Not Catching Enough Zs? Here's How to Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep
Not getting enough sleep seriously messes with your waking life. You may feel sluggish and unproductive or more prone to mindless snacking because it throws off your hunger hormone. Nearly one in three adults is not sleeping the 7 to 9 hours the CDC recommends due to trouble falling or staying asleep. How to fall asleep and stay asleep is more complicated than it seems in our stressful, busy lives.
“Difficulty staying asleep is one of the most common types of insomnia,” says Dr. David Neubauer, M.D., a psychiatrist and sleep specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Why Is It Hard to Stay Asleep?
“Sleep is a biological need,” says Dr. Khurshid A. Khurshid, an M.D. specializing in psychiatry and sleep medicine at the University of Massachusetts. However, maintaining sleep is a highly complex process influenced by internal and external factors, from anxiety to circadian rhythms.
“The average sleep cycle is around 90 minutes,” says Khurshid. On a good’s night sleep, adults will have somewhere between four to six sleep cycles. “Some people may briefly wake up between them but usually won’t remember it.” It may even be OK to wake up a few times, but if it takes you longer than 20 minutes to fall back to sleep, that’s a sign of difficulty staying asleep.
Some restlessness is easily remedied with simple lifestyle changes, but sleep disorders may require visiting a doctor. “Many times, people are unintentionally doing things that mess with their sleep,” says Khurshid. “Paying attention to the importance of sleep helps.”
What Are Some Tips on How to Stay Asleep?
Good sleep hygiene can improve your overall sleep quality and your ability to stay asleep. Here are some tips on how to fall asleep and stay asleep.
1. Move more during waking hours
Working out can help you sleep better because, along with tiring you out, it can help manage the underlying reasons waking you up, such as stress or anxiety. “Both physical activity and outdoor light exposure during the daytime can enhance nighttime sleep,” says Neubauer.
2. Stay hydrated during the day
Getting up every half hour to pee? “Don’t drink large amounts of liquids in the evening, but don’t restrict fluids for hours before bedtime either,” says Neubauer. “Remember, our brains are mostly water. We want our brains to function well to perform the nighttime goal of good sleep.”
3. Get blackout curtains
“Sleep in a dark room,” says Neubauer. If street lights shine through your window at night or sunshine streams through very early in the morning, blackout curtains or a sleep mask are products designed for better sleep.
4. Don’t check your phone at 4 a.m.
“If you wake up during the night, resist checking your phone for emails and social media updates,” says Neubauer. “The content can be mentally stimulating, and the light can suppress melatonin, both making it harder to return to sleep.” Blue light often disturbs your sleep.
5. Try a weighted blanket
If you’re waking up panic-stricken from nightmares, anxiety and stress are possible sleep disruptors. “Some people find weighted blankets to be miraculous cures for their sleep problems, and others don’t,” says Neubauer. However, hard data on their effectiveness is sparse.
6. Wear earplugs
“As we sleep, our internal drive to sleep diminishes,” explains Neubauer, “making us less resistant to anything that might wake us up.” This explains why you can fall asleep to sirens driving past at night but wake up to birds chirping in the morning. Earplugs can help tune out noisy neighbors or a garbage truck wake-up call.
7. Get out of bed
Yes, this one may seem counterintuitive, but if you’ve been tossing and turning, continuing the cycle of worrying about not sleeping isn’t going to break it. The recommendation is to get out of bed and do a calming activity, such as reading or meditation and then try sleeping again.