Getting enough sleep is just as important as other vital elements of good health, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and practicing good dental hygiene. In short, sleep is not a luxury but a basic component of a healthy lifestyle. But just like purchasing healthy foods, taking an after-dinner walk or flossing your teeth, getting adequate sleep requires time and discipline. Following are some ways to improve your sleep. These good habits are known as “sleep hygiene,” because they represent scientific thinking about maintaining healthy sleep patterns.
Create a sleep sanctuary
A sleep-friendly bedroom can make it easier to fall and stay asleep, so take time to address issues that affect what you hear, see and feel while in bed.
Dim your light intake
Bright light at night can suppress your body’s production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep.
- Avoid watching television or using a computer after 9 p.m.
- Don’t read from a backlit electronic device (such as an iPad) at night.
- Replace bright lights with lower-wattage bulbs, or install dimmer switches that allow you to keep the lights low at night.
- Consider using night-lights to light the way to and in your bathroom to avoid bright light.
A quiet bedroom is especially important for older adults, who spend less time in deep sleep. As a result, they are more easily awakened by noises.
- Use heavy curtains and rugs, which absorb sound.
- Install double-paned windows.
- Use earplugs.
- Use a fan or a sleep machine, which provide “white noise,” or a recording of soothing sounds.
A bedroom that’s too hot or too cold may interfere with sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit). Replace your mattress and pillows if they’re worn or uncomfortable. If aching joints are keeping you awake, ask your doctor about pain relievers.
Stick to a schedule
A regular sleep schedule keeps the circadian sleep/wake cycle synchronized.
People with the most regular sleep habits report the fewest problems with insomnia and the least amount of depression. Experts advise getting up at about the same time every day, even after a late night.
Limit the time you spend in bed
If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes or if you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep within that amount of time, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again. Regardless of how well (or poorly) you slept, get out of bed at your regular time each morning to keep your circadian cycle synchronized.
Negotiate naps, if needed
If your goal is to sleep longer at night, napping is a bad idea. Your total daily sleep need stays constant, so naps take away from evening sleep. But if your goal is to be more alert during the day, a nap built into your daily schedule may be just the thing An ideal nap lasts no longer than an hour, and even a 15- to 20-minute nap has significant alertness benefits. Shorten or eliminate naps that produce lingering grogginess.
Medical editor: Lawrence Epstein, M.D.; instructor in medicine, Harvard Medical School,
Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital