Sleep. For some, it’s a challenge. Even if you were sleeping like a baby pre-pandemic, you may now find yourself tossing and turning as anxious thoughts disrupt your ability to get good ZZZs. If lack of sleep rules your nights, it can really mess with your days. You may feel sluggish, find it difficult to concentrate, feel irritable, groggy and dull.
But getting a solid night of restful sleep is important for far more reasons than a sense of wellbeing. Research shows poor sleep can have major effects on your health including memory problems and greater likelihood of getting into a car accident.
It may help to know that everyone experiences trouble falling or staying asleep once in a while. In the meantime, Nancy Foldvary-Shaefer, DO, offers these tips to get a good night’s rest.
1. Let the light in
Dr. Foldvary-Shaefer says “Your body has an internal clock that lets you know when it’s time to go to bed.” This circadian rhythm is important for letting your brain know when it’s time to sleep and stay awake.
To reset your circadian rhythm, make sure you get plenty of bright light or sunshine each day. This will not only help you sleep at night, it can give you more energy throughout the day.
2. Cut screen time
It might be really difficult to stop scrolling on headlines during current times. But it’s more important than ever to allow yourself time to step away from headlines and social media.
If you’re prone to anxiety-fueled insomnia, scrolling through headlines and social media before bed — or worse, while you’re in bed — will not foster healthy sleep patterns.
“Try setting a curfew one to two hours before you go to bed where you turn off your electronic devices to wind down for the night,” says Dr. Foldvary-Shaefer.
3. Eat the right foods
Nutrition plays a role in how well you sleep. “Food relates directly to serotonin, a key hormone that — along with Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid — helps promote healthy sleep,” says Dr. Foldvary-Shaefer.
She recommends eating foods that calm the body, increase serotonin levels and get you ready for restful sleep. These include complex carbohydrates such as:
- Whole-grain breads and pasta.
- Lean proteins such as chicken or turkey.
- Heart-healthy fats such as walnuts, cashews and pistachios.
- Beverages such as warm milk or chamomile tea.
4. Use sleeping pills safely
If you’re tempted to use an over-the-counter sleep aid to get some rest, think again. Dr. Foldvary-Shaefer recommends cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) instead. “CBTI is more effective that long-term use of sleep aids,” she says. Go! to Sleep is a web-based CBTI program developed by experts that you can try yourself at home.
For the rare night when you need a sleep aid, there are a few good guidelines to keep in mind.
- Allow enough time for a full night’s sleep.
- Don’t try them the night before a big, event-filled day.
- Watch for side effects.
- And only use sleeping aids for short periods of time. “If you have ongoing insomnia, it’s best to talk to your doctor,” says Dr. Foldvary-Shaefer.
5. Don’t nap too long
If you like to take a nap every day, try limiting them to 10 or 15 minutes. That makes it easier to hit the ground running when you wake up. Napping too long or too often can have a negative effect on sleep patterns and cause sleep inertia, which is the feeling of grogginess or disorientation we experience after waking from a deep sleep.
6. Limit alcohol
That nightcap before bed may help you fall asleep easily, but it can end up robbing you of a good night’s rest. As the alcohol is metabolized during the second half of the night, it creates more fragmented sleep. This can mean vivid dreams, sleepwalking, nightmares and even breathing problems because alcohol relaxes your muscles. It can also mean waking up to use the restroom in the middle of the night. It’s best to limit drinks in the late evening or eliminate them entirely.
7. Optimize your bedroom environment
Many people believe that the bedroom environment and its setup are key factors in getting a good night’s sleep.
These factors include temperature, noise, external lights, and furniture arrangement .
Numerous studies point out that external noise, often from traffic, can cause poor sleep and long-term health issues .
In one study on the bedroom environment of women, around 50% of participants noticed improved sleep quality when noise and light diminishe.
To optimize your bedroom environment, try to minimize external noise, light, and artificial lights from devices like alarm clocks. Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, relaxing, clean, and enjoyable place.
Optimize your bedroom environment by eliminating external light and noise to get better sleep.
8. Set your bedroom temperature
Body and bedroom temperature can also profoundly affect sleep quality.
As you may have experienced during the summer or in hot locations, it can be very hard to get a good night’s sleep when it’s too warm.
One study found that bedroom temperature affected sleep quality more than external noise .
Other studies reveal that increased body and bedroom temperature can decrease sleep quality and increase wakefulness .
Around 70°F (20°C) seems to be a comfortable temperature for most people, although it depends on your preferences and habits.
Test different temperatures to find out which is most comfortable for you. Around 70°F (20°C) is best for most people.
11. Don’t eat late in the evening
Eating late at night may negatively affect both sleep quality and the natural release of HGH and melatonin .
That said, the quality and type of your late-night snack may play a role as well.
In one study, a high carb meal eaten 4 hours before bed helped people fall asleep faster .
Interestingly, one study discovered that a low carb diet also improved sleep, indicating that carbs aren’t always necessary, especially if you’re used to a low carb diet .
Consuming a large meal before bed can lead to poor sleep and hormone disruption. However, certain meals and snacks a few hours before bed may help.
10. Relax and clear your mind in the evening
Many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them relax.
Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia .
In one study, a relaxing massage improved sleep quality in people who were ill .
Strategies include listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating, deep breathing, and visualization.
Try out different methods and find what works best for you.
What to do when you work the night shift?
Working non-traditional shifts in a job can interfere with your body’s internal clock and can lead to trouble sleeping. Dr. Foldvary-Shaefer recommends following a regular bedtime routine and making your environment conducive to sleep even if you sleep by day.
“Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet, and let the people in your life know what hours you work and when you will be sleeping, so they know when to leave you alone,” Dr. Foldvary-Shaefer suggests.