17 Suggestions for Better Sleep and Better Daytime Alertness

  1. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep to feel refreshed. Curtailing the time in bed solidifies sleep; an excessively long time in bed leads to fragmented and shallow sleep.
  2. A regular rising time in the morning, seven days a week, strengthens circadian cycling and leads to improved sleep and alertness.
  3. Correct use of light and dark reinforces one's sleep schedule. Get as much outside light in the morning and during the day as possible. Those who sleep during daylight hours need to reduce the light coming through bedroom windows with opaque shades or curtains.
  4. Occasional loud noises (e.g., aircraft) disturb sleep even in people who cannot remember them in the morning. Sound-attenuated bedrooms or a white noise generator may help those who must sleep close to a busy street or airport.
  5. Although excessively warm rooms disturb sleep, there is no evidence that an excessively cold room solidifies sleep.
  6. Hunger may disturb sleep; however do not eat a large meal just before going to bed. The older one is, the more important it is to avoid having dinner as the largest meal of the day.
  7. Caffeine (in tea, coffee, Coke, Mountain Dew), alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, nicotine, and spicy food will fragment sleep and increase esophageal reflux which also disturbs sleep and in some cases will result in heartburn type symptoms during sleep.
  8. An occasional sleeping pill may be of benefit, but chronic use may be ineffective and can over the long run disturb sleep further.
  9. Alcohol may help tense people relax and therefore fall asleep more easily, but the ensuing sleep is then fragmented. It is better and safer to use a prescribed sleeping pill than alcohol to help sleep.
  10. People who feel angry and frustrated because they cannot sleep should not try harder and harder to fall asleep but should get out of bed, do something different for 15 minutes, and then try again. However, it is still important to still get up at one's regular rising time.
  11. Watching the clock may increase anxiety of sleeplessness and further disturb sleep.
  12. A steady daily amount of exercise in the late afternoon or early evening deepens sleep; occasional exercise does not necessarily improve sleep. Strenuous exercise just before bed will disturb sleep.
  13. The chronic use of tobacco disturbs sleep due to nicotine and coughing.
  14. A poor bed results in discomfort, tossing, and turning.
  15. Many medications disturb sleep. One's physician can check medications taken regularly for possible sleep side effects.
  16. A 30-minute period before bedtime to relax helps sleep onset. Writing down things that need to be done the next day before bed clears one's mind.
  17. Disturbed sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness often indicate a serious problem, particularly if accompanied by high blood pressure and snoring. Whenever sleep is chronically disturbed, the cause needs to be discovered. One's family physician is a good person to consult first if the above suggestions do not help.