Be Smart About Sleep

Small changes to your habits and lifestyle can have a big effect on sleep.

You might have heard some women talk about their biological clocks in regards to fertility; all living creatures have another type of internal clock, called the circadian rhythm. It refers to the 24-hour cycle of activity and sleep affected by the change from light to dark. A part of the brain called the hypothalamus manages the circadian rhythm, or pattern, by processing information (like when your eyes detect light) and creating sleep patterns. This sleep-wake cycle gives you the cue to go to sleep.

If you have trouble with sleep and insomnia, slightly adjusting your routine and habits may help.

Strategies for Better Sleep

Most adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night. But if you’re depressed, sick, or just plain stressed, getting a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by. With these strategies, you’ll stop tossing and turning and be on your way to dreamland:

  • Create a tranquil space. Keep the lights low a few hours before bedtime, stay away from bright computers and noisy televisions, and make sure the temperature is cool. You’ll have a cozy cave all your own to drift off in.
  • Keep a routine. Try to stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time every day — this includes holidays, weekends, and vacations if possible.
  • Slow it down. Establish a few hours of quiet time before bed. Try picking up a book, listening to calming music, taking a warm bath, meditating, or even writing in your journal. This will allow your body to relax after a hectic day and put you in the mood for sleep.
  • Make sleep a priority. Allow eight hours in bed as much as possible — even getting an extra 30 minutes per night can help, says Phyllis C. Zee, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
  • Work out early. Exercise regularly, but not within three to six hours of bedtime. Staying active during the day can lower stress and provide feelings of relaxation, which will help you sleep better.
  • Sleep (don’t work) in your bedroom. Do not turn your bedroom into your office — this room should be reserved for sleep and sex only.

Common Mistakes for Getting Better Sleep

You might think having a glass of wine before bed will help you sleep better, but this notion is only half right. Alcohol may make it easier for you to fall asleep, but your sleep will probably be lighter than usual — causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.

Some over-the-counter products that supposedly treat insomnia and sleeplessness may not work very well. More importantly, natural products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so it’s difficult for consumers to decipher how safe these products are.

Prescription insomnia medication can help a patient get some much needed shut-eye, depending on his symptoms and diagnosis. However, some medication may be habit-forming, so make sure to talk with your doctor about the benefits and side effects of potential treatments.

Basic strategies and common sense will make you a better sleeper and more productive during waking hours.

By Clare Kittredge – Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD