Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of U.S. adults routinely fall short of that healthy target.
And that’s especially concerning, as chronic lack of sleep leads to a whole host of problems, like loss of attention and memory, accidents, and poor work performance—as well as obesity, dementia, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and more.
So, today, let’s look at six simple steps you can take to improve the quality of your sleep, no matter what your age.
Six ways to catch those Zs
1.) Set the mood for sleep. Think of the evening as your time to relax and destress—both mentally and physically.
As the sun starts to set, I advise keeping the lights dim. Turn them on only when you’re moving about. The lowered light will prompt your body to start converting serotonin (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter produced when exposed to natural sunlight during the day) into melatonin, which helps you sleep.
In the same vein, you should also turn off all electronic screens—including the television, computer, phone, and Kindle® reading contraption. The blue light emitted from these devices actually impairs the release of melatonin.
So, instead of staring at a screen in the evening, try to train your body to prepare for sleep with some healthy, restful, low-tech practices. For example, take a bath; listen to music; read a book, a magazine, or the newspaper; practice some mindfulness meditation; drink a cup of soothing tea; or just sit out on the porch, listening to the sounds of Nature and allowing your mind to wander for a while.
2.) Be mindful about your exercise regimen. Strenuous exercise (or “excess-ercise,” as I call it) puts your body on “high alert” by increasing blood flow, body temperature, and mental sharpness. In effect, it keeps your “engine running” for up to six hours and can interfere with your sleep. So, if you’re choosing to engage in more high-intensity exercise, like running, make sure to do so during daylight hours.
But remember, as I regularly report, science shows you really only need to engage in 140 to 150 minutes of light-to-moderate activity per week to support your overall health and longevity. And walking, hiking, swimming, housework, and yard work all count toward your weekly total! Plus, these light, enjoyable activities won’t interfere with restful sleep, so you can engage in them whenever you’re feeling up for it.
3.) Skip the dangerous “sleep aid” drugs. To help “manage” sleeplessness, some people turn to sleeping pills. But research shows these pills don’t help you sleep better over the long term. Instead, they lead to a dangerous cycle of drug dependency.
According to Charles Morin, a sleep expert from Laval University in Canada, “in the long run, [sleep medication] is not the answer, because it’s just like putting a Band-Aid® on the problem and it does not address the underlying issues.”
Not to mention, many sleeping pills affect your memory—and interfere with the conversion of short-term memories to long-term memories. So, while you may enjoy more sleep…you may not remember it.
4.) Avoid napping or “sleeping in” if you have insomnia. Establishing a regular pattern of sleeping and waking helps your body adhere to its natural circadian rhythm, which signals when it’s time to sleep, eat, and carry out other key body functions.
But research shows that the older you become, your circadian rhythm becomes less reliable. So, it’s even more important stick to a regular sleep schedule as you age, night after night. You may even want to reconsider naps or “sleeping in” on weekends, if you suffer from insomnia as you get older.
Of course, no matter your age, you should never take a nap (even a short one) if it’s already getting dark outside, as it will likely disrupt the quality and quantity of your nighttime sleep.
In addition, if you lose sleep during the week, you can’t just make up for it on weekends. In fact, “sleeping in” one or two days on the weekend upsets your natural body clock. And these disruptions make it harder to get your sleep back on a regular cycle.
5.) Practice some mind-body approaches during the day. Relaxation and stress-reduction approaches like meditation and yoga during the day can help you fall asleep at night.
To find the right mind-body techniques that will work for you, take my free quiz. You can also check out books Your Emotional Type and Overcoming Acute and Chronic Pain: Keys to Treatment Based on Your Emotional Type.
6.) Try aromatherapy. Science shows many people experience significant improvements in sleep and relaxation by inhaling essential plant oils through aromatherapy. You can apply these essential oils to your skin and/or diffuse them. Both methods work well to induce sleep and relaxation because they both rely on the olfactory nerves of the upper nasal passage, which are wired directly into the brain. The most effective sleep-inducing essential oils are:
Over the last year, our daughter used a topical preparation that combined these essential oils (blended with vitamin E and coconut oil) to help her achieve perfect sleep throughout her pregnancy, labor, and after the birth of our healthy granddaughter in October 2020. So, I know firsthand how effective and safe it is, just as the science shows.
Check out my “ultimate sleep guide”
Of course, during these troubling times, it’s really no surprise that sleeplessness is on the rise. Not to mention, insomnia becomes even more of a problem as we age.
To learn more about how to improve your sleep without the use of drugs, check out the March 2021 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“My ultimate guide to getting a good night’s sleep—naturally”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.
“Long Daytime Napping Is Associated with Increased Adiposity and Type 2 Diabetes in an Elderly Population with Metabolic Syndrome.” J Clin Med. 2019 Jul; 8(7): 1053. doi.org/10.3390/jcm8071053