Six Tips for Better Sleep

Mature woman in bed sleeping peacefully

Poor sleep can lead to poor work performance including difficulty concentrating, decreased productivity, more mistakes and increased chance of accidents, injuries and even death. We will show you how to take steps to alleviate the impact that poor quality sleep can have on you.

Watch the video below or read the transcript that follows. Watch more videos on how to improve how you eat, move, and sleep by changing just one small thing.

About the Instructor: Claire Barker, RPSGT, CCSH has 13 years of experience working in Sleep Medicine as a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist. In 2012, Claire began working with UVM Medical Center’s American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s-accredited Sleep Program. In 2014, she became a Certified Clinical Sleep Educator and in 2016, Claire became Certified in Clinical Sleep Health through the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists. Read more articles on sleep by Claire Barker.

Coming to you from the University of Vermont Medical Center Sleep Program, and I’m here today to talk to you about getting a good night’s sleep. I first got interested in sleep at a very young age. My dad was a sleep technologist and working hard. I was a classical musician trying hard to make a living and went crying to dad one day saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to move out of your house, dad. I need a good job,” and he got me interested in sleep, gave me a good job, and here I am 13 years later. I’m working as a clinical sleep educator for the University of Vermont and enjoying every minute of it.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to get a good night’s sleep, small little things that you can do that will prepare your body for sleep. We’re going to explain a little bit about what not getting a good night’s sleep might do to you. We’re going to give you some nice tips about what you can do to improve your sleep and then we’re going to give you some reinforcement on nice tips and tricks to keep doing to get a routine going so that you can always get a good night’s sleep.

What is Sleep?

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is, what is sleep? It’s not just a time when our brains turn off and our bodies slow down. It’s actually a time when our bodies are doing many important processes that they don’t necessarily get the time to do when we’re active. So things like consolidating memories, storing calories, regulating our hormones, that all happens during sleep.

Sleep is actually governed by what we call the circadian rhythm. That’s just our body’s natural clock. Normally that clock runs on a 24 hour basis and it’s cued by light and darkness. So for somebody who might be on the night shift, it’s an extra challenge because our bodies are actually designed to be active and alert during daytime hours when the light is out and we’re supposed to be sleeping and restoring our bodies at nighttime.

If you have to flip that, it can be an extra challenge, so that’s why I’m here today really to give you some good tips and tricks to really get in there and sleep when you can. I really want to reinforce how much sleep we actually need. As adults, we’re supposed to get between seven and nine hours of sleep, so that eight hours a night or eight hours a day if you’re a night shift worker is really important. It is true, some people can function on a little less but to get all those functions of your body really working, like we spoke of earlier, then eight hours is necessary.

That might be easier said than done, right? Because eight hours is a lot of time to commit to just being asleep, but we need to remember why it’s so important. There’s negative impacts that can happen at work, such as poor productivity at work if you don’t get enough sleep, poor concentration, more difficulty learning new tasks, new workflows, decreased alertness, excessive daytime sleepiness. If you’re sleepy at work, your boss isn’t going to be very happy, you’re not going to be very happy.

There’s also a much greater risk of sustaining a work related injury if you’re going to work sleepy. So you need to make sure you get in the time to really restore and rejuvenate your body. You can also be less tolerant of other work relationships if you’re tired and grumpy when you’re going into work. You may find that you’re not as happy with your co-workers, maybe they’re not as happy with you.

What else can we do? Let’s see. It also affects things in your life. I talked about going to work grumpy, but if you come home grumpy, your family and friends are going to struggle with the relationships that you’re building with them. If you’re constantly tired, you’re going to be moody, have a quick temper, you may have a loss of concentration, memory loss, we talked about how consolidating memories happens when you’re sleeping. If you find yourself not so quick on the uptake when you’re trying to recall something, it may be because you’re not getting enough sleep.

Then it can also affect your health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to obesity, because a lot of your metabolism functions happen when you’re sleeping. Not getting enough sleep can actually make you crave food that’s not so good for you. It will make you crave more high carb, fast energy food, even though you might be fine on nice healthy foods and vegetables, your body will go for the quicker energy.

It can also impair your immune system not getting enough sleep, if you’re not getting enough time to recover, rejuvenate your body and mind. It can lead to heart disease. A lot of our growth happens while we’re sleeping, especially for children and teenagers if they’re not getting enough sleep they can have growth suppression, anxiety and depression, and can also really be affected by sleep deprivation.


So what can we do? Okay, stick to a schedule. This is my number one trick, my number one small thing that if you take away from today, this is what I really want people to take away, timing is everything. As much as you can, and we know it’s difficult, life stressors and life demands make it difficult, but if you can stick to a schedule and go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day, or every night if you’re a night shift worker, that’s reversed. Even on the weekends, even on your days off, wake up at the same time and try to go to sleep at the same time. Our bodies really like routine.


The other thing that you can do is exercise. Make that part of your routine. Exercise is a really good way to wear our bodies out, wear them down and that gives us a great reason to go to sleep and restore our bodies. So working out during the day will actually make us tired at night. The only thing you want to remember is to not exercise too close to bed time. You want to give yourself two to three hours before you plan on going to sleep to have your exercise completed because if you exercise too close to bedtime, it can actually get you too stimulated so that you don’t actually want to go to sleep.


Another thing that’s really important is to pay attention to what you eat and drink. Things like caffeine, caffeine can stay in your system for like up to eight hours. That means that if you plan on being in bed by maybe 10:00 p.m. or 10 a.m. if you’re a night shift worker, you need to have your last cup of coffee by 2:00. That’s a thing to remember. That’s what I always do. Any time I’m really craving a cup of coffee, I look at the clock and if it’s past 2:00, it’s got to be decaf.

Nicotine is also a stimulant, so that can keep you awake if you have a cigarette or a patch or gum too close to bedtime. Alcohol, alcohol might give you a drowsy feeling at first, but one of the side effects of alcohol is that it will actually interrupt your circadian rhythm and cause you to awaken and be more alert a couple of hours into your circadian rhythm. So you want to avoid alcohol close to bedtime or at least limit. Okay, also limit how much water you’re drinking close to bedtime. You don’t want to have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night too much.

So there are some good things that you can do as far as eating and drinking during your wakeful hours that can help boost and give you some energy. Nuts are really good because they’re high in protein. Spinach and other green veggies are good because they’re high in vitamin C and iron and that gives you some nice, good, sustained energy that will last a little bit longer. Drink lots of water.

One of the other things that I tell people is a lot of times when you feel tired, you’re actually really thirsty. You need to drink a lot of water to keep you nice and hydrated especially on the night shift. It’s really easy on the night shift to forget to take some time to actually take care of yourself and drink that water that you really need to drink. It’s easy to get dehydrated, so make sure you’re drinking that water, but again, maybe start limiting as you get closer to bedtime.

Things you might want to avoid, chocolate. Chocolate has caffeine in it, so it can actually help keep you awake stimulated. Also, if you’re thinking that chocolate might be good for some quick energy, it’s too quick. What will happen is you’ll get a nice big buzz of energy and then you’ll crash and feel awful. Cherries actually contain melatonin, which is one of the hormones that helps promote sleep, so you want to avoid cherries. If you’re feeling sleepy, don’t reach for the cherries they’ll just make you more sleepy.

Then high carb foods like donuts, again, you’re going to get that big rush of energy maybe, but then you’ll crash and feel even worse than you did before you ate the donut. So good bedtime snacks, when it’s bedtime, again, cherries. We talked about cherries have melatonin in them, so that’s always a good promoter of sleep. Bananas, bananas are good. They have a protein and some other chemical that I can’t remember right now, that helps you sleep.

Fatty fish and proteins, like lean chicken, turkey has tryptophan, which we all hear about during Thanksgiving, but if you mix that with a complex carb, so nice lean protein and complex carb together will actually release tryptophan and increase your serotonin levels, which will help you fall asleep.


Okay, another tip that you can have is winding down. Make it a routine to have something that will help you begin to relax before you plan on getting into bed. I like to dim the lights. Here in Vermont, it’s really bright in summer even at my bedtime, so we make sure in our family to close the curtains, dim the lights, start preparing our bodies for sleep. If you’re a night shift worker, it’s a good thing to wear sunglasses on your way home from work because if you’re going home in the morning and getting that bright light, that’s a cue for your body to be awake and alert, right? So sunglasses, dim the lights.

Another thing you can do is take a nice warm bath. Again, not too hot, not too close to bedtime. You don’t want to stimulate yourself with that heat, but something to help you relax. Maybe write down your thoughts, listen to some soothing music, to some meditation, turn off electronic devices. We’ll talk about that a little bit more in a bit.

The other thing to do is to keep your bedroom, where you plan to sleep, for sleep only. You want to cue your brain to think that in this environment, in this bedroom, I’m here to relax, to sleep, to recharge, recover. You don’t want to be watching TV in bed. You don’t want to be doing stimulating activities in your bedroom. For some people, it’s hard to do. If your bedroom is a multipurpose room, it’s nice to try to trick.


What I used to do I used to live in a studio apartment and what I used to do would be I would change the comforter. When my bed was my couch, I had a different comforter than when it was my bedtime, just something to give you the cue that this is daytime use, this is nighttime when I plan to relax. Your bedroom should be nice and cool, between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. That, again, is a little bit difficult if you’re on the night shift, so cool room will help induce sleep.

It needs to be nice and dark. I’m not a big fan of night lights. Our bodies are cued by light and darkness, so even a little light, even if it’s the light from your alarm clock can really affect your circadian rhythm, and of course nice and quiet. Not too quiet, a little white noise machine to drown out some noise is good, but nice and quiet, cool, and dark.

The other things you can do is wearing socks to bed. Sounds weird, I don’t like wearing socks to bed. It’s uncomfortable for me, but one thing it does is it allows your body to work a little less if your extremities are warm, then you don’t have to basically pump blood as hard. So, it just helps in body temperature regulation and that is part of our circadian rhythm as well.


One of my favorites, face the alarm clock away from you or don’t keep it near your bed. Don’t look at the clock. If you wake up in the middle of your sleep, don’t look at the clock. Set an alarm for when you want to wake up and just trust that that’s when you’ll wake up. Even if you look and you think oh, you know, the sun is already up or I have a feeling it’s really close to the time I ought to be waking up or my alarm ought to be going off soon, just assume you’ve got plenty of time to get more sleep because you’ve allowed that eight hours to be sleep time, even if you only got a few minutes left of it, go for it.

No blue light emitting devices such as cellphones, tablets, computers. You want to avoid these at least two hours before bedtime. The reason for this is because blue light ceases the production of melatonin, which is the hormone that promotes sleep. That is really a big thing in life today, all of our technologies have blue light emitting from them and they’re telling our brains, it’s not time for sleep right now.

So, there are actually applications that you can get for your phone, your tablet that will filter out the blue lights so that as you’re working on your computer, as you’re looking at your cellphone, your screen will look weird, it will look orange instead of normal but it’s not telling your brain this is time to be awake, not sleep. But again, I’m a big fan of not shining big bright lights in my face at least two hours before bedtime.

Then my last tip, if you do wake up during the night, or during the day if you’re a night shift worker, that’s normal and that’s okay, but if you lie there for more than 20 minutes and you’re just lying there thinking, “Gosh, I wish I could get back to sleep, is it even worth just still lying here,” get up, go do something relaxing, try to avoid a lot of light because, again, that will stimulate your brain. But do something relaxing like meditation, maybe read by a dim light and I like to stay warm, so cover your toes with a blanket or something like that. Then go try to go back to sleep when you feel sleepy again.

Eventually, your circadian rhythm will get back in line and you won’t have those periodic wakefulness during the night. All right, so just to summarize, I gave you six tips for achieving a nice routine for sleep. First one, stick to a schedule. Same time to go to bed, same time when you wake up even on your days off. The other thing, exercise during the day. Give your body a good excuse to recover, recharge.

Pay attention to what you eat and drink, because some things can keep you from sleeping, other things can make you sleepy. Prep for bed, give yourself a nice routine to tell your body before you plan on sleeping, that it’s time to start getting ready. Set the stage, make your bedroom the nice relaxing place it ought to be by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. If you’re lying there, don’t just lie there frustrated. Get up in the middle of the night, it’s fine. Get up, do something relaxing and calming until you’re ready to fall back to sleep.

All right, other things, other tips we talked about, stay hydrated. Drink lots of water throughout the day, don’t skip breakfast. You want to make sure you give yourself energy, right, especially if you have a little bit of sleep deprivation already behind you. Eat regular nice, small meals. Another thing especially for shift workers, your work area, keep it nice and lit. It’s easy to keep the blinds all off when you’re working at night.

You kind of want to be in your cave, that’s the way I was when I worked nights for eight years, but exposing yourself to light will tell your body it’s time to be awake right now. It’s time to do my thing, and then when it’s time for sleep, if you dim those lights, that’s where the cue for your brain comes in that it’s time to sleep.

Don’t drink too much caffeine. Take walks, stretch during your work shift. That will help keep you energized, give you a boost. Listen to music if you are feeling a little sleepy. Again, nothing too loud or crazy especially if you’re on the night shift. You probably got people a little sleepy around you. Splash your face with cold water if you’re really desperate and you’re feeling like you just can’t keep your eyes open anymore, a sip of water, some splash of water on your face.

Then if you do feel like you need to take a nap, if time permits and you have people around you that will support you with that, a quick catnap can be a really good powerful thing. What you want to do though is limit it to no longer than 30 minutes. If you go over 30 minutes on your naps, it can make you feel more groggy than before you took your nap, so 20 to 30 minutes is a good power nap.

So, to summarize, sleep is essential to your overall health and wellbeing and it can affect many aspects of your life. So the important thing to remember is to set aside that time to really give sleep the time it deserves. We need adequate time during our day to get enough sleep for our body so that we don’t run into some of the things we talked about.

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