Healthy eating and physical exercise are essential to good health, but many of us overlook the importance of sleep. Inadequate sleep can affect mood, disrupt concentration, and upset hormones that regulate weight.
“Sleep deficiency may also increase the risk for diabetes, atherosclerosis, and some forms of cancer,” says Stuart F. Quan, MD, clinical director of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. For example, in children and teens, sleep and heart health are linked. Lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other health conditions later in life. Learn how to sleep better and wake up refreshed.
Dr. Quan cares for patients with sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy. Here are his tips for better sleep:
Developing healthy sleeping habits starts with commitment. Tell a friend or loved one that you are making sleep a priority. Telling others keeps you accountable and make you more likely to stick with your goal.
Establishing regular sleep habits can be just as important as how long you sleep. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
“In terms of how long you should sleep, there’s variability from person to person, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend that you get at least 7 hours of sleep a night,” says Dr. Quan.
Your room should be completely dark while sleeping. Position your bed away from windows and try blackout curtains, or use an eye mask, if the sun wakes you up early in the morning.
“Make sure your sleeping environment is quiet. If you live in an urban area or have noisy neighbors, use a white noise machine, which can counteract ambient sounds,” says Dr. Quan.
Turn off your cell phone before bed, or activate the ‘do not disturb’ setting. In general, try not to use electronics in bed.
Aim to keep your bedroom between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Find the temperature that’s right for you.
Most studies show that regular exercise three-to-four times a week helps improve sleep. It’s usually best to exercise in the morning or afternoon. If you exercise at night, try not to exercise within 2 hours of bedtime, as the adrenaline boost from your workout may disrupt your sleep.
Avoid eating a heavy meal before bed. This includes foods high in carbohydrates, which may lead to heartburn or bloating. Both of these can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep.
Exposing yourself to sunlight each morning will help keep you alert throughout the day. It will also help keep your sleep schedule regular, says Dr. Quan.
In the winter, try sitting in front of a light therapy box for 30 minutes, which can also help manage seasonal depression. In the summer, go for a walk in the morning. Leave your sunglasses in your pocket to expose your eyes to the light.
The nicotine in cigarettes increases heart rate and brain activity and can disrupt your sleep. If you are having trouble quitting, you may want to try a smoking cessation program. “Caffeine is a stimulant and stays active in the body for roughly 6 hours. If you drink coffee at 5 p.m., it’s still having an effect at 10 p.m. when you go to bed. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, stop drinking coffee or soda around lunchtime,” says Dr. Quan.
When the clocks change in the spring or fall, try to adjust your sleep schedule ahead of time. For a few nights ahead of the time change, try adjusting your bedtime and wake time earlier or later, depending on the season.