What’s more appealing than a good night’s sleep? The older you get, the fewer viable answers to that question there seem to be. But that doesn’t mean we’re getting the sleep we want — or need. In fact, a quarter of Americans have trouble falling or staying asleep most nights, and two-thirds struggle with sleep at least once a week.
The importance of sleep goes beyond the satisfaction of starting the day well-rested. According to Harvard Medical School, the impaired judgment and attention that results from poor sleep can put you at risk for accidents and injuries. In the longer term, it can also make you more likely to develop health problems, from obesity to diabetes to heart disease.
While Consumer Reports notes that Americans are expected to spend $52 billion a year on sleep remedies by 2020, you don’t have to take out a loan to start sleeping better. Try these four simple tips for a better night’s rest.
1. Stick to the Schedule
Getting healthy sleep isn’t just about the total hours you spend in bed over the course of a week. It’s important to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. Ensuring that you have a steady routine makes it easier for your body to snap into rest mode at night and helps you get to sleep quicker.
Of course everyone likes sleeping in on the weekend, but the more you give in to that temptation, the harder time your body will have getting back on track come Sunday night.
So go ahead and set your alarm seven days a week. You can take a quick nap on Saturday afternoon if you need to — a small price to pay for maintaining the sleep-and-wake cycles your body relies on to function at its best.
2. Watch What — and When — You Eat
Why not kill two birds with one stone by tiring yourself out with exercise before bed? Actually, scientists have begun debunking the belief that exercising at night keeps you up.
As the Washington Post reports, where exercise may interfere with sleep is in your eating: It’s important to eat after working out, but it’s also important not to eat certain foods before bed. Think sugar or caffeine, both of which may very well be in your go-to energy drink or gel.
Even caffeine consumed earlier in the afternoon can keep you up at night, as can a nightcap, which might hit you with a wave of sleepiness but is likely to keep you tossing and turning throughout the night.
3. Cut Down on Screen Time
We’ve all heard that television and smartphone screens emit blue light that disrupts the brain’s sense that it’s nighttime, making it harder to fall asleep. Sorry to add to the chorus, but this one’s true.
Calm the confusion and get to sleep at a reasonable time by shutting down the screens in the hour or two before bed. Besides, the University of Rochester Medical Center points out that depending on how you use your phone, it can cause anxiety, hearing damage and even hand injuries — and don’t pretend you don’t know the pain of dropping your smartphone on your face in bed.
What to do instead? Consider catching up on some reading with an old-fashioned book or trying out sleep-healthy mindfulness exercises.
4. Seek a Specialist
If you’ve tried the above options and a dozen others for getting a good night’s sleep and nothing’s working, it may be time to get in touch with a professional.
A sleep specialist can help you address any specific physical or mental health reasons you might be having trouble sleeping. If left untreated, diagnosable sleep disorders can lead to further health issues down the line. Be sure to find out what options your health insurance provides for seeing a sleep specialist so you can avoid paying unnecessary out-of-pocket costs.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of sleep, not only on your waking hours but on your future years. Take these simple steps to build good habits now, and — you guessed it — you can rest easy.