Sleep is a biological necessity for life and health. Research shows that the hours we spend sleeping are not simply passive but incredibly important. During sleep, your body is busy fighting pathogens, removing toxins from the body, scavaging cancer cells, repairing damaged tissues, and forming vital memories that are essential for learning. In part, this is why getting adequate sleep can improve mental health, the ability to make good decisions, and the overall function of your body.
Most adults need 7 or more hours of good quality (uninterrupted) sleep each day. Some may need even more.
The following are evidence-based suggestions to help improve your sleep:
Set aside enough time for sleep.
Give yourself enough time in bed to get the amount of sleep you need to wake up feeling well rested. This varies from person to person, but most healthy adults need 7 or more hours of sleep.
Consistent sleep times improve sleep.
Go to bed and get up at about the same times every day, including days off. Ideally, you should go to bed early enough an alarm is not needed to wake up.
Exercise improves sleep.
During the day, get some exercise. Even a 10-minute walk will improve sleep, and more is better. Plan on finishing exercise at least 3 hours before sleep is planned.
Bright light during the daytime helps.
Getting bright light during the daytime strengthens your biological rhythms that promote alertness during work and sleep at the end of your day. So, during the daytime spend 30 minutes or so outside in the sunlight. Getting bright light during the first hours of your day is particularly helpful. Even time spent outside on a cloudy day is better than exclusive exposure to dim indoor light. If you can’t get outside, spend time in a brightly lit indoor area.
Where you sleep matters.
Have a good sleep environment that is very dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable.
- Make the bedroom very dark, blocking out any lights in the room (especially blue and white lights). Cover the windows with opaque window covering if necessary. Use an eye mask if it’s hard to avoid lights from traffic or streetlamps.
- Use soft ear plugs if your sleep environment is noisy.
- Have a comfortably cool room temperature—about 65º to 68º F for most of us—and use covers.
- Have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
- Do not let pets or phones disturb your sleep.
Use your sleep space for only two things.
To condition your brain to relax when you go into the bedroom, use it only for sleep and intimacy. Do not watch TV, read, or work in the bedroom.
Prepare for a good night’s sleep about 1.5 hours before bedtime.
Follow a relaxing routine 1.5 hours before bedtime to help your body make the transition from being awake to falling asleep. Consider setting an alarm 1.5 hours before bedtime to start preparing for sleep. Don’t expose your eyes to computer or phone screens. Avoid excitement like watching an action movie or reading upsetting news stories. Brushing your teeth, washing your face, and getting into a pre-sleep routine will help you relax. Transition to dim lighting during this time (for example, don’t use a bright light in the bathroom).
Try relaxation techniques.
- Taking a warm bath 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime can help promote relaxation and optimize body temperature changes that aid in sleep.
- Other relaxation techniques such as meditation can also be of immense value
Check your intake.
- Avoid heavy or spicy meals 3 hours before your regular bedtime.
- Limit liquids several hours before sleep to avoid having to get up to go to the bathroom.
- Avoid alcohol near bedtime. It may help you fall asleep but can cause sleep disturbances. If you plan to drink alcohol, finish several hours before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine, chocolate, and nicotine for 5 or more hours before sleep is planned—more if you are sensitive.
What if these suggestions don’t work?
It may be wise to get help. See your doctor or a sleep specialist if you spend 7 to 9 hours in bed but:
- You consistently take 30 minutes or more to fall asleep.
- You consistently awaken several times during sleep or for long periods.
- You take frequent naps.
- You often feel sleepy, especially at inappropriate times.
Of course the ExpressMD provider staff is here to help you. We can be of immense help if your sleep troubles are due to an illness (such as coughing or an upper respiratory illness) or a painful condition (including sciatica back pain).