Here’s something that might keep you up at night: as many as 70 million adults in America have a sleeping disorder, be it insomnia, sleep apnea, or chronic sleep deprivation. And while certain medical conditions and medications can contribute to the the onset of these disorders, a large contributor is (not surprisingly!) the lack of a healthy sleep routine, according to the American Sleep Association.
“As a whole, we’re currently in a state of poor sleep. It’s a sleep epidemic,” says Rachel Salas, M.D., and associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “And often it’s not so much about the quantity of sleep, but the quality. While quantity is important, I think quality is more.”
Not only can a lack of quality zzz’s have you feeling more irritable and less energetic, but over time, sleep deprivation can heighten your risk for diabetes, have adverse effects on brain functioning, and cause serious lapses in memory and focusing abilities which, if you operate machinery at work or drive daily, can turn fatal or cause immediate harm. It can also contribute to lowered immunity, hypertension, and weight gain. Not exactly the stuff of sweet dreams.
Ready to get a good night’s sleep? Here are more of her Salas’s tips for creating a healthy sleep routine:
KNOW HOW MUCH SLEEP YOU SHOULD BE GETTING
“On average, adults need seven to nine hours a night,” says Salas. And while she notes that some people may find they need more, or less, hours, the latter group should be mindful about pushing their sleep requirement limits. “Many people think they don’t need as much sleep to function. But more often than not, later on, this lack of sleep will catch up to you in terms of your health.”
REEVALUATE YOUR SLEEP HYGIENE
If you feel like you’re just not getting enough sleep, or not as deep of a sleep as you would like, you might want to reevaluate your sleep hygiene, which Salas describes as the behaviors and practices we do to get the best quality sleep we can.
“Just like dental hygiene, we know we can always do a better job,” she adds. In the same way that pre-sleep habits, like not working on your computer right up until bedtime, can be healthy for you, creating the right sleep environment can also be a huge game-changer.
HAVE A BEDTIME ROUTINE
By creating a mini-ritual to help you prepare for sleep, you’re sending your brain a signal that it’s time to get into wind-down mode, which can then help you better ease into rest. For some, this may include taking a bath (try adding drops of lavender oil and Epsom salts to soothe tense muscles) or a warm showers. However, Salas notes to avoid extreme temperatures in either as this can alter your body’s temperature, which should ideally be cool for the best sleep.
Another bedtime essential: “Have a sleep uniform,” says Salas. Whether it’s pajamas or, for some, your birthday suit, having something to change into (or out of!) for sleep time can further help signal to your brain that it’s time to rest. “Many people may get home from work, change into lounge clothes, and go to sleep in those same clothes,” she explains. If you’re thinking you’re one of those people, try and set aside separate clothes just for bedtime and change into them as you get ready for bed. The same goes for socks, adds Salas, who says that the pair you wear all day will have likely trapped in moisture which can alter your body’s temperature. Prefer to sleep with socks? Simply slip into a new pair before hitting the hay.
KEEP YOUR SHEETS CLEAN
Because sheets and pillows can become hidden sources of trapped allergens, Salas recommends changing them at least every two weeks—especially if you have pets.
STASH DEVICES OUT OF SIGHT
In our digitally-wired society, this may sound like a broken record, but tucking away digital devices before bed is key to a healthy sleep routine. Not only can the blue light from most laptops, tablets, and smart phones cause the body to create less melatonin, but having your devices out can increase the temptation to send one more email or continue scrolling through social media. “It’s our curiosity that’s a sleep killer,” says Lois E. Krahn, a psychiatrist and sleep expert at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. “If you have the urge to read every last tweet or Facebook message, leave your phone in a different room.” At the very least, Salas recommends limiting electronic use (that includes binging Netflix!) at 30 minutes before bed.
MAKE YOUR ROOM THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
There’ll always be something you can improve on, but as for sleep space essentials, Salas recommends a room that’s dark, has limited noise, and is a comfortable temperature. If you live by a busy street, or have especially noisy neighbors, try ear plugs or a white noise machine to help drown out excess sounds. In place of a white noise machine, Salas also suggests a small fan: “It serves two functions this way—keeps you cool and provides a constant noise.” If you get a lot of light pollution in your room, consider blackout shades or wearing a sleep mask.
HAVE A SLEEP SCHEDULE
While it doesn’t have to be crazy strict, try your best to stick to a relatively set sleep schedule. “If you’re going to bed at 11 p.m. one night, then 2 a.m., then back to 10 a.m. or midnight, your brain loses its cues of when you’re supposed to be awake or asleep,” says Salas. This can then shift your circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock) and make falling asleep even more difficult.
Creating a sleep routine shouldn’t be stressful. You may find that some of the above tips are helpful for you, while others not quite—and that’s okay. “Lots of things go into a good sleep hygiene, but the key is consistency,” says Salas. In other words, if taking a salt bath, doing before-bed-yoga, and finding the perfect weighted blanket is too much all at once, focus on one change—like fighting the urge to keep checking social media up until shuteye—and follow through with it consistently.