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3 Ways to Catch More ZZZs

Set a routine, ditch electronics and keep the room cool

A shortage of sleep can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, weaken the immune system, cause memory issues and mood changes.
A shortage of sleep can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, weaken the immune system, cause memory issues and mood changes.

A few years ago, Patricia Andrews was having trouble sleeping through the night. At least twice a week, she awoke around midnight or 2 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. 

Andrews tried going to bed earlier and adjusting the temperature in her room, but she eventually discovered the tea she drank before bed was interrupting her sleep. Now, she sticks with water and decaffeinated tea all the time.   

“I sleep through the night without problem,” said Andrews, a technical writer for Duke Clinical Research Institute.  “I feel much happier and more productive when I sleep without interruption.”

Avoiding caffeine after mid-day is one of Aatif Husain’s tips for getting a better night’s rest. Husain, a professor of neurology and doctor for the Duke Sleep Disorders Center, said the average adult should get anywhere from six to eight hours of sleep each night.

A shortage of sleep can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, weaken the immune system, cause memory issues and mood changes, Husain said.  

“Getting enough sleep is more than being well rested,” he said. “There’s hormones and chemicals that are released by our brain when we’re sleeping. You need to give your body time to release them by getting enough sleep.”

Here are three ways to get improve your sleep habits.  

Set a regular sleep schedule

Every night, Andrews watches the 10 p.m. news for the next day’s weather forecast before making her way to bed. Lights are out by 10:30 p.m., and she’s up at 5:20 a.m. to let out her chocolate lab, Cheyenne, out before getting ready for work.

The schedule allows Andrews to wake up naturally before her alarm goes off. 

“I’m not tired when I wake up,” she said. “I’m ready to move.”

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is important for circadian rhythm, the internal 24-hour clock our brain operates on. A regular sleep schedule allows our bodies to know when to be alert and sleepy. 

To help the circadian rhythm, Husain recommends having a set wind down time of at least 30 minutes before going to bed. During this time, you should do something that’s pleasurable but not overly stimulating, like watching TV. 

“What’s important is this activity should not be done in bed,” he said. “When you become drowsy you should go to bed. That way, your body only recognizes the bed as a place to sleep.”

Ditch the electronics

Sometimes, it would take Brian Bacchi an hour to fall asleep after browsing on his smartphone. 

Bacchi, a speech-language pathologist for the Duke Department of Speech Pathology & Audiology, has started charging his phone outside the bedroom to avoid distractions. 

“It was never anything important keeping me awake,” he said. “I was reading text messages and looking at Snapchat.”  

The light from phones, TVs and computers can reduce the amount of melatonin the body produces, making it difficult to go asleep, said Natina Harris, polysomnography technician for the Duke Sleep Disorders Center.

We allow our devices to consume us while getting ready for bed, which contributes to poor sleep hygiene,” she said. “Turning off my phone and not having a TV in my bedroom, allows me to associate the bedroom with sleep instead by keeping my phone away from bed.”

Keep your room cool 

Harris, who works overnight at the Duke Sleep Disorder Center, generally gets to bed as the sun comes up. 

This schedule has taught Harris the importance of keeping her room outfitted for sleep. She has black out curtains, uses a sound machine and wears ear plugs to block out noise. She also keeps her room at 68 degrees become a cooler room helps her sleep better.  

Husain recommends keeping your room between 65 and 72 degrees. 

“You don’t want to be excessively warm or cold,” he said. “If you’re not comfortable then you’re not going to be able to relax.”