World Sleep Day is on March 17 – and while getting enough quality sleep should be a priority year-round, this year’s theme, “Sleep Soundly, Nurture Life,” serves as a timely reminder of why we should be taking proactive steps toward healthier sleep. Below are seven tips to help you consistently get a good night’s sleep:
1. Recognize that getting enough sleep regularly is hard
Getting adequate sleep every night might be a tall order. Work demands and active lifestyles can interfere with sleep, and excessively busy schedules can often extend past your usual or ideal bedtimes. Acknowledging that insufficient sleep is a problem is the first step in gaining the awareness necessary to put you on a path toward better sleep.
2. Understand your sleep habits to make them better
Try to identify the various factors that might be contributing to unhealthy or inadequate sleep. Tracking your sleep with a sleep diary for one to two weeks might reveal unrecognized patterns of disrupted sleep and/or practices that do not promote good sleep, like drinking alcohol or watching television right before bed. Knowing your individual sleep habits – such as stress triggers that may keep you alert or anxious before bedtime – will help you identify solutions to sleep better.
3. Prepare yourself for healthy sleep
You also need to take certain steps to prepare before bedtime. Begin by winding down one to two hours before going to bed. This is not the appropriate time to exercise, worry about your fears or get into an argument. Meditation may help calm an otherwise “overactive” mind, and relaxation exercises can do the same for the body.
4. Take control of your personal sleep space
Technology has altered most aspects of our waking lives and is threatening to do the same to our sleep. Technology devices, such as smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions and gaming systems, have found their way into the bedroom, and their unrestrained use can cut into the time generally reserved for our sleep. Disconnect from the ‘24/7’ pressures of society and make a conscious effort to turn off these devices close to bedtime. Use the bed and bedroom only for sleep, sex or recovery from an illness, and not for non-sleep-related activities, such as watching television. Create an ideal environment for healthy sleep by keeping the bedroom dark and quiet and adjust the room temperature to keep it comfortable.
5. Make sleep a priority
Nearly one in five American adults describe experiencing moderate to excessive daytime sleepiness. This is higher than the 15% prevalence of excessive daytime sleepiness in five European countries (Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain and UK), with higher rates in Germany and UK. Make sleep an important part of your daily life and encourage your family members to sleep better. Promote the importance of healthy sleep among your friends, or start a conversation about the importance of sleep in your workplace. Talk about healthy sleep habits with your family, friends and co-workers, and explore ways to protect against interruptions to the sleep schedule, including unnecessary calls or messages during bedtime, and recurring late night or unreasonably early morning activities.
6. Ask for help from an expert
If you have significant difficulties with falling and/or staying asleep or if you are excessively sleepy during the day, you may have an underlying sleep disorder. Many sleep disorders tend to persist and might give rise to other health consequences, like cardiovascular challenges and an increased risk for comorbid conditions if left undiagnosed or untreated. If you struggle falling or staying asleep, avoid taking medications that can cause insomnia and discuss alternative regimens with your physician that are less disruptive to sleep. It is important to consider an evaluation by a health care professional to determine if your lack of sleep is related to a sleep disorder.
7. Start tonight
There are several things that you can start doing tonight to improve your sleep. Keep a regular schedule of your sleep and wake times. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise during the day can be helpful for winding down at night. Eliminate activities and behaviors that do not promote sleep, such as taking prolonged naps during the day and engaging in stimulating activities late in the evening, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages close to bedtime. Following these practices will open opportunities to sleep longer with each passing night.
Getting enough quality sleep may not always be easy, but should be a health priority. Remembering these seven tips to optimize your sleep will not only help improve your sleep, but also help you recognize when your symptoms may be the result of a bigger problem such as an underlying sleep disorder. Speak with your health care professional about your individual sleep quality on a regular basis and especially if you think you may be struggling with an underlying sleep disorder.