How To Get Better Sleep

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just sleep and get healthier? Well you can. We all know we should eat better, get more active, de-stress, but often we forget that we need to SLEEP!

Why is sleep so important?  Poor sleep is associated with weight gain, depression, worse mood, decreased energy, poor attention, and decreased ability to handle stress.  Also, most of your gains from exercise occur during sleep when your body is recovering and rebuilding from a hard workout.  Gwen Jorgenson (women’s Olympic Gold medal winning triathlete) sleeps 40-50% of her life while training.  This also allows you physically and mentally be able to go out there and do the hard workouts.

But won’t I gain weight if I sleep more?  No. When do you weigh the least? First thing in the morning. Why?  Because you’ve been FASTING for hours, but your body is still BURNING calories (basal metabolic rate).  Just from this standpoint alone you can lose weight by sleeping more.  Also, when you are sleep deprived your pleasure centers are activated and you seek out ‘reward’ type foods (ie I stayed up all night doing ‘whatever’ so I DESERVE this Little Debbie snack cake).  In a study, people who were sleep deprived ate more while awake and ate more the next day as well.  Not only are your pleasure centers activated, but your willpower is down as well.

Well, how much sleep do people need?  The average is 7-9 hours—less as you get older.  There is a way to test yourself to see what your optimal sleep time is. To do this you’ll need a few days where you can sleep at home. First, sleep with no alarm clock for 2 nights. These nights are to catch up on bad sleep and fatigue. Next, to see how much sleep you really need, go to bed at a reasonable time (not late) and without using an alarm, note the time that you wake up and that duration will be the typical amount of sleep you need.

Try These 10 Simple Steps To Better Sleep

How can I sleep better?  Here are 10 simple steps to better sleep:

  1. Set up a time to go to sleep.  The earlier the better.  Remember tomorrow starts today (or tonight)!
  2. Get up early. It will help tire you out so you can go to bed.
  3. Don’t take naps. Remember what we all used to do when our little kids started to doze off in the afternoon?  We’d wake them up!  If they napped they’d never go to sleep that night and thus keep us up!  We need to treat ourselves the same way.
  4. Get exercise. Do as much as you can. Tire yourself out. You’ll sleep deeper as well.
  5. Sleep in a cool room. This sounds counter-intuitive, but the optimal temperature for good sleep is 65-68 F! They actually sell cooling mats and air blowers to cool you down while sleeping because of this fact. If you get a fan or air blower it should be a mutual decision between you and your spouse.
  6. Off load your racing mind. David Allen, an efficiency expert recommends that you leverage whatever organizational system you have to jot down notes (pen and pad) or type notes into your device so that you don’t try and remember things that will not only keep you awake, but lead to other work related thoughts that will also keep you awake.  De-stress, off load, let your system (manual or computerized) remember things for you.
  7. Bright lights during the day, dark at night. Darkness helps produce melatonin. Even a night light will affect your sleep.
  8. Avoid blue lights from electronic devices. These drop melatonin. The bed should only really be for sleep, not news, TV, or social media.
  9. Avoid social media or the news before bedtime. Both are highly likely to make you mad and less able to calm down and sleep. A recent study on teens mood showed that social media hurt girls in 2 main ways—bullying and interruption of sleep! Social media did not have a big impact on young boys.
  10. Don’t drink caffeinated drinks. Sure, coffee or energy drinks may give you a boost first thing in the morning, but they are all accompanied by a drop in energy a few hours later and can affect the quality of your sleep at night. If you must drink caffeine, make sure you don’t drink any caffeine after noon. It takes close to 12 hours for your body to metabolize and remove caffeine from your system. So that mid-afternoon iced tea will affect your ability to fall asleep at 11 pm. As well, even if you’re one of those people who can fall asleep fine even after drinking caffeine, studies have found that caffeine affects your ability to fall into the REM stage of sleep so even if you sleep through the night, you’re not getting quality sleep.

Natural Supplements To Help You Sleep

So, what do can you do if you just can’t sleep and need some help?  There are several medications that could help. I recommend these natural ones.

Melatonin has been shown to help people FALL asleep.  You will become tolerant in several months so best not to use it every day or for long periods of time.

Try tryptophan to stay asleep.  Tryptophan is the amino acid in turkey that is famous for putting non-vegetarians to sleep on Thanksgiving (it’s not the football games)! If your problem is not getting to sleep but staying asleep then this is something to consider. Once again this should not be a long-term solution.

Both melatonin and tryptophan are natural supplements that come in pill form that can be purchased in the natural health section of most stores or on Amazon.

Try to avoid prescription medications such as Ambien as they can become addictive and are known to have harmful side effects—such as memory loss, daytime fatigue, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts

Medical Conditions That Cause Bad Sleep

Now if you still can’t sleep or have bad sleep there are several medical conditions that you should be aware of.

If you wake up because you can’t breathe you may have congestive heart failure.  Laying down causes more fluid distribution blocking more of your lung surface and more shortness of breath. This is called paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND). Go see your doctor for a solution because this is serious.

You might also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.  Are you overweight, do you snore, do you nod off when you sit down, do you not feel refreshed after sleeping?  If so then you may have sleep apnea and could benefit from a CPAP breathing machine and from weight loss. To determine if you have sleep apnea, see a doctor and schedule a sleep study which will determine how bad your sleep apnea is and whether you need a CPAP machine or not. Some mild cases of sleep apnea can be helped by an oral appliance, which is a mouthguard type device that keeps your lower jaw in a forward position and keeps your tongue from falling back and causing an obstruction. Oral appliances can be obtained from a dentist, not a doctor so Google a dentist who can make one for you if your dentist can’t.

Good Sleep Equals Better Health

In the end, if you aren’t sleeping well, learn as much as you can about this topic and develop a strategy to get better sleep. The simple act of getting good sleep will help you eat better, get healthier and perform better mentally and emotionally throughout the day.

Sweet dreams everyone!

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Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

  1. Dear Dr.Harvey Hahn, you are amazing! With great interest I red all of your advice for getting a quality sleep and I shall start right away to work on your suggestions. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
    I suffer insomnia already since a very long time and I hope your recommended advice will cure my problem.
    With sincere appreciation –
    Martha F. [email protected]

  2. I have burning feet when I go to bed. It lasts for about 2 hours and keeps me awake. My Primary doc has scheduled bloodwork for me next week as my “foot doctor” said I have neroptrophy. (2 different docs), My primary doc said burning soles of the feet could be diabetes 2. Now, I am worried.

    1. What you describe is a symptom of diabetes but it could be something else. It’s a good thing that you are getting blood work next week. We wish you all the best. Even if it isn’t diabetes, it’s always a good idea to eat better, exercise and work to prevent (or reverse) diabetes.

  3. Thank You so much. I need to go to bed sooner due to personal reasons and I’ve been struggling to fall asleep before 12. This article was really helpful, and I enjoyed reading it.

  4. I love reading your article, as a person who always sleeps late it kinda affect my body clock, But I will try to use these method.

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