If you have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or preexisting heart disease, and have trouble sleeping — either difficulty getting enough rest, or feel that you’re not getting good quality sleep — then it’s time to see a sleep specialist, says Breus. A specialist can screen you for sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome that can make it tough to get your needed rest.
If you don’t have these risk factors, it’s still important to get a good night’s snooze. While you may not necessarily need exactly eight hours of sleep every night, you do need enough so that you wake up on your own in the morning, without needing an alarm, advises Breus. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, try these strategies:
Set a consistent sleep and wake-up time. When sleep has a regular rhythm, your biological clock will be in sync and the rest of your bodily functions will run smoothly. “When a train in Grand Central is an hour late, it throws all the other trains behind it off schedule as well,” explains Breus. “The same holds true for our bodies.” Even if you go to bed a bit later — say, on the weekend — make sure that you still wake up at roughly the same time.
Drink wisely. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, put the kibosh on caffeine after 2 p.m. “Caffeine has a half-life of about eight hours,” Breus explains, so if you drink a cup of coffee at 3 p.m., you’ll still feel its effects until about 11 p.m. He also recommends having your last cocktail about three hours before bedtime: While alcohol can make you sleepy, it also keeps you from reaching the deep stages of sleep.
Exercise strategically. Staying active has been shown to improve insomnia and sleep quality in general, but try not to break a sweat right before bed, which can rev you up. Try to squeeze in your workout at least two hours before you hit the sack, advises Breus. For the best results, make sure you include both aerobic exercise and resistance training: Both promote good sleep.
Eat a light dinner. Opt for a meal that’s high in fiber and low in saturated fat. Folks who did so fell asleep faster and reported better quality sleep than when they ate a larger, higher-fat one, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Craving a snack before bedtime? Consider munching on two kiwis or sipping cherry juice. Both helped people with insomnia fall asleep and stay asleep longer, according to another 2016 study published in Advances in Nutrition.
Dim the lights. A couple hours before bedtime, limit your exposure to blue light, which comes from TV and electronic screens such as your cell phone, iPad or Kindle. It suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, says Breus. This includes outdoor lights, as well: Older adults exposed to higher levels of this type of artificial light at night were more likely to have to rely on sleep medicine to nod off, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Get your vitamin D levels checked. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to short sleep duration, especially in people over age 50, according to a 2017 study published in PLOS One. It’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B6, since it helps your body produce sleep-promoting hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, adds Breus. You can find it in fish, starchy veggies (like potatoes) and some non-citrusy fruits. (Avoid supplements, since too much vitamin B6 in them has been linked to insomnia.)