By MEGAN VEIRS
Published January 25, 2023
When entering a new year, many people make New Year’s resolutions in an effort to take advantage of the clean slate the new year inherently offers.
These resolutions often involve changing habits or the thought processes around what we do in our day-to-day lives. These often include exercising more, eating healthier, losing weight and reducing stress, among other worthwhile goals.
However, there is one resolution that will help with all the rest: sleep better.
“Getting more sleep on a regular schedule is the easiest way to make all your New Year’s resolutions possible,” says Amanda Hassinger, associate professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a board-certified sleep medicine specialist with UBMD Pediatrics. “Better sleep can improve all aspects of how we feel during the day. More and better sleep will give you more energy to exercise. It will make it easier to control your appetite and lose weight. Most importantly, it will allow your brain to function at a higher level with less fogginess, forgetfulness and distraction. It will be easier to think, focus and be productive.”
As for those wishing for the new year to bring less stress or improve overall happiness, sleep can help with that, too.
“There is also a strong link between the brain getting enough REM-sleep, or dream sleep, and mental health,” Hassinger says. “The brain cannot cope with complex emotions or challenges if it does not fully reset each night.”
Is sleeping more now on your list for 2023? Here’s what you need to know to get better sleep in the new year.
How much sleep do I need?
Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
“To make sure you get the seven to eight hours per night you need to be healthy, count back from when you need to wake up in the morning,” Hassinger says. “If you are up at 6 a.m., then you should be falling asleep most nights by 10-11 p.m.”
The time you fall asleep and the time you wake up should not vary by more than 30 minutes on weekends and weekdays. Consistency is key, she advises.
What if I have trouble falling asleep?
This is a common issue many people face, Hassinger says. Take a look at your routine and focus on clearing out distractions.
“The bed should be primarily for sleep only,” she says. “It’s important to avoid reading, using screens or working in bed.”
When it comes to bedtime, you should avoid sending your body signals to stay awake, as they can delay sleep and worsen sleep quality.
To help fall asleep and sleep well, Hassinger recommends:
“Following these recommendations and keeping your sleep schedule the same on weekends and weekdays will help keep your circadian rhythm in synch with your daily routine,” Hassinger says. “It is very important not to sleep in on the weekends if you are tired. This will only prolong your ability to fall asleep at night at your goal bedtime on Monday and Tuesday. Our biological clocks are set to a 24-hour schedule and cannot understand the five-day work week.”
How can melatonin help? How do I use melatonin?
Melatonin can be a helpful way to put your biological clock on a schedule that works for your life and what you need your sleep and wake times to be.
Regardless of what the marketing may say about melatonin, it’s not a sedative, so it won’t make you sleepy, Hassinger explains. It works by sending a signal to your brain that it is time to start the gradual process of making its own melatonin and winding down.
“The labelling on the packages is actually not the recommended dosing or timing,” she warns. “Because the products are considered ‘supplements’ there is no regulation over the actual dosing provided. Some studies have shown that the true amount of melatonin in an over-the-counter supplement can be far more or far less than the box or bottle says. The best and most reliable type of melatonin is the liquid melatonin.”
The optimal dose is 0.25 to 0.5mg of liquid melatonin about two to three hours before your goal bedtime. Melatonin must be used at the same time every day — weekends and weekdays — for it to work to get your schedule on track. Hassinger notes it takes at least two weeks to start feeling the effectiveness.
Melatonin should be used in conjunction with the sleep tips above. “If you do any of those things that tell your body and your biological clock that it is daytime after you take your melatonin, it will cancel out the dose: things like eating, working out or looking at a computer, phone or tablet screen,” she says.
What if my child is having trouble sleeping?
While it may not be part of their new year’s resolution, if your child is having trouble sleeping, many of the tips for adults can be used for them as well.
“The first thing to look at when a child is struggling at bedtime is their routine or sleep habits,” Hassinger says. “Children need consistency and earlier bedtimes to allow for more sleep than adults. This is because they are actually growing and their brain is developing when they sleep.”
Hassinger offers more advice on helping teens achieve their best sleep on this blog.
When should I seek help for me or my child?
After trying the tactics above, if they do not seem to improve your sleep after a few weeks, it may be time to see a sleep medicine specialist. If you’re still having trouble most nights falling asleep, staying asleep or not waking up refreshed, it’s time to see a health professional.
UBMD Physicians’ Group has sleep medicine specialists for both children and adults.
While it may take some effort and time to change your sleep habits, Hassinger says it will be a worthwhile effort that will improve several other aspects of your health.
Could you address what someone should do if they fall asleep easily but can’t stay asleep? Waking after only three hours of sleep and then unable to fall back to sleep is a common and very frustrating, debilitating problem.