woman sleeping

8 Tips to Sleep Better and Wake Up Refreshed

Private: Stuart F. Quan, MD
Contributor Stuart F. Quan, MD

Healthy eating and physical exercise are essential to good health, but many of us overlook the importance of sleep. Inadequate sleep can affect mood, disrupt concentration, and upset hormones that regulate weight.

“Sleep deficiency may also increase the risk for diabetes, atherosclerosis and some forms of cancer,” says Stuart F. Quan, MD, clinical director of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

How can you get better sleep?

Dr. Quan cares for patients with sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy. Below are tips he shares with patients for sleeping better.

1. Make a commitment to sleep better

Developing healthy sleeping habits starts with commitment. Tell a friend or loved one that you are making sleep a priority. Telling others will keep you accountable and make you more likely to stick with your goal.

2. Establish a bedtime routine

Establishing regular sleep habits can be just as important as how long you sleep. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, even on weekends.

“In terms of how long you should sleep, there’s variability from person to person, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends that you get at least seven hours of sleep a night,” says Dr. Quan.

3. Create a sleep-friendly environment

Your room should be completely dark while sleeping. Position your bed away from windows and try blackout curtains, or use an eye mask, if the sun wakes you up early in the morning.

“Make sure your sleeping environment is quiet. If you live in an urban area or have noisy neighbors, use a white noise machine, which can counteract ambient sounds,” says Dr. Quan.

Turn off your cell phone before bed, or activate the ‘do not disturb’ setting. In general, try not to use electronics in bed.

4. Keep your bedroom cool

Aim to keep your bedroom between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Find the temperature that’s right for you.

5. Exercise regularly

Most studies show that regular exercise three-to-four times a week helps improve sleep. It’s usually best to exercise in the morning or afternoon. If you exercise at night, try not to exercise within 2 hours of bedtime, as the adrenaline boost from your workout may disrupt your sleep.

6. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime

Avoid eating a heavy meal before bed. This includes foods high in carbohydrates, which may lead to heartburn or bloating. Both of these can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep.

7. Morning light exposure

Exposing yourself to sunlight each morning will help keep you alert throughout the day. It will also help keep your sleep schedule regular, says Dr. Quan.

In the winter, try sitting in front of a light therapy box for 30 minutes. In the summer, go for a walk in the morning. Leave your sunglasses in your pocket to expose your eyes to the light.

8. Limit nicotine and caffeine

The nicotine in cigarettes increases heart rate and brain activity and can disrupt your sleep. If you are having trouble quitting, you may want to try a smoking cessation program.

“Caffeine is a stimulant and stays active in the body for roughly 6 hours. If you drink coffee at 5 p.m., it’s still having an effect at 10 p.m. when you go to bed. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, stop drinking coffee or soda around lunchtime,” says Dr. Quan.

In this video, Stuart F. Quan, MD, clinical director of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disorders at the Brigham, provides tips to help you sleep better.

Private: Stuart F. Quan, MD
Stuart F. Quan, MD

Stuart F. Quan, MD, Clinical Director of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Before you go,

Sleep plays a key role in your overall health. Learn about the relationship between sleep and certain health conditions and get tips for better sleep tonight. Read more sleep articles.