How to Change Your Sleep Habits for the Better
A good night’s sleep is like a mini vacation for your body. Your muscles can truly relax and rejuvenate. Your brain gets a break from the constant chatter. Best case scenario: you wake up feeling ready for whatever the day holds.
But when was the last time you felt that way? If you’re like most people, chances are it’s been a while. Life has a tendency to interrupt our slumber and under-prioritize our need for rest. We often sacrifice sleep in order to get more done, jeopardizing our physical, mental, and emotional health in the process.
The good news is that it’s totally possible to change your sleep habits. With just a few tweaks to your routine and some patience, you can get on the path to better sleep—and better health overall.
5 Tips To Change Sleep Habits
Shifting your sleep habits is a process, but it’s one that’s well worth the effort. A few simple changes to your slumber can make all the difference in how you feel day to day. While we all have different sleep needs, there are some general tips that can help just about anyone get better rest.
1. Set A Consistent Bedtime
Our bodies love routine, and that extends to our sleep habits. When you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, your body gets used to that schedule, and it becomes easier to fall asleep. This is called good sleep hygiene.
A 2005 study found that people who stick to a consistent bedtime cut down their sleep latency (a fancy term for the amount of time it takes to fall asleep) from 45 minutes to just nine.
2. Start A Relaxing Bedtime Routine
A relaxation ritual can signal to your body and mind that it’s time to start winding down for the night. You could choose a single activity or combine a few to build a custom routine that works for you.
Some ideas include:
- Taking a candle-lit bath
- Reading a book
- Brewing a cup of hot tea
- Stretching on your bed
- Listening to calming music or sounds
- Doing some light journaling
Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s something you actually look forward to—relaxing bedtime routines shouldn’t feel like a chore.
3. Don’t Fill Up Before Bed
What you eat and drink can definitely affect sleep. Filling up on a heavy meal right before bed can make it harder to sleep. Your body has to work hard to digest all that food, which can leave you feeling uncomfortable and restless, especially if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
It’s best to eat your last meal of the day a few hours before you plan on going to sleep. Researchers recommend that you stop eating three hours before bed if you have GERD. If you are hankering for a snack, stick to something light and easy to digest like yogurt, whole grain toast, or a small piece of fruit.
4. Create A Sleep Sanctuary
Your bedroom should be a peaceful oasis where sleep is inevitable. Unfortunately, many of us treat our sleeping quarters as catch-alls and work-from-home offices, filling them with electronics and unfolded piles of laundry. If your bedroom is cluttered or chaotic, now’s the time to change that.
To turn your room into a sleep sanctuary:
- Get rid of anything that’s not related to sleep or relaxation. This means no work materials, electronics, or anything else that could potentially disrupt your slumber.
- Invest in some cozy bedding. A comfortable mattress and pillow. Soft sheets that feel good against your skin. A cozy weighted blanket to keep you warm. All of these things can make it easier to fall asleep—and stay asleep.
- Control the light and temperature in your room. Darkness cues our bodies to start producing melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. Experts recommend keeping your bedroom on the cooler side, between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use calming colors and scents to promote relaxation. Stick to cool tones like blue, green, or purple. And try using a diffuser with essential oils like lavender or chamomile to fill the room with a calming scent.
- Limit noise pollution. If you live in a noisy area or have roommates, you may want to invest in a white noise machine or earplugs to help you sleep through the night.
5. Limit Sleep Disruptors
Even if you’re doing everything right, there are still a few pesky lifestyle habits that can interfere with your sleep.
Always reaching for that afternoon coffee? Science says that drinking caffeine even six hours before bedtime can significantly disrupt sleep. And even if your after-work glass of wine makes you yawn, alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage that’s crucial for memory and cognitive function.
Nobody is perfect (and you certainly don’t have to be), but doing your best to at least limit these sleep disruptors can make a big difference in how you’ll feel the next morning.
Why Consistent Sleep Is Important
Getting enough Zzz’s won’t just make you feel better the next day—it’s essential for pretty much every single one of your bodily functions. A lack of sleep has been linked to a long list of chronic health conditions, including heart problems and diabetes, and seriously messes with our ability to think, learn, and maintain a stable mood.
Mistakes and accidents happen when we’re tired, and our immune systems are weakened, making us more susceptible to getting sick. In fact, one study found that short sleep durations were associated with a greater risk of death.
Simply put: Sleep is vital for both our physical and mental health and the health of those around us.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
- 14-17 hours for newborns
- 12-15 hours for infants
- 11-14 hours for toddlers
- 10 -13 hours for preschoolers
- 9-11 hours for school-aged children
- 8-10 hours for teenagers
- 7-9 hours for young adults and adults
- 7-8 hours of sleep for older adults
What Causes A Sleep Routine To Get Thrown Off
- Chronic stress
- Caffeine late in the day
- Late nights
- Napping after 3 p.m.
- Eating too big of a meal before bed
When to Speak With a Doctor
Sometimes, shifting your sleep habits isn’t enough, and you may need to seek professional help. One-off occurrences are nothing to be concerned about, but it’s time to talk with your doctor if you’re regularly:
- having trouble falling asleep
- having trouble staying asleep
- feeling tired throughout the day even though you slept for a full night
- experiencing irritability, depression, or anxiety
- feeling the urge to nap during the day
- falling asleep while driving
- snoring or gasping loudly while asleep
- having trouble concentrating during the day
There are a number of possible explanations for these symptoms, and a doctor can help you determine what’s causing your sleep problems and how to treat them. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re struggling to get a good night’s rest.
So if any of these sounds like you, speak with a doctor about your sleep habits. They may be able to help you develop a plan to get better quality rest.
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Cleveland Clinic. (2021). What’s the Best Temperature for Sleep? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-the-ideal-sleeping-temperature-for-my-bedroom/
Drake C, et al. (2013). Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed [Abstract]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805807/
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Fujiwara Y, et al. (2005). Association between dinner-to-bed time and gastro-esophageal reflux disease [ABSTRACT]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16393212
Hirshkowitz M, et al. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary [ABSTRACT]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/
Masters A, et al. (2014). Melatonin, the Hormone of Darkness: From Sleep Promotion to Ebola Treatment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4334454/
Mayo Clinic. (2020). Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/napping/art-20048319
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2022). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/patient-caregiver-education/understanding-sleep
Park S, et al. (2015). The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4666864/
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Sleep and Alcohol
Alcohol causes your muscles to relax and your brain function to slow down. Therefore, you fall asleep more quickly compared to normal. But that’s not all it does.