Today in the chart

Ways to Improve Your Sleep

It’s one of the most important cornerstones to our health, yet far too many of us don’t get enough of it: sleep.

It’s one of the most important cornerstones to our health, yet far too many of us don’t get enough of it: sleep. We’ve previously discussed the value of sleep tracking to learn basic information about your sleep patterns and behaviors that affect them: How much sleep are you getting each night? How consistent is your sleep? What factors, like exercise or caffeine intake, affect your sleep? How do you feel when you don’t get enough sleep? And, ultimately, how much sleep do you need each night to function well?

Those answers can uncover what you need, but taking steps to get the sleep you need is a whole other kettle of fish. In this article, we’ll address steps you can take to increase how many zzz’s you get. Keep in mind, however, that these tips are aimed at people who do not have a sleep disorder. If you think you might have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about undergoing a sleep study.

If you have a sleep disorder, follow established treatment guidelines before working on the steps below. Many of the tips below can be helpful for anyone, regardless of sleep disorders, but in some cases, certain suggestions may worsen your condition. For example, people with clinical insomnia may struggle with following advice about improving sleep hygiene and would benefit more from the first-line treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Insomnia.

Keep All Screens and Devices out of Your Bed

This one is first on the list because it’s often difficult for many people. It’s not just kids who have trouble turning off their devices. Almost all of us have difficulty putting aside our smartphones or tablets. Whether it’s checking social media, playing one more game of Two Dots or Words with Friends (or waiting up for the new Wordle game at midnight!), binging TV on Netflix, whatever it is, it’s hard to set those distractions aside.

But bringing them into bed with you will only delay your ability to fall asleep. It’s easy to lose track of time on your device, and all the while, the additional light may be interfering with your body’s release of melatonin, the hormone that tells us it’s nighttime. Reducing your screen brightness and using “night mode” with light that’s more yellow than blue may blunt the impact on melatonin release — the evidence isn’t definitive yet — but it’s undeniable that no light at all is best.

Turn Off Autoplay on Streaming Devices

App makers are conspiring to keep us watching before you reach your bedroom. Many streaming services are set to a default that autoplay the next episode in a series shortly after the credits begin. While it’s convenient for binging, it can tempt you into “just one more” episode and delay your bedtime.

Eat Your Last Big Meal at Least Two Hours Before Bedtime

For most people, this meal is dinner, but it could be breakfast or lunch with shift workers, depending on your schedule. Whatever you call it, avoid big meals close to bedtime. Consuming calories sends the message to your body that you need energy, so your body is ready to use that energy, possibly making it harder to wind down. This is especially true if your meal is heavy on sugar or carbohydrates.

Find Your Caffeine Cutoff and Stick to It

Many people already know the cutoff hour for their last cup of coffee—anything they drink after that hour means they’ll be up an extra several hours longer than they planned. If you don’t know it, use your sleep log to pay attention to when you’re consuming caffeine and how it affects your sleep. Remember that coffee and energy drinks aren’t the only sources of caffeine. Chocolate has caffeine too, so if that’s part of your nighttime snack, see if you can swap it for another treat, like cheese or pudding.

Be Cautious of Nightcaps

It’s a common misconception that alcohol is a good way to prepare yourself for sleep. It’s true that it’s a depressant and can lead you to fall asleep faster—but the unfortunate tradeoff is that your sleep quality suffers. Alcohol interferes with your circadian rhythms and can lead to more restless sleep, so keep the nightcaps at a minimum, consuming no more than one standard drink per hour and cutting yourself off an hour before bedtime.

Go Low-Tech

We already suggested keeping your devices out of bed but even better is quitting devices earlier in the evening and substituting them for low-tech leisure. Reading is an obvious choice, but it’s not the only one. Adult coloring books can be incredibly relaxing (and educational or subversively cathartic). Legos aren’t just for kids. (Seriously, what parent is shelling out $400 for Hogwarts Castle?!) Crossword puzzles and Sudoku still come in cheap paperback books at dollar stores. There are plenty of ways to unwind without skimming your social media feed.

Dim the Lights

Melatonin cues your body for bed, and light is its trigger. As bedtime approaches, the less light you’re exposed to, the easier it is to fall asleep.

Practice Deep Breaths or Meditation

When you lay down in bed, take some time to physically prepare your body for sleep: take several deep, slow breaths to tell your body it’s time to slow down and relax. Bedtime is also a great time to practice mindfulness meditation, letting the day’s thoughts roam, wander, and finally fade away. If that doesn’t work for you, use visualization to put yourself in relaxing places and focus on your favorite aspects of that place.

Go to Bed and Rise at the Same Times Each Day

We left this for last because, while it is an important part of sleep hygiene, it’s also not possible for many healthcare workers, especially those who do shift work that changes over time. Ideally, you’d go to sleep around the same time each night and get up around the same time each day, even on weekends. In reality, life and work often interfere with this plan, so instead, try to focus on getting the actual number of hours of sleep you need each day, even if that means adding a nap to your daily routine.

Subscribe to our M-F newsletter
Thank you for subscribing! Welcome to The Nursing Beat!
Please enter your email address