Most people do not get enough sleep. An ongoing lack of sleep is linked to an increased risk of chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, mood disorders, stroke, and other health problems. According to Harvard Medical School, sleeping fewer than 5 hours a night increases the risk of death from all causes by about 15 percent. Sleep deprivation is not only dangerous to your physical health, but also your mental health and quality of life. So how do we improve our sleep routine and encourage a life-long healthy sleep routine?
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, following these 12 simple steps will encourage good sleep habits and support long-term health:
1. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine Before Bed
Refrain from using caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine products 4-6 hours before bedtime
2. Create a Sleep-Inducing Environment
Make your bedroom quiet, dark, comfortable, and cool environment to promote deep sleep. Use ear plugs or a white noise machine, hang heavy curtains, get a supportive mattress, and keep temperatures between 65-75°F. Avoid cellphones, TV, work materials, and computers before bed.
3. Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine
Create a nightly bedtime ritual to encourage sleep. Take a bath, read a book, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities—doing work, discussing emotional issues.
4. Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired
If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, go to another room and do some light reading or listen to relaxing music until you are tired enough to sleep.
5. Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher
Staring at the clock makes it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you. Practice deep breathing exercises to encourage sleep.
6. Use Light to Your Advantage
Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.
7. Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to set your body’s "internal clock" to expect sleep night after night.
8. Nap Early—Or Not at All
If you find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, keep your naps short and before 5pm.
9. Lighten Up Your Evening Meals
Finish your dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion. If you get hungry before bed, eat a light snack that is easily digestible.
10. Balance Fluid Intake
Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty—but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.
11. Exercise Early
Exercise helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. Complete your exercise routine at least 3 hours before bedtime
12. Follow Through
If you stick with these steps, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve. However, if your sleep difficulties don’t improve after create a good sleep routine, you may want to consult your physician or a sleep specialist.