7 Principles for Good Sleep
By Timothy Nelson, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Clinical Program
Getting a good night’s sleep is critical for just about everything that we do. Research shows that when we don’t get good sleep, we’re at risk for a host of problems ranging from difficulty concentrating to chronic health problems like obesity and Type 2 diabetes. So sleep is really important. But getting enough sleep can be a challenge, especially in a society where we keep getting busier and busier. Millions of Americans have significant sleep problems and the prevalence of sleep disorders in the United States has been steadily increasing for years. The good news is that there are some very simple ways to improve your sleep health.
Get on a regular schedule
One of the best things you can do to promote healthy sleep is to establish a regular sleep schedule. By going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day, you allow your body to get into a routine, which is critical for good sleep. And this is not just for work/school days. While it is tempting to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends, doing so disrupts your sleep routine and you will ultimately pay the price.
Avoid caffeine late in the day
This may seem obvious, but consuming caffeine late in the day can make it hard to fall asleep. Because caffeine from sodas or coffee can stay in your system for hours, it’s best to avoid these drinks late in the day. If you tend to have a hard time falling asleep anyway, caffeine will only increase the challenge. And watch out for alcohol, too – consuming alcohol in the hours before bedtime can disturb the quality of your sleep, making for a less restful night and likely fatigue the next day.
Wind down to bedtime
For most of us, falling asleep is a process. We can’t just flip the switch and go from awake and active to fast asleep. So we need to “wind down” to bedtime. Try gradually decreasing your activity level as you approach bedtime. Routines that involve relaxing activities, like reading or taking a warm bath, are ideal for preparing your body for sleep.
Be active during the day
Americans tend to be pretty sedentary. But when you don’t expend energy during the day, you might not feel like you’re ready for sleep at night. So try to be physically active during the day, and make exercise a regular part of your routine. If you do, you might find it easier to fall asleep at night.
Create a comfortable sleep environment
Have you ever tried to sleep in a room with a bright light on and lots of noise? It’s pretty hard. So make your sleep environment more conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, cool, and quiet.
Avoid long naps during the day
While naps are critical for babies and toddlers, adults should generally avoid taking long naps during the day. Excessive daytime sleeping can interfere with a person’s normal sleep cycle and make it hard to fall asleep at night.
Turn technology off
Watching TV in bed or reading on an electronic device can make it hard to fall asleep. The light from these devices tells your brain that it’s time to be awake rather than asleep. And keeping your cell phone near your bed can interfere with sleep. In addition to the possibility of receiving unwanted texts and calls, easy access to your phone might tempt you to check your email or cause you to worry about work. These things make it hard to relax and fall asleep. So turn off technology for a good night of sleep.
Note: This article presents some basic principles for healthy sleep hygiene drawn from research. Individuals differ in their health needs and in which strategies may be most effective for them. Consult your doctor or behavioral health professional for guidance about your sleep health.