The stats on sleep deprivation are astounding. The average person sleeps 60 to 90 minutes less than they did 50 years ago, and 35 to 40 percent of the American adult population has problems with falling asleep or with daytime sleepiness.
“It’s a big problem,” says Lawrence Epstein, M.D., chief medical officer for the Harvard-affiliated Sleep Health Centers and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep. “People don’t think sleep is important because we can get by with less, but we’re putting our health at risk.”
The first step to making sure you’re well rested is to make sleep a priority. “You have to realize sleep’s importance in terms of good functioning and healthy living, and make time for it,” Epstein says. But there are a few other basics that will help you awaken more rested:
1. Eat well and exercise. People with a healthy lifestyle tend to have better sleep. A recent study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week provides a 65% improvement in quality of sleep.People also said they felt less sleepy during the day compared with those who are less physically active. Experts aren’t sure why, but it may have something to do with the temperature down-regulation theory. “Core body temperature drops slightly when we go to sleep,” says Loprinzi, a lead researcher on the study. Exercise appears to prime the body for a temperature drop at nighttime by increasing certain hormone levels associated with core body temperature.
Healthy eating is also a significant factor in quality of sleep. Research presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB ) found that eating a diet high in fat erodes sleep quality by reducing orexin sensitivity.
2. Create good sleep habits. Make sure your bedroom is conducive to quality rest. “Your sleep environment should be dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature,” Epstein says.
Look out for sleep saboteurs such as medications, caffeine, and alcohol. Even if you don’t think they affect you, avoid caffeine and alcohol for at least four hours before you go to bed. That cup of coffee with dinner could keep you up. And even though alcohol initially acts as a mild sedative, as alcohol levels drop in your system, it actually stimulates parts of the brain that cause arousal, leading to awakenings and sleep problems later in the evening.
Lastly, aim to make it to bed at the same time each night and wake at the same time each morning.
3. Seek help. If all else fails, seek help. There may be an easy way to fix what’s keeping you up at night.