The National Sleep Foundation provides the following eleven tips to help you go to sleep at night and achieve the benefits of regular, healthy sleep. It cautions that these tips are intended for “typical” adults, and not necessarily for children or persons experiencing medical problems.
The Foundation also cautions that, “if you have trouble falling asleep, maintaining sleep, awaken earlier than you wish, feel unrefreshed after sleep or suffer from excessive sleepiness during the day or when you wish to be alert, you should also consult your physician. Be sure to tell him/her if you have already tried these tips and for how long.”
1. Maintain a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule, even on weekends.
Your body runs on a “circadian clock” which balances your sleep time and wake time. To keep your circadian clock running properly, it is important especially to keep a regular time for waking up, even on the weekends. This helps you go to sleep at night.
2. Follow a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or hot tub and then reading a book or listening to soothing music.
Avoid exciting, arousing or stressful activities before bedtime, such as working, paying bills, engaging in family problem-solving, competitive games, or exposure to bright light. Engage in relaxing activities, and consider taking a hot bath, early enough that you are not over-heated at sleep time.
3. Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise,” humidifiers, fans and other devices, if necessary to achieve these conditions.
4. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
Do you need a new mattress? Most mattresses have a life expectancy of about 9 or 10 years, according to the Foundation. Make sure your pillows and comfortable, and your room free of allergens, attractive and inviting for sleep, and safe — without objects you could trip on if you get up at night.
5. Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
The Foundation advises that you remove work materials, computers and televisions from the bedroom, to “strengthen the association between bed and sleep.” If viewing a clock makes you anxious about the need to get up on time, remove the clock from view; you can hear an alarm in the morning without viewing the clock before sleep.
6. Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime.
Avoid a heavy or spicy meal too close to bedtime. It can cause you discomfort or heartburn. Restricting fluids close to bedtime may avoid your waking up to go to the bathroom often during the night. However, milk or herbal teas during the bedtime routine are helpful for some people.
7. Exercise regularly, and complete your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
Regular exercise is good, and contributes to sound, healthy sleep. However, avoid exercising right before going to bed. This will make you more alert, raise your body temperature, and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep. Late afternoon exercise is recommended.
8. Avoid caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate) close to bedtime. It can keep you awake.
Caffeine stimulates and keeps your body alert. It stays in the body on average three to five hours, and for some people up to 12 hours. The Foundation recommends avoiding caffeine within 6-8 hours before going to bed.
9. Avoid nicotine (e.g. cigarettes, tobacco products).
In addition to all the other health risks it poses, nicotine is also a stimulant which can interfere with sleep, causing problems going to sleep, problems waking up in the morning, and nightmares. Difficulty sleeping is one more reason to quit smoking. And never smoke in bed or when sleepy!
10. Avoid alcohol, especially close to bedtime.
Some people think of alcohol as a sedative, but it actually disrupts sleep, and causes people to wake up during the night.
11. If you have sleep problems, keep a sleep diary and talk to your doctor.
Try the ten previous tips listed above, and record your sleep and sleep-related activities in a sleep diary. If problems continue, discuss the sleep diary with your doctor. This may help your doctor, or a sleep specialist, diagnose whether there may be an underlying cause that should be treated.
If you are interested in finding out if you have possible sleep problems, the National Sleep Foundation provides a self-assessment tool called, “How’s Your Sleep?” which it sells for $45.00.