Top 10 Ways to Get Optimal Sleep - a blog by OptimalLife Wellness Center - Therapy in Bellevue, WA

By Lara Symonds, MA, LMFT, DCEP

We all want and need to get a good night’s sleep so that we feel our best every day.  Unfortunately, and increasingly, our industrialized habits have encouraged an extended day, which squeezes our precious hours for sleep on either end, leaving the majority of us chronically sleep deprived.

The following list features the top 10 reasons we tend to not get enough sleep—and ways to adjust so you can get the Zzzs you need. Start with one of these suggestions and then keep working your way through the list. You can do it!

#1: Being Too Sedentary

When your body hasn’t had enough physical activity, your brain might be tired, but your body isn’t tired enough for sleep. Physical activity helps relieve stress, anxiety, reduces cortisol production, and normalizes sleep patterns. Get moving!

#2 Overeating and Indigestion

Abdominal bloating, indigestion, gas pains, reflux symptoms, and obesity all contribute to poor sleep due to increased inflammation in the body and brain. Avoid eating within three hours of bedtime to give your body enough time to digest your evening meal before shutting down for the night.

#3 Overstimulation

The brain needs at least two hours (often three) before bed to wind down from electronic stimulation, physical activity, and/or other forms of stimulation. Strive to make the last two hours before bed quiet and relaxing without screen time.

For optimal sleep, avoid screen time at least 2 hours before bedtime

Avoid using your phone in bed, especially 2 hours before you plan to sleep.

#4 Excessive Worry

Worry increases cortisol and adrenalin, and it activates the brain to be awake. Strive to avoid watching or reading the news in the evening. Avoid suspenseful novels at night. Practice calming breathing exercises and/or meditate before bedtime in order to quiet the internal noise and prepare your brain for rest.

#5 Erratic Schedules

Good quality sleep is dependent upon regular schedules and routines. As much as possible, follow the rhythms of nature with your schedule. Wake with the sun. Slow down and become less active at night.

#6: Overextension

Packing too much into your day, week, month, and year leads to stress, over-stimulation, and anxiety. Strive to slow your pace of life as much as possible. Add mindfulness practices to your day, like breathing, meditation, yoga, and stretching. Learn to say “no” to unnecessary demands on your time and attention—whether from others, from social media, or your own inner perfectionist.

For optimal sleep, add yoga, meditation, stretching, or some other mindfulness practice to your day.

Consider adding yoga, meditation, stretching, or some other mindfulness practice to your day.

#7: Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol

Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants and should be avoided within seven hours of bedtime. Both have been shown in studies to negatively impact sleep, both quality and duration, when consumed too close to bedtime. Alcohol, while a depressant, suppresses dream sleep early in the night and then can provoke REM rebound with nightmares later in the sleep cycle. Avoid consuming excessive alcohol altogether and limit alcohol consumption to no more than two glasses within three hours of bedtime. All three have also been shown to exacerbate anxiety (see #4 above).

#8: Napping

Although a nap can be refreshing for some, limit your naps to no more than 45 minutes. In addition, don’t nap after 3 p.m. to avoid difficulty falling asleep at night.

#9: Medications

Many medications have been shown to interfere with sleep. If you’re struggling to fall and/or stay asleep at night, and you’ve maintained proper sleep “etiquette” (see #10 below), then check your medications for sleep side effects and talk with your doctor about possible alternate medications.

#10: Poor Sleep Etiquette

Many bedrooms these days appear to be more set up for socializing and entertainment than for sleep. Follow these tips to set the stage in your bedroom for slumber:

For optimal sleep, improve your sleep etiquette by removing any and all clutter.

Improve your sleep etiquette by keeping your bedroom tidy and clutter-free.

  • Keep the same sleep schedule for every day of week, regardless of next day’s schedule.
  • Keep bed for sleep or sex only.
  • Use sleep medications only on a short-term basis.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark as possible and the temperature as comfortable as possible.
  • Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible.
  • Remove any and all clutter—the less stuff, the better.
  • Pets often can disrupt sleep, so it’s better to keep them out of the bedroom, if possible.
  • Buy a new mattress every 8–10 years and new pillows every 2 years.
  • Avoid restrictive, heavy bedding.
  • If your spouse has disruptive sleep patterns, you might consider sleeping separately until your sleep issues are addressed.