11 Strategies for Better Sleep and Enhanced Well-Being
Discover expert-approved tips for a blissful night's sleep.
Sometimes, getting enough good sleep can feel like a luxury. But it's essential for the body to function at its best. "Quality sleep is crucial for overall health and well-being, impacting physical health, mental resilience, and emotional stability," explains Dr. Ryan Sultan, a board-certified psychiatrist, therapist, and professor at Columbia University. "It plays a vital role in enhancing immunity, cognitive function, and promoting longevity." And it just feels good. Most adults need seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. If you're waking up feeling less-than-rested or tossing and turning at night, try one of these expert-recommended tips for better sleep and well-being.
"Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a sleep-friendly environment that is cool, dark, and quiet, and avoiding screens at least an hour before bedtime can help regulate your body's internal clock and improve sleep quality," says Sultan.
"Engaging in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation, can calm your mind before bedtime," says Sultan. "Journaling to express your thoughts and worries can also reduce nighttime anxiety."
"The number one tip I recommend to improve your sleep is reading fiction before bed," says Lea Trageser, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist with HelixMFT in New York. "Reading fiction helps provide a distraction from your anxieties and stress, and also serves as a warm-up for the part of your brain that dreams."
What you eat and drink, and when, can sometimes make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. "Limiting caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening and being cautious with alcohol, as well as avoiding heavy, spicy, or large meals close to bedtime, can positively influence your sleep patterns," says Sultan. Ideally, you shouldn't eat anything in the two to three hours before going to bed, says Catherine Rall, a registered dietitian with Happy V. "This gives your body plenty of time to digest your food and better prevents things like heartburn, indigestion, and increased energy brought on by sugar."
Trageser advises her clients who wake up after falling asleep to count backward from 300 by threes or imagine packing a suitcase and including one item for each letter of the alphabet. "Each of these activities is difficult enough that you have to focus on them and not on racing thoughts, but are easy enough that you can fall into a rhythm," she explains.
"Regular exercise during the day can improve sleep quality," says Sultan. But avoid vigorous exercise right before bedtime; that can keep you up.
"Prioritize bedtime for yourself like you would (or do) for a child," advises Trageser. "Remind yourself that sleep is a pillar of health, both physical and mental. Going to bed at a time that fits your needs will allow you to tackle the next day as your best self. Reflect on what barriers are in your way: Is it having too many tasks to do before bed? Ask yourself if any of these can wait, or if you can seek help."
Using a sleep-tracking function or app on your smartwatch can give you detailed information on the quality and quantity of your sleep. Undersleeping isn't healthy, but neither is oversleeping. "I like using a smartwatch to track my sleep, so understand how long it took to fall asleep, how often I wake up, and when I'm in REM sleep," advises Trageser. "This data helps me make adjustments to my sleep schedule."
It's important to recognize the signs that you're not getting enough quality sleep. These can include daytime fatigue, mood disturbances, poor concentration, and more frequent minor illnesses. "If these signs are present, it's essential to take action," says Sultan. "This may involve consulting a healthcare professional or sleep specialist if sleep issues persist to identifying underlying causes, implementing healthy habits, and considering therapy with a mental health professional if emotional factors are affecting your sleep."