The federal government’s Healthy People initiative has established a goal of getting more people to get adequate sleep on a regular basis. Their recommended amount of sleep is 8 hours for people 18 to 21 and 7 hours per night for adults over 21. According to their numbers, 69.6% of the population meets this goal, and the government wants to raise this to 70.9% by 2020.
What you’re eating and drinking and when you’re enjoying it affects your sleep. Try to finish eating 2 to 3 hours before bedtime so your whole system is ready to relax. Drink alcohol in the early evening instead of right before bed so your body has time to digest it before you hit the sack. Make caffeine a morning-only drink and stick to other beverages in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine stays in your system longer than you might think and can disrupt your sleep.
It actually may be normal to wake up at night. When we find ourselves waking in the night, no matter the cause, we may conclude that something is wrong. If there are no consequences in daytime function, however, this may not be the case. It is normal to wake to roll over, adjust the covers, respond to noise, and maybe even to get up to urinate. (Waking to go to the bathroom is so common as we get older that you would be hard-pressed to call it "abnormal.") Many people get back to sleep easily and are unaffected. The problem begins when our poor sleep compromises our lives. If difficulty falling or staying asleep at night begins to have consequences, there is a motivation to seek the cause.
Light therapy is used as part of sleep treatment plans. If you have trouble falling asleep at night or have delayed sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light in the morning. Light exposure plays a key role in telling the body when to go to sleep (by increasing melatonin production) and when to wake up. A walk outdoors first thing in the morning or light therapy for 30 minutes may help.
Each of us has different patterns of high and low states of energy throughout the day. Some people find that exercise in the morning can go a long way toward keeping their energy level consistent during the afternoon. A secret known to those who have become habitual exercisers is that effort creates energy. Don’t wait for energy to come when you are tired; as soon as you begin to feel that afternoon slump, shake it off by moving your body. Try taking a brisk walk after lunch. It may be what you need to keep you awake and alert the rest of the day.
Another common anxiety that lurks in the wee-hours of a sleepless night is the mounting awareness that you're not asleep when you should be. Stress and frustration – not typically emotions that welcome relaxation – escalate as you fret about how you need to be up for work in four (or three or two) hours. The experts' suggestion? Get rid of time cues. "No clock watching," Walia says, "That's a big no-no. Turn the clock around."
A recent team of leading medical doctors and researchers examined all published studies to date on newer forms of sedative sleeping pills that most people take. They considered sixty-five separate drug-placebo studies, encompassing almost 4,500 individuals. Overall, participants subjectively felt they fell asleep faster and slept more soundly with fewer awakenings, relative to the placebo. But that’s not what the actual sleep recordings showed. There was no difference in how soundly the individuals slept. Both the placebo and the sleeping pills reduced the time it took people to fall asleep (between ten and thirty minutes), but the change was not statistically different between the two. In other words, there was no objective benefit of these sleeping pills beyond that which a placebo offered.
Watch something boring. Just about everything you read about improving sleep advises you to avoid screen time before bed. But the truth is, a lot of people do it anyway. If you’re going to watch TV or your laptop in bed, watch something unexciting. Think a Ken Burns documentary, or an episode of House Hunters. No scary movies, thrillers, or the 11 o’clock news. If it’s likely to get your pulse racing, turn it off. There’s even a website for it — Napflix, which serves up the most snooze-worthy videos on YouTube (think Bonsai tree pruning or tropical fish swimming in an aquarium).