According to the CDC, one in three American adults do not get the recommended amount of sleep each night. Even among adults who do get at least 7 hours of sleep nightly, 35% report that their sleep quality is poor or only fair.
Many people regard getting good quality sleep in adequate amounts as a luxury, but nothing could be less true. Poor or insufficient sleep is tied to a host of serious physical and emotional illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Factors underlying poor and insufficient sleep include poverty, job stress, light pollution, and too much time spent in front of screens.
Getting a good night’s sleep boosts immunity, reaction time, productivity, overall health, and happiness. Good sleep is like good air and good food: You may not realize how much you depend on it until you’re not getting it.
Fortunately, a few simple changes in your daily routine can make a huge improvement in the quantity and quality of your sleep. If you’ve been having trouble falling asleep, sleeping well, or getting enough sleep, here are 8 tips for better sleep to help you get the peaceful rest you deserve:
1) Establish a bedtime ritual. For at least an hour before bedtime, stay off of your computer and cell phone and just relax. TV is all right but reading a book is even better. No work, no housecleaning, just decompress. Read our article The Stages of Sleep and Sleep Cycles for more on how your circadian rhythm works along with your bedtime ritual.
2) Eliminate light pollution. Recent research reveals that when exposed to light during sleep, people can develop sleep disorders, daytime anxiety, headaches, significant stress, and even some forms of obesity. Light slows the production of melatonin, a hormone that is essential to sound sleep. Make sure your bedroom is dark: use blackout curtains or shades, and block the light emanating from alarm clocks and night lights.
3) Create a stress-free sleep zone. Do you keep a TV, laptop, PC, or tablet in your bedroom? Remove them. Remove all clutter and do whatever you can to make sure your bedroom is comfortable and private. Try to refrain from working, watching TV, or reading on your devices in your bedroom.
4) Try a new mattress. Did you know that most mattresses need to be replaced at the ten-year mark, if not sooner? If you are sleeping on an old, hard, or too-soft mattress, it’s time to go shopping. Do a bit of research first. You’ll be amazed at what is available today in custom mattresses.
5) Spend time outdoors. Simply spending at least half an hour per day getting mild exercise outdoors can improve the quality of your nights and keep your bones and immune system strong. Sunlight promotes the production of melatonin, the same hormone that decreases when exposed to artificial light at night. Exercise helps elevate mood and relieves stress. Even fairly short periods of light exercise outdoors can help enormously. Take your dog outside and throw a ball around.
6) Schedule a check-up. While poor sleep can cause health problems, many health problems also cause poor sleep. If you are plagued by insomnia or wake up feeling like you got no rest at all, a visit to your family doctor could help you get to the bottom of it. Diabetes, cardiac problems, depression, anxiety disorders, and a host of sleep disorders can cause a lack of sleep and poor quality. All of these conditions are treatable. Treat underlying health problems and your nights should improve.
7) Curb your caffeine intake. Do you power through the day with caffeinated sodas or coffee? Caffeine is a powerful stimulant and it doesn’t take much to overdo it. Consider switching to green tea or water. When a midday slump hits, ask yourself if you really need a shot of caffeine. Maybe what your body really craves is a high protein snack or a rest. Even a short, 10-minute catnap can revitalize you and move you along to log out time. People with sedentary jobs sometimes feel refreshed by taking a ten-minute walk during breaks. Consider stretching or meditating at your desk, or both.
8) Monitor your stress levels. Do you feel like a rat on a treadmill? Do you never find enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done? Making your day longer and your night shorter is not a good solution. Examine your day and ask yourself what can be eliminated or outsourced. Can you pay someone to clean your house even once or twice a month? Can friends or family help you tackle some of your to-dos? Are you feeling overworked at the office? It’s important to take time for yourself and turn off. It will likely result in lower stress and increased productivity.
Bonus Tip: Avoid Sleeping Pills If Possible. Sometimes medications are necessary to health, but sleeping pills should only ever be used as a temporary or emergency measure. If you find yourself relying on pills to get to sleep, talk to your doctor. Sometimes a short round of targeted psychotherapy or a visit to a sleep clinic can turn things around fast, resulting in healthier sleep and a healthier life.
Last but not least, remember that sleep is not a luxury. Sleep is like air or food or water. Your body needs it. You need it. Honor yourself and do what you need to do to get your body the restful sleep it deserves.
Your waking life will thank you!