The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get seven or more hours of sleep per night to avoid the health risks associated with chronic inadequate sleep. When you sleep, you experience four distinct sleep cycles, and as you age, you generally sleep less. Men experience more frequent interruptions to their sleep and report greater daytime sleepiness. Women report the opposite yet have greater challenges falling asleep. Sleep cycles are regulated by our circadian rhythms, which reflect activity in the hypothalamus, the part of your brain responsible for regulating key bodily systems.
So, what supports good sleep? Here are six tips to improve your sleep habits:
- End the use of electronics 30 minutes before bed: Using electronic devices right before bedtime can throw off your circadian rhythms. Substitute a book for your device and enjoy the benefits of better sleep
- Skip naps or limit them to 30 minutes or less: Daytime napping, especially for more than 30 minutes, tells your body that it is entering into true sleep rather than simply resting and recharging. Long naps may make falling asleep at bedtime challenging
- Keep fixed bedtimes and wake up times: Waking up at the same time each day builds your sleep drive, or the point at which your body is ready for sleep at night. With a consistent bedtime, so become more likely to log the seven hours of sleep as recommended for adults
- Do relaxing activities pre-sleep: Create a buffer between daytime and work obligations and sleep. Mindfulness and meditation practices or listening to calm music are two strategies may help
- Make a worry list and put what is on your mind on paper: Like its cousins the to-do and grocery lists, a worry list will help to free your mind from ruminative thought patterns that can sabotage sleep
- Exercise at the right time, or more than two hours before bed: While exercising earlier in the evening can support sleep quality, high-intensity exercise (HIIT training, plyometric exercise, distance running) later in the evening can elevate your core body temperature and engage your central nervous system in ways that do not support sleep
When changing your sleep habits: To strategize on sleep by learning more about your circadian rhythms try the Automated Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire or AutoMeq. This checklist from Harvard’s Stress and Development Lab can help you with the process of building new sleep habits.
Engage your mindfulness muscle: “Mindfulness and Sleep,” a fact sheet from The Sleep Health Foundation (Australia), discusses this important topic. Support for creating your own mindfulness practice is available through The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.