Your better-sleep plan starts tonight (and why you need it now)

Quality rest is essential for keeping your body healthy and your brain sharp. Our expert tips will help you get the z’s you need.

Woman getting up from bed

We all know that a solid night’s sleep is important. But let’s be honest: Getting enough sleep is easier said than done. In fact, 1 in 3 adults aren’t getting the rest they need, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Are you one of them? Maybe you have trouble falling asleep. Or maybe you nod off as soon as you get in bed, but then wake up at 2 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep.

Logging seven to nine hours of sleep each night is one of the best things you can do to keep your body healthy and your brain sharp. Learn why — and how you can get the rest you need.

Did you know that access to BrainHQ may be included with your Medicare Advantage plan? Check your eligibility today.

How sleep impacts your body and your brain

Your body performs tasks that keep you healthy while you snooze. Blood pressure and stress hormones drop at night, and your blood sugar levels regulate, for example. And when you don’t get enough shut-eye, your health can suffer. Over time, poor-quality sleep increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

But did you know that your brain also works while you sleep? It might seem like your brain is doing nothing — after all, you’re blissfully unaware. But it turns out your brain is very busy.

One important activity that happens is your brain rehearses what you’ve learned during the day. This helps turn short-term memories into long-term memories. Scientists can see the same brainwaves that occur while you’re learning during the day repeating themselves at super-speed while you sleep.

Also, your brain cleans the fluid that it floats in while you slumber. This ensures you start the next morning fresh and ready for the cognitive challenges of the day.

If you get poor sleep, you can experience memory loss, slower decision-making, and a harder time with attention. Ready to do your brain a favor? Try these simple tips to help you get more consistent, quality sleep every night.

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Sleep-better tip: Wake up at a regular time

Begin your day by getting up at a regular time — preferably all seven days of the week — and don’t hit the snooze button, suggests psychologist Whitney Roban, Ph.D. She’s the founder of Solve Our Sleep, a company that helps adults and kids achieve better sleep.

“Get up right away and try to get natural sunlight if you can, or any kind of light, to let your body know it’s a new day,” she says.

Waking up at a regular time each morning helps set your body’s circadian rhythm. That’s the 24-hour biological clock that helps your body perform key functions. Having a regular schedule cues your body to be awake and alert during the day and then feel tired at night.

Sleep-better tip: Stay active throughout the day

Regular exercise can help you burn off energy and feel tired enough to drift off at night. So, try moving more — and more often, if you can, suggest Roban. And you don’t have to join a gym: Research shows that any moderate exercise can help improve sleep quality. Activities like brisk walking, dancing, and swimming are all good options.

Sleep-better tip: Avoid caffeine after lunch

If you love a good cup of coffee or two in the morning, go for it. But try not to consume caffeine after about 2 p.m. That’s because caffeine is a stimulant, and it can keep you up many hours after you drink it.

Sleep-better tip: Set time during the day to collect your thoughts

Many people simply can’t get to sleep at night because they’re stressed out. You end up lying awake in bed, worrying about an appointment you have the next morning, a bill that’s overdue, or a fight you had with your spouse.

Try setting some “worry time” aside during the day instead, suggests Roban. Dedicate 10 or 15 minutes to planning for the next day or thinking through any problems you’ll face.

“Anything that’s bogging down your mind, get it on paper, so your brain has time to process it before you go to bed,” she says. Bonus points if you can fit in some exercise while you’re problem solving.

Sleep-better tip: Skip the nightcap

Yes, a glass of wine or a beer late in the evening may help you fall asleep. But it can actually keep you from sleeping soundly, says Lauri Leadley. She’s a certified clinical sleep educator at Valley Sleep Center in Phoenix.

Late-night alcohol has a sedative effect because it disrupts the brain’s natural stages of sleep. And that affects the brain’s ability to support better health and memory. The other downside of drinking any liquid in the evening is that you might need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Sleep-better tip: Avoid big meals three hours before bed

That way, your body has time to focus on preparing for sleep instead of digesting what you’ve eaten. Eating too close to bedtime can also make acid reflux worse, according to the Sleep Foundation. And that can disrupt your slumber.

Sleep-better tip: Cue your brain that it’s time for bed

Going to sleep is a learned behavior. And just like any other habit, you need practice to get good at it. Setting the same bedtime helps your brain learn that it’s time to go to sleep. Making a little ritual — whether it’s putting on your pajamas, having a small glass of milk, or reading a few chapters of a book — cues your brain that it’s time to power down.

A better night’s sleep is in your power. Put in a little bit of work today, and you’ll soon be hitting your sleep goals every night. Sweet dreams!

Looking for more ways to build a healthy brain? Try BrainHQ, a brain-training program designed by leading scientists that rewires the brain to help you think faster, focus better, and remember more. And it may be included at no cost with your Medicare Advantage plan. Check your eligibility today.

Additional sources
How much sleep you need: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Health effects of poor sleep: Academy of Sleep Medicine
Sleep and cognitive health: JAMA Open Network
Sleep stages and alcohol: Sleep Foundation
Reflux: Sleep Foundation