Getting to sleep seems like something that should come naturally to us. But far too often it's a challenge to get those quality ZZZs.
If you find yourself tossing and turning in bed or falling asleep only to wake up again a few hours later, setting a few bedtime rules might help, Dr. Craig Canapari, a pulmonologist and director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center, tells TODAY.com.
For him, that starts with having a consistent bedtime that allows enough time to get a full night's sleep — plus a solid amount of buffer time to doze off. "It's totally normal to spend 30 minutes or more, falling asleep," Canapari explains. "So you actually have to let yourself have a little bit more of an opportunity to get enough sleep at night."
That might mean you need to start your bedtime routine even earlier than you think or you run the risk of "chronically shortchanging your sleep," he says.
Of course, we're all human and life gets in the way sometimes. But sticking to your routine as consistently as possible should help you get better sleep and wake up feeling rested.
Here are a few other things that Canapari does to ensure he regularly gets good quality sleep.
I never take my phone into the bedroom with me.
Keeping technology out of the bedroom is a big piece of protecting your sleep, Canapari says. That's because looking at the light from your phone or tablet can affect melatonin and throw your sleep schedule out of whack, he explains.
But it's also because scrolling through Twitter, watching an exciting TV show or reading anxiety-inducing emails probably isn't going to help you fall asleep. Apps like TikTok are also "calibrated to give these really short bursts of media back to back and tend to be incredibly engaging and difficult to unplug from," he says.
I never skip my bedtime routine — even on weekends.
Even if you don't keep a strict bedtime every night, "humans of all ages benefit from a clear demarcation or a transitional period" into sleep," Canapari says.
First, he recommends trying to start your routine every night at about the same time during the week and over the weekend.
The second component is transitioning from more energizing activities to relaxing activities that can help you wind down. "That means hopping off of YouTube or Netflix and maybe reading a book or talking with your spouse," he says.
The goal is to have a specific moment in the evening where you tell yourself, "I'm not doing work anymore. I'm not I'm not trying to get anything done for the next day. I'm starting this process which is going to result in me falling asleep," Canapari says.
I never drink caffeine after noon.
The energizing effects of that daily coffee or tea might affect people differently, lasting just a few hours for some or up to 10 or 12 hours for others. So, if you have caffeine later in the day, you might find that it keeps you too alert when you're trying to fall asleep.
That's why Canapari says he's "just better off" avoiding caffeine after noon and says that, "for most people, that's a pretty safe bet."
One thing to keep in mind: If you feel like you regularly need caffeine in the afternoon to get you through the day despite getting a full night's sleep, there might be something else going on, Canapari says. That could be a sign that you're dealing with an issue like sleep apnea that's actually affecting the quality of sleep you're getting during the night.
I don't eat for a few hours before bedtime.
Eating too close to your bedtime is "totally killer for sleep quality," Canapari says. "It just destroys it."
Of course, it's not always possible, but "on an average night, I really actually try to finish eating about at least three hours before I go to bed," he explains.
And, after seeing the effects drinking has on his sleep, Canapari also limits his alcohol intake to just one or two nights per week. "If you're struggling with sleep and you're feeling tired during the day, try limiting your alcohol consumption," he suggests.
I don't obsess over my sleep tracker.
If you're interested in improving your sleep, measuring it with some kind of sleep-tracking device can be really helpful, Canapari says, noting that his tracker helped him recognize the impact that drinking was having on his sleep. (And if you're in the market for a sleep training app, he recommends checking out Insomnia Coach from the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs.)
But it's important not to get too lost in the data, he emphasizes. For some people, an intense focus on getting a perfect sleep score — an emerging condition termed orthosomnia — actually fuels anxiety and may make sleep worse.
Just remember that, even if you're keeping track of your sleep, "you don't have to look at the data every day," Canapari says. "You can take a break from monitoring it."