11 Ways You Can Improve Your Sleep

We all know the toll a sleepless night can have on the body. In fact, our overall physical and mental health depends on getting quality sleep every night. Sleep plays a vital role in supporting healthy brain function, facilitating the body’s repair processes, safeguarding against disease, and recharging our entire system. Over time, poor sleep can significantly impact our quality of life and can even lead to serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. Sleep deprivation also heightens the risk for weight gain, anxiety, depression, car accidents due to slower reaction time, and, ironically, chronic insomnia. Once your body enters a pattern of interrupted or inadequate sleep, the negative effects on your overall health can snowball into life-threatening repercussions.

How can I get better sleep?

Fortunately, improving our sleep hygiene can have a remarkable impact on our ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Despite what its name suggests, sleep hygiene is not about keeping your sleeping area clean. Instead, sleep hygiene refers to the behavioral and environmental factors that influence your ability to get good sleep. Simple changes (while not always easy) to your routine and environment can optimize your sleep quality without relying on medication.

Changing Your Routine

If you’re having difficulty resting, your daily and nightly routine may be to blame. Multiple behavioral adjustments can have a marked effect on the quality of your sleep. Trying just a few of these small lifestyle adjustments could greatly improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Keep the napping to a minimum

Napping during the day can often disrupt your ability to sleep at night. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, so if you sleep during the day it’s going to take away from the sleep you’ll get during the night. If you find yourself experiencing daytime sleepiness and feel the need to take a nap to function, try to limit it to 20 minutes or less. Avoid naps after 3:00 pm as it can make it harder to fall asleep later.

  • Stay on a consistent sleep schedule

When it comes to sleep, consistency is key. Try to remain on the same sleep routine every night, including weekends and vacations. Disruptions to your schedule can lead to disrupted sleep because your body gets used to the routine.

  • Lose the screens before bed

Try not to use any electronics with screens a half hour to one hour before your desired bedtime. The brain is easily deceived by the blue light emitted from our screens, leading it to believe that the sun is still up. Consequently, our brain continues to produce chemicals to keep us awake and alert. Turning off electronics and turning down bright lights can help our brain recognize that it’s time to sleep. Our brain will begin to produce a natural source of melatonin, making it easier for us to sleep. Some products like glasses boast “blue light blocking” capabilities, however, there is no consistent evidence that indicates these products work at all. Instead, it’s best to limit your screen time before bed.

  • Add physical exercise to your routine

Physical exercise is great for our physical and mental health, as well as our sleep. Even 20-30 minutes of exercise each day will help you work off that excess energy and lead to more restful sleep. While it’s good to get exercise every day, try to limit any vigorous activity to before 3:00 pm. When we engage in vigorous activity, our body releases endorphins that can make it hard for us to settle down and sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine before bed

Caffeine can remain in our system for seven to eight hours after consumption, which is why it’s not recommended to have any caffeine after 2:00-3:00 pm. Not only does caffeine hinder our ability to fall asleep, but it can also fragment our sleep, leading us to wake up in the middle of the night.

  • Limit smoking and alcohol intake

Anything with nicotine (smoking, vaping, dipping, etc.) will act as a stimulant for your system and keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep. If you smoke, try stopping a few hours before you go to sleep. While alcohol is a depressant and can make you feel tired, research shows that it won’t lead to quality sleep. Alcohol breaks up our sleep and impacts our overall sleep cycle, leaving you tired, groggy, and oftentimes with a headache the next morning.

Changing Your Environment

Where we sleep has just as much impact on our sleep hygiene as how we sleep. A few small changes to our sleep environment can drastically improve your sleep quality. Try these adjustments to your sleeping area:

  • Keep the bedroom for sleeping

One emphasis for good sleep hygiene is keeping the bed a place for sleep and intimacy. Working in bed or simply spending the daytime in the bed can cause issues with our sleep schedule. Over time our brains can associate the bed area with daytime activity, making it difficult for our brain to recognize it as a sleeping area.

  • Make your sleeping area comfortable

One of the easiest ways to improve the quality of your sleep is to make adjustments to your bed. Ensure that you have a comfortable mattress and pillows that provide adequate support. If purchasing a new mattress is not feasible, consider using a mattress topper or investing in high-quality sheets for added comfort.

  • Take the TV out of the bedroom

As a rule, it’s a good idea to keep all screens out of the bedroom, including phones, smart watches, tablets, and televisions. There are a couple of reasons why televisions, specifically, shouldn’t be in the bedroom. For one, providing a source of entertainment in the bedroom will encourage you to spend daytime hours in an area that should be reserved for sleep. Additionally, the same blue light in our phone or tablet screens is also in our TV, tricking the brain into thinking that it’s daytime even when it isn’t. Some people use television noise as a white noise machine, believing that it will help you fall asleep, however, television noise is probably causing your sleep to become disrupted during the night.

  • Keep your sleeping area cool, dark, and quiet

Sleep specialists agree that a cool, dark, and quiet environment is the best recipe for quality sleep. Keep your bedroom thermostat set between 68-72 degrees. Additionally, using black-out curtains can help those with bright streetlights or nontraditional sleeping hours keep the sleeping area dark. Minimize distracting noises from TVs or other sources. Consider using a white noise machine to block out outside road noise or construction that may be keeping you up at night.

  • Remove pets from the bed

While they provide us with plenty of love and affection, our pets can also disrupt our sleep. If possible, limit pets to areas outside the bedroom to avoid waking up in the night from nighttime zoomies or begging to go on a walk or be fed.

How do I know if I’m not getting good sleep?

We tend to know when we aren’t getting good enough sleep. You may feel groggy or drowsy during the day. You may be more irritable or forgetful than normal. Poor sleepers can also be moody, have difficulty concentrating, and experience an increased appetite.

What if I change my habits and my environment and I still can’t sleep?

It may be time to see a sleep specialist. Sleep hygiene does require a level of discipline in order to be shown to be effective. However, if you try the tips outlined above and are still encountering difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, don’t despair. For some, simple sleep hygiene is not enough to counteract insomnia. In cases like these, don’t hesitate to reach out to a sleep medicine specialist to discuss other interventions that can help improve your sleep and overall well-being.

“Good sleep habits are fantastic, but if you’re still waking up frequently in the night, it could be another underlying issue,” said  Sabrina Brown, MSN, FNP-C of TPMG Lung and Sleep Specialists in Newport News, Virginia.

Don’t let bad sleep hygiene keep you up at night. Try implementing these tips in order to improve the quality of your sleep today.

Sabrina Brown

About Sabrina Brown, MSN, FNP-C

Sabrina Brown, MSN, FNP, is a board certified family nurse practitioner with TPMG Lung and Sleep Specialists at Newport News. In her clinical practice, Sabrina enjoys treating conditions such as asthma, COPD, and sleep apnea. Working with her patients, Sabrina takes an individualized approach to help them control their symptoms, prevent further progression, and meet their health goals. She also has a special interest in community health education focusing on disease prevention and health promotion

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