Making sleep a priority takes time and patience, just like any other health behavior change. To get started, identify and confront the challenges that are robbing you of your sleep.

By Stacy M. Peterson

There's a reason you're meant to spend a third of your life in slumber — good health depends on it. Most people need seven or eight hours of sleep each night. During sleep:

  • Your brain sorts the important elements of the day from the unimportant and stores memories, allowing for more efficient long-term memory recall
  • Your body regulates hormones such as cortisol (to help manage stress), human growth hormone (to repair muscle tissue), insulin (to regulate blood glucose) and others
  • Cell turnover rids waste from your cells, leaving the immune system restored

Chronic sleep deprivation impairs attentiveness, coordination and reaction time. It also increases the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. And sleepiness is an all-too-common cause of accidents and fatalities in the workplace and on highways.

Making sleep a priority takes time and patience, just like any other health behavior change. To get started, identify and confront the challenges that are robbing you of your sleep.

Sleep busterSleep Helper
Drinking caffeine close to bedtimeAvoid caffeine starting 10 hours before bedtime.
Drinking alcoholLimit the amount you drink (no more than 1 drink a day for women and men older than 65, and up to 2 drinks a day for men age 65 and younger). Stop drinking 3 hours before bedtime.
Eating a late-evening mealLimit how much you eat in the evening, and avoid eating 3 hours before bedtime.
Late-day napping or exercisingAvoid napping 6 hours before bedtime.
Irregular sleep scheduleSet a regular bedtime and wake time, including on weekends.
Working, reading or watching TV in bedKeep the place where you sleep focused on sleep — avoid reading, watching TV, eating and working in the bedroom.
Sleep busterSleep Helper
Light exposureMinimize screen time before bedtime. Try room-darkening shades.
Warm room or body temperatureSet the thermostat to a cooler temperature, layer bedding and clothing, and use breathable bedding.
Too much noiseTry earplugs or white noise, such as a fan or sound machine.
DiscomfortExperiment with pillows and bedding to create a comfortable, relaxing experience.
Sleep busterSleep Helper
Busy mindKeep a journal next to your bed to jot down your thoughts or intentionally shift your focus to gratitude.
Worry or anxiety about sleepIf you've been in bed for what feels like it has been about 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
Physical painPractice deep breathing, meditation or prayer.
Limited movement during the dayTake intermittent walks throughout the day, or schedule time for structured exercise.
  1. This week, stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Explore one way to make your sleep space more comfortable and relaxing, whether it's keeping your bedroom cooler or darker or getting a more comfortable pillow.
  3. Identify one overall wellness practice to shift. Perhaps you will set three reminders each day to get up and walk for 10 to 15 minutes. Or you will take 10 minutes at the end of the day to do something relaxing, such as listening to soothing music or taking a warm bath.
Dec. 29, 2016