Searching for Sleep? Tips for a Peaceful Night

A couple sleeping peacefully on their bed

No one likes a sleepless night. And if you’re spending many an evening half awake and too many days half asleep, it’s probably time to address those habits that could be keeping you from sleeping soundly.

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Teens need even more, at 8.5 to 9.25 hours. Experts say sleep is as important to us as food or air and if you’re consistently falling short, the consequences can be severe. In fact, sleep deprivation has been linked to decreased productivity at school and work, as well as safety issues on the job and on the road. Studies have shown links between a lack of sleep and serious health concerns, such as high blood pressure, obesity and depression.

Before letting inadequate snooze time lead to potential health and safety issues for you and your family, try these suggestions to get back on track to a more solid slumber.

Cut the caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine is a stimulant, and if it’s consumed late in the day, it can keep you from sleeping soundly throughout the night. Beyond coffee, remember that caffeine can be found in many soft drinks, chocolate and tea. Experts advise no caffeine for four to six hours before bedtime. Health Canada recommends that children between the ages of 10 and 12 should not exceed 85 milligrams of caffeine in a day, while teenagers shouldn’t have more than 2.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight.

Alcohol can also contribute to a fitful sleep. The latest research published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research shows that while a nightcap can help you nod off, it’ll also make you more likely to wake up during the night and feel unrested.

Avoid late-night meals

For some, a light snack before bed can help promote sleep. But heavy, fatty or spicy meals late in the day can be hard to digest or can contribute to heartburn. If you need to eat before you sleep, opt for a small bowl of low-sugar cereal or a banana.

Limit screen time

Too much time watching TV and computer screens is a major reason why students and young adults in particular don’t get enough sleep. Shut off screens at least an hour before bedtime and remove electronics from the bedroom to avoid temptation.

Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing haven by keeping the temperature on the cool side and using heavy curtains or blackout shades to keep light out. Use earplugs or an eye mask if needed to create a serene environment.

Find a relaxing routine

Rather than surfing the Web or watching a crime drama before bedtime, get in the habit of more restful activities, like light reading, listening to calming music or taking a bath. Close your eyes and spend several minutes on slow, deep breathing exercises, which can help you relax and push away anxieties of the day. If deep breathing is an issue because of symptoms such as nasal congestion due to colds, try a natural-source saline solution to clear the nasal passages of excess mucus.

And if you find sleep is still eluding you after 30 minutes of settling into bed, get up and do a relaxing activity as noted above until you feel sleepy. Keeping a small notebook at your bedside to jot down your to-do list or daily worries may help clear them from your mind. Sneaking constant peeks at the clock will just increase your anxiety.

Stick to a schedule

Unfortunately, you can’t “bank” sleep for later in the week, so avoid trying to catch up on your zees during the weekend. Instead, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day will help set your body’s internal clock so that you can get a more consistent sleep cycle happening.

Daily naps can also contribute to sleepless evenings. If you need to catch a few winks during the day to recharge, limit your naps to no more than 30 minutes at a time and only sleep up until the early afternoon.

Rule out a sleep disorder

If you or your family members are still having trouble getting some shut-eye in spite of changing these sleep-suppressing habits, there could be an underlying sleep disorder or a medical condition. Snoring, pauses in breathing or leg and arm twitches could be symptoms. See your physician or a trusted health-care provider to get a proper diagnosis and advice on treatment options.