How to Sleep Better

More Days Without a Good Night’s Sleep Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Think … Three Mile Island & Chernobyl, or closer to home, over

100,000 TCs each year.  Sleepiness causes accidents.


Finding it hard to remember important information?

Mind wandering? Sleep loss impairs memory and attention.


Heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, vision

impairments, headaches.  Studies have shown

that those who slept five hours or less a night had

twice the risk of death from all causes.


Libido not what it used to be?  Men with sleep problems also

have low testosterone, and everything that can go along with it.


Depressed or anxious mood impairs sleep; and

impaired sleep increases depressed or anxious mood.

Sleepiness is depressing.


Got the munchies?  Does it show?  Sleep starved people gain weight.


Saggy skin, puffy eyes, dark circles?

Yawning all day?  Lack of sleep can lead to a tired appearance.


Let me start by being real with you … getting a good night’s sleep takes work, not excuses.  While some things are out of your control, there’s a great deal you can do to improve your sleep.  Take a look at the various ways below you can make little changes in your sleep (and wake) schedule.  Together, these little steps can add up to a whole lot of benefit.  We’re going to address this in reverse order; you’ll see why.


After Waking …

Skip the “Fix” at least for the first hour.

Keep caffeine fixes to mid-mornings and early afternoons.  Shocking your body with a hit of caffeine early in the morning can have a rebound effect later in the day.  Drinking it too late in the evening can lead to an unwelcome bedtime boost. For some people, the effects of caffeine can last the whole work day—up to 10 hours after that last venti macchiato.  Water does wonders.

Get some fresh air

Exposure to daylight helps regulate the body’s internal clock and with it, sleep timing. Getting some sunlight also keeps daytime fatigue at bay, leading to more sleepiness at bedtime.

Work out earlier in the day

While exercise can help improve sleep quality, it’s important to schedule workouts that end at least two hours before hitting the day so that post-workout adrenaline boost doesn’t keep you up.

Take the ‘alarm’ out of alarm-clock.

Who wants to wake up to the sound of a WWII air siren?  Waking up to a pleasant sound (classic music, nature sounds, calming voice) is less shocking to the mind and body.  By the way, you’ll have plenty of time to catchup on the news, so choose a different station.

Healthy breakfast

What’s the most important meal of the day?  Seriously, who hasn’t heard this ‘truth’ 100+ times.  And because it’s a nutritional ‘law,’ you should start your day with a breakfast that includes healthy protein, fruit or grains/nuts (oatmeal).  Processed cereal won’t cut it.


Throughout your Waking Day …

Exercise regularly

Studies suggest some aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety and improve quality of sleep in people who suffer from insomnia.

Take a power nap during the day

Ten to 20 minutes in the mid-afternoon is best to ensure a good night’s sleep. Any longer and we risk falling into deeper stages of sleep, which can leave us feeling groggy when we wake up.

Set a daily sleep schedule

Just like it’s best to go to bed at the same time every day, it’s a good idea to keep a consistent wake up time—even on the weekends. Irregular bedtime and wake-up hours can lead to poor sleep patterns.

Plan time for Department-related work

If you feel like you have to get some Department-related work done over the weekend, maybe in preparation for Monday, schedule some time in advance.  For the benefit of your sleep and your family, try to keep this limited to an hour or two at the most and don’t do work right before bed, it’ll keep you up at night!

Family First

Do what’s necessary to spend time with your spouse, children and friends outside of work.  There are only so many hours in a day, the saying goes, and your loved ones need your attention.  Don’t kid yourself with the idea that “well, my family understands the demands of my job” – they probably don’t.

Don’t procrastinate

Nearing bedtime without addressing what “must be” addressed this day means you’re going to go to bed and lie there awake wondering how to tackle the issue in the morning.  Plan ahead and ensure that you prioritize the “must bes” as part of your daily routine.


Preparing for Sleep …

Bedroom activities only  ;-)

Reserve the bed for bedtime-only activities so the mind associates the bedroom with relaxation. Sleep and sex, yes. Work and bills, not so much.

 Establish a bedtime routine

This lets the body know it’s time to unwind from the day’s stress and chill. Figure out a schedule and stick to it every night of the week—even weekends!

 Create a comfortable environment

Whether that means picking the perfect mattress, splurging on 800-thread-count sheets, getting heavy-duty curtains to block out light, or keeping a fan in the room for background noise, make sure it’s comfy before climbing into bed.  Have the right MATTRESS and PILLOW.  Share a bed? Work with your partner to make any changes necessary so everyone sleeps well.

Take a hot shower or bath before bed

This can help the mind relax, while the rise and fall of body temperature induces sleepiness.

Establish an “electronic curfew”

The artificial lights from computers, TVs, and cell phones might make it more difficult for the body to understand when it’s time to wind down. And one study suggests limiting TV at bedtime can reduce sleep debt .

Dim the lights

Bright lighting, in particular the “blue light” emitted by most electronic devices, might contribute to sleep disturbances. Tech-savvy insomniacs might want to check out the special glasses designed to block blue light and help us snooze through the night.

Face the alarm clock away

Watching the time tick by can actually cause more stress and make it harder to fall asleep. Plus, artificial light from electronic gadgets can mess up our circadian rhythm, making our bodies think it’s time to stay up and party.

Drink something warm

While a glass of warm milk might not be medically proven to bring on sleep, the relaxation that comes with sipping on a mug of a “comfort drink” like warm milk, hot chocolate, or chamomile tea can make those eyelids a bit heavier.

No Tech / High Tech

Keep the TV, radio, laptop, smartphone, etc out of bed.  Check out some of the high-tech apps that dim blue light, wake you to gentle sounds and light, monitor sleep and give you feedback to adjust how to improve sleep.  Check out the variety of smartphone apps and other gadgets designed to help usher in a better night’s sleep. Tracking sleep over a long period of time can also help us pinpoint what’s helping—and hurting—our snooze time.

Keep the bedroom cool

Between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. A room with extreme temperatures leads to more frequent awakenings and lighter sleep.  “Hang 10”  keep your feet exposed to air, this helps regulate body temp.

Listen to soothing music

It can improve both sleep quality and duration . Try classical, folk, or slow-paced contemporary styles for some soothing sounds.

Leave Spot on the floor

Sleeping with pets can interfere with sleep. Snuggle before bedtime and then let them get comfortable elsewhere.

Adhere to Curfews – caffeine, alcohol, moderate+ exercise

Think about what time you want to be in bed asleep … say 2200h.  Subtract (at least) 3 hours … 1900h.  This should be your Caffeine Curfew, Alcohol Curfew and anything more than Light Exercise Curfew.

Bedtime is time for kind words

Don’t go to bed upset.  Even if you’re upset having ‘had words’ with a loved one, say something kind to them before heading off to bed.  Don’t let pride get in the way of a good night’s sleep.


If Sleep Eludes You …

Check the medicine cabinet

Certain medications might be interfering with sleep. Think a prescription is the culprit to a sleepless night? Talk to a doctor about potential side effects and how to deal with them.

Munch on magnesium or melatonin

Research suggests magnesium plays a key role in our ability to sleep through the night. Try chowing on magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, spinach, and swiss chard, or pop a ZMA supplement, another form of magnesium, about half an hour before bedtime.  Sustained-release melatonin supplements help 1 in 3 adults improve their sleep.

Can’t fall asleep?

If you’ve been lying in bed awake for 20 minutes, get out of bed and try a relaxing activity like pleasure reading or listening to mellow music.  Divert your attention from work or matters that trouble you.  Thinking about not sleeping will bring on even more anxiousness which sets up a vicious cycle.

Partner Challenges

Snoring, Space, Bedtime Readers?  Having a partner with different sleep behaviors can prove challenging.  Here are some thoughts – print this article and share it with them; consider the age and size (Cal King) of your mattress; sleep on your side or with your head slightly elevated to reduce snoring; and don’t forget about ear plugs or pink noise to mask sounds.  When all else fails, consult BSS or another health professional for advice.


Sleep apnea, when you literally stop breathing during your sleep, is a very serious medical condition that needs professional attention.  If someone tells you that you stop breathing or gasp for air during your sleep, if you wake up numerous times during the night catching your breath, or never feel like you’ve gotten restorative sleep, if you are significantly overweight or taking medications which interfere with sleep or breathing, talk to your health care provider right away.  There are many ways of addressing this that don’t require a forced-air CPAB machine.

Treat Pain

Even mild, chronic pain (like knee joint) can significantly disrupt sleep.  Pain increases adrenaline that decreases sleep.  Know what body position is best for you.  Treat with over-the-counter meds, prescription if necessary or physical therapy (PT).  Try gentle stretching prior to sleep to help reduce pain.


Spend 1 minute doing some deep breathing to relax.  BREATHE-IN for 4 counts (a couple seconds), HOLD the breath for 7 counts, slowly BREATHE-OUT for 8 counts.  Repeat four to eight times.  The key here – spending more time breathing out slowly than breathing in, that’s where the relaxation mechanism lies.

Racing Thoughts

There are various relaxation techniques (mindfulness, meditation, prayer, progressive relaxation, imagery) that can reduce and eliminate intrusive thoughts that may keep you up at night.  For a quick and easy response, speak with one of the Department’s psychologists telephonically at 213-486-0790

Progressive Muscle Relaxation & Meditation & Yoga

Starting with the feet, tense the muscles. Hold for a count of five and then relax. Do this for every muscle group in the body (calves, thighs, etc), working up from the feet to the top of the head.  A nightly meditation practice that involves focusing on the breath can also help prepare the body for sleep.


That’s a lot of ideas for you to try.  Start with just two or three of these (I’d recommend the curfew as a ‘must’) and put these into action.  Give each at least two weeks to see results, and, sleep well!