What can you do to sleep better?

Picture of man sleeping for article about better sleep

With so much on our minds, it’s not surprising that we sometimes find it hard to fall asleep — or stay asleep — and get a good night’s rest. As we age, we generally need less sleep. Adults need fewer hours of sleep than children, although it varies from person to person.

How do you know what’s sufficient for you? On average, most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.

Forty to 50 years ago, people reported average sleep times of 8 to 8.5 hours a night. Now, it’s at 7 to 7.5 hours or less. And with the change in sleep habits comes greater health risks, including heart conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.

The National Sleep Foundation reports as many as 47 million adults may be putting themselves at risk for injury and health and behavior problems because they aren’t meeting their minimum sleep needs in order to be fully alert the next day.

So, what can you do to get a better night’s sleep?

Set up your bedroom for sleep. Your bedroom is meant for sleep. Your cell phone, laptop, tablet, and TV don’t belong. The reason they interfere with sleep is that the intense backlighting of these electronic screens triggers stimulating chemicals in the brain that tell us it’s time to wake up. If you can’t avoid electronic devices in the bedroom, try to power off an hour before bed to improve your chances of getting sufficient rest.

Rethink your drink. Although it’s tempting to think a glass of wine or a cocktail before bed would be beneficial because it causes you to relax and fall asleep quickly, the reality is people often wake up too early after drinking alcohol in the evening. For better sleep, you should not have any alcohol within six hours of going to bed.

Time your exercise. While regular exercise is beneficial to your health — even a 20- to 30-minute walk three times a week can do wonders for your sleep — it’s recommended that you don’t exercise within three hours of going to bed. Exercising close to bedtime can actually make it harder to fall asleep. Vigorous exercise before bed stimulates your heart, brain, and muscles and raises your body temperature, making it harder to sleep. Morning exercise is better; it wakes you up, helps relieve stress, and improves your mood.

A good night’s sleep can be found. By keeping your bedroom as a place for sleep, skipping the bedtime drink, and timing your exercise for earlier in the day, you may soon be getting the rest you need.

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