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Strategies for Getting Enough Sleep

You can take steps to improve your sleep habits. First, make sure that you allow yourself enough time to sleep. With enough sleep each night, you may find that you're happier and more productive during the day.

Sleep often is the first thing that busy people squeeze out of their schedules. Making time to sleep will help you protect your health and well-being now and in the future.

To improve your sleep habits, it also may help to:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. For children, have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine. Don't use the child's bedroom for timeouts or punishment.
  • Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock's sleep–wake rhythm.
  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it's time to be awake.
  • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (Having a light snack is okay.) Also, avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
  • Avoid nicotine (for example, cigarettes) and caffeine (including caffeinated soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate). Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and both substances can interfere with sleep. The effects of caffeine can last as long as 8 hours. So, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
  • Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is fine, if needed).
  • Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.

Napping during the day may provide a boost in alertness and performance. However, if you have trouble falling asleep at night, limit naps or take them earlier in the afternoon. Adults should nap for no more than 20 minutes.

Napping in preschool-aged children is normal and promotes healthy growth and development.

For more information about healthy sleep habits, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to Healthy Sleep."

Strategies for Special Groups

Some people have schedules that conflict with their internal body clocks. For example, shift workers and teens who have early school schedules may have trouble getting enough sleep. This can affect how they feel mentally, physically, and emotionally.

If you're a shift worker, you may find it helpful to:

  • Take naps and increase the amount of time available for sleep
  • Keep the lights bright at work
  • Limit shift changes so your body clock can adjust
  • Limit caffeine use to the first part of your shift
  • Remove sound and light distractions in your bedroom during daytime sleep (for example, use light-blocking curtains)

If you're still not able to fall asleep during the day or have problems adapting to a shift-work schedule, talk with your doctor about other options to help you sleep.

When possible, employers and schools might find it helpful to consider options to address issues related to sleep deficiency.

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February 22, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.