*Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. Seek the guidance of a physician if you have any questions.*
Sleep is one of the most important activities that humans beings participate in. According to Johns Hopkins neurologist and sleep expert Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D., “it turns out that sleep is a period during which the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life—which are closely linked to quality of life.” A good night’s rest can make the difference between an A or a D on a test, success or failure in a job interview, and happiness or moodiness at home. Let’s take a look at several ways to create an environment to promote better sleeping habits.
“Regular” Sleeping Habits
First, let’s try to get a better idea of what a “good night’s rest” actually entails. Depending on age, the average person needs different amounts of sleep. Sleep habits will change throughout our lives, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, the following is a rough guide.
- Newborn (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infant (4-12 months): 12-16 hours
- Toddler (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschool (3-5 years):10-13 hours
- School-age (6-12 years): 9-12 hours
- Teen (13-18 years): 8-10 hours
- Adult (18-60 years): 7+ hours
- Adult (61-64 yeras) 7-9 hours
- Adult (64+ years) 7-8 hours
As we can see, the actual amount of sleep varies with age, but it does not vary much for adults. Regardless of age from 18 years to over 64 years, the average individual needs about 7-8 hours of sleep. So the first thing to shoot for is getting 7+ hours of sleep per night.
Next, the healthiest of sleep schedules will also allow you to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. Significant research supports the conclusion that a set schedule can benefit overall restfulness. An erratic schedule of going to bed at 11 PM on weekdays and 2 AM on weekends makes it difficult for your body to “predict” when to release hormones that help you sleep and wake. The underlying biology relates to your body’s circadian rhythm. Essentially, our brains operate on a 24-hour clock that helps control important functions like sleep and wake cycles. We can help our circadian rhythms out by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day.
Better Sleep Through the Night
The two tenets of health sleep we discussed - 7+ hours and a consistent schedule - are the two most important things to focus on. Let’s take a look at the supporting cast of habits that will create an environment that promotes healthy sleep.
Before you go to bed, there are several things to try and focus on that will help set you up for a successful night’s sleep. Let’s take a look at a non-exhaustive list.
- Same bedtime: We’ve already harped on this twice, but let’s look at how to make it happen. First, many people find success when spreading their work load out during the week. As opposed to “feast or famine” on weekdays and weekends, try cutting off work a few hours before bed. This may mean a few hours of week on the weekends, but the increased productivity from adequate sleep may make this unnecessary.
- Screen time: Contrary to “popular science” belief, there isn’t much evidence to support the conclusion that screen time itself causes problematic sleep. The deeper rooted problem stems from activity before bed. Significant evidence suggests that activity that makes your brain more active just before bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep. Try to focus on “shutting your brain down” before going to bed. Avoid tasks that are stressful or stimulating - like dealing with finances, completing difficult work problems, or other stimulating tasks.
- Winding down: In the opposite vein, taking steps to calm yourself down before trying to fall asleep can help maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Drinking tea, reading a book, or going for
Even if you get to sleep just fine, making sure that you stay asleep for a productive 7-8 hours is just as important. Let’s take a look at some helpful tips.
- Comfort: This may seem obvious, but having a comfortable mattress, sheets, pillows, etc is vitally important. Although mattresses can be expensive, the average person will spend roughly ⅓ of their life sleeping. For this reason, investing in a comfortable sleeping setup will help productivity and restfulness the coming day.
- Environment: One of the easiest ways to prevent a good night’s rest is by having an environment that isn’t conducive to sleeping for 7-8 hours. First, making sure you have the ability to sleep in a quiet environment is key. Even a single instance of broken REM sleep can massively damage the overall quality of your sleep. Secondly, making sure the temperature is adequate for your comfort can help you stay asleep longer. Third, having basic necessities like water, ibuprofen, or an extra blanket can help you get back to sleep quickly after a disturbance.
When You Wake Up
Lastly, the actions that you take upon waking up can help cement the improved sleeping habits that you’ve developed both before and during sleep.
- Don’t Snooze: According to Penn State University, “Contrary to popular belief hitting the snooze button on your alarm in the morning because you are tired, actually just makes you even more tired.” The biology is such that the extra 10 minutes of sleep actually start a new sleep cycle that you “aren’t giving yourself enough time to finish. This can result in persistent grogginess throughout the day.”
- Routine: A morning routine, whether feeding animals, making coffee, or exercising, can help to normalize the other habits we have discussed. Even the simple act of waking up and knowing that you are going to accomplish a shortlist of the same handful of tasks can help you be more alert during waking hours.
Lastly, not every instance of poor sleep quality arises from poor sleep habits. If you feel that you have tried to improve your sleep with no results, contact your physician.
Written by: Patrick O'Hare