- You should aim for at least seven and a half hours of sleep every night. Consistency is the key.
- Keep a sleep diary. Record when you go to bed, when you get up, your total hours of sleep, and how you feel during the day. As you keep track of your sleep, you’ll discover your natural patterns and get to know your sleep needs. Using an activity tracker which records your sleeping patterns can help.
- Take a sleep vacation. Pick a two-week period when you have a flexible schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally. No alarm clocks! If you continue to keep the same bedtime and wake up naturally, you’ll eventually arrive at the sleep schedule that’s ideal for you.
- Make sleep a priority. Just as you schedule time for work and other commitments, you should schedule enough time for sleep. Instead of cutting back on sleep in order to tackle the rest of your daily tasks, put sleep at the top of your to-do list.
- Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends.
- Avoid screens (TV, phone, tablet, computer) within 2 hours of your bedtime.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet. Curtains, white noise machines, and fans can help.
- Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual .A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
- If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
- Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep. Exercise speeds up your metabolism, elevates body temperature, and stimulates activating hormones such as cortisol. This isn’t a problem if you’re exercising in the morning or afternoon, but too close to bed and it can interfere with sleep. Try to finish moderate to vigorous workouts at least 3 hours before your bedtime. If you’re still experiencing sleep difficulties, move your workouts even earlier. For some people, it can take up to 6 hours for the body to fully cool down after exercise to a temperature conducive to sleep.
- Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 16- 19 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might.
- Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Start by setting a realistic bedtime that will work with your lifestyle. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime.
- Avoid sleeping in—even on weekends or nights you’ve stayed up late. It can be tempting to sleep in on weekends, but even a couple hour differences in wake time disrupts your internal clock. The more your weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the jet-lag-like symptoms you’ll experience. If you need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. This strategy allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm, which often backfires in insomnia and throws you off for days.
- Be smart about napping. As mentioned above, napping is a good way to recharge and make up for lost sleep hours. But if you tend to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, napping can make things worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating naps altogether or limiting them to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
- Fight after-dinner drowsiness. If you find yourself getting sleepy way before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating to avoid falling asleep, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day. If you give in to the drowsiness, you may wake up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.
- Control your exposure to light. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark—making you sleepy—and less when it’s light—making you more alert. However, many aspects of modern life can alter your body’s natural production of melatonin and shift your circadian rhythm.
During the day:
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning. The closer to the time you get up, the better. Have your coffee outside, for example, or eat breakfast by a sunny window. Skip the sunglasses! The light on your face will help you wake up and feel more alert.
- Spend more time outside during daylight. Try to take your work breaks outside in sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
- Let as much natural light into your home or work space as possible. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and try to move your desk closer to the window.
- If necessary, use a light therapy box. A light therapy box simulates sunshine and can be especially useful during short winter days when there’s limited daylight.
- Avoid bright screens within 2 hours of your bedtime. All night-time light can interfere with sleep and your body’s rhythms, but the blue light emitted by electronics is especially disruptive. This includes the screen on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. You can minimize the impact by using devices with smaller screens, turning the brightness down, or using light-altering software such as f.lux that adjusts the colour of your display.
- Say no to late-night television. Many people use the television to wind down at the end of the day, but this can backfire. Not only does the light suppress melatonin, but many programs are stimulating rather than relaxing. Try listening to music or audio books instead. If your favourite TV show is on late at night, record it for viewing earlier in the day.
- Be smart about night-time reading. Not all e-readers are created equal. Devices that are backlit, such as the Kindle Fire or the iPad, are more disruptive than those that are illuminated from the front, such as the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook GlowLight. Other smart options include e-ink readers that don’t have their own light source and good old-fashioned books.
- When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is dark. The darker it is, the better you’ll sleep. Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask to cover your eyes. Also consider covering up or moving any electronics that emit light. Even the red numbers on a digital clock can disrupt sleep.
- Keep the lights down if you get up during the night. If you need to get up during the night, avoid turning on the lights if possible. If you need some light to move around safely, try installing a dim nightlight in the hall or bathroom or using a small flashlight. This will make it easier for you to fall back to sleep.
- Be smart about what you eat and drink and when
- Cut down on caffeine. You might be surprised to know that caffeine can cause sleep problems up to ten to twelve hours after drinking it! Consider eliminating caffeine after lunch or cutting back your overall intake.
- Stay away from big meals at night. Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up. Also be cautious when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. While a nightcap may help you relax and fall asleep faster, it interferes with your sleep cycle once you’re out. To optimize the quality of your sleep, stay away from alcohol in the hours leading up to your bedtime.
- Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening. Drinking lots of water, juice, tea, or other fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics, only make things worse.
- Clear your head. Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well. When you wake up or can’t get to sleep, take note of what seems to be the recurring theme. That will help you figure out what you need to do to get your stress and anger under control during the day. If you can’t stop yourself from worrying, especially about things outside your control, you need to learn how to manage your thoughts. For example, you can learn to evaluate your worries to see if they’re truly realistic and replace irrational fears with more productive thoughts. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when you are fresh and it will be easier to resolve.
- Relaxation techniques for better sleep. Relaxation is beneficial for everyone, but especially for those struggling with sleep. Practicing relaxation techniques before bed is a great way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep. Some simple relaxation techniques include:
- Deep breathing. Close your eyes, and try taking deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last. Or take a breath in, then breathe out slowly while saying or thinking the word, “Ahhh.” Take another breath and repeat.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.
- Visualizing a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you. Concentrate on how relaxed this place or activity makes you feel.
- Create a “toolbox” of relaxing bedtime rituals to help you unwind before sleep.
- For example:
- Read a book or magazine by a soft light
- Take a warm bath
- Listen to soft music
- Do some easy stretches
- Wind down with a favourite hobby
- Listen to books on tape
- Make simple preparations for the next day
- Dim the lights in the hours leading up to bed
- Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex
If you associate your bed with events like work or errands, it will be harder to wind down at night. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. That way, when you go to bed, your body gets a powerful cue: it’s time to either nod off or be romantic.
Improving sleep quality
It’s not just the number of hours in bed that’s important—it’s the quality of those hours of sleep. If you’re giving yourself plenty of time for sleep, but you’re still having trouble waking up in the morning or staying alert all day, you may not be getting quality sleep.
The most damaging effects of sleep deprivation are from inadequate deep sleep. Deep sleep is a time when the body repairs itself and builds up energy for the day ahead. It plays a major role in maintaining your health, stimulating growth and development, repairing muscles and tissues, and boosting your immune system. In order to wake up energized and refreshed, getting quality deep sleep is essential.
Factors that can lead to poor or inadequate deep sleep include:
- Being woken during the night by outside noise, for example, or in order to care for a crying baby.
- Working night shifts or swing shifts. Getting quality deep sleep during the day can be difficult, due to light and excess noise.
- Smoking or drinking in the evening. Substances like alcohol and nicotine can disrupt deep sleep. It’s best to limit them before bed.
- Exposure to artificial light at night— especially the light from electronic devices, including TVs, computers, tables, and mobile phones.