you have problems falling asleep, you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn down the lights before bedtime.
Don’t lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than twenty minutes, or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can actually make it harder to fall asleep.
If you consistently find it difficult to fall or stay asleep, and/ or feel tired or not well-rested during the day despite spending enough time in bed at night, you may have a sleep disorder. In this case, please seek the care of a qualified health practitioner.
By Gina Van Luven
Director of Nutrition Education
This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.