I've Resolved to Sleep Better in the New Year — Here's How Doctors Suggested I Do It

Jan 31 2020 - 2:15pm

When choosing a healthy goal for the New Year [1], getting more rest seemed like a no-brainer. I'll be honest — I have major issues when it comes to sleep. Most nights I can't fall asleep [2] earlier than midnight, and other nights when I actually do fall asleep at a decent hour, I wake up multiple times [3], tossing and turning. I also have evenings when I suddenly get motivated to check off everything on my to-do list at 10 p.m. (I can't be the only one who has cleaned the bathroom and baked cookies at an unfathomable hour, right?) In other words, my sleep routine [4] is nonexistent.

Unsure where to start, I decided to reach out to sleep experts, hoping to identify the habits that are keeping me up. What I learned: even small changes can pay off in a big way. Here's how I plan to get more sleep in the coming months — and how you can, too.

Exercise During the Day, Not in the Evening

I'm notorious for laying out my yoga mat, dragging over my weights, and knocking out a 30-minute cardio routine [6] at 11 p.m. However, this pesky habit could be wreaking havoc on my sleep quality. "Try to work out in the morning or early in the evening," Andrew Stiehm [7], MD, sleep specialist with the United Lung and Sleep Clinic in St. Paul, MN, told me in an interview for POPSUGAR. "Exercise is wonderful, but it's also stimulating. The exhaustion you feel isn't sleepiness. In fact, getting good sleep can actually be harder [8]."

Skip That Extra Serving of Caffeine

For coffee drinkers, cutting back on that afternoon pick-me-up [9] could be beneficial. "Avoid caffeine by mid-afternoon and especially later in the evening," Dr. Stiehm said. "Caffeine is a wonder drug, but even if you're one of those people who can fall asleep after an evening coffee, it can still change the quality of your sleep [10]."

Make Your Bedroom a Sanctuary

Working, eating, watching YouTube videos, playing with my cats, talking on the phone, painting my nails, applying makeup — it seems like I do everything but sleep in my bed. Unfortunately, this can also contribute to poor sleep quality [11] and even insomnia. "Your bed should be used for only two things: sleep and intimacy," said Sujay Kansagra [12], MD, Mattress Firm's sleep health expert, and director of Duke University's Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program. "All other activities should be performed outside of your bed, and ideally, outside of your room. When you walk into your bedroom, you want your mind to start focusing on sleep [13], not your latest work assignment."

That Means Keeping Electronics Out, Too

Netflix, text messages, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, Amazon Prime — the list of things that keep me up at night is impressive, and they all come from the same source: my devices [14]. At times I feel chained to my computer, iPad, and smartphone [15], but it's important that I don't bring them into bed with me. "Keep your bedroom an electronics-free zone," Dr. Stiehm said. "TVs, phones, radios, tablets — these all serve as light sources and can have a big impact on getting quality sleep."

Stay Consistent With Your Sleep and Wake Times

It's very easy to fall out of routine on the weekends. I can't tell you how many times I've stayed up two, three, or even four hours later than I would on a weeknight, setting myself up to feel even more exhausted come Monday morning. (Researchers have called this "social jet lag [16].") These changes to your sleep pattern can mess with your circadian rhythm, Dr. Stiehm explained. "It can make it harder to fall asleep and, more typically, make you feel more tired in the morning." If I want better sleep, I'll need to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day [17]. "Your body needs to be trained," he said.

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