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how to get good sleep
Personal Health

How to Get Good Sleep: 10 Steps to Better Slumber

If there were a formula for how to get good sleep, you'd probably use it, right? One in three U.S. adults gets less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's a lot of tired people!

Trouble sleeping is about more than just feeling groggy the next day. Regularly getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night is associated with health issues such as lowered immunity and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Insufficient sleep can affect your mood and concentration, leading to difficulties with relationships, school, and work.

Clearly, getting a good night's sleep is worth a little effort. While there's no foolproof combination that will work every time, here are some suggestions to try:

1. Make Your Bed

According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, people who make their beds in the morning are 19 percent more likely to report regularly getting a good night's sleep. Two-thirds of respondents also said that a clean bedroom was an important aspect of how to get good sleep.

2. Get Outside and Exercise

A recent study of adult women published in PLOS One found that moderate to vigorous exercise increased time asleep, and time spent outdoors in the afternoon led to sounder sleep. A run or a brisk walk outside in the afternoon could be just the ticket to getting good sleep.

3. Skip the Afternoon Nap

If you haven't been sleeping well, it can be tempting to sneak in an afternoon nap. While napping can be a great way to refresh the mind and body, it can also affect nighttime sleep and perpetuate a cycle of insomnia. Instead, try riding out your exhaustion and going to bed earlier than usual.

4. Stick to a Healthy Diet

People who choose to eat healthy foods such as vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein — and who avoid sugary and high-fat foods — report better sleep. A healthy diet is especially important for people with chronic nighttime heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux, which can interrupt sleep or compromise sleep quality.

5. Set a Sleep Schedule

Our bodies have their own internal clock, and just like when we change time zones or shift the clock back, staying up late can upset your sleep cycle. Try to go to bed and get up at the same general time each day, even on weekends; if you regularly shift your sleep schedule more than two or three hours, you might feel like you have perpetual jet lag.

6. Think About Your Drink

While a nightcap seems like it might relax you, alcohol is more likely to hinder than help. A much better choice is a herbal tea such as chamomile, passion flower, or lavender, or reduced-caffeine green tea, which may help reduce stress. And there's something to your mother's advice to drink warm milk; according to a study in Nutrition Research, milk contains tryptophan. This amino acid helps the body produce serotonin, which can ease you into a calm, sleepy state of mind.

Lactose intolerant, vegan, or otherwise not a fan of dairy? Try whipping up a batch of golden milk with unsweetened almond milk.

7. Start the Relaxation Process

If you're under stress and going strong all day, take time to relax and slow down before getting into bed. Meditation, a hot bath, and gentle yoga are all excellent ways to start the relaxation process; it just takes finding what works for you. According to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology, taking time to think about the good things in your life or keep a gratitude journal may help induce a feeling of well-being and optimism that can lead to better sleep.

8. Set the Scene

Most people sleep better in a dark, cool, quiet room. Start lowering the lights as you prepare for bed. If you read from a tablet or e-reader, dim the screen or turn on "nighttime mode." Open the window, turn down the heat, or keep the shades drawn on hot days to keep your room at a comfortable temperature for sleeping, which is usually about 60 degrees for most people.

9. Make Scents

Lavender, chamomile, orange, and other scents have been shown to help increase sleep quality in a variety of circumstances, as described in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. To give it a try, apply a bit of essential oil to your pillow or pick up an inexpensive oil diffuser.

10. Unplug

People are more attached to technology than ever before, and it's most likely affecting sleep. The aforementioned National Sleep Foundation survey found that people who play stimulating games, check email, or use interactive technology in the hour before bed find it more difficult to sleep. Those who keep their phone nearby often interrupt sleep to check messages. To solve this potential issue, turn your phone off at night or keep it on the other side of the room.

If you've tried these steps and still have trouble sleeping, it's time to see your doctor to check for underlying causes and talk about treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy and medication can help treat chronic insomnia and help you learn how to get good sleep.

Posted in Personal Health

Emily Paulsen is a veteran health care writer with more than 20 years of experience. She is specifically interested in patient education, health information technology, health disparities, complementary medicine, and improving the health care experience for patients and professionals alike. Emily lives near Washington, D.C., and is a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She is a board member of ASJA and co-chair of the D.C.-area chapter.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.