According to a 2020 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 72 percent of Americans feel tired several days a week. In this era of uncertainty, we’re increasingly reaching for sleep aids, apps, and the advice of sleep consultants. That’s turned the sleep-care business into a multibillion-dollar industry.
“There’s a big misconception that sleep is wasted time. But it is so important for the rest of our lives,” says Dr. Anne D. Bartolucci, who practices at Atlanta Insomnia & Behavioral Health Services and is the author of Better Sleep for the Overachiever. “If you’re trying to lose weight and you are sleep deprived, your fullness hormones get thrown off. With exercise, you need sleep in order to build muscle. It’s impossible to live a truly healthy life if you’re not getting enough sleep.”
For better sleep (ideally, seven or eight hours of it), she offers these recommendations: Avoid caffeine after lunch, don’t go to bed hungry or full, and wake up at the same time every day. She also suggests being mindful about when you exercise. “Research says the best time to exercise is in the morning,” she says. “But if your only time is in the evening and it doesn’t affect your sleep, then it’s better to do it at the wrong time than not at all.”
What about naps? “For people who don’t have sleep problems, a 20- to 30-minute nap can refresh the brain,” she says. “If you wake up sluggish, it’s probably not doing you any good.”
She also suggests adjusting expectations about sleep. “We all seem to think we can just hit the bed and fall asleep. But we need transition time,” she says. “Make sure you wind down for 60 minutes with no screens. Only go to bed when you’re sleepy. If you’re lying there, awake, get up and do something relaxing. Be strict: The bed is for sleep and sex, only. You don’t want to associate your bed with sleep anxiety. And if you wake up when you roll over, it’s okay. Take it as a reset.”
Oh, and don’t wear your fitness watch. “There’s no way that thing can tell you when you’re in REM sleep. It’s not reading your brain, and it can cause more anxiety.”
This article appears in our November 2021 issue.