How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Health Library, more than 60 million Americans suffer from poor sleep quality, and more than 40 million meet the diagnostic criteria for sleep disorders. Lack of sleep can negatively affect your memory, concentration, performance, mood and more. A few Johns Hopkins experts offer tips and personal best practices on how to get a better night’s sleep.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist, check out the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center website. Also, learn more about sleep and how it affects your health in the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

Turn off or put down electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Screens with lighting, like a TV, computer, phone and tablet stimulate the mind and mess with our natural circadian rhythm. Cutting down on this stimulation allows the body and mind to naturally relax as it gets closer to bedtime.

Minimize alcohol and caffeine, which make it harder to sleep. Though alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, it prevents you from getting the REM sleep you need to feel refreshed. Since caffeine can stay in your system for hours, abstain from it in the afternoon and evening.

Stick to a consistent bedtime schedule, which means going to bed and waking up at relatively the same times, during both weekdays and weekends.

Create a good sleeping environment, which can include:

  • Temperature between 54 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • No bright lights, including if you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom
  • Mattresses and pillows that will support your head, neck and back; replace old mattresses as needed

Trade sleep aids for sleep hygiene. One in five adults turn to drugstore sleep remedies, which often contain antihistamines that can cause dangerous daytime drowsiness. Try to upgrade your sleep habits to see if you can kick the meds altogether. A few tips include:

  • Create a bedtime ritual (get dressed for bed, do something non-stimulating but relaxing, avoid stressful activities)
  • A peaceful bedroom, free of distracting clutter or reminders of stress (bills, to-do lists, etc.)
  • No electronics 30 minutes before bed
  • Dim or turn out the lights; darkness in the evening helps our brains prepare for sleep

Rule out health problems like reflux or sleep apnea, which can rob you of quality sleep. Treatments can ease nighttime reflux. Symptoms of sleep apnea may include loud snoring or gasping/choking at night. Sleep and heart health are related, and some medicines for heart issues may impact your sleep. Conditions like heart failure may also make it difficult to lie comfortably.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia trains your body and mind for a deep sleep. Ask your health care provider how to give it a try.

Exercise during the day, which can help you get ready for nighttime sleep.

Adjust sleep habits for shift work, which can often make it difficult to get a good night’s—or day’s—sleep. General recommendations are to try and stick to a regular schedule around your work schedule. On days off, try to maintain your work week schedule for being awake and asleep. Although this can be socially difficult, it is very difficult for human circadian system - our internal body clock - to adjust to large changes in your sleep zone. Trying to sleep at night on your days off is like traveling at least 4-8 time zones by plane. Suggestions include:

  • Wear light-blocking sunglasses when driving home
  • Sleep in a cool dark room
  • Turn off phones and other electronics
  • Use ear plugs or a white noise maker to block out other ambient sounds
  • Napping for 20-30 minutes before your shift to maximize alertness
  • Avoid napping during breaks on your shift

WHAT THE EXPERTS DO

Susheel Patil, Clinical Director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Medicine Program, makes sleep a priority. “I try to get in bed and wake up at predictable times. I know I need seven to eight hours of sleep in order to function well the next day. If certain things don’t get done by the end of the day, they just have to wait, if I’m going to be helpful to patients the next day.”

His advice for better sleep: Create a calm, dark, quiet, place for sleep. Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only—not TV-watching, web-surfing, working, texting or even reading.

Rachel Salas, a neurologist and sleep specialist at Howard County General Hospital, puts worries to bed by thinking of three things that make her happy before going to sleep. “I’ve found that people tend to be negative about themselves before they go to bed. Negative thoughts feed insomnia and potential nightmares.” At bedtime, try to focus on the positives and leave your concerns about relationships, money, work, health and other issues for another time of day.

Salas also stresses the importance of saying no to TV binge-watching. “I have to remind myself, just like my patients, to make sleep a priority. It’s so easy to say, ‘I’ll just catch up on some work for a while or watch a TV-show-a-thon on my DVR.’”

 

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Ella Mae Haber May 13, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Cool bedroom is always a must-even during the winter. Sleep with a window open so you can get fresh cool air in winter. I woke up one morning aftersnowing all nite and had snow on my bedroom floor that came thru my screen. Just laughed and clen it up but I really selpt GOOD.

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