Oh, sweet slumber: 10 steps to better sleep

Sleep is probably the most overlooked aspect of health and wellbeing for many people today. If you're among the working population or managing a family, home, and career, sleep may even seem like a luxury to you.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that sleep is a critical factor in our health and wellbeing. Lack of quality sleep has been linked to several major health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, hypertension, and depression.

Lack of quality sleep impacts our mood and performance as well. Getting less than seven hours of sleep has been shown to impair memory, accuracy, and decision-making ability on the job.

So what's keeping us up at night? Several factors are contributing to the problem of reduced amount and quality of sleep.

Advances in technology with the 24/7/365 availability of the Internet, television programming, and smartphones provide endless sources of stimulation, making it harder for people to settle down and go to sleep. Increased workloads with downsizing and globalization have infringed on the customary work hours that defined the daily lives of past generations. We can and often do work at all hours of the day and night. While flexibility in the work schedule has its advantages, the overall amount of work continues to increase for many people. Multiple demands from various roles (employee, spouse / partner, parent, eldercare giver, etc.) have also resulted in fewer hours allotted to sleep. Most adults require 7 to 9 hours to feel and be their best.

The quality of sleep has declined as well due to increased stress, health issues, and use of medications and substances that impair sleep, among other factors. Trouble falling asleep, waking up repeatedly during the night, daytime sleepiness, and failure to feel refreshed upon awakening are all too common.

Fortunately, there are several simple things you can do to improve the quality and duration of your sleep. Creating a conducive environment for sleep and training your body to sleep are key.

  • Set a specific time to go to bed at night and rise each morning
  • Establish bedtime rituals such as reading before bed, taking a warm bath or shower, meditating, or listening to soothing music
  • Make sure you have a good quality mattress and pillow that provide proper support
  • Keep the room as dark as possible or wear a sleep mask to trigger the brain's natural tendency for sleep in response to darkness
  • Eliminate or reduce noise or use a white noise device
  • Keep the room at a slightly cool temperature (68 °F / 20 °C) when possible
  • Shut down all electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine late in the day
  • Avoid exercise or eating a large meal at least two hours before bedtime
  • Report snoring, excessive muscle twitching (ie. restless legs), or any persistent discomfort to your healthcare provider, as these can be indications of sleep disorders requiring treatment

Sweet dreams. Be well.

Lisa G. Jing is Founder/CEO of Synergy at Work, Inc., a consulting/training firm dedicated to transforming the workplace into an environment where people are their whole and best selves. She is a corporate health and wellness consultant with an M.A. in counseling psychology from Loyola Marymount University.