Do you feel like you aren’t getting enough sleep? Is it difficult for you to fall or stay asleep? If so, you are in good company: about one in three adults in the U.S. report not getting enough sleep (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2022). This is a significant issue because not only does sleep make us feel better, but it also has numerous long-term health benefits. Having good sleep can help boost the immune system, promote healthy weight, lower your chances of getting diabetes or heart disease, and give you stronger focus for important activities such as driving (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022).
From personal experience, I know that good sleep is hard to get. I was diagnosed with a sleeping disorder when I was a teenager and had to learn about good sleep habits to make sure I was getting restful sleep. When I got older, I worked at a sleep clinic as a technologist testing for sleep disorders; this gave me a front row seat to helping others with their sleep ailments. So, for Better Sleep Month, I would like to share with you all some of my favorite sleep tips I have picked up over the years. These tips are generally geared towards those with insomnia or with sleep/wake rhythm disruptions (circadian rhythm disorders), but I strongly believe that they can benefit anyone.
- Try to wake up at the same time every day. As much fun as it is to sleep in on the weekends, waking up around the same time every day allows your body to adequately build up the need for sleep at the end of the day (Peters, 2023). Our bodies love predictable patterns, so waking up at set times puts the body into a good rhythm for going to sleep at night.
- Make sure you get exposure to sunlight when you wake up. The cells in our eyes are especially attuned to sunlight and will signal to the brain to reduce melatonin production, the chemical the body produces to help sleep (Pacheco, 2023). Much like waking up at the same time helps the body’s sleep/wake rhythm, light is also a strong factor for controlling sleep. If you live in a spot where it is difficult to get sunlight in the morning, consider getting a light box. A light box is basically a lamp that mimics sunlight and is great for turning on while getting ready in the morning (just type in “light box for sleep” on Amazon to find a variety of options).
- Dim lights during the evening. More light in the morning is good, but in the evening, the opposite is true. Reducing your light intake at night, especially from computer screens and phones, will help your body kick start melatonin production, which will promote healthy sleep driving (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022). Many modern phones and computer screens have sleep aid features where screens will automatically dim or shift colors to orange (a better frequency of light for telling the body it’s time for bed). Or you can do what I do: wear orange sunglasses before going to bed (my wife thinks they look dorky, but they work!).
- Eat meals at consistent times. Food consumption is another trigger that informs your body’s sleep/wake cycle. Eating meals at different times each day can confuse the body and throw it off rhythm (National Sleep Foundation, 2022). An ideal evening meal should be two to three hours before bed, and a light dinner is preferred (National Sleep Foundation, 2022). And no midnight snacks; eating food too late at night prevents your body from entering restful sleep (National Sleep Foundation, 2022).
- If you wake up at night, do a quiet activity to go back to sleep. It’s normal to wake up several times throughout the night. However, if you find that you can’t get back to sleep after about 20 minutes, leave the bed and do a calm activity like reading to relax. This will be more productive in getting your body sleepy rather than tossing and turning in bed (Johns Hopkins, n.d.). Sleep is one of those things you can’t force; you must calm your body and distract your mind for sleep to take hold.
- Consider seeing a sleep specialist if sleep problems persist. If you find that your sleep is not restful, or that falling asleep is a reoccurring problem, make an appointment with a sleep specialist. Sleep disorders are very common, and there are numerous treatment options that can help you get back to achieving good sleep. In my time working at a sleep clinic, I’ve seen countless patients’ lives transformed for the better once they got their sleep problems addressed.
Try out some of these tips, and I hope you all get better sleep during Better Sleep Month!
Johns Hopkins Medicine (n.d.). Up in the Middle of the Night? How to Get Back to Sleep.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2022, March 22). What are Sleep Deprivation and
National Sleep Foundation (2022, March 13). Get Healthy Sleep by Eating Right on Schedule.
Pacheco, Danielle (2023, April 6). Light Therapy for Insomnia Sufferers. Sleep Foundation.
Peters, Brandon (2023, January 15). First Step to Better Sleep: Wake Up at the Same Time Every
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2022, July, 15). Healthy Living: Get Enough
Sleep. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. health.gov/myhealthfinder/healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep