Ultimate Sleep Guide

Woman Sleeping


How have you been sleeping? We all go through bouts of restless nights, but do we really understand what a good nights sleep can for or us. Sleeping an average of 7 to 8 hours each night can be game-changing for your physical and mental health.

The Importance Of Sleep

Each night while you sleep, complex processes in your brain and body improve your ability to: 

  • Regulate hunger and blood pressure
  • Heal and repair your heart and blood vessels, repair muscle tissue, and fight off infection
  • Make decisions, pay attention, and solve problems
  • Control your emotions and cope with change

Sleeping fewer than 7 hours a night for even a couple of days will impair your functioning. Not getting enough sleep for weeks, months, or even years takes a more serious toll. Individuals who regularly sleep fewer than 7 hours a night are more likely to have: 

  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Chronic kidney disease

If you’re struggling from lack of sleep, unfortunately you’re not alone. According to the latest national data from the CDC, 35% of Americans sleep less than 7 hours per night. That means more than 1 out of 3 people are chronically sleep-deficient. 

Pick a Bedtime Ritual

Establishing a quiet, soothing bedtime ritual can help you transition from a busy day and get in the right mindset for sleep. Your ritual doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should be consistent.  Create a routine that leaves you feeling calm and relaxed.

Before consider one or more of these rituals:

  • Take a warm shower or bath. It will both relax you and lead to a post-shower drop in body temperature that promotes sleep.
  • Meditate. Imagine yourself someplace peaceful and serene. Guided imagery may help you let go of stress and relax. After lying down in bed, pick a location that you associate with total relaxation, and imagine it in vivid detail. It might be a waterfall in the forest, a tropical beach, or a cabin in a rainstorm. Immerse yourself in the sounds, sights, smells, and feel of the scene.
  • Listen to music. Chilling out to relaxing music before bed is associated with reduced stress and better sleep. Aside from its calming effects, music may help distract you from negative thoughts and drown out noises that would otherwise keep you awake. 

Common Sleep Disruptors

 If you struggle to fall or stay asleep, it’s likely that one or more of the factors below are infringing on your shuteye. Since we aren’t always aware how distracting outside influences are on our minds and body, consider eliminating all of these to pinpoint where your sleep disruptors are coming from. 
  • Using digital devices before bed

    Watching TV or using your phone at night can feel like a harmless, entertaining habit, but it may be keeping you awake. Using devices distracts you from sleep, and light emitted by digital screens suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. Polls show that people who use devices 60 minutes before bed have the hardest time falling asleep. To sleep better, shut down your phone, your laptop, your tablet, and your TV an hour before bedtime. Make sure everything is in do-not-disturb mode so you won’t be woken up by pings, chimes, and suddenly bright screens. 

  • Drinking alcohol at night

    Drinking before bed may help you doze off faster but can lead to low quality sleep later in the night and cause you to wake up more often. The neurochemical effects of alcohol prevent your brain from transitioning into the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep. Because alcohol relaxes the muscles of your throat, drinking also makes you more prone to snoring and sleep apnea. You are also more likely to wake up because you need to use the bathroom. If you currently drink at night and wake up tired, aim to have your last drink at least 2-3 hours before bed.

  • Eating foods that trigger acid reflux

    If you struggle to fall asleep because of a burning sensation in your chest or wake up coughing or choking with a sour taste in your mouth, it could be due to acid reflux (aka gastroesophageal reflux). Acid reflux is a digestive issue that occurs when stomach acids flow backwards into the esophagus. It’s one of the leading causes of disturbed sleep among people ages 45 to 64. 

    The main causes of acid reflux include increased pressure on your abdomen due to excess weight, certain medications (talk to your primary care provider about whether something you’re taking could be contributing to acid reflux), and smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke.

    If you experience acid reflux, you may be able to control it by: 

    • Avoiding greasy and/or spicy foods, as well as alcohol, coffee, peppermint, and tomatoes/tomato products
    • Eating smaller meals
    • Finish eating 2 to 3 hours before bedtime
    • Staying upright 3 hours after a meal
    • Wearing clothes that are loose around the waist
    • Raising the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches (by putting blocks under the bedposts)
    • Losing weight 
    • Quitting smoking/avoiding secondhand smoke
    • Taking over-the-counter medication to reduce stomach acid
  • Consuming caffeine late in the day

    You know caffeine makes you more alert and less sleepy but you may not realize that the chemical stays in your system for up to 6-8 hours after you consume it. That means having a cup of coffee or a caffeinated soda later in the day could be keeping you awake at night. Note that different people can be more or less sensitive to caffeine (and caffeine sensitivity can increase as you get older). So if you struggle to fall asleep and can’t pinpoint a reason, it’s worth reducing or cutting out caffeine in the afternoon to see if it helps. 

  • Taking certain medications

    Many medications can disrupt sleep. If you’re not resting well at night, ask your primary care provider if anything you’re taking (whether prescription or over-the-counter meds) could be keeping you up or interfering with your normal sleep cycles.

    Even if you think a medication is making it harder for you to sleep, do not alter or skip doses without talking to your primary care provider. 

  • Smoking before bed

    There are many health-related reasons to quit smoking. Add getting a better night’s rest to that list. Nicotine is a stimulant, so smoking within one or two hours of bedtime is likely to keep you up. Nicotine has also been shown to disrupt normal sleep and contribute to sleep apnea (see the next page), leading to chronic sleep deprivation. Heavy smokers may also wake up too early due to nicotine withdrawal. 

  • A bright, noisy, or overly warm bedroom

    To facilitate sleep, your bedroom should be like a cave — dark, cool, and quiet. Next time you turn off the lights, consider how dark it really is. Many electronics have small, cool-toned lights that while low, still emit light that can cause disturbance.  In addition, noise that is irregular, higher pitched, or louder than a few decibels can be very disturbing to sleep.  Consider a white noise, such as a fan, to help even out irregular noises that happen during the night such as a furnace or passing car.  Lastly, your environment should be cooler at night.  Turn down the thermostat during you sleeping hours and look into cooling sheets or pillow for better night’s sleep.

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