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Published on July 08, 2013

Tips for Your Best Sleep Ever

You should have fallen asleep hours ago, but now it’s two a.m. and you’re still tossing and turning. As the hours pass by, your mind races between thoughts of your big work presentation the next day and the frustrating fact that you’re still awake. Now you’re angry because you can’t fall asleep, and you can’t fall asleep because you’re angry. It’s an awful, endless cycle.

We’ve all struggled with falling asleep and catching some quality zzz’s during the night. But in addition to the well-known issues such as stress or snoring, there’s a bigger reason as to why so many have trouble getting a good night’s sleep.

“We’re a more 24/7 society than we used to be, and people’s routines are not as fixed as they once were in the past,” said Dr. John Khoury, a neurologist and sleep specialist with Abington Memorial Hospital. “People are staying up late at night on their laptops, iPads, and cell phones, which doesn’t allow your body to create a good bedtime routine. What’s even worse is that many people are doing all these things while physically in bed.”

So how can you achieve a good nighttime routine? It all starts with changing some of your daily habits and practicing some good sleep hygiene. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Maintain a Sleep Schedule: It’s important to wake up at the same time every day in order to strengthen your body’s sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. Your body relies on this balance of sleep and wakefulness in order to function at its best. And if you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, try engaging in a relaxing activity, such as reading, and return back to bed when you’re finally tired.
  • Get Enough Sleep at Night: “Optimal sleep time is around eight hours or so; some people require ten or as little as six,” said Dr. Khoury. If you wake up feeling refreshed the next day, that’s how you’ll know how much sleep your body requires.
  • Establish a Sleep Routine: Rituals before bed, including taking a hot bath or listening to relaxing music, let your body know it’s time to wind down. Dim the lights as well in order to signal that it’s time for bed. Try not to do any stimulating activities such as working or paying the bills before bed. Additionally, stay away from the TV or other electronic devices right before bed, as this stimulation can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Monitor Your Eating and Drinking Habits: You should finish eating two to three hours before going to sleep to prevent feeling discomfort before bed. If you’re hungry, have a light sleep-promoting snack, a glass of milk or herbal tea. Limit how much you drink right before bed, and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can both prevent you from falling into deep stages of sleep throughout the entire night.
  • Create a Room Ideal Only for Sleeping: Your bedroom should be cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in room-darkening shades if you get a lot of sunlight and use a fan to keep it cool. Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and not overused; the life expectancy of a mattress is about ten years. Additionally, your bedroom should be used for sleep and sex only, so don’t use your bedroom for other activities such as working and reading during the day. Your body will better pick up on the signals that it’s time to sleep.
  • Get Physically Active: Exercise helps you fall asleep faster and sleep better. If exercising at night makes you too energized, try exercising in the morning.
  • Manage Stress: Anxiety can make it difficult to sleep, so try calming activities before bed, such as journaling or yoga. If this doesn’t help, speak with a specialist to help you manage your stress or anxiety.
  • Limit Naps: Long naps late in the day should be avoided. Naps should be 10-30 minutes long, and no later than mid-afternoon.

If all else fails, talk with your primary physician or visit a sleep center to identify the root of your sleep problems.

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