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It’s a Tuesday night and you’re in bed with your laptop, your iPhone buzzing from the nightstand.
You have to be up for work in six hours, but this fact is quickly lost among the thousand other thoughts running through your mind.
If this scenario seems familiar, you’re not alone. More than a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to a study released by the CDC’s Division of Population Health in February.
The survey found that almost 35% of adults get less than seven hours of sleep per night, the recommended minimum amount to reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Ana Krieger, medical director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine, says carving out the time for adequate sleep during the workweek is one of the greatest obstacles many people face.
“The biggest issue is time constraints that we have. A lot of the time, people just can’t afford to spend eight hours in bed,” she says. “But beyond that, people need to be aware of how important creating routine is to your sleep, and how beneficial this can be to optimizing the quality of the sleep time you do have.”
So, how do you get better sleep on a work night? Here are five tips from Dr. Krieger:
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1. Create a routine to help yourself wind down
Having a pre-bedtime routine is key to getting a good night’s sleep. “Insert a 10-minute period before going to sleep where you do quiet activities, decrease the light in the apartment, and maybe play some soothing music,” Krieger says.
“It’s about just getting the time to unwind a little bit in your mind, to slow down from that racing pace that we mostly live during the daytime,” she says.
Avoid working until you crash, and try to set aside this small window of time for decompressing instead.
2. Banish electronics before bed
Particularly on weeknights, when you have emails to catch up on and texts and missed calls to return, it seems impossible to be further than arm’s length from your smartphone and laptop.
We may not think about it, but using our gadgets at night can really affect sleep, Krieger says. “The screens all emit light, and that becomes quite stimulating for the brain, affecting the production of neurotransmitters, and therefore impacting our ability to sleep well.”
As much as you want to reach for your phone, try to keep the 20 minutes before bed completely electronics-free.
- Flickr/Shane Adams
3. Write down your thoughts
If you have a hard time clearing your mind of the day’s thoughts, Krieger advises keeping a blank piece of paper on your nightstand and making what she calls a “worry list.”
“This is one of the most important things for people who have a lot of content coming into their heads as they’re trying to fall asleep, like to-do lists and worries,” she says.
She says it can be beneficial to write down bullet points of your thoughts and the things you need to do in order to put them out of your mind.
- Flickr/Mish Sukharev
4. Don’t think about sleep as you’re trying to fall asleep
“One of the most basic rules is that you can’t think about sleep, because the more you worry about sleep, the worse your sleep becomes,” Krieger says.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, the worst thing you can do is get worked up about it. Becoming agitated will only keep you up longer, so take a few deep breaths and try to think about something that makes you happy instead.
If it takes some time, that’s OK. Krieger says taking 15 or 20 minutes to actually fall asleep is normal.
- Flickr/Andrew Roberts
5. Maintain a regular sleep schedule throughout the week and weekend
Extreme changes in your schedule can have a negative impact on the quality of your rest and your ability to fall asleep.
“The body’s circadian rhythm knows and recognizes the time we usually go to sleep, so it’s very important for us to try to maintain that rhythm within a 24-hour stretch,” Krieger explains.
Try to resist the urge to sleep in on Saturday morning, and instead get up within an hour of your weekday wake-up time.