Even if professional help isn’t needed, many people will find that their sleep quality has some room for improvement. Consider the following advice from IU’s sleep experts.
Get Ready for Bed, Well Ahead
Plan an approximate bedtime, then make sure to get an hour or two of relaxation before that time, which helps clear out the stress and lets the mind slow down. Still struggling?
“Get a sheet of paper in the early evening and just jot down everything that’s on your mind—stressors of the day, things that are coming up on your to-do list—and think through all of those problems,” says Dr. Stephanie Stahl, MD’10, director of the multidisciplinary Sleep Medicine Fellowship Program in the IU School of Medicine.
She also suggests avoiding anything overly stimulating, particularly television, mobile devices, and computers. The light from those devices gets in the way of the body’s ability to naturally produce sleep-regulating melatonin.
Consider Exercise, Diet, and Caffeine
A more healthful lifestyle can promote better sleep. That means regular exercise—but not in the couple of hours before bedtime, when it can be overstimulating. On the other end of the spectrum—napping—experts say limiting sleep to nighttime is best. For those who feel they must take naps, keep them to 20 minutes and avoid naps later in the day.
Healthful eating is beneficial, as a high-carbohydrate diet can be disruptive to sleep, and be aware of caffeine’s long-lasting effects.
“We want to avoid caffeine at least 10 hours before bedtime,” Stahl says. Not only does caffeine make it harder to get to sleep, but it can also decrease slow-wave deep sleep. The same advice applies to nicotine.
Use the (Chilly) Bedroom Mostly for Sleeping
Sleep experts have often advised that the bed should be reserved for sleeping and sex, but not much else, says Spencer Dawson, clinical assistant professor in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. The pre-bedtime relaxation should happen elsewhere, Stahl concurs, adding, “When we start to feel tired, that’s when we want to get into our bedroom.”
Also, try a cooler bedroom temperature, which experts suggest can help you fall asleep more easily and lead to better quality sleep.
Don’t Obsess About Sleep
Worrying too much about getting enough sleep, especially when lying awake at night, can get in the way of falling asleep or getting back to sleep.
“Trying harder does not make it work better,” Dawson says. Instead, he suggests that you get up, wind down again, and then go back to bed.
Fitness trackers have some distance to go on measuring sleep. They are getting better at detecting when you’re awake and when you’re asleep, Dawson says, “but none are particularly good at detecting [or tracking] stages of sleep.”
This story was published in the Fall 2023 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine. View current and past issues of the IUAM.
Research suggests that more than 50 million Americans have some sort of ongoing sleep disorder. Read why you should start taking sleep seriously in Snooze Control: IU Experts Share the Importance of Good Sleep.