As a Yale medicine sleep physician with over 20 years of experience taking care of patients with sleep problems, I know that a lack of sleep makes people foggy, grumpy, hungry, and less attractive to others. It increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes and chronic disease. Sleep, on the other hand, makes people feel fabulous, look great, and function at peak performance and improves overall health and wellness. Here are my top 5 tips for getting your best night’s sleep.
Pick a Good Time
Start with figuring out your required wake-up time during the week and try not to vary it too much on the weekends.
Set an Alarm—But Not the One You Think
Set an alarm (on your phone if you like) 8-9 hours earlier than your desired wake-up time. When the alarm goes off, turn off light-emitting devices (e.g., cell phones, e-readers, and the like) and start to wind down by doing something relaxing. Develop a pre-bedtime routine. Avoid things like alcohol or nicotine that can impact sleep.
Go to Bed on Time
If it takes a while to fall asleep at first, don’t stress or “try” to sleep; just get up and go back to your pre-bedtime ritual until you feel drowsy.
Don’t Hit Snooze
If you set a morning alarm, set it for when you need to get up. Don’t use the snooze button before your wake-up time, as this will just fragment your morning sleep. A morning walk outdoors, exercise, and/or breakfast with some protein can help strengthen your circadian rhythm. Start to cut down on caffeine, especially after noon.
It’s OK to Nap!
If, for some reason, you aren’t able to get enough sleep one night, it’s perfectly fine to nap in the day. Just keep it relatively short (20 minutes) to avoid waking groggy and relatively early in the day (before 3 PM) to avoid making it harder to fall asleep at night.
Why Your Best Night’s Sleep is So Important
Sleep deprivation is associated with decreased attention, prolonged reaction time, decreased vigilance, increased errors, decreased memory and learning, worse physical performance, and impaired mood. Medical disorders associated with lack of sleep or sleep disorders include obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression, among others. Sleep deprivation has been linked to major disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but also increases the risk for motor vehicle crashes and work-related accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drowsy driving may result in up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year. Adequate sleep enhances attention, vigilance, performance, mood, learning, and memory and is critical for optimal health and wellness.
As for our current pandemic: To get through it at your healthiest, don’t miss these 37 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.
Janet Hilbert, MD is a Yale Medicine sleep expert and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Yale School of Medicine.