Kate Morton

No one can function without sleep, but many of us lean into bad habits that keep us from getting a full night of rest. Here are some tips that will have you sleeping like a baby in the wink of an eye.

No one can function without sleep, but many of us lean into bad habits that keep us from getting a full night of rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep, yet 35% of adults report getting less than that. Effects of sleep deprivation can include difficulty concentrating, changes in mood, such as depression or irritability, vulnerability to illness, and fluctuations in blood sugar and blood pressure levels

Between 10 and 30% of adults deal with insomnia, which can stem from excessive caffeine intake, mental illness, stress and not having a set sleep schedule, to name a few. Dr. Cami Matthews, pediatric sleep physician at the Wisconsin Sleep Clinic and associate professor of pediatrics at UW–Madison, says insomnia doesn’t just apply to people who have trouble falling asleep — insomnia can also manifest as trouble staying asleep or getting restful sleep

Here are some tips that will have you sleeping like a baby in the wink of an eye.

1. Don’t use screens right before bed

Looking at your phone or watching TV before bed can keep you awake longer [10]. Sleep is one of the body’s circadian rhythms, which allows the body to produce the hormone melatonin in the evening, inducing sleep, and decrease it in the morning when we wake up. Screens emit blue light, which suppresses melatonin production. “If you have too much light exposure, that decreases that melatonin secretion and then you don’t feel as sleepy,” Matthews says. When we sleep, we want our minds to be at ease, but using screens before bed keeps us from winding down. 

2. Set a personal sleep requirement

Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, and setting a personal sleep requirement is a great way to get a sense of how much your body needs. Observe how you feel on different amounts of sleep. If possible, during a time when you have less obligations, try sleeping without an alarm for a week and track how many hours you sleep — that’s the amount you should aim for to get a restful night. Build your daily routine around that set sleep schedule.

3. Avoid heavy meals before going to bed — but don’t go to bed hungry, either

The body needs time to process big meals. “If you eat a lot, your body has to process that, so then your blood sugar and your metabolism increases rather than, ideally, decreasing a little bit before you’re going to sleep,” Matthews says. To avoid going to bed hungry, have a snack. Dairy foods in particular can facilitate sleep.

4. Stay away from caffeine and nicotine before going to sleep

Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, which keep the brain active. When it comes time to sleep, even though you may not feel as alert as when you drank a cup of coffee earlier, your brain is still in awake mode. Nicotine can cause withdrawal symptoms, interrupting sleep in the second half of the night. Like alcohol, nicotine can make us oversleep, which isn’t good, either.

5. Get good, regular exercise

Exercising at least three times a week for 20 minutes at a time helps us get deeper sleep. Take some time out of your day to go on a quick jog or take your dog out for a walk. “If you exercise more, you tend to sleep deeper and have higher-quality sleep,” Matthews says. Exercising a couple hours before bed can be helpful. Our body temperature drops back down after exercise, creating a relaxing effect that promotes sleep. However, avoid exercise right before bed — this can keep you awake longer

6. Limit napping during the day

Daytime siestas can be tempting, but if you struggle with insomnia, it’s best to limit napping as much as possible. When we nap, we aren’t as tired when bedtime comes around, so it’s best to hold out until then. Long naps interfere with deep sleep, and naps longer than 30 minutes after 3 p.m. should be avoided

7. Keep a consistent sleep schedule

Although it’s easier said than done, going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day — yes, even weekends — can make a big difference. Matthews likens waking up at different times every day to sleeping in a different time zone, depriving the body of the time it needs to adjust. “Staying on a regular sleep pattern keeps you in the same time zone rather than going back and forth, and it keeps your body ready for sleep,” Matthews says

8. Focus on relaxation before sleep 

“If you get into bed and try to process your whole day, then that can be stressful,” Matthews says. Relaxing activities before bed like meditation, reading or listening to calming music help us sleep. When we feel anxious about the next day, it can be harder to fall asleep. “I oftentimes tell people to try to make a list right before you go to sleep, so that you’re trying to process that before you’re getting into bed,” Matthews says. Addressing worries or concerns before getting into bed allows us to relax when it’s time to get some shut-eye.

9. Create your own bedtime routine

Completing pre bedtime tasks in the same order helps tell your body it’s time to go to bed. Getting in calming activities like reading or listening to music before bed and going to sleep at the same time every night will help you get a restful night of sleep.

10. Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep

Your bed should be a place of rest, so try not to use it for anything other than sleep. Matthews recommends setting up a designated area away from the bed for work and other non-sleep tasks that distract the brain from sleep. ”If you do your homework in bed or pay bills or watch TV, then your bed becomes not only your sleep zone, but your work zone,” Matthews says.

Illustrations by Lili Sarajian