A good night’s sleep for an adult is seven or more hours of sleep every night, and getting less than that can greatly affect health and wellbeing. With so many in sleep debt, health care expenses and lost productivity cost the U.S. nearly $66 billion every year.
While some people sleep poorly simply because of bad habits — such as staring at bright phone screens before bed — other people’s insomnia is a symptom of psychological stress or a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. What’s more, poor sleep tends to worsen the symptoms of mental health issues, so getting control of it is imperative. So how do we improve our sleep hygiene and get the sleep that we really require?
- Take Care of Underlying Conditions. If you know or suspect that you’re suffering from a mental health condition that may be affecting sleep quality, visit your doctor. From therapy to specific prescription medications to light therapy, there are several avenues that they can recommend to improve sleep.
- Turn Devices Off. The blue light that screens on phones, computers, and televisions emit has been shown to both restrain melatonin production and keep your brain alert, making it think it needs to stay awake. Shut off all technology at least 30 minutes before bed time, and use that time to come up with a new routine to get ready for bed.
- Maintain a Schedule. Set your bedtime for the night and go to bed. This time may vary based on what you have scheduled for the morning — just be sure that you are getting at least seven hours. So, if you know you have a workout class that you have to wake up at 6 a.m. to get to, be sure you’re in bed by 11 p.m. at the latest. Remember, that means turning off your devices 30 minutes before that!
- Exercise. Exercise, most notably moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking) has been shown to significantly improve sleep — especially for those with chronic insomnia. Exercise helps people fall asleep more quickly, sleep longer, and have better sleep quality. If you’re exercising in the evening, give yourself about three hours to cool off before bedtime.
- Plan for Tomorrow. Some of the loudest thoughts that interrupt our sleep revolve around what’s happening the next day, so make some time before bed to plan out your schedule in advance. Review your calendar so you know what’s happening and what you need to prepare for so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. Pack what you need if you’re going to the gym and prepare your meals if you need to.
- Try Herbal Remedies. While herbal remedies aren’t approved by the FDA, some people find great success with them. Supplements such as melatonin and valerian root are available over-the-counter in most stores, and are safe things to try for sleep issues. Some tea brands have blends specifically for sleep and relaxation.
- Watch What You’re Ingesting. Caffeinated beverages can obviously affect sleep immensely, so it’s best to avoid them several hours before bedtime — but some people are even more sensitive and should just stick to the coffee in the morning. Also, pay attention to how eating food before bed affects you. Some people can sleep soundly on a full belly, or after a healthy snack, while others need some time to digest.
- Try Relaxation and Meditation Techniques. Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can help people become more aware of their body and decrease anxiety.
This article first appeared in the December 2017 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.