The cure to sleep difficulties and daytime fatigue can often be found in your daily routine. Your sleep schedule, bedtime habits, and day–to–day lifestyle choices make an enormous difference in the quality of your nightly rest. The following sleep tips will help you optimize your nightly rest, minimize insomnia, and lay the foundation for all–day energy and peak performance.
How much sleep is enough?
The first step to improving the quality of your rest is finding out how much sleep you need. While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need at least 8 hours of sleep each night to function at their best.
Getting back in sync with your body’s natural sleep–wake cycle—your circadian rhythm—is one of the most important strategies for achieving good sleep. If you keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, you will feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times. This holds true even if you alter your sleep schedule by only an hour or two. Consistency is important.
- Set a regular bedtime. Go to bed at the same time every night. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. Try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making the change in small daily increments, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day.
- Wake up at the same time every day. 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. As with your bedtime, try to maintain your regular wake–time even on weekends.
- Nap to make up for lost sleep. If you need to make up for a few lost hours, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping late. 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. While taking a nap can be a great way to recharge, especially for older adults, it can make insomnia worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating napping. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to thirty minutes.
- 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.
Find a period of time (a week or two should do) when you are free to experiment with different sleep and wake times. Go to bed at the same time every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally. No alarm clocks! If you’re sleep deprived, it may take a few weeks to fully recover. But as you go to bed and get up at the same time, you’ll eventually land on the natural sleep schedule that works best for you.
It’s not just the number of hours in bed that counts—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 need to make some changes to your sleep environment. The quality of your bedroom environment makes a huge difference in how well you sleep.
Keep noise down
People differ in their sensitivity to noise, but as a general rule, you’ll sleep better when your bedroom is quiet. Even if you’ve learned to sleep through certain noises, such as the wail of sirens or the roar of a passing airplane, sleep studies show that these sounds still disrupt sleep.
If you can’t avoid or eliminate noise from barking dogs, loud neighbors, city traffic, or other people in your household, try masking it with a fan, recordings of soothing sounds, or white noise. White noise can be particularly effective in blocking out other sounds and helping you sleep. You can buy a special sound machine or generate your own white noise by setting your radio between stations. Earplugs may also help.
Keep your room dark and cool
When it’s time to sleep, make sure that your environment is dark. Even dim lights—especially those from TV or computer screens—can confuse the body clock. Heavy curtains or shades can help block light from windows, or you can try an eye mask to cover your eyes.
The temperature of your bedroom also affects sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F or 18° C) with adequate ventilation. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.
Make sure your bed is comfortable
Your mattress and bedding are also important. If you often wake up with a sore back or an aching neck, you may need to invest in a new mattress or a try a different pillow. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam or egg crate toppers, and pillows that provide more support.
If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed, you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and let go of the day’s stresses.
Turn off your television
Many people use the television to fall asleep or relax at the end of the day. You may even have a television in your bedroom. However, television actually stimulates the mind, rather than relaxing it. Part of this is due to content. Late night news and prime time shows frequently have disturbing, violent material. Even non–violent programming can have commercials that are jarring and loud.
However, even the most relaxing program or movie can interfere with the body’s clock due to the continuous flickering light coming from the TV or computer screen. Television is also noisy, which can disturb sleep if the set is accidentally left on.
You may be so used to falling asleep to the TV that you have trouble without it for the first few nights. If you find you miss the noise, try soft music or a fan. If your favorite show is on late at night, record it for viewing earlier in the day.
Reserve your bed for sleeping
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 nod off.