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How to Sleep Better

Almost everyone can benefit from more—or more restful—sleep. But in today’s fast-paced world, consistent, restorative sleep can be hard to come by. For many, it’s among the first things to be sacrificed when schedules become busier or responsibilities become overwhelming.

But the benefits of prioritizing and improving one's sleep can be vast, and doing so is often not as difficult as many people think. These strategies—of behaviors to engage in, as well as some to avoid—can help most people turn restful sleep from a distant dream into a reality.

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

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Engaging in healthy sleep behaviors—known collectively as “sleep hygiene”—is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve standard sleep problems. Though the individual behaviors themselves are straightforward, sleep hygiene requires commitment, particularly when it comes to establishing a consistent bedtime ritual that will signal to the brain that it’s time to wind down. Be patient: Most experts advise sticking to a new sleep routine for several weeks before seeking additional help.

What is sleep hygiene?

The term “sleep hygiene” refers to the behaviors, rituals, and environmental factors that can ultimately help an individual sleep better. Sleep hygiene is a broad category that encompasses the foods you eat (or avoid), exercise habits, bedtime routine, and the sleep environment itself. Typically, good sleep hygiene involves limiting alcohol and caffeine, exercising regularly, making sure the bedroom is cool and comfortable, and developing a consistent bedtime routine to train the brain and body to prepare for sleep.

Why is sleep hygiene so important?

Research has shown that good sleep hygiene is an effective, easy way to improve sleep in many cases. No one will sleep perfectly every night, no matter how consistent their habits. But establishing—and sticking to—a regular sleep schedule, as well as optimizing one’s sleep environment, can put someone on track for restful sleep more often than not.

Ending Poor Sleep Habits

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While implementing positive sleep habits and consistent bedtime routines can make a big difference in someone's sleep quantity and quality, ending negative sleep-related habits and behaviors is just as critical. While the bad habits that interrupt our sleep are different for everyone, in most cases this process will involve cutting back on food and drinks that interfere with sleep, staying away from disruptive electronic devices, and identifying and minimizing any obstacles that are preventing an individual from getting the rest they need.

Why can’t I fall asleep?

On any given night, there are a number of reasons why sleep may be harder to come by. Some include: having too much to eat or drink, exercising too close to bedtime, looking at screens in the evening, or feeling lingering stress from a busy day. If sleeplessness only persists for a short period of time, it’s likely not cause for alarm. If it continues for longer than four weeks—and some of the most common culprits have been addressed, with no results—it may be time to bridge the topic with a professional.

Is it bad to watch TV in bed?

Watching TV in bed can harm sleep in a number of ways. First, the blue light emitted from many electronic devices can disrupt someone's circadian rhythm and make it harder for them to sleep, even long after the device has been shut off. If an individual falls asleep with the TV on, the light may still penetrate their eyelids and render their sleep less restful.

Second, watching TV in bed teaches the person's brain to associate their bed with the activity, which may interfere with the association between the bed and sleep. In an ideal world, someone's bed should only be used for what experts call “the 3 S’s”: sleep, sex, and sickness. Any other in-bed activity can change the unconscious meaning the brain assigns to their bed.

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