“Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain.”

Matthew Walker, MD, sleep scientist,author of Why We Sleep

You’ve probably experienced that when you’ve slept well, you have more energy, clarity and patience. Sleep deprivation can lead to many health problems such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, cognitive decline and more. In addition, suboptimal sleep impairs our ability to concentrate, problem solve and manage stress while diminishing our capacity for empathy, kindness and creativity. It also ages us prematurely and shortens our lifespan. To be your best, it’s vital to get proper sleep.

make sleep a priority

It’s important to note that if you don’t allow enough time for sleep, nothing is likely to change. The amount of sleep that is required varies from person to person, but research shows that on average we need seven to nine hours per night. Americans currently average 6.8 hours of sleep at night, down more than an hour from 1942–no wonder we’re feeling so stressed out.

To begin, start with allowing eight hours of sleep every night. Remember, sleep is not like the bank. We can’t accumulate debt and then try and pay it off at a later point in time. The brain has no capacity to get back that lost sleep we accumulate during the week in terms of debt.

It’s also important to prioritize regularity. So, ​​wake up at the same time, no matter whether it’s a weekday, the weekend, whether you’ve had a good night of sleep or a bad night of sleep. Similarly, go to bed at the same time every night. Count back 8.5 hours from wake-up time—that’s when you need to get in bed, put away your electronics and relax.

be intentional about your exposure to light

Light is the primary determinant of our circadian rhythm or sleep cycle, so managing our exposure to light is a powerful way to regulate sleep.

The first step is getting exposure to bright light first thing in the morning and sunlight throughout the day:
Open your blinds as soon as you wake up.
Take a short walk when you wake up in the morning.
Get outside during the day. Can you walk to work, go outside during lunch or schedule walking meetings?
In the winter months, talk to your doctor about trying bright light therapy.

You’ll also want to focus on reducing your exposure to light in the evening and experiencing darkness at night to avoid melatonin suppression. Remember, the body takes its cues to get ready for sleep from sunset and the gradual shift in natural light’s color-temperature.

Avoid or minimize the use of screens three hours before bedtime. Use programs like F.lux and Nightshift to reduce the blue light emitted from your devices.

Dim the lights in your home starting around sunset and consider wearing orange glasses to reduce exposure to blue spectrum light.

Get your phone and electronics out of the bedroom. If needed, set up your charger in another room.

Use blackout shades and/or eye masks to make your bedroom as dark as possible.

move your body

It’s important to get adequate amounts of physical exercise for proper sleep. Make sure to pay special attention not only to exercise, but also to reduce the time that is usually spent being sedentary. Try a standing or treadmill desk, take the stairs, walk more or put on your favorite music and dance!

cut caffeine and alcohol

These two items can have a profound effect on sleep, so they’re best avoided (or at least reduced) if you wish for a good sleep.

For optimal sleep at night, reduce overall caffeine consumption and stop caffeine by 12pm. If you suffer from sleep issues, you owe it to yourself to do a month-long trial 100% off caffeine and track your progress. Remember that if you are currently drinking a lot of coffee, it’s best to wean yourself off rather than cutting it out and going cold turkey.

Consider that a nightcap may put you to sleep faster but it also disrupts sleep architecture.

Alcohol is a sedative drug that can remove consciousness quickly from the brain but won’t put you into naturalistic, restorative sleep. It both fragments your sleep causing restless sleep and blocks your REM sleep (or your “dream sleep”), which is critical for aspects of mental health, emotional restitution, and memory consolidation.

Monitor your sleep quality when you consume alcohol. If you find that you toss and turn on the nights when you drink, or wake up tired the next day, reduce or eliminate alcohol, especially closer to bedtime. Better yet, consider taking weeknights off from drinking completely.

optimize your sleep nutrition

Make sure your diet isn’t too low carb or low fat, as these diets can lead to trouble sleeping. In general, it’s best to go to bed neither overly full nor hungry. Some people do well eating a smaller dinner, especially those with digestive issues, while others do better with a bedtime snack, such as those who tend toward low blood sugar.

The standard American diet promotes a blood sugar roller-coaster. Blood sugar fluctuations disrupt sleep, causing middle of the night awakenings, therefore it’s vital to maintain stable blood sugar to promote optimal sleep.

manage your stress

There should be no surprises here: It’s paramount to manage your stress effectively when trying for good sleep. The biochemistry of stress is simply incompatible with restorative sleep, thus It’s incredibly important to manage your stress effectively when trying for good sleep. Make sure to calm your system by implementing stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, prayer, journaling, yoga, tai chi, spending time in nature or engaging in a creative activity. Also, consider creating a calming evening ritual to set yourself up for the best possible sleep.

create a relaxing sleep environment

Creating a bedroom that makes you relaxed and ready for bedtime is very helpful when it comes to achieving quality sleep.

• Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only—avoid using electronics (or working!) in the bedroom.

• Control the temperature of the room—most people sleep best in a slightly cool room,

• Get a comfortable mattress and bed sheets, made from natural fibers—your sleep isn’t going to be great if you find your bed uncomfortable.

• Consider a weighted blanket. (Its deep touch pressure stimulation assists in the production of sleep-promoting biochemicals.)

• Reduce the noise level—if there’s a lot of noise outside your bedroom, use earplugs or a noise machine to block it out.

• Let some fresh air in (we get better quality sleep when fresh air circulates in the bedroom) and consider houseplants!