10 Tips to Stop Tossing and Turning

Sleep is critical to our overall health, but many of us get much less than we actually need.
Woman sleeping in bed

Sleep is easy to take for granted, and hotly debated when talking about Daylight Saving Time, but it's crucially important to our well-being. It gives your brain a little vacation, and most adults do best when they get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each day. Sleep allows your brain time to:

  • Grow and repair cells.
  • Form new pathways for learning, remembering and processing information.
  • Rebuild your energy for the next day.

When you don't sleep well night after night, you can have what's called sleep deprivation or sleep debt. Besides affecting your energy level and your mood, sleep debt affects your body in lots of other ways. For example:

  • You may feel pain more easily.
  • Your risk for heart disease is higher.
  • Your immune system has a harder time fighting infection.
  • You may have mood swings.
  • You may have trouble learning, solving problems and remembering.

Not getting enough sleep is also linked with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, obesity and depression. 

“When it comes to sleep, our bodies like routine, but most of us don’t give our sleep habits the attention they deserve,” says Diana Wilson, MD, Division Chief of the University of Vermont Medical Center Sleep Program. “Building good sleep habits can go a long way to helping us wake up the next morning feeling rested and ready to go.”

Research has shown that these habits, also known as sleep hygiene, lead to better sleeping and may even provide long-term solutions to chronic sleep issues like insomnia. For these reasons, Dr. Wilson says, the medical field supports ending the sleep-disruptive practice of Daylight Saving Time. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, "Daylight Saving Time is less aligned with human circadian biology which [...] has been associated in some studies with increased cardiovascular disease risk, metabolic syndrome and other health risks."

Put your tossing and turning to bed with these 10 sleep habits.

  1. Find consistency: Our bodies like routine. Train your body to sleep well by getting up and going to bed at roughly the same time each day. It’s also important to adjust your routine with the change of the seasons to ensure you’re going to sleep when the sun is down. Maintaining a schedule will make you more resilient when your sleep routine does – inevitably – get disrupted.
  2. Sleep…when you’re sleepy: Give yourself the best chance to succeed by only trying to sleep when you’re feeling sleepy.
  3. Create the right space: We all know someone who can fall asleep anytime, anywhere. But for most of us, it’s not that easy. Ensure that your bedroom is quiet, dark, cool and comfortable to give yourself the best chance of getting a good night’s sleep.
  4. Remember, your bed is for sleeping: Your body should associate bed with sleep. With this in mind, avoid doing other activities in your bed such as watching TV, eating, reading or working – particularly if it means more screen time. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping, sickness and sex.
  5. Try to avoid naps: You should be tired when you reach your bedtime, so hold off on naps during the day. If you do decide to nap, keep them under an hour and no later than 3 p.m.
  6. Eat a healthy, balanced diet: What you eat and when you eat can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep. Have a light snack to prevent yourself from going to sleep on an empty stomach, but remember that eating a heavy meal right before bedtime may disrupt your ability to get to sleep. Find a balance that works for you.
  7. Get your exercise: Research shows that regular, moderate exercise can help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep. That being said, it is best to avoid high-intensity exercise in the four hours before you go to sleep.
  8. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol: Try cutting out these substances 4 to 6 hours before going to bed. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that make it more difficult for you to fall asleep, while alcohol undermines the overall quality of your sleep.
  9. When all else fails, get up and do something boring: If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed and try again.
  10. Maintain your daytime routines: Don’t let a bad night’s sleep ruin your plans. Keep your daytime routine, even if you’re tired, unless when doing so could be dangerous (e.g. driving).

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