woman sleeping

12 Steps to Better Sleep

My great grandfather, Parley P. Pratt, wrote “the whole of mortal humanity lies hushed in quiet slumbers, in order to renew its strength and vigor.”[1]

Prior to the incandescent lightbulb, people got more sleep. The same can be said for the invention of so-called blue light—more people had better sleep before smart phones and electronic devices, which is worsening the sleep epidemic.[2]

Neuroscientist Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science and the author of Why We Sleep, explained that sleeping less than six hours each night weakens your immune system and can cause certain types of cancers.

Additionally, insufficient sleep can put you at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Further, Walker pointed out, that sleep disruption “contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality.”[3] Is it any wonder that nearly half of American adults have reported that their stress levels have increased?[4] And that study took place before the riots and the COVID pandemic! Could this correlation be, at least in part, due to the growing levels of undiagnosed insomnia caused in some degree by a plethora of electronic devices in every home? 

Even the high numbers of kids being diagnosed with ADHD may be inaccurately diagnosed according to Walker. Observing multiple scientific studies, he stated that sleep is the primary culprit of poor memory and concentration. In short, sleep (or the lack thereof) is the real culprit.

Yes, the lack of sleep can and does cause us to be easily irritable and can cause poor work performance and quality of life issues, up to and including causing more conflict in relationships. Having troubles in your marriage? Check your sleep patterns. Having issues with memory and concentration? Are you easily irritable or feeling depressed? Check your sleep. We know—scientific studies have proven it—that “sleep is important for general physical health, restoring energy, repairing injuries or illness, growth, psychological well-being and mood, concentration, memory, work performance, and getting along well with others.”[5]

I could go on and on about the negatives associated with the lack of sleep, but I won’t. It’s more important to outline how to get better sleep. That is, if you’re convinced and willing to do the things to get better sleep. Remember, better sleep will allow you to have better mental and physical health and well-being. Plus, 7-9 hours of continued sleep will help you make better decisions, help you with your reaction time, and help you in your relationships. 

The following tips come from the National Institute for Health and were reprinted in much more detail in Walker’s book Why We Sleep. I’m condensing some of these tips for ease of space.

1.  The most important thing to getting healthy sleep is to stick to a sleep schedule. Set an alarm for bedtime (rarely does anyone do this) and get up at the same time every day, too. Of course, give yourself enough time to sleep, ideally 8 hours. If there’s nothing else you do to improve your sleep, Walker advises, follow this advice.  

2.  Exercise is essential to mental and emotional health, but don’t exercise two to three hours before going to bed.

3.  Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon or smoking/chewing tobacco will make it harder to fall asleep.

4.  Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. Alcohol robs you of much-needed REM sleep. (By the way, REM sleep restores the feel-good chemical serotonin.)

5.  Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A light snack is okay, however. Drinking more before bedtime causes frequent awakenings to urinate.

6.  Avoid medications that delay or disrupt sleep.

7.  Don’t take naps after 3pm. Naps are great, but not too late in the day.

8.  Relax before bed. Unwind. Get a bedtime ritual of relaxation.

9.  Take a hot bath before bed. A drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath may help you feel sleepy.

10.  Make your bedroom dark, cool, and gadget-free. Get rid of bright lights. Your room should be cool (e.g., between 65- and 68-degrees Fahrenheit). Get a good mattress and pillow. 

11.  Get natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. The earlier in the day you can get sunlight, the better. Bright lights in the morning are healthy. You should get at least an hour of sunlight in the morning. (Note: If you work the night shift, wear sunglasses on the way home in the early morning.[6])

12.  Don’t lie in bed awake. If you wake up and lie in bed for more than 20 minutes or if you are feeling worried or anxious, get up and do something to relax. Ideally, avoid bright light.

In sum, sleep is essential to our physical and mental well-being. It’s difficult to make sleep a high priority but changing patterns or habits even slightly can help us get better sleep, which in turn, can help us in multiple ways. Walker recommends seeing a sleep specialist for medical concerns rather than a general practitioner. I agree. If you’re having emotional or psychological troubles that are the main cause of sleep disruption, you may want to see a mental health counselor. The bottom line is, if you want to feel better and have better mental and physical health and well-being, you’ve got to make sleep a high priority. 

[1] Pratt, P. P. (1891). Key to the science of theology (5th ed.) George Q. Cannon & Sons Co. Publishers, p. 125.

[2] Chattu, V. K., Manzar, M. D., Kumary, S., Burman, D., Spence, D. W., & Pandi-Perumal, S. R. (2018). The global problem of insufficient sleep and its serious public health implications. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland)7(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare7010001

[3] Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. Scribner. (p. 3.)

[4] American Psychological Association (APA). (2011). Stressed in America. APA.org. 

[5] Centre for Clinical Interventions. (2020). Facts about sleephttp://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au, para. 11.

[6] American Psychological Association (APA). (2011). The risks of night workhttp://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/night-work.aspx.

Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey has written award-winning articles for the Washington Times, Guns.com, and other publications. He is the author of seven books, including Warrior SOS: Military Veterans’ Stories of Faith, Emotional Survival and Living with PTSD. He teaches courses on peer support, suicide prevention, and other mental wellness and resilience to public safety professionals. If you would like Jeff to speak at your event or training please contact him HERE.

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