Sleep Tips

Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in your quality of life. Here are some tips from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School that might help you get that perfect snooze.

1. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep

Any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake, so avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.

2. Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment

A quiet, dark and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up. Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated. Make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows, remembering that most mattresses wear out in about ten years.

3. Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine

Ease the transition from awake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall, in body temperature promotes drowsiness) or read a book. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities such as checking work emails. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.

4. Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired

Struggling to fall asleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music, until you are tired enough to sleep.

5. Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher

Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you.

6. Use Light to Your Advantage

Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle, so let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.

7. Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover.

8. Nap Early—Or Not at All

Many people make naps a regular part of their day. However, for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep problematic, afternoon napping may be at fault. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.

9. Lighten Up on Evening Meals

Eating a pepperoni pizza at 10 p.m. may be a recipe for insomnia. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion.

10. Balance Fluid Intake

Drink enough fluid at night to keep you from waking up thirsty—but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom

11. Exercise Early

Exercise helps promote restful sleep if it is done several hours before you go to bed. It also can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

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