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Good sleep habits can help break the pattern

You toss and turn, flipping the pillow one more time in hopes of finding the sweet spot to help you drift off to sleep. In spite of your best efforts, you still only got a few hours of sleep and woke up groggy and tired… again.

A bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling less than your best the next day. Several bad nights in a row, or an even more chronic problem with sleep, can start to impact your health and well-being.

The good news? Making a few changes throughout the day and during the few hours leading up to bedtime can help.

“Missing a few hours of sleep once in a while is uncomfortable, but it becomes a problem when an occasional lack of sleep turns into a regular occurrence,” says Dr. Michael C. Marino, medical director of Geisinger Sleep Labs. “Practicing good sleep hygiene habits can help break the pattern.”

Here's how you can get better sleep:

Turn off your electronics

The blue light from your TV, cellphone, tablet and computer are not helping you wind down at night. They're keeping you from getting the sleep you need.

Turn them off at least one hour before your normal bedtime to give your brain some downtime. Opt for reading a printed book instead. Plus, if you work on computers all day, a book will give your eyes a much-needed break.

Keep your room cool and dark

Think “cave-like” when setting the temperature and light in your room. Try to block light sources from outside (blackout curtains work great) and dim or block the light from your digital clock.

If you live in a noisy area, a noise machine, fan or an app that plays timed background noise can help you tune out the world easier so you can fall asleep.

Avoid caffeine late in the day

Most people sleep better if they limit caffeine during the afternoon and evening. If you're one of these people, you likely already know. If not, try to limit caffeine after 2 p.m. a few nights in a week and see if that helps you fall asleep easier. If it does, stick to this routine for good nights' sleep.

Remember that coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine — a piece of chocolate can derail your plan to stay caffeine-free.

Skip the nightcap

While some people have a drink before bed to relax and help them fall asleep, it actually does more harm than good. Alcohol may help you go to sleep, but it also makes it more likely that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night.

“After your body metabolizes alcohol as you sleep, you’ll experience rebound alertness that can wake you,” says Dr. Marino. “This usually affects your sleep during the second half of the night, when you should be getting restorative REM sleep.”

Exercise early in the day

Working out is a good way to keep your body healthy and primed for sleep. But only if you exercise at the right time of day.

When should you work out? It depends on your bedtime, but make sure your most vigorous workouts end several hours before bed. A workout right before bed can be energizing and make it harder to fall asleep.

Keep your bed sacred

Your bed should not be a place where you work, watch TV or snack. The only thing you should bring to bed with you, if it helps you wind down, is a printed book or magazine.

Kick the dog (or cat) out

As seemingly nice as it is to cuddle up with your dog or cat, they can be very disruptive to a good night’s sleep. Pets invade your sleeping space and may wake you earlier than needed for attention or to be fed.

Train your dog to sleep on their own in another room. They'll be happy when you wake up ready and energized for playtime or a walk! 

Develop a sleep routine

Build a routine that you keep every night. This includes going to bed at the same time and performing the same tasks – like brushing your teeth and washing your face – to cue your body that it’s time to get ready to sleep. Keep consistent sleep hours.

Wake up at the same time

As tempting as it is to sleep in on the weekend, it can disrupt your normal sleeping rhythm — and set you up for a hard week come Monday.

It’s better to wake up around the same time each day to maintain consistency. Keeping to this schedule regularly will help you form a new, healthy habit that will come naturally in no time.

Nap, if you must

If you must nap to preserve your daytime functioning, delay your bedtime by an equivalent or greater amount of time. So, if you take a one hour nap and usually try to go to bed around 10 p.m., shift your bedtime to 11 p.m.

Do this instead of trying to compensate for a bad night's sleep — that is, don’t sleep in later than normal or go to bed early the next night.

Don't spend excessive time in bed once you're awake

If you're aware that you're clearly awake, it’s time to get out of bed. Don't lay in bed and scroll on your phone or turn on the TV. Your body is trying to tell you it's time to get up and start your day!

These tips will help you get a better night's sleep and wait up feeling well rested, less stressed and overall more energized. 

“If you’re having problems with sleep for more than three weeks, or if lack of sleep interferes with your ability to function normally, contact your doctor to be evaluated,” says Dr. Marino.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Michael C. Marino, DO
Learn more about sleep services at Geisinger

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