Sleep Series Part 1: How Can I Sleep Better?

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

Woman struggling to sleep.

Most have of us are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, or even if we are getting "enough hours”, we do not feel refreshed when we wake up. So, how do we sleep better, manage insomnia, and prevent the cycle of other issues that arise when we don't get a good night of sleep?

There is no magic number for how many hours one should sleep since each person is different. I know people who sleep 3-4 hours and are high functioning, happy, and intelligent, while if I sleep less than 6 hours I feel miserable and need a nap ASAP!

Sleep is important. Sleep allows the body to both physically and mentally recover. During sleep, we consolidate all of things we learned that day into our long-term memory. Not getting enough sleep can actually increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and mental health disorders.

So, how do you know if you are optimizing your sleep? Let’s do a quick screen based on the Sleep Hygiene Index that includes multiple factors which can influence the quality and quantity of your sleep.

Answer yes or no to the following questions. (Talk to a trusted provider if you would like a more in-depth sleep assessment or need help changing your sleep habits).

1. Do you take daytime naps lasting two or more hours?

2. Do you go to bed at different times from day to day?

3. Do you get out of bed at different times from day to day?

4. Do you exercise to the point of sweating within 1 hour of going to bed?

5. Do you stay in bed longer than you should two or three times per week?

6. Do you use alcohol, tobacco or caffeine within 4 hours of going to bed or after going to bed?

7. Do you do something that may wake you up before bedtime? (Ex. Play video games, use the internet, clean)

8. Do you go to bed feeling stressed, angry, upset, or nervous?

9. Do you use your bed for things other than sleeping or sex? (Ex. Watching TV, reading, eating, studying)

10. Do you sleep on an uncomfortable bed? (Ex. Poor mattress or pillow, too much or not enough blankets)

11. Do you sleep in an uncomfortable bedroom? (Ex. Too bright, too stuffy, too hot, too cold, too noisy)

12. Do you do important work before bedtime? (Ex. Pay bills, schedule, study)

13. Do you think, plan, or worry while you’re in bed?

How many did you answer yes to?

It is not required that all of the answers to these questions should be a no, because life happens and we cannot always control our circumstances, but keep reading and see why you should consider trying to change them to a no so that maybe you will get better sleep.

Tips to Sleep Better

Short Naps > Long Naps

Your body goes into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep after 90 minutes. Most of your dreaming happens during REM sleep. If you wake up during this period, you can feel more tired than if you had not napped at all. Naps less than 30 minutes have been shown to lead to improvements in both short term emotional state and cognitive performance. If you are a napper, but it is affecting your nighttime sleep, try napping for 20-30 minutes at a time!

Don't Exercise Right Before Bed

Exercising tends to increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature which all signal to the body that you are awake. This can last for several hours, especially after vigorous exercise. So, save your HIIT workout for the morning or early afternoon and try a relaxing walk or yoga session before bed. If your schedule only allows nighttime workouts, make sure you include a cool down with stretching and breathing to help shift your body into sleep mode.

Save Your Bills for Tomorrow and Don't Cram for Your Exam!

Mentally exercising your brain can have similar effects to physical exercise in regards to keep you up at night. By performing a stressful activity, you can increase mental activity and heart rate as well as feelings of anxiety which can make falling to sleep harder. Plus, the less sleep you get before an exam, the less time your brain has to remember things you have learned in your study session. Before bed, try to empty your mind of busy or worrying thoughts. Focus on counting, breathing, or gentle music.

This was the first of a Sleep Series. Upcoming topics include: sleeping positions for back pain, how sleep affects athletic performance, and more! Make sure you subscribe to our feed so you do not miss out!

Other References:

Understanding Sleep:

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