sleepMaintaining healthy sleep habits lays a solid foundation for your overall well-being, plus it can improve many other areas of your life.

In recent decades, medical professionals’ thoughts on sleep and the purposes it serves have evolved, but the question that seems to always be on people’s minds is: “How much sleep should I get?”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the latest research suggests there is no strict rule or magic number. In other words, the number of hours of sleep you require each night to feel your best and function well the next day could differ significantly from the number someone else requires. Factors such as age, gender, current health conditions and others all contribute to a person’s individual needs.

Despite this, there are still some healthy sleep habits the American Sleep Association recommends to ensure you always get a good night’s rest. Below are some of the organization’s most crucial do’s and don’ts.

Create a nighttime routine.

Before bed each night, perform an activity that relaxes you and will help you wind down, physically and mentally. Examples include a warm bath or shower, a certain number of minutes in meditation, or other quiet time.

Make your environment comfortable.

Your bedroom should be a place of total relaxation, so remove anything and everything you find distracting, such as pets, noisy appliances and bright lights. Turn off TVs and radios at night, set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature, and make the room dark.

Exercise regularly.

Research shows that exercise promotes continuous sleep, but only if your workout is completed in the first half of your day. Exercise that elevates the heart rate produces endorphins (also known as “feel good” chemicals) which can actually make it harder to fall asleep. Try not to exercise after 2 p.m., otherwise you risk tossing and turning all night.

Avoid certain chemical substances.

Alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and some over-the-counter medications make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, so limit or avoid them completely if you’re trying to maintain healthy sleep habits. Talk to your doctor about these substances and any medications you’re taking to learn how they may affect your sleep habits.

Don’t read or watch TV while you’re in bed.

Have you ever tried watching TV or reading in bed to make yourself sleepy? While this may appear to work once or twice, in the long run you’re training your brain to associate being in bed with both being awake and the enjoyment of mentally stimulating activities. Each subsequent time you may notice you have to read or watch TV longer and longer  before you finally feel drowsy.

Don’t take naps.

Every person has a “sleep debt” that is unique to him or her. This sleep debt is the number of hours of sleep per 24-hour period that you need. And while it can be tempting to take a nap during the day, naps should be avoided, since they decrease your sleep debt, making it potentially more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep later that night.

Stick to a schedule.

Ideally, you should always go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning, give or take about 20 minutes. And before you ask: Yes, this applies to weekends, too. The best authority on how many hours of sleep you need each night in order to feel your best is you. Once you’ve figured out that number, design your sleep schedule. This, and the other healthy sleep habits mentioned above, will promote restful sleep — night after night, after night, after night.

Image via ThePhotoBin on Flickr

Pain Doctor is committed to helping people in pain learn more about their condition, explore the available treatments, and find a qualified pain physician.