7 Tips for a Better Night's Sleep
By Wen Liu • August 17, 2019
Anyone who's ever raised children or helped out with the grandkids understands what sleep deprivation feels like.
But consistently being deprived of a sufficient amount of sleep can do a lot more damage than just make you a bit crankier in the morning.
Research has tied a chronic lack of sleep—getting less than four to six hours of sleep most nights—to icky health consequences including a weakened immune system, weight gain, food cravings, and an increased risk for heart disease, respiratory infections, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease.
And yes, the typical human really does need about eight to nine hours of deep uninterrupted sleep each night. But this myth that older adults need less sleep is just that—a myth.
Turns out men and women over 50 need just as much sleep as their younger friends and family members.
The challenge is that age-related changes—such as lowered production of the sleep-friendly hormone melatonin, changes to the bodies' natural biological clock, and an increased need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night—lead to more fractured sleep.
Keep in mind that sleep deprivation is far more common than you may think. As much as 40% of Americans struggle with falling asleep at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Sleeping well and feeling well-rested helps you tackle your day more effectively.
It also improves the quality of your skin, boosts your immune and hormone function, decreases inflammation, supports healthier relationships, decreases pain, enhances your bone strength, prevents memory loss, and helps you lose weight faster, to name just a few benefits.
Convinced of why you should get enough sleep? Good. Now...if only we could figure out how.
These tips are a great place to start. Begin implementing as many as possible as you can—but even starting with just one or two can make a big difference over time.
1 - Stick to a schedule
Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. In his seminal book on sleeping, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Dr. Walker suggests that if you only do one thing to improve your sleep, this should be it.
Whether it's a weekday or weekend, holiday or vacation, a consistent sleep schedule can help calibrate your body's natural sleep-related functions so that you'll be able to fall asleep (and stay asleep) more easily.
2 - Sleep in a pitch dark room
Night lights, light from televisions, phones, and computer screens, and ambient light from the street all mess with your body's natural melatonin production and can contribute to fractured sleep.
You honestly might be amazed by how much better you sleep if you install blackout curtains and remove artificial light sources from your bedroom.
How dark is dark enough?
In an ideal world, you wouldn't be able to see your own hand if you hold it up in front of your face (but see point 8 for an important age-related caveat).
By the way, that nightlight in your grandkids' room? It's likely messing with their sleep, too. Research tells us that to help kids brains' grow and develop, your best bet is to unplug it and let them sleep in total darkness.
As an extra tip, start dimming and turning off other lights in the house about an hour before bedtime. This will help trigger your body's sleep-inducing functions, too.
3 - Make your bedroom cool
Set your bedroom temperature at 70 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. Our body temperatures naturally cool down as we prepare for a night's rest, so setting a lower temperature in your room helps facilitate this.
A cooler temperature also helps us transition through the different stages of sleep including the dreaming stage, aka rapid eye movement sleep or REM sleep, and the non-dreaming stage, non-REM sleep.
4 - Use your bedroom for rest and romance only
Will it be tough getting rid of the TV? Sure it will—but remember the consequences it's imposing on your health and well-being.
It's safe to say that increased weight gain, food cravings, and memory loss are harder to deal with than giving up your nighttime shows.
5 - If you can't sleep, take a mulligan
If you haven't fallen asleep within about 30 minutes of hitting the pillow, get up and do something relaxing, like reading or knitting (but nothing that involves a digital screen, since the bright light tricks your body into thinking it's daytime).
When you start feeling sleepy again, head back to bed. This trains your body to associate your bed with rest.
6 - Minimize your consumption of alcohol and caffeine
Meanwhile, alcohol is a sedative that doesn't help you sleep or enter the necessary sleep stages. Sure, they may seem to help you fall asleep faster, but those evening cocktails seriously disrupt your sleep quality.
Minimize your consumption of both. If you're looking for a soothing bedtime beverage try Turmeric Elixir. Having a warm drink before bed can help calm your nerves and mind.
7 - Exercise
It's hard to count all the benefits of physical activity, and now we can add improved Zzz's to the list. Exercising for 30 minutes on most days of the week can help you sleep better. Just make sure you don't do it within an hour of bedtime.
Remember, even a brisk walk around the block or some serious playtime with the grandkids can count as exercise. The point is to find an activity you like doing so you'll keep doing it every day.