8 Rules for Better Sleep

Millions of Americans struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM, 2014), sleep problems can be caused by your body, mind or outside factors. Here are 8 rules recommended by sleep professionals to improve your sleep through a healthy body:

Your Body is Solar Powered

Rule #1: Spend some time outdoors during the day.

Natural sunlight signals to the brain that it is time to turn off melatonin production and get energized. Help this natural process by getting as much sunlight in the morning hours as you can. If you find yourself feeling sapped for energy during the winter when there is less sunlight, try turning on bright lights first thing in the morning as a substitute.

Rule #2: Shut off electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime.

Over the past 10 years, electronic devices have become more and more attractive in part because they have been made to emit brighter and brighter light. Looking intently at your television, smart phone or tablet late into the night is likely confusing your body into believing it is daylight. As it gets close to bedtime, rest your eyes by turning off sources of bright light.

Your Body is a Clock

Rule #3: Get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends or during vacations.

You may be tempted to get more sleep whenever you can, especially if you are habitually tired from poor sleep. However, you may be creating "weekend jetlag" and undoing your body's attempt to establish a healthy rhythm. Instead of compensating for poor sleep by taking naps and sleeping in, help your body by setting a regular wake-up time.

Rule #4: Eat breakfast.

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day for many reasons, including signaling to your brain that it is time to wake up and begin producing the hormones needed for healthy growth and maintenance of your body. Digestion is a signal for the body to get going. By the same token, do not eat too close to bedtime and stay away from heavy foods at night.

Your Body is a Temple

Rule #5: If you have trouble sleeping, do not have more than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day and avoid any caffeine after lunchtime. 

Caffeine stimulates the brain and interferes with sleep. While putting on a pot of coffee in the morning may be an important ritual that helps you with morning blahs, did you know that it can take 4-6 hours for the caffeine in 1 cup of coffee (100 milligrams of caffeine) to reach its peak effect and up to 8 hours for that caffeine to wear off?

Rule #6: Avoid alcohol within 4-6 hours of bedtime.

While alcohol is an effective agent for slowing down brain activity and helps many people relax, alcohol actually hurts sleep quality. Drinking alcohol near bedtime suppresses brain activity to cause dreamless sleep. As the alcohol processes out of the body (usually about 2-3 hours after falling asleep), there is a rebound in brain activity that is often experienced as nightmares and uncomfortable awakenings. With regular alcohol use, most people's bodies gain tolerance and begin to need more and more to relax and fall asleep. Before you know it, you risk becoming dependent on that nightcap (or three).

Rule #7: Get active and have some fun! 

Whether it's walking Fido around the neighborhood, taking a yoga class or training for a 5K run, regular moderate exercise that matches your fitness level keeps your body healthy and can help you to sleep. Just remember: try to complete your exercise 6 hours before bedtime so that you do not overstimulate your body late in the day.

Rule #8: Advocate for yourself.

There are many potential health problems that can cause sleep problems. See your doctor for regular checkups so that you can get proper care for any conditions you may have. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep specialist, who may be another physician or clinical psychologist. Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself: You deserve a good night's sleep!