If you struggle to get enough Z’s, you’re not alone—nearly half of Americans report suffering from insufficient sleep. The Oregon Clinic's Dr. Bill Bowerfind, a physician specializing in sleep health, warns that the side effects of getting not enough quality sleep include high blood pressure, weight gain, depression, brain damage and threats to the immune system. Luckily, his simple, practical tips will have you sleeping like a log in no time.
1. Don’t Default to Eight Hours
Eight hours of sleep per night may be standard advice, but every body is different, and the actual amount you need could be anywhere between 6–11 hours. To tell if you’re getting enough sleep, ask yourself how you feel throughout the day (without caffeine), when you feel most tired, and how easy it is to fall asleep at night. Then, keep a sleep log and count how many hours you’re truly getting. It should take between 15-20 minutes to fall asleep. If you’re passing out before your head hits the pillow, you need more sleep. If you’re awake for an hour before finally dozing off, take a look at your caffeine consumption and other factors that might be keeping you up.
2. Cue with Light
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try sending your body sleep cues by turning down the lights an hour before bedtime. If you struggle to wake up, consider buying a 10,000 lux light box to help signal to your body that it’s time to get moving. (These boxes are also super helpful for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.) Instead of a 3 pm coffee, which could stay in your system up until 11 pm, beat the afternoon slump by turning up the lights—this tells your body that you are nowhere near bedtime and it’s time to kick up the energy.
3. The Bedroom: For Sex and Sleep Only
According to Dr. Bowerfind, this is one of the biggest struggles Americans have. Designate the bedroom as a sleep-and-sex-only zone—no reading, no working, no arguing with your partner, and definitely no Facebook browsing or Netflix binging. The blue light from screens (TVs, iPads, phones, and some e-readers) is extremely disruptive to the natural melatonin in your body, and will prevent you from getting the sleep you deserve.
4. Let the Dogs Out
Yes, their snuggles might be sweet and comforting, but if you want better sleep, it’s best that your animal companion sleeps in the hallway. Fido’s dander, noises, bathroom needs, and restlessness can all cause you to wake up more frequently and be distracted from falling into those deep stages of sleep.
5. Be Cautious of When You Eat, Drink, and Work Out
Finish your dinner—and any boozy nightcap—at least two hours before bedtime, and avoid caffeine in the afternoon. And while vigorous and regular exercise is essential to sleep health, working out within two hours of bedtime can wreck your sleep schedule; a heart-pumping endorphin rush may feel great, but will keep you awake longer.
6. Be Consistent
For optimal rest, your sleep schedule should not vary by more than an hour day-to-day. This lets your body settle into a routine and adjust its circadian rhythm. Avoid naps if at all possible; if absolutely necessary, stick to quick 15-20 minute snoozes. And whatever you do, don’t hit the snooze button—it fragments the various phases of sleep and leaves you feeling worse than ever.
These tips may feel obvious or insignificant, but small changes really do add up. Dr. Bowerfind recommends prioritizing sleep in the same way we prioritize eating, exercising, and showering. Carve out enough time to get quality sleep, and you’re sure to see improvements in memory and learning, mood, weight maintenance or weight loss, and even mental clarity. Clear out the distractions, be conscious of the choices you make throughout the day and get the quality, restorative sleep you deserve.