Pittsburgh Magazine: Five Things to Do to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Establishing a routine, staying away from bright lights and screens, and refraining from focusing on your laundry list of tasks will help you get much-needed rest.
Every time I can’t sleep I think of the “Friends” episode where Chandler has an important meeting the next day and worries about it all night, only to fall asleep during said meeting and inadvertently agree to head up his company’s Tulsa, Oklahoma office.
In fact, the night before I began working on this article I had trouble falling and staying asleep (isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think?).
I’m not alone. In a 2022 Gallup survey, 33% of Americans described their sleep as fair or poor, and the American Sleep Apnea Association says 1 in 3 adults do not regularly get the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep they need to protect their health.
Poor sleep habits are linked to cardiovascular disease, cognitive declines, depression, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood sugar, inflammation, infections and obesity.
What can we do to improve our sleep habits and our overall health?
Dr. Andrew Perez of St. Clair Medical Group Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine gives the following 5 tips to patients who are looking to catch more z’s. He stresses anyone who has issues with snoring or who seem to stop breathing while they sleep, or who have difficulty staying awake during the day should consult with their doctor or a sleep specialist for treatment of potential sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
1. Establish a Routine
Perez says going to bed at the same time and waking up around the same time helps to regulate our bodies and get into the habit of getting the required amount of sleep needed, depending on your age.
“We recommend keeping these routines even on the weekend,” he adds. “We tend to push those routines back over the weekend and that’s why Mondays are so hard. Keeping that routine will help, especially with the school year starting.”
If you tend to hit the snooze button in the morning, he recommends moving your alarm clock across the room or forcing yourself to get up and move to break the habit.
As much as it pains me to say, he also advises against afternoon naps for adults.
“Napping in the afternoon will greatly affect your ability to sleep at night,” he says. “Someone who’s been asleep from 3 to 5 won’t want to go to bed at 9 p.m.”
2. Exercise and Eat Well
He also advises patients to exercise and eat well. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, people who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise at least three times a week may see a difference in sleep quality that night. Research also shows exercise can decrease insomnia.
“Try to avoid exercising one to two hours before you go to bed,” Perez advises. “Completing an exercise routine may not necessarily tire you out enough for you to want to sleep that soon afterward.” He also recommends avoiding alcohol right before bedtime.
3. Avoid Tossing and Turning
Perez says it’s best to get out of bed and do some light reading in a moderately lit space instead of lying in bed tossing and turning.
“When you start to feel tired again, go lie down. This will train your body to sleep when you’re in bed,” he adds.
4. Avoid Bright Lights
Just like Chandler, I tend to stare at the clock and think, “If I fall asleep now, I’ll get five hours of sleep.”
Perez recommends positioning your alarm clock so you can’t see the numbers.
“This helps you to not stare at the clock waiting for that time to pass,” he adds.
Sleeping in a dark room and minimizing the usage of bright phone, tablet and television screens will also help you drift off to sleep faster.
5. Leave Your Worries Behind
This is the most difficult tip for me to follow. That mounting to-do list keeps me up many nights, as if worrying about it will make completing it any easier.
Perez advises patients who have the same trouble as I do to focus their mind on something other than their worries and trying to fall asleep.
“Try something that works for you like meditation, counting sheep or imagining walking down a long hallway and what you would see as you walk,” he says. “My son swims so I tell him to imagine he’s doing his 400-meter swim and what turns and movements he would make.”
Another effective technique is taking five deep breaths and focusing on relaxing each joint and muscle group in your body, as if your body is a bowl of Jell-O.