Adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night to promote optimal health and well-being, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. Yet more than a third of Americans report they sleep less than that.
That’s a problem, because sleep deprivation is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, impaired cognitive functioning, mental health issues and increased motor vehicle accidents, among other issues, says Nathaniel Watson, M.D., co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center at Harborview Medical Center.
If you’re looking to improve your health, better sleep is the first step. Here’s how to get started.
Cool it in the bedroom
You might feel coziest in bed when you’re bundled up and the room is toasty, but having a cool environment is crucial to sleep, says Watson.
“Cracking a window—even in the wintertime—can help facilitate sleep,” he says.
The ideal bedroom temperature is a matter of personal preference. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a bedroom temp of 60 to 67 degrees for highest-quality sleep.
Cover the clock
You know that feeling when you wake up and glance at the clock, only to realize you only have an hour before you need to get up for work? Keeping your clock out of sight, either by turning it to face away from you or physically covering the numbers, can help you avoid the anxious feelings that come with thinking about what time it is when you’re supposed to be relaxing, says Watson.
Not knowing the time can help reinforce that it doesn’t really matter if it’s 11:30 p.m. or 4:30 a.m.—it’s just time to sleep, says Watson.
“It’s your protected time when nobody is asking anything of you and it’s your time to relax, be comfortable, and get the sleep that you need to maintain your health,” he says.
Banish tech from the bedroom
You may feel a really… intimate connection to your phone, but the bedroom should be reserved for two things: sleep and sex.
“When you begin to do other things in the bedroom, such as working or watching TV or spending time on tablets or laptops, you begin to associate the bedroom with not sleeping,” says Watson. “And that’s the first step toward having a sleep problem.”
Plus, most of our devices emit blue light, which research has linked to poor sleep quality and sleep duration. (If your phone or tablet has a blue-light blocking function, Watson recommends enabling it at night when you’re using these devices. Just be sure to do it outside your bedroom!)
Take a hot bath
Warming your body up in a hot bath can help induce sleep, studies show. It also increases deep, non-REM sleep, which is the most restorative state of sleep, says Watson. It’s not quite clear why, but the cooling that happens after a bath combined with feeling totally relaxed probably plays a role.
While the research has focused on taking a hot bath, a hot shower before bed will help too, but likely to a lesser degree, he says.
Give yourself enough time
When deciding when to hit the hay to reach your sleep duration goals, always round up. If you feel best after sleeping eight hours and you need to be up at 7 a.m., crawling in bed at 11 the night before won’t cut it, says Watson. Instead, factor in time for falling asleep and any tossing and turning you might do during the night and aim for 10 p.m. instead.
Consider swapping your blinds for blackout shades
Even a sliver of light coming through your window at night can disrupt your sleep. When it comes to dark, think pitch dark, says Watson. That means curtains or your flimsy rental blinds may not be cutting it—especially if there are street lights near your bedroom window.
The sun definitely isn’t an issue in the evening in the fall and winter months, but it could be during the summer, Watson says.
“Blackout shades are important in our area of the world, particularly in the summertime, because it stays light past what would be a typical bedtime for many people,” he says.
(Plus, those 5:15 a.m. summer sunrises might wake you up earlier than you had intended.)
Embrace white noise
It’s not so much noise itself, but spikes in sound decibels, that is disruptive to sleep, explains Watson. Abrupt sounds like a garbage truck or emergency vehicle coming by, someone yelling on the sidewalk, or a neighbor who practices his DJ skills when he gets home at 2 a.m. are all sound spikes you might encounter living in a city.
“If you have a soothing white noise machine that can drown those things out and can prevent sound spikes from happening, that’s going to help your sleep continuity,” says Watson.