Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Following healthy sleep habits can make the difference between restlessness and restful slumber. Researchers have identified a variety of practices and habits to help anyone maximize the hours they spend sleeping—even those whose sleep is affected by insomnia, jet lag, or shift work.
Here are some simple tips for making the sleep of your dreams a nightly reality:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep: As any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. So avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Although alcohol may help bring on sleep, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is best to limit alcohol consumption to one or two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.
- Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment: A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up. Make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows. Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
- Establish a 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 and fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, or practice relaxation exercise. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities that can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is associated with increasing alertness, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Don’t be a nighttime clock-watcher: Staring at a clock in your bedroom can actually increase stress (there’s that cortisol again!), making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you or turn your phone upside down to avoid looking at it.
- Lighten up your evening meals: Eating a pizza at 10 p.m. may be a recipe for insomnia. Try to finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion. If you get hungry at night, snack on foods with high levels of the amino acid tryptophan, such as dairy products like milk and cheese, nuts and seeds, meats, beans, and rice.
- Exercise Early: 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 cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or work out earlier in the day.
Well-planned strategies are essential to deep, restorative sleep you can count on, night after night. By learning to avoid common enemies of sleep and trying out a variety of healthy sleep-promoting techniques, you can discover your personal prescription to a good night’s rest.