By Teofilo L. Lee-Chiong Jr., MD
Getting Regular Sleep Isn’t Easy. Work demands, worries about finances or family, or a busy schedule can push back your bedtime. According to a recent nationwide study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of US adults report not getting enough sleep on a regular basis;1 however, getting enough high-quality sleep is critical for maximizing work or school performance.
Recognizing that insufficient sleep is a problem is the first step to putting yourself on a path to better sleep. By incorporating a few simple tips into your nighttime routine, consistent, good sleep can become a reality.
1. Figure out why you aren’t sleeping well.
To make improvements to your sleep habits, you need to start by identifying the different factors that might be contributing to unhealthy or inadequate sleep. Tracking your sleep with a sleep diary for a few weeks can help reveal practices that might be keeping you up at night.
For example, by writing down that you had a hard time sleeping after you had two glasses of wine or after you watched an intense television show, you’ll be able to see unrecognized patterns of disrupted sleep. Understanding your individual sleep habits, including stress triggers that give you anxiety before bedtime, will help you figure out what solutions you should look for to help you sleep better.
2. Take time to prepare yourself for sleep.
Many of us go, go, go during the day and then simply fall into bed, hoping to fall asleep instantly. But to get the best-quality sleep, you need to prepare yourself for bedtime. Wind down for an hour or two before going to bed and avoid exercising, worrying about your fears, or getting into an argument during this time frame. To help calm an otherwise overactive mind, try meditation for a bit of quiet time; relaxation exercises can provide that same bit of downtime for the body.
3. Revamp your personal sleep space.
Technology has altered almost every aspect of our waking lives and will do the same to our sleep if we don’t intervene. Our bedrooms are filled with smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions, and gaming systems. Not only do these devices cut into the time that in the past was solely reserved for sleep but they also provide an easy distraction from quality sleep—not to mention that the blue light from our phones can actually tell our brains to be more active, making it even harder to get to sleep. Make a conscious effort to turn off all devices close to bedtime and create an ideal dark, quiet environment for sleep.
4. Prioritize good sleep.
In our society sleep is often undervalued. Once you start taking steps to make better sleep a priority, encourage your family members to do the same. Think about how your choices affect others’ sleep schedules and explore ways for your family members and colleagues to protect against interruptions to the sleep schedule, including unnecessary calls or messages at bedtime and recurring late-night or unreasonably early morning activities.
5. Talk to your doctor if your sleep isn’t improving.
If you have significant difficulties falling or staying asleep, or if you are excessively sleepy during the day, you may have an underlying sleep disorder. If left undiagnosed or untreated, many sleep disorders tend to persist and lead to other health consequences, such as cardiovascular challenges and an increased risk of comorbid conditions. If you struggle with falling or staying asleep, avoid taking medications that can cause insomnia, and talk to your physician about alternative regimens that are less disruptive. It is important to consider an evaluation by a healthcare professional to determine if your lack of sleep is related to a sleep disorder.
6. There is no time like the present.
There are several things that you can start doing tonight to improve your sleep:
- Keep a regular schedule of your sleep and wake times.
- Engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise during the day to help wind down at night.
- Avoid taking prolonged naps during the day and engaging in stimulating activities late in the evening, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages close to bedtime.
Following these practices will open up opportunities to sleep longer with each passing night.
Dr. Teofilo L. Lee-Chiong Jr., MD, is a professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver and at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. He joined Philips Respironics as its chief medical liaison in 2011. Dr. Lee-Chiong has authored or edited 16 textbooks on sleep medicine and pulmonary medicine. In addition, he developed and serves as the consulting editor of Sleep Medicine Clinics and is a member of the editorial board and a reviewer of several medical journals and publications. He served as the chair of the Nosology Committee of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, vice-chair of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC Program Committee since 2009, and chair of both the Sleep Medicine Network and the Sleep Institute steering committees of the American College of Chest Medicine (ACCP). He also has served on the Council of Governors for the ACCP.
1. 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep [news release]. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html. February 18, 2016.