If you’ve suffered through a miserable night’s sleep, then you know the importance of quality, uninterrupted Zzzs. The morning after insufficient sleep can leave you feeling mentally fuzzy, lethargic, and even give you a headache. Persistently lacking enough sleep can also lead to weight gain, reduced exercise performance, heart disease, or stroke. The average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep every night. If you’re struggling to reach this minimum effective dosage, follow the tips below to regain your nights and improve your days.
Be consistent. Make it a point to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day—even on weekends. Consistency helps to set your body’s internal clock and maximize sleep quality. Set your bedtime for the time of the evening when you naturally feel tired so that you’re not frustratingly tossing and turning for weeks while your body adjusts to your new schedule. You may need to gradually move up your bedtime to reach that critical eight-hour mark and get up early enough for work or to get your kids off to school on time.
Increase your exposure to bright light. Daily exposure to natural sunlight or artificial bright light has been proven to help improve sleep for insomniacs. Bright light exposure during the day helps to keep your circadian rhythm—your body’s internal clock—healthy. A recent study found that two hours of bright light exposure during the day increase the amount of participants’ sleep by two hours, and sleep efficiency by 80 percent. If your busy schedule is keeping you indoors, make it a point to get outside every day, even if only for twenty minutes. Take one work phone call a day while walking outside, walk your dog around the block before dinner, or trade in your treadmill for your sidewalk. If the weather isn’t cooperating, make the switch to artificial bright-light bulbs.
Set a routine. Your body will begin to naturally transition to sleep if you create a nighttime ritual that gradually slows down your body and mind. Consider a routine that includes pre-bedtime yoga, reading, or meditation. Limit your smartphone screen time, though. Using your phone stimulates your brain. Plus the light emitted from an LED screen interferes with your brain’s ability to produce the sleep hormone melatonin, which means scrolling through your Insta feed before bed may be making it harder to wind down and fall asleep.
Skip the late night latte. If you are a daily caffeine consumer, commit to cutting off the java drip at least six hours before bed. Caffeine stimulates your nervous system, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Studies have found that caffeine can remain in your bloodstream for six to eight hours, worsening sleep quality. If you have to have something warm in the evening, switch to decaf.
Limit nap time. Naps are not meant to be second sleep shifts. If you nap for too many hours during the afternoon or early evening, it may be difficult to fall into a deep sleep at night. If you must nap, limit it to 15 to 20 minutes and rest in the early afternoon only.
Exercise daily. It should be no surprise that exercise can make you tired; however, don’t feel like you need to run a 10K or power lift for 45 minutes to boost your sleep quality. Even light exercise can help you power down at the end of the day.
Ask your doctor about taking a melatonin sleep aid. Often used to treat insomnia, melatonin supplements can help some people to fall asleep faster. A recent study found that 2 mg of melatonin before bed can improve sleep quality, help you sleep more quickly, and make you feel more energized the next morning. As with all supplements, never begin a new medication routine without first discussing with your doctor.
Sleeping better each night is within your control. By adopting some consistent routines and behaviors, and leading a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and healthy eating habits, you can kick your