Tips for a restful night's sleep

A woman sleeping in bed.

Are you one of the almost half of Americans who say that between three and seven days a week, they feel sleepy during the day? At the risk of sounding like your mother, sleep is one of the most important facets of our health. A good night of sleep enables your body to recover from the tensions of the day and your brain to rest up for the work it will do tomorrow.

If it’s been a challenge to get enough sleep each night, it’s possible that a few adjustments to your sleep routine can solve the issue. (Note: This article won’t address severe sleep problems like apnea or chronic insomnia. If you’re experiencing these issues, please contact your doctor right away.) We've gathered some helpful tips to help you get a more restful night of sleep.

12 tips to help you sleep

  1. Aim for the right amount of sleep. How much sleep do our bodies really need? Adults ages 18-64 need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, while adults over 65 need seven to eight hours.

  2. Watch your caffeine intake. In the body of a healthy adult, caffeine has a half-life of five hours. So, try not to drink anything with caffeine less than five hours before bedtime.

  3. Limit alcohol. It’s been found that more than two servings of alcohol per day for men and more than one serving per day for women decreases sleep quality by more than 39%.

  4. Get your body moving. Studies have associated even moderate levels of physical activity per week with reduced levels of daytime sleepiness (but don’t do vigorous exercise within two hours of bedtime; that can make it harder to fall asleep).

  5. Keep naps short. Daytime napping for more than 30 minutes can make it more difficult to fall asleep at night—when you need your sleep most.

  6. Put your devices to sleep, too. Using TVs, computers or mobile devices before bedtime can play havoc with your circadian rhythm and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Try making the last hour before bedtime a “no blue light” zone.

  7. Welcome the light. Speaking of circadian rhythm, reset your internal clock each morning by getting as much sunshine or bright light (as in an artificial bright light machine) as you can during the day. Not only will it give you more energy, but it will also make it easier to fall asleep at night.

  8. Ease into bedtime. Give yourself time to cycle down before you go to bed. Soothing music, low-impact stretches, reading quietly and relaxation exercises can help you transition into sleep mode.

  9. Establish a consistent sleep schedule. As much as possible, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends). This will help train your body and mind to know that it’s bedtime—time to fall asleep.

  10. Keep it dark, quiet and cool. A sleep mask or blackout curtains can keep the light out, while a sound machine or fan can block outside noise. And while “cool” can be a relative term, in general, a temperature below 70 degrees makes for more comfortable sleep.

  11. Help your stomach sleep, too. A heavy, rich or spicy evening meal can make for an uncomfortable night. If it’s possible, make your dinner the lightest meal of the day.

  12. Still can’t fall asleep? Don’t just stare at the ceiling and wait for sleep to come. Try some relaxation techniques, and if they don’t work after 20 minutes or so, get out of bed and do something relaxing, like reading, in low light. Or try these tips for what to do when you can’t sleep.

The high costs of sleep deprivation

To understand the toll that poor or less sleep can extract on us as a society, here are some factoids on the high costs of sleep deprivation from The Sleep Foundation:

  • The estimated economic impact of inadequate sleep is more than $411 billion per year.

  • Drowsy drivers are responsible for more than 6,000 fatal car crashes in the United States every year.

  • Severe insomnia sufferers are seven times more likely to experience work-related accidents than those who sleep well.

  • Nurses who work 12.5-hour shifts make more than three times as many medical errors than those who work 8.5-hour shifts. 

We don’t cite these statistics to scare you into sleeping more. The fact is, getting good sleep is one of the most important steps you can take toward improving your physical and mental wellness. From increasing your resistance to illness to helping manage stress and anxiety; from improving cognitive performance to helping your body recover from injuries; sleep is an essential element of our continuing health and well-being. Give yourself the gift of better sleep, starting tonight!