Getting enough sleep is crucial for good health – it helps your heart and your immune system, it improves your mood, and studies have even suggested that sleep deprivation can be linked to weight gain. But in a harried world of late-night gadgets and TV shows and early morning daycare drop-offs and meetings, it can be difficult to accomplish the standard eight hours per night. For many, getting to bed is not as difficult as actually falling asleep once you’re there. These tips can help.
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid the temptation to stay up late or sleep in on weekends and pick a schedule that works for your daily life. You’ll train your body to sleep at certain times. Try to keep your bedroom dark while sleeping, and get some sunlight as soon as possible after you wake up – having patterned exposure to light and dark helps your biological clock. Watch out for light sources like cell phones, tablets and e-reading devices, and other electronics as their light can disrupt your ability to sleep deeply.
Exercise regularly… but not within four hours of bedtime. Cardiovascular exercise in particular is helpful for sleep, but it will raise your body temperature for about four hours, which can inhibit sleep. Once your body cools back down, your brain will make you sleepy by releasing melatonin.
Avoid caffeine after 2pm – no coffee, tea, energy drinks, or soda. You might feel tired mid-afternoon, but try to perk up by taking a ten-minute walk, instead. Caffeine will stimulate your body for about eight hours after consumption, so caffeine ingested later in the day will stick around and prevent your brain from achieving deep sleep – if you’re able to fall asleep at all.
If you’re still having trouble sleeping after making these changes, talk to your doctor. Trouble sleeping can be a side effect of some medications or a sign of anxiety, and both alcohol consumption and smoking can also impact your ability to sleep deeply. You may need a referral to a sleep specialist to check for issues like sleep apnea.