- One to three Americans don’t get enough uninterrupted shut-eye to maintain and protect their health.
- Avoid caffeine in the eight hours before you plan to go to bed.
- Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, brisk walking or swimming, has been shown to help improve sleep.
- Common sleep problems like insomnia, can often be solved without technology.
Do you have difficulty falling asleep at night? Do you wake up, adjust your pillow, and stare at the ceiling, hoping to fall back asleep? You might depend on caffeine to stay alert at work or collapse for a nap as soon as you get home. If any of these are true, you probably aren’t surprised to hear that you’re just not getting enough sleep.
You are not alone. While the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 get seven to nine hours of sleep a night (seven to eight for those 65 and older), an estimated one in three Americans don’t get enough uninterrupted shut-eye to maintain and protect their health.1
Is technology the answer to our sleep problems?
Could a high-tech solution like a wearable device or sleep app solve the problem? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Specific technology is the best answer for some problems, such as the common condition called obstructive sleep apnea.
Ricardo, 43, fell asleep while driving home from work one day. He dozed for a few seconds and woke up just as his car crossed the center line. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic, but this frightening event prompted him to see his doctor and participate in a sleep study that showed a common problem, obstructive sleep apnea.
Today, Ricardo uses a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device, which keeps him breathing throughout the night, preventing the micro-awakenings that were sapping his energy during the day. Talk to your doctor about sleep apnea and other physical causes if you are constantly tired or sleepy.
Common sleep problems like insomnia, however, can often be solved without technology. You may be tempted to order a white-noise machine or download the latest app, but I’d like to suggest trying something else first: developing healthy sleep habits, also called good sleep hygiene.
Why? Sleep patterns based on healthy habits don’t depend on whether your phone is charged, you’re wearing a device, or your subscription is paid up. In fact, you don’t even have to own a smartphone. This makes sleep hygiene an accessible solution for everyone. Read on for a tech-free, whole-person approach to healthy sleep.
Replace old habits with new ones
Stephanie, 52, has had difficulty sleeping well for several months. She is often sleepy during the day at her job as a customer service manager. Coffee is a must in the morning and after lunch. After work, she eats dinner at home and watches a few episodes of a favorite show while texting with friends or scrolling her social media feeds. She sometimes has a couple of glasses of wine to relax before bed.
Here’s what I would suggest that Stephanie try to improve her sleep.
Tips for better sleep
- Avoid caffeine in the eight hours before you plan to go to bed.2
- Avoid alcohol in the three hours before bedtime.2
- Get some exercise every day. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like brisk walking, swimming, or even mowing the lawn, has been shown to help improve sleep.3
- For the last hour before bed, put your phone away and turn off the TV.4
Ending screen time an hour before bed means no scrolling social media feeds, texting, or watching TV, and definitely no answering work emails.
Figure out how much sleep you need
Sleep habits are intended to help you get the amount of sleep your body and brain need. Remember when you had a bedtime? The Sleep Foundation’s sleep calculator can help you set one again. Enter your age range and the time you want to wake up and receive two optimal bedtimes that will allow you to complete four or five full sleep cycles. (Adults need to go through four to six complete sleep cycles each night.)
Create the best environment for sleep
For many of us, the bedroom is a catchall space. Laundry, books, electronics, and personal care items all vie for space everywhere from the nightstand to the floor. The cluttered appearance is anything but restful.
For better sleep and whole-person health, give your sleeping environment some tender loving attention. If pets sleep in the room with you – something most health experts recommend against, but we know is a reality for many – make sure their beds and other areas are clean and fresh.
Keep the bedroom cool, add shades or blinds to block out noise and light at night, and if possible, remove the TV and any other electronics. Clean the room at least weekly, including washing and changing bedding to reduce dust and allergens.
Manage your mind
Or rather, what goes into it, especially near bedtime. Social media and streaming entertainment provide us with a dazzling parade of images and ideas, but those aren’t conducive to calming your mind, body, or spirit. Learn how your emotions can affect your sleep negatively or positively.
What prepares your mind for rest?
- Non-digital content.
- Images of nature.
- Light or relaxing reading material.
- Spiritual activity and connection.
You might enjoy coloring, working with fabric, reading a book, or writing in a gratitude journal. Listening to music is a great choice, too.
Some more unorthodox choices can also be uplifting. Jason takes out the trash each night. Once the chore is done, he takes a few moments to look up at the sky and enjoy the fresh air (from the cover of the porch if it’s raining). A few minutes of focus on something bigger than himself puts worries in perspective.
Be intentional with your evening hours
Have you heard about revenge bedtime procrastination? Even if you haven’t, you may have justified staying up late or spending time online after work or putting the kids to bed “to have some time to myself.”
If you’re a working adult, you may be juggling responsibilities for children and other family members, pets, and a job or career. The evening hours can seem like your only option for doing some shopping, catching up on social media, or doing chores.
Here is where self-care becomes truly important. First, try planning your evening hours. They are a valuable time of rest and preparation for sleep. Set a cutoff time when your day actually ends, and make it at least an hour before you want to go to sleep. Do the kids have a bedtime? Use the sleep calculator above to set one for them, too.
Finally, decide when you are going to take care of chores, any work emails, and other apparent “musts.” Divide any household to-dos among family members. When your stop time comes, just stop. Someone who needs a certain shirt for the next day may need to wash or iron it on their own. After all, you need your rest.
American Sleep Apnea Association. The state of sleep health in America 2023. Available at https://www.sleephealth.org/sleep-health/the-state-of-sleephealth-in-america/. Accessed September 1, 2023.
Livingston, M. Three drinks you should avoid before bed. CNET. December 20, 2022. Available at https://www.cnet.com/health/sleep/3-drinks-you-should-avoid-before-bed/. Accessed September 1, 2023.
Johns Hopkins Medicine Health. Exercising for better sleep. Available at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and- prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep. Accessed September 1, 2023.
Pacheco D, Truong K. How electronics affect sleep. Available at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-electronics-affect-sleep. Accessed September 1, 2023.