What You Can Do to Improve Your Sleep and Your Health

Many children and adults are not getting enough sleep.  There are always good excuses – Too much work to do!  I just got an email or text message that I need to respond to! – but the bottom line is you need more sleep and it’s much better to find ways to fall asleep naturally than to rely on sleeping pills.

improve your sleepRegardless of Your Work and Family Obligations, These are Some of the Ways That You Can Improve Your Sleep:

  • Establish a routine: Going to sleep and waking up around the same time each day helps regulate your body and promote a consistent sleep cycle.[1] Avoid sleeping late on the weekends because doing this throws a wrench into your sleep cycle, making you more tired during the week.
  • Exercise: Daily exercise has been proven to help people sleep. However, exercise right before bed is not a good idea because it can keep a person awake for longer. Studies suggest that you should exercise no later than 5 to 6 hours before your normal bedtime.
  • Finish eating 2-3 hours before bedtime: Eating a large meal before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep. Avoid drinking liquids close to bedtime to prevent trips to the bathroom during the night.[2]
  • Avoid Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol: Caffeine, which is found in coffee, chocolate, tea, and some soft drinks, keeps people awake. Smokers often experience light sleep due to nicotine, and alcohol makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep until morning.
  • Avoid naps: While you may be tired during the day, naps can interfere with getting a full night’s sleep.
  • Try some breathing exercises before going to sleep: Several breathing exercises while you are laying in bed help people relax, stop obsessive thoughts, and fall asleep.  One simple method is called 4-7-8 breathing: breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold that breath for 7 seconds, and then breathe it all out through your pursed lips for 8 seconds.  Repeat 6 times.
  • Wear a sleep mask: Research published in 2023 found that a sleep mask improves the quality of sleep and therefore helps with memory and alertness the next day[13] .  Previous research shows that sleeping in total darkness allows your body to produce as much of the hormone melatonin as possible, which is responsible for regulating your body’s internal clock, thus allowing you to sleep longer and deeper. Additionally, increasing your natural sunlight exposure throughout the day can aid sleep even more effectively. Beginning your day with sunlight will start your melatonin production sooner and will also alter the average light intensity you receive throughout the day.[3]
  • Do not take sleeping pills: There are many side effects of sleeping pills that can be dangerous, but long-term use can also cause harm. A study on the danger of sleeping pills found that people who take prescription sleep medication are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with cancer or die earlier than people who don’t take them. According to Consumer Reports, people using popular sleeping pills like Ambien fall asleep 10-20 minutes faster than placebo but only get about half an hour more sleep than if they had not taken a pill in the first place.[5] Unfortunately, the newer sleeping pill Belsomra only helps people fall asleep about 6 minutes faster and often causes extreme drowsiness the next morning.[6] A 2023 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 22 of 25 different melatonin gummy products tested had either much more (up to 347%) or much less (one had no detectable levels of melatonin, others had up to 26% less) than the dosage listed on the bottle. [7] In other words, nearly 90% of the products were mislabeled, and only 3 melatonin products contained melatonin content within 10% of the listed amount. Although 20% of the products had CBD (the active ingredient in cannabis) listed as an ingredient, all were at somewhat higher levels than listed. [7] A Canadian study discovered that of the 31 melatonin products tested, more than two-thirds of the supplements did not meet the melatonin content labeled on the bottle, with the rest having within 10% of the listed amount.[8] In addition, more than a quarter of the melatonin products in the Canadian study contained serotonin, a substance used to treat neurological disorders, which can be potentially harmful for some people, especially those also taking SSRIs (antidepressants).[8]

If You Have Sleep Apnea, There are Things You Can Do to Improve Your Condition:

  • Lose Weight: Even losing a little weight can reduce symptoms.[9]
  • Use a mouthpiece:  A dentist or orthodontist can make a custom-fit plastic device to wear in your mouth while sleeping that helps keep your airways open. Mouthpieces may need to be adjusted or replaced over time.[10]
  • Continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP): The CPAP machine blows air into your throat to keep your airways open while you sleep. The machine uses a mask that fits over your mouth and nose, or just over your nose. While studies show that CPAP masks can result in significant improvement in symptoms of sleep apnea, some people find the masks bothersome or uncomfortable.[11] CPAP treatment may cause side effects in some people, including a dry or stuffy nose, irritated skin around the face, dry mouth, and headaches.
  • Surgery: Surgery to remove tissue from the back of the throat has been used to treat severe sleep apnea. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that success rates for this surgery are rarely higher than 65% and often deteriorate with time, averaging about 50% or less over the long term.[12] More research is needed to compare surgery to the other treatments for sleep apnea.

All articles on our website have been approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

  1. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm#Tips
  2. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/healthy-sleep-tip
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997
  4. Marie Dumont, Catherine Beaulieu. Light exposure in the natural environment: Relevance to mood and sleep disorders. Sleep Medicine, 2007-09-01, Volume 8, Issue 6, Pages 557-565
  5. Carr, T. The Problem With Sleeping Pills. Consumer Reports.com. https://www.consumerreports.org/drugs/the-problem-with-sleeping-pills/. Updated December 2018.
  6. https://center4research.org/medical-care-for-adults/depression-stress-and-mental-health/is-belsomra-a-magic-sleep-pill-or-a-dangerous-one
  7. Cohen PA, Avula B, Wang Y, Katragunta K, Khan I. Quantity of Melatonin and CBD in Melatonin Gummies Sold in the US. JAMA. 2023;329(16):1401–1402. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.2296
  8. Erland LA, Saxena PK. Melatonin natural health products and supplements: presence of serotonin and significant variability of melatonin content. J Clin Sleep Med. 2017;13(2):275–281. https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.6462
  9. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea/treatment.html
  10. http://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/index.cfm/search-for-guides-reviews-and-reports/?pageaction=displayproduct&productid=684#3321
  11. Patel S, White D, Malhotra A, Stanchina M, Ayas N. Continuous positive airway pressure therapy for treating gess in a diverse population with obstructive sleep apnea. Arch Intern Med. 2003:163(5):565-571
  12. http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_surgical_procedures_sleep_apnea_000065_10.htm
  13. Greco, V., Bergamo, D., Cuoccio, P., Konkoly, K. R., Muñoz Lombardo, K., & Lewis, P. A. (2023). Wearing an eye mask during overnight sleep improves episodic learning and alertness. Sleep, 46(3), zsac305. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsac305