A good night's sleep does more than just make you feel rested in the morning. While we'd like to think the tossing and turning from the previous night could be remedied with a cup of coffee, the truth is the effects go deeper than just low energy and even lower productivity levels. Lack of sleep can also be linked to health issues like diabetes, headaches, back pain, depression, and heart disease.
However, we know how difficult it can be to fall asleep, or worse, stay asleep all night. To be sure you're getting the most of your REM cycle, we tapped two doctors for their tips on getting to sleep faster and staying asleep longer—because you already have enough to keep you up at night.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Sanam Hafeez is a neuropsychologist in New York City. She also has a faculty appointment at Columbia University's PhD program in Clinical Psychology, where she teaches courses and supervises graduate students in neuropsychological instruments and assessments.
- Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, MD, FAAOS is a Board-Certified Spinal and Orthopedic Surgeon with offices in New York and New Jersey. He earned his undergraduate degree at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and his medical degree at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Have A Nighttime Routine
What you do before bed could be just as important as what you do in bed. Creating a pre-sleep ritual can mentally prepare you for sleep before your head even hits the pillow. Dr. Hafeez tells us, "taking a warm bath, practicing skincare, preparing and consuming chamomile tea, and reading a book can help put you in a relaxed state, decreasing nighttime anxiety." You might also want to refrain from watching TV and answering emails, as this could create "an abundance of stimulation close to bedtime." Dr. Hafeez recommends "powering down electronics to reduce blue light exposure, avoiding caffeine in soft drinks or caffeinated teas, and not consuming alcohol at least an hour before bed."
Set The Mood
Creating an environment that promotes quality sleep can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. "For example," Dr. Hafeez says, "ensuring the room is cool, tidy, dark, and comfortable can help someone settle in and relax the brain to prepare for sleep." Keep an eye mask, some earplugs (if necessary), aromatherapy spray, and anything else you need to set your mood. Additionally, Dr. Hafeez explains, "it can be difficult to get a good night's sleep when the room is above 72 degrees," so investing in a device that regulates air quality and temperature could be a nightly game changer.
Invest In The Right Mattress
If there's ever an investment you should make for a better night's sleep, it's shopping for the right mattress. The wrong one not only affects the quality and quantity of sleep, but it can also have lasting effects on other aspects of your body. Dr. Okubadejo says, "a good mattress with sufficient back support can make a world of difference when it comes to getting adequate sleep. Someone with the right mattress and bedding should not be waking up throughout the night to roll over or arise with back pain. Rolling over revitalizes the blood flow, interrupting sleep." He stresses the importance of replacing your mattress every 6-8 years or if it's not a good fit.
If you're in the market for a new mattress, Dr. Okubadejo says you "should take into account your weight, the position you sleep in, and any back conditions or injuries you may have had. A mattress that is too soft will make someone sink, whereas a hard mattress puts pressure on the head's tailbone, shoulders, and back." He also explains that since we lie for extended periods of time, the mattress pressure can "reduced blood flow through the blood vessels, depriving the skin of nutrients and oxygen."
Be Mindful Of Your Bedding
Style plays a major role in the overall aesthetic of a room, but it's essential to consider certain factors of your bedding to improve sleep quality.
"For example, linen sheets help keep the body temperature lower than silk or cotton sheets," Dr. Okubadejo explains. "This is a practical choice for those living in warmer climates." Additionally, he tells us, "pillows that properly support the neck and the correct strategic placement of pillows can significantly improve spinal alignment."
If you sleep on your stomach, Dr. Okubadejo recommends you use "a thinner, softer pillow, while back and side sleepers would need a medium or firm pillow depending on their weight and size."
Consider Sleep Aids
While it's not recommended to rely on sleep aids on a nightly basis, they could be helpful on those difficult-to-get-to-sleep nights. While Dr. Hafeez says aids like melatonin in small doses are okay, she explains, "patients should speak to their doctor for counsel on which supplements or medications may be best for them. This is a question where the patient's health and medications should be taken into account." For a natural approach, she recommends trying some calming herbal teas before bed.
Work With Natural Light
Installing blackout curtains in your bedroom could feel like a non-negotiable, and while they're great for filtering out street or car lights, they're not necessary to the quality of your sleep. Dr. Hafeez says they're great for people who work at night and sleep during the day, but she says if you have a normal nine-to-five schedule, you might want to ditch the heavy drapes. "It is recommended that people draw up their curtains in the morning to raise their alertness and begin their day," she says.