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How to get better sleep

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A full night's sleep is a wonderful thing. It improves our memory and brain performance, enhances our physical health and makes us more attentive to the people around us. Well, even if you know all that, actually getting enough can be tricky. So to help you sleep better, longer and more deeply, NPR's Life Kit has created a special newsletter series. And NPR's Clare Marie Schneider has a few tips.

CLARE MARIE SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: Do you have a wind-down routine? Rethinking what we do before sleep and how we set up our environment can help us prepare for bedtime. If you don't have a wind-down routine, Allison Harvey, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of California Berkeley, recommends trying one out.

ALLISON HARVEY: During that wind-down period, if we can switch off a sense of any threat that's mounted from the day and stress, that will support our sleep.

SCHNEIDER: If you're finding yourself stressed about the day ahead, Harvey recommends doing a little problem solving, but before the lights go out. So grab a pen and paper and make a to-do list for the next day with the specific steps you'll take tomorrow.

HARVEY: You're not going to actually solve the problem tonight. You're just going to talk about the next step because once people get into too much problem solving, that becomes arousing.

SCHNEIDER: Another thing to consider when preparing for sleep is the light in your environment. Dimming lamps and overhead lighting won't just set the mood. It also plays a biological role.

HARVEY: The brain releases melatonin, but only under conditions of dim lights. So that's why, about an hour before bed, just dimming those lights, and then the melatonin can release. We get that cascade of biology that really supports our sleep.

SCHNEIDER: Then, of course, there's technology. How does it hinder our sleep? The guidance is pretty clear. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends getting off screens at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed. But in practice, it's not always so easy.

FARIHA ABBASI-FEINBERG: We are all, you know, attached to our screens at this point. You know, I think in an ideal world, yes, you have a wind-down routine that does not include screens.

SCHNEIDER: That's Dr. Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, a sleep specialist and medical director based in Florida. She says she tries to meet her patients where they are. Sometimes that looks like trying to minimize digital disturbances. She says if she has a patient who says they need the TV on to fall asleep, she might suggest lowering the volume. Or...

ABBASI-FEINBERG: Can you put those eye masks on? - because the flickering of the light is more bothersome than maybe the sound of it is. I have to meet people where they are and then help them adjust their screen use so that it works for them.

SCHNEIDER: But if you think you have an underlying sleep condition, it's best to see a sleep specialist. Michael Grandner, a psychologist and sleep researcher at the University of Arizona, says these are a few signs that you might be struggling with insomnia.

MICHAEL GRANDNER: It takes you at least a half an hour to fall asleep, if you're struggling for more than a half an hour during the night, or you're waking up more than a half an hour before you want to start your day, and - there's a struggle to sleep. You're not getting the sleep that you feel like you need.

SCHNEIDER: But if you just want to feel more alert and minimize those groggy days, Abbasi-Feinberg says to start by emphasizing one or two small habits to change.

ABBASI-FEINBERG: I sort of love to look at it as we all do little, tiny experiments in our life every day, right? Every day of our lives is the chance to experiment with something.

SCHNEIDER: So try one of these tips and see how you feel. Clare Marie Schneider, NPR News.

SHAPIRO: And to sign up for more tips from Life Kit's sleep newsletter, go to npr.org/sleepweek. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Clare Schneider