Did you know that it’s ballparked that 70 million Americans are dealing with chronic sleep deprivation — something that negatively affects our mental and physical health, our ability to perform at work, exercise, drive a car safely, and so much more? Crazy huh?
Sleep is the foundation of health, but it’s something that so many of us struggle with (over 20 percent of us!). A good sleep schedule can be the make-or-break factor for quite literally any of your health goals… So how do we make sure we get our nightly restoration back on track and then keep it there? For something this big, we called in the big guns: sleep and mental health expert Alex Dimitriu, MD, a dual board-certified physician in both psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.
Dr. Dimitriu kindly shared the biggest dos and don’ts in the sleep medicine world.
The Six Dos For Your Best Night’s Sleep
DO: Get Out and Exercise
Your healthy sleep starts when you wake up! “Get vertical — and exercise during the day,” says Dr. Dimitriu. “Being active, ideally outdoors, and getting exercise always helps people blow off steam and get better sleep at night,” he says. You heard the man; go get yourself outdoors for a sweat session right now. Tip: open the FitOn app to easily bring a guided workout outside!
DO: Keep Your Bedroom Cool and Dark
If you’ve been tempted to get some blackout curtains or a window AC unit, consider this the green light… from an MD! “Keep your bedroom cool and dark,” says Dr. Dimitriu. The “lower temperatures and lighter sheets will help your body temperature drop (as it naturally should during the night), and this deepens sleep,” he explains. In addition, creating a dark space (this means no blue light from your phone, TV, or tablet!) signals your brain that it’s time for Zzzs.
Meditation is great for so many reasons, but it’s particularly effective for getting better sleep. “Learn to meditate, and return the ‘monkey mind’ to silence,” says Dr. Dimitriu, who advises the practice of “returning to your breath,” can be a profound tool for your sleep quality. It also will come in handy when you’re tossing and turning. “Practice meditation by day, so you are better at night [on nights] when you can’t sleep,” he says. If you are struggling to fall asleep, or you’ve woken up in the middle of the night, he says to use meditation. “At best, you fall back asleep; at worst, you have a good meditation.” Browse the FitOn meditation category to find plenty of relaxing before-bed meditations.
Another activity that may help your brain wind down: getting into a good book. “Get back to reading,” advises Dr. Dimitriu. “A good book in a dimly lit room is the best activity to ease yourself to bed.” (It’s better for your sleep than scrolling through TikTok for hours, that’s for sure!)
DO: Use Visualization
Whether you’re struggling to nod off or you’re jolted awake at midnight, Dr. Drimitriu has a useful tool for getting back to your slumber. “Use visualization to fall back asleep,” he says. “Recent studies show that since dreaming is visual, practicing visual imagery before bed can help you get to sleep faster.” Visualize something peaceful, and sooner than later, you’ll be counting sheep, he says.
DO: Have Patience
Be gentle with yourself; this is a process, and it can be tough to undo chronic sleep deprivation. “Have patience,” says Dr. Dimitriu. “It takes more than one night of sleep to feel better; Give it a week.” And just remember, nothing good happens in a day. “It’s like the gym; you don’t get fit in one day, and lack of immediate results is no reason to quit!”
The 4 Don’ts For Better Sleep
DO NOT: Get Too Excited Before Bed
Too much mental or physical stimulation before bedtime can make it harder to drift off when your head hits the pillow. Perhaps most obviously, this means no “phones, laptops, or tablets,” right before bed, and nothing interactive (he says anything interactive makes it hard to fall asleep. This can also mean sticking to morning workouts, as Dr. Dimitriu says, exercise is too exciting before sleep, too, and if you can help it, no arguments before bed, either.
DO NOT: Grab Your Phone When You Wake Up
What’s the very first thing you do when your alarm goes off in the morning? Do you grab your phone and open an app? Is it… email? Texts and Whatsapp? Instagram? Dr. Dimitriu says it’s time to kick that habit. “If you wake up and grab your phone,” he says, it can be detrimental to your mind’s perception of sleep time and wake time. “Teach your body to wake up slowly, not jump right into work,” he advises.
DO NOT: Nap (Six Hours Before Bedtime)
Napping can be great — but for too long or too close to your bedtime, can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Dr. Dimitriu’s cardinal naptime rules: “30 minutes maximum, not within six hours of bedtime.” So if your bedtime is 10 pm, you can nap from 3:30-4, but no later.
DO NOT: Drink Caffeine After Noon
Don’t kill the messenger, but those 3 pm espresso shots to get you through the afternoon slump? Not so good for your sleep. Drinking coffee or caffeine too late in the day can interfere with sound sleep, says Dr. Dimitriu. “It takes your body about six hours to clear half the caffeine you drink,” he explains, so “No caffeine past noon.” Get those iced coffees in early, folks!
Get Your Best Night’s Sleep Every Single Night
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night or simply going to bed way too late and not getting enough shut-eye, it may be time to give your sleep routine an upgrade. Give these expert-approved sleep tips a try and see what they can do for your sleep routine. Sleep is a foundation of wellness, so don’t underestimate the power of good, restorative sleep!