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Ten Ways to Ensure a Good Night's Sleep

By Amy R. Wolfson

  • The Woman's Book of SleepEstablish a Regular Bedtime Schedule. Experts recommend that you get up and go to bed at roughly the same time each day, to keep your biological clock on a regular rhythm. Try to stick to your usual sleep schedule on weekends and holidays, as well as on workdays. Otherwise if you sleep late one morning and rise before dawn the next day, you may give yourself a case of what can be termed "at-home jet lag."
  • Exercise Regularly. Regular exercise can help reduce stress that has built up over the day, as well as help you sleep better and deeper. Experts recommend 20-to-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise such as walking, biking or swimming, at least three days a week. But do not exercise strenuously within four-to-six hours of bedtime, or your body may be overstimulated.
  • Cut Your Caffeine Intake. It is recommended that you have your last caffeinated beverage of the day no later than four-to-six hours before bedtime. Many people are unaware of how much caffeine they consume each day, or how much of an effect it can have on their sleep patterns. Although coffee is the first thing that comes to mind when discussing caffeine, other caffeine culprits include chocolate, colas, tea, and even some over-the-counter pain medications.
  • Do Not Smoke. Several studies have shown that heavy smokers take longer to fall asleep, awaken more often and spend less time in REM and deep NREM sleep. Nicotine is an even stronger stimulant than caffeine. Finally, nicotine withdrawal can cause some smokers to awaken in the middle of the night craving a nicotine fix.
  • Drink Alcohol in Moderation. Many erroneously believe that alcohol consumption can aid in getting a good night's sleep. On the contrary, too much alcohol can make it harder to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Even moderate drinking can suppress REM and deep NREM sleep and accelerate shifts between the various sleep stages.
  • Sleep on Good Bedding. Proper bedding can help you fall asleep and stay asleep, and, at the same time, provide support to your back and neck while you sleep. Start with a good mattress and comfortable pillows. Also, a down comforter is lighter and more comfortable than conventional bedding.
  • Plan for the Next Day Early in the Evening. Try to avoid lying in bed thinking about what you should have done that day or hope to accomplish the next. Review what needs to be done for the following day with your family. Make lists and write out your priorities so you won't keep reminding yourself of what needs to be done. 
  • Turn off all Electronics before Bed. While some find it comforting to fall asleep in front of the television, many others might find what's on television can be overstimulating before bedtime. Ask friends not to call after a certain hour, so that you won't be startled by a late night call. Resist the urge to check e-mail one last time before retiring to bed.
  • Make Sure You Have Eaten Properly. Obviously if you have eaten a large meal before bedtime your digestive system will have to work overtime while you are trying to wind down. Avoid high fat foods that take longer to digest, as well as foods that can cause excessive gas. Conversely hunger can also interfere with your ability to settle, so it is wise not to go to bed on an empty stomach.
  • Develop a Bedtime Routine. We already know that children sleep better when they have an established bedtime ritual, so it makes sense that adults can benefit as well. Your sleep ritual can be as elaborate or as simple as you choose. Whatever you decide, try to follow the same routine each evening as an internal cue for your body that it is time to settle down for the night.


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