How to Get Better Sleep: Actionable Guide
Most of us don’t get enough sleep. An in-depth guide to help you get better sleep.
About a third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Seven hours is what the CDC considers restorative sleep, for the purpose of their research.
What keeps so many of us from getting enough sleep varies as much as our personalities do — which is to say, a great deal.
Whether it’s an overactive mind, too much afternoon caffeine, or a snoring partner — no matter the reasons, you can do more to get better sleep. And if you don’t, you may put your health at risk.
Research from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine finds that when people don’t get enough sleep, health risks rise — depression, seizures and hypertension worsen, while immunity plummets, so we catch colds and flu more easily; even our metabolism drops. Just one night of missed sleep can have negative consequences.
Here’s our guide on why you’re not seeing the sandman long enough and what you can to about it.
Why You’re Not Getting Good Sleep
“Sleep wasn’t even a medical discipline until the
late 90s,” says Pete Bils, vice president of Sleep Science and Research
at Sleep Number.
Some of the most common reason why you’re not sleeping include:
Sleeping in too late, or inconsistent sleep habits. Going to bed and waking at the same time daily is key to good sleep. Teens who busted their bedtime rules and stayed up late on weekends suffered symptoms of jet lag and slept less than seven hours per night during the week, found a Swedish study from Orebro University.
Big meals right before bed: If you tend to race from work to kids’ soccer practice, throwing dinner on the table right before bedtime, you might be sabotaging sleep. “A meal before bed raises your body temperature and digestion competes with sleep,” warns Bils. Eating later can help, as can eating more fiber and less sugar and saturated fat, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Sugar or caffeine: Scientists are still studying the effects of sugar on sleep, but that 3 p.m. Frappuccino run is likely a bad idea. Bils says no one should consume caffeine after noon because it has a long half-life. That coffee drink still leaves about half it’s caffeine in your system at bedtime. “You may be so tired that you fall asleep, but caffeine is going to disrupt your sleep for the first 3 to 4 hours, and it may wake you up,” explains Bils. Plus, caffeine reduces your total sleep time and efficiency, and worsens sleep quality, finds research reported in Sleep Medicine Reviews.
Not enough exercise: Moderate exercise helps deep sleep, notes research at Johns Hopkins. Deep sleep is when your brain and body rejuvenate and recover. The caveat: Exercising too late in the day can negatively affect some people’s sleep, so keep workouts away from bedtime and strive for at least 30 minutes daily.
Poor sleep environment: Is your room too hot? Too cold? Too light? Is your mattress comfortable? Are your pillows marshmallows or rocks? “When you are young and robust you can sleep through anything,” shares Bils. Think of a toddler who passes out on the couch in the middle of grandma’s Christmas party, despite 20 cousins running around. Adults have
to pay more attention to their sleeping environment because their sleep is not as dynamic as a child’s. The key is to
identify those environmental issues, and correct them in a way that
Screen time before bed: Blue light is not your friend. It shines out from laptops, tablets and smart phones, and triggers the brain to shut down melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that using a technological device within an hour of bedtime interrupts sleep. Worse, the more interactive you are on the device — playing video games, Scrabble on your phone, or texting — the more it interferes with sleep. “You should be in a dingy, orangish-yellowish light before bedtime to promote sleep,” advises Bils. Think of a campfire or sunset. Any other color light makes it harder to fall into dreamy sleep.
Stress or anxiety: Deadlines, a problem with your co-worker, that new work project — work stress can follow you home and crawl into bed beside you, not only causing sleep issues but exacerbating them. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says anxiety and stress cause sleep problems and sleep problems cause anxiety and stress. Practicing self-care like yoga, meditation, playing music or writing down worries can also help, as can speaking with your doctor.
Aging: Sleep disturbances arise more in middle age than when you’re younger. “When you get into your fifth decade or so, we see that people take a longer time to fall asleep,” says Bils. The demands of work and family mean you have less time for working out. Maybe you get up to go to the bathroom more often. Menopause or pre-menopausal problems like night sweats can keep women awake. Again, talking to a doctor could help.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Good Rest
Decades ago scientists thought sleep was just a passive activity where the brain and body were dormant. Today we know that isn’t the case. In fact, according to Johns Hopkins Medical School, researchers now understand that sleep is the time when numerous important brain and body activities take place.
Some of the consequences of sleep deprivation according to the Cleveland Clinic include a lack of alertness and poor memory. Sleep-deprived drivers have a greater likelihood of getting in a car accident. You’ve probably experienced how moody and irritable you or a partner get when at least one of you hasn’t slept, putting your relationship under fire.
But sleep runs deeper than that.
Your brain cycles repeatedly though two stages of sleep, non-REM (rapid eye movement) and REM. Non-REM consists of the period from wakefulness to sleep, light sleep, deep and then deeper sleep. Learning and memory as well as restorative functions in the body like muscle repair take place during Non-REM sleep.
REM sleep, on the other hand, where your eyes move behind their lids, is the stage where breathing gets deeper and the body is paralyzed to prevent acting out while dreaming. REM sleep helps balance moods, provides energy to the brain, and helps daytime functioning. You cycle four or five times between non-REM and REM sleep each night, with each non-REM episode becoming shorter and shorter.
Chronic sleep deprivation can hurt your health by producing hormones in the body that up your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. What’s more, obesity, lowered sex drive and depression are classic effects. Work can suffer, too. Employees who sleep less also have less motivation, focus, and good decision making skills than when they slept more, according to a large study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
How to Get Better Sleep
It’s easy for sleep researchers to tell you to get more shut-eye, but it’s not always so easy to achieve. “Most people do not have medically-related sleep problems, they’re just breaking the rules of good sleep,” Bils comments.
Here are Bils’ best sleep rules:
- Optimize your bedroom environment. The room should be comfortable, dark, and noise-free, with the temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature is one of the most important factors that affect sleep, a study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found.
- Consider what and when you eat, especially big meals, junk food, sugar and caffeine. Reset your meal schedule to keep meals away from bedtime.
- Skip alcohol before sleeping, as it may seem to make you drowsy, but will backfire. A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research says even moderate drinking impairs REM sleep. The study found alcohol reduced the restorative quality of sleep in both men and women and the more alcohol consumed, the worse sleep quality became.
- Work in some movement. Even when you’re pressed for time, sneak in activity. Pace around the field at the kids’ soccer practice, walk the dog around the block, tackle a yard project on the weekend such as raking or weeding. Just do it well enough before bedtime that it doesn’t keep you awake.
- Try and go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
- Skip the snooze button. The fragmented sleep you get between snoozes won’t count toward your total hours of sleep, and creates a period of grogginess called sleep inertia that leaves you dragging during the day.
- Your bed is for sleep and sex. Don’t spend time there working, eating or reading, since your body and brain should recognize the bed as the spot for sleep and intimacy.
- Leave your smartphone out of the bedroom, or at least charge it across the room. Read a physical book before sleep instead. Make a rule: No screens an hour before bed. That includes smartphones, video games, TV, computers and tablets.
- If your partner keeps you up , try and get on the same page and respect each other’s habits. Address one partner’s snoring with your physician or with mattress technology that raises the head of the bed slightly to open airways. For more tips about couple sleeping, see our COUPLES SLEEP GUIDE here.
- Take a warm bath before bed. A study in the Journal Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science found a hot bath and a warm foot bath can both help you get to sleep easier. Scientists know that warming the feet works to induce sleep, which is one reason why Sleep Number uses foot warming technology in its Sleep Number 360® smart bed– to warm the foot of your bed to help you fall asleep more quickly.
- Try white noise. Bils says the brain locks on white noise to prevent you from thinking and worrying about other things. Music may help only if it has a low volume and dynamic with no wild swings in tempo or rhythm. “You don’t want the ‘1812 Overture,’ you want something mellow.”
- Welcome bright light in the morning. That same light you eschew at night can help you rise and shine. “First thing every morning, you should get exposed to the brightest, bluest light you possibly can, so it totally shuts off melatonin and it resets your body clock,” advises Bils. Open the blinds or get under the brightest, bluest light you can in the kitchen.
- Select the right mattress and pillow. Choosing the right mattress and pillow is a crucial component to a good night’s sleep. Take your time researching and testing mattresses. Try them out in a store — don’t be shy about taking off your shoes and wearing comfortable clothes so you can stretch out. Read reviews. Figure out your preferred firmness level. The proper pillow for whether you’re a back, side or stomach sleeper makes a difference, too. Explore the Sleep Number 360® smart bed and pillows.
- Seek professional help if you have trouble sleeping longer than a week or if following good sleep rules haven’t helped.
For additional resources on sleep quality, comfort and sleep hygiene, visit the links below:
Getting a good night’s sleep takes some attention to detail and prep work, but with a little knowledge and a bit of investigation into what helps you sleep best, you can be off in la la land in no time.
Like diet and exercise, quality sleep is essential for optimal health and performance. Because everyone’s sleep needs are different, Sleep Number 360® smart beds with SleepIQ® technology inside sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping well all night long. Find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night’s sleep.