By Helene Wechsler, MD

Most of us know by now that getting a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night is best for us, but getting there can be a little difficult. People who sleep seven hours a night are healthier and live longer. 1 For various reasons including stress, anxiety, and stimulants from your diet, many adults do not get their minimum 7 hours and suffer because of it.  Guidelines issued in 2015 by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society state that adults need to get seven or more hours of sleep per night on a regular basis to remain in optimal health.  Sleeping less than seven hours per night is associated with weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression and premature death, as well as impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance and greater risk of accidents.2

Sleep, it turns out, may play a crucial role in our brain’s physiological maintenance. As your body sleeps, your brain is clearing out all the junk that has accumulated as a result of your daily thinking.  A 2013 study published in the Journal of Science found that metabolic waste products of neural activity were cleared out of the sleeping brain at a faster rate than during the awake state. This finding suggests that sleep serves a restorative function for our brain.3 After more than a decade of study, doctors have finally found direct evidence that synapses reset at night.4

Tips and Strategies-

Be Cool:

Cool, dark and quiet are key. While it’s great for your bedroom to look cool, we mean temperature as 60-75 degrees is ideal. “Decreasing body temperature is one of the strongest signals to our brain to bring on sleep onset. This decrease in temperature is regulated in part by the ambient temperature. Thus, when the ambient temperature is too high, the body cannot cool itself and therefore can’t fall asleep. Cool bodies sleep better.”5 Taking a hot bath before bedtime is also a good idea, because once you get out of the bath, your body cools down more quickly.  This will help you drift off to sleep.6

Keep it Dark:

Sunlight is a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up. Use blackout curtains or shades to block any incoming light and turn off any devices that have a light or glow.

Hush Hush:

The quieter the better. Use earplugs if your room has ambient noise or a sound machine with a soothing white noise or something that appeals to you like rain or waves to help you drift off.

Check your Meds and Diet:

Many medications and foods contain stimulants. Check your meds and supplements with your physician, but make sure you are not taking in caffeine, nicotine, sugar and alcohol in the evenings and even late afternoon.

Make a Routine:

Schedule a time to go to bed every night and stick to it, even on weekends. For some, creating a relaxing routine up to bedtime works best.

Screens, Screens, Go Away:

Anything with a screen should not be in the bedroom if you want good sleep. The blue light from tablets and smartphones have the same effect as sunlight on your brain, the opposite of what you want at bedtime.

Beds are for Sleeping and Romance:

This means keep the bed a “special” place. Working, eating, and watching TV are things that should be avoided in bed. An Italian study shows that people who have screens in the bedroom have half the amount of sex as those who do not.

No Midnight Snacks:

Eating and then sleeping is not a good idea because people generally experience acid reflux as your digestive system is most effective when your body is upright. If you are overweight, this imposes difficulties for your metabolism and hormonal balance, which can subsequently make you gain even more weight.

Catch Some Rays:

Getting sunlight in the morning is not only a good idea because it helps reset your internal clock, but the Vitamin D is also very beneficial. Go outside for some fresh air in the morning or make a habit of sitting by the window for 15 minutes with your morning coffee, journal or meditate.

Ditch the Pill and Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

The American College of Physicians advises its members that CBT should be the first line of treatment offered patients with insomnia. The key element of cognitive behavioral therapy is cognitive restructuring which challenges you to reframe negative ways of thinking that can become their own self-fulfilling prophecies. CBT asks you to look at the situation differently, and replace the negative thought with a positive one. During a CBT session, patients are educated about good sleep practices, how to complete a sleep diary, and dysfunctional beliefs and misconceptions about insomnia. Many studies have shown that CBT has a significant effect on the short- and long-term treatment of chronic insomnia. 7

Exercise:  

Many sleep studies have shown that exercise during the day aids sleeping at night. The recommended amount of exercise is: 2½ hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, along with strength or resistance training that targets every muscle group at least two days a week.  Moderate-intensity exercise can be brisk walking, light biking, elliptical machine; anything that increases your heart rate so that you can still talk while exercising but must catch your breath every few sentences.7 Exercising outside is also helpful, because bright light can help promote sleep.

Let Mother Nature Help:

A recent study released in the Journal Current Biology showed that spending time in nature can work wonders for your health, from lowering blood pressure and stress hormones to improving your sleep. Growing research suggests it improves our sleep by resetting our internal clocks to a natural sleep cycle.8

Yoga:

There’s no doubt that yoga is a gentle way to wind down your day. Anecdotally, people have reported longer, better-quality sleep and feeling more refreshed upon awakening, after practicing yoga.  Try a restorative or deep stretch yoga class to help you wind down.

Meditation:

In a 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, adults who spent two hours a week learning meditation and mindfulness techniques for six weeks reported less insomnia and fatigue than those who’d spent that time learning basic sleep hygiene. Mindfulness is an increasingly popular form of meditation. It teaches you to work with certain thoughts to put sleep and insomnia into perspective.9

Turn to Herbs:

Melatonin, valerian root, and l-tryptophan all are backed with studies that show they can improve sleep and increase the amount of time you sleep. They are a great natural, non-habit forming method to improve sleep. Consult your physician to see if they might work for you. For a more gentle approach try lavender essential oil. You can put it in a diffuser, in your evening bath or even a spritz on your pillow.

  1. https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/doi/10.5665/sleep.1846/2709360/Sleep-A-Health-Imperative
  2. http://www.aasmnet.org/resources/pdf/pressroom/Adult-sleep-duration-consensus.pdf
  3. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/373
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/srep45273
  5. https://www.scholars.northwestern.edu/en/publications/aerobic-exercise-improves-self-reported-sleep-and-quality-of-life
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/well/guides/how-to-sleep
  7. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sleep-shrinks-the-brain-rsquo-s-synapses-to-make-room-for-new-learning/?WT.mc_id=SA_FB_MB_NEWS
  8. http://time.com/4656550/camping-sleep-insomnia/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23691095

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.