We’ve all felt the effects of a poor night’s sleep: nodding off at our desks, feeling fatigued, inability to concentrate, moodiness, stress. However, that sleepy feeling can also contribute to an array of more serious health consequences. Even if your daily sleep deficit is only an hour or so, a lack of sleep can dramatically increase vulnerability to a host of diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. If sleeplessness is a challenge for you, many simple practices can help you achieve the night of healthy sleep you need and deserve.
How many of these steps to healthy sleep are you following? Test yourself against these pillars of good sleep hygiene.
Do you maintain a regular sleep schedule?
Get your body attuned to your sleep needs by going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. For best results, try to keep this schedule even on weekends.
Do you avoid stimulants before bed?
Stimulants are designed to keep you going, so avoid them for 4-6 hours before bed. That means skipping the dessert coffee, but it also might mean turning down a glass of wine at dinner. Although alcohol has an immediate depressant effect that makes you sleepy, after several hours in your system it acquires a stimulant effect. Smokers should refrain from using nicotine products for several hours before bedtime. Be wary of hidden sources of caffeine, such as tea, soda, and even chocolate.
Do you avoid technology before bed?
Ditch gadgets and electronics, from phones and tvs to computers and tablets, for at least an hour before bed. The “blue light” that screens emit disturbs your body’s circadian rhythms and signal that it’s not time for sleep. Although some devices offer warmer “night mode” settings, it’s still safer to tuck your screens away until the morning.
Do you eat before you go to bed?
Having enough to eat in your day is key for healthy sleep, since otherwise hunger can wake you in the night. However, many doctors recommend eating your last meal 3-4 hours before going to bed. Avoid heavy, spicy, sugary or acidic foods before bed, as these are the most likely to upset the stomach or trigger heartburn, which is exacerbated when laying down.
Do you have a before-bed routine?
Doing the same things every night before bed serves as a cue to the brain that sleep is coming. Exercising a routine that also relieves stress is a great way to get the body winding down, which brings us to…
Do you practice a stress-relieving practice before bed?
Many people toss and turn at night because of overthinking, preoccupations of the day and the day to come, and other stress-related anxieties. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can remain in our systems for hours and disrupt an easy night’s sleep. Practicing a stress-relieving routine before bed can facilitate an easier passage into sleep. Meditation and yoga are two fantastic ways to detox from your busy day (see more about the efficacy of yoga for sleep and our suggested poses here). Find what works to relieve stress for you, whether that’s reading, bathing, playing calm music or practicing abstinence from screens.
Is your bedroom a place of rest?
Make your bedroom itself an indicator to the body and brain that it’s time to sleep. Avoid watching TV, doing work, or other daytime activities in your bedroom and you’ll strengthen your neural connection between your room and bedtime. Make sure that when you settle in for bed, there are no distractions like TV sound or the glow of a computer.
When you settle down for bed, are you a comfortable temperature?
Ensure that you are a comfortable temperature by adjusting the thermostat, wearing clothing of the appropriate weight, or using a fan.
Are you comfortable in your bed?
Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes to sleep. Use pillows that support your head well and are the appropriate firmness for your needs and preferences. Make sure your mattress is in good condition, and keep in mind that most need to be replaced after 10 years.
Do you have sufficient quiet in your environment?
If stray bumps in the night disturb your sleep, consider a solution like earplugs or a white noise generator.
Is your room dark enough?
The body’s evolved circadian rhythms are based on the sun cycle, which means that the body and brain might not think it’s time to sleep if your room is too bright. If light interferes with a good night’s sleep, consider room-darkening window shades or wearing an eye mask.
Do you get enough sunlight in the morning?
Even though getting your morning’s source of Vitamin D from the sun doesn’t seem related to sleep, this practice can help regulate your circadian rhythms — vital for healthy sleep.
Do you sleep with a pet in the room?
As much as we love our pets, it’s time to find alternate arrangements if sleeping alongside or near yours is disturbing you from healthy sleep.
Have you tried resetting yourself?
After an unsuccessful attempt to get to sleep, try getting up to "reset" yourself before trying again. Leave the room, read, listen to music or try another activity until you feel tired again. During this time, keep the lights low and avoid screens.
Do you have an approach to napping that works for you?
Avoid taking naps too close to bedtime. Naps can dramatically increase wakefulness and productivity if limited to under 30 min and taken only once per day. However, find a nap practice that works for you; if you find that daytime naps keep you up at night, skip them.
Do you exercise regularly?
Regular exercise in the morning or afternoon can help release tension in your body and promote a sense of restfulness. Avoid working out too close to your sleep hour.
Is there a visible clock in your room?
Staring at the minutes tick by while you’re trying to get to sleep can increase stress and make it harder to get any shut-eye. Turn the clock away from view or move it out of your line of sight.
Do you balance fluid intake?
Before bed, drink enough to satisfy your thirst, but not so much that you need to make repeat bathroom trips in the night.
Are you taking medications that may impact your sleep?
Some over-the-counter or prescription medicines contain stimulants or cause side effects like nervousness, jitteriness or urge to urinate. These can disrupt sleep; talk to your healthcare professional about adjusting or re-timing your medical routine.
Have you pursued all-natural alternatives to sleep medications?
Many prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications can cause harmful side effects, dependency and withdrawal symptoms if stopped. Luckily, nature affords us a wealth of all-natural herbal supplements for sleep. At Dr. Dünner, our experts have blended Swiss Bedtime Blend from herbs that work to calm the central nervous system, reduce anxiety and promote a sedative, sleepy feeling — without the side effects.
Have you talked to your medical professional?
See a doctor if you routinely have trouble falling asleep and feel tired even after sleeping for a seemingly sufficient amount of time. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome or narcolepsy require specialized medical attention.
Do you model healthy sleep for your family?
If you live with family or roommates, be a model of healthy sleep practices to them. When every member of your household is aligned in practicing good sleep hygiene, you’ll find it easier to stick to your own mindful sleep habits.
Do you plan to follow through?
Achieving sustainable lifestyle changes depends on having the motivation and dedication to follow through on those changes; stick to a plan and your chances of achieving a good night’s sleep will accelerate. We believe in you!