How To Get Good Sleep, According To The Experts

Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Dawn Brown

Living a good life is contingent on getting good sleep. When you sleep, your mind rests and stores memories, and your body repairs itself to get you ready for the next day. When you can’t sleep, your mind and body can’t maintain these vital functions.

There are several reasons that you might be having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Some of them might be things that you need to talk to a healthcare provider about. However, many other things might involve simple lifestyle changes that you can implement.

In this article, we’ll go in-depth on a number of options that you can explore. However, a couple of quick and easy tips are to avoid working out, eating snacks and drinking alcohol, and using computer devices before bed.

How To Sleep

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Before we talk about how to get good sleep, let’s take a crash course on sleep.

Sleep takes place in cycles that repeat themselves a couple of times each night. How many times depends on how long you stay asleep.

Different cycles do different things, so completing a full cycle at least once is important to get all of the benefits of sleep. A cycle takes about 90 minutes, so a “cat nap” of just a few minutes or so might seem restful, but if you have less than two hours or so to devote to a nap, it might not be worth your while.

So, how much sleep do you need? There are general guidelines based on things like your age. However, this number is actually different for everybody. The right amount of sleep for you is, however, much sleep you need to feel rested and useful during the day.

Ode To Sleep

One of the reasons that we have trouble sleeping is that many of us don’t respect it. In our culture, it’s often deemed the thing that you do when you’re not busy with something else. If you can’t sleep, you know how important it really is.

Still, let’s take a moment to look at some of the things that sleep does for you so that we can all stop looking at it as a reward or a waste and start looking at it as an investment.

Sleep And Memories

Your brain files memory in two places: Short-term and long term. Short-term memory is for things that you need to know for a few moments or a few hours. Long-term memory is for things that you need to know for months or years.

However, your brain doesn’t just file things in one file or the other from the start. Everything starts out in short-term memory before being transferred to long-term memory. This file transfer happens while you sleep.

This is important for remembering things, but it’s also important for the adjacent field of learning. We often think of learning as separate from memory, but if you can’t remember what you learned, you aren’t really learning.

Sleep And Problem Solving

We used to think that moving memories from the “Short-term file” to the Long-term file” was all that sleep did. However, recent research suggests that your brain actually notices patterns in memories as it files them.

This means that you’re not only storing things for longer, but you’re also making connections between them, learning while you’re asleep.

Physical Repair

Sleep impacts your body too. Throughout your day, your body goes through some wear-and-tear, from your muscles moving, your digestive tract digesting, and your muscles moving.

Obviously, some of these things continue to happen when you’re asleep. But some of them are paused, or, at least, slowed down. This allows your body to repair itself. That’s why you can feel physically as well as mentally exhausted if you don’t get enough sleep.

How To Get Good Sleep

Now that we know more about why sleep is so important let’s turn to the experts to learn more about getting it.

Avoid Caffeine After Lunch

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Avoiding caffeine right before bed is a no brainer. But what about avoiding caffeine in the afternoon?

Caffeine has a half-life of several hours. So, if you’re out with your friends and have two cups of coffee at 3 p.m., you’ll have as much caffeine in your system at 9 p.m. as if you just drank a cup.

“Although it is usually OK to have a caffeinated drink up until noon if you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, then you should consider either restricting or eliminating caffeine intake,” Dr. Ian Dunican told AAST Magazine.

Caffeine affects different people differently, so you can play with these figures a bit. But, if you’re desperate for sleep, it’s best to play it safe. And remember, if cutting caffeine means getting better sleep, you’ll be less reliant on caffeine the next morning.

Avoid Alcohol After Dinner

Many people turn to caffeine when they’re looking to wake up, and alcohol when they’re looking to sleep.

Alcohol can indeed make you sleepy, but the sleep that you get won’t be as good. So, you’re better off without it.

“Alcohol may seem to be helping you to sleep, as it helps induce sleep, but overall it is more disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night,” researcher Irshaad Ebrahim told WebMD.

The good news? Alcohol doesn’t stay in the system nearly as long as caffeine – provided you drink in moderation. So, a glass (or even two glasses) of wine with dinner is fine. So is a drink of something more substantial no less than one hour before you turn in.

Exercise, But Not In Your Bedroom

Exercise during the day is one great way to ensure great sleep at night. Exercise at night; however, that’s a different story. That is, depending on how you exercise.

“Getting regular exercise any time of the day can be added to your list of good sleep hygiene habits, but avoid strenuous physical activity late in the evening,” Dr. Howard LeWine told Harvard Health.

Lighter exercise, like stretching, or even gentle yoga, is okay for some people. In fact, there are specific yoga regimens for just before bed that you can find online.

Turn Your Phone Off

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Most of us take our phones with us everywhere, but the bed shouldn’t be one of those places.

“Checking your phone stimulates the brain, so we are more active and awake. Even just a quick check can engage your brain and prolong the sleep,” Dr. Harneet Walia told Cleveland Clinic.

Tech devices, including phones but also including laptops and some televisions, also rely on an artificial light that can trick our brains into keeping us up.

Things That Might Be Keeping You Up

All of those tips should help you fall asleep and sleep well. But what if they don’t?

Sometimes we have trouble falling asleep because our habits are conducive to it. However, there are also health conditions that could be responsible. If this is the case, you will have to have those addressed by a healthcare professional.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a condition that means that you aren’t breathing right while you sleep. This can interrupt your sleep cycles without waking you, so some people have apnea without realizing it.

So, how can you know? If you sleep all night but don’t wake up feeling rested, it could be a symptom of sleep apnea. Getting diagnosed is a bit more complicated than that, however. So, if you think that you might have sleep apnea, talk to your healthcare provider.

Insomnia

Insomnia is when you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. Sometimes it’s caused by other health conditions, or by medications. Other times, however, it may not seem to be caused by anything.

If you think that you might have insomnia, tell your healthcare provider. They can help you look at any medications or health conditions that may be causing your problems.

Hormonal Changes

We won’t look at hormones in great depth today, but you can look at them as chemical messengers between your mind and body.

When your hormones are in balance, things tend to run smoothly – including sleep. However, when your hormones are out of balance, it can impact many aspects of your health and wellness – including sleep.

Sometimes this can happen because something is wrong, but that’s not always the case. Our hormone levels rise, fall, and change as we age. So, periods of life, like adolescence and menopause, can cause sleep disturbances for some people.

What to do about this depends on your particular case and your stage of life. For example, hormone supplements are often used to help women transition through menopause but are not used nearly so commonly to help children through adolescence.

Still, your healthcare provider may be able to prescribe medication or give you lifestyle advice if your hormonal changes are affecting your sleep.

Mental Health Conditions

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Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can also make sleep difficult. If your anxiety or depression is caused by something in your life, like a rough patch at work or the loss of a loved one, you may be able to ride it out.

However, for some people, particularly those that experience anxiety and depression due to chemical imbalances in the brain, you may require help from a mental health expert.

While medications may help, for some people, talking with a mental health professional is enough. They can help you understand and manage your feelings better and give you more coping mechanisms so that you can lead a happier and healthier life while you work through your anxiety and depression.

For more information about how speaking with a licensed and professional counselor or therapist can help you manage your anxiety and depression and get a better night’s sleep, visit BetterHelp.

Goodnight!

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand why sleep is important, what’s keeping you up, and how to get to sleep. If you’re worried about your sleep, try some of the lifestyle changes suggested by the experts in this article.

If they don’t work, you might need your own expert – a healthcare provider or mental health expert to work with you personally.

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