Better Nights, Brighter Days: How to Improve Your Sleep

We all struggle with sleep from time to time.

Maybe you’ve experienced utterly sleepless nights and days survived solely on caffeine. Maybe you’re on a first-name basis with your sheep and are intimately familiar with every irregularity in your ceiling. You’re not alone — and there are ways to help.

How Much Is Enough?

Sleep is an essential human need for physical and mental well-being and plays a critical role in cardiovascular health, immune system functioning, mood and emotion regulation, learning, attention, and memory. When we don’t get enough sleep, it can affect how we function — but how much is enough?

While most adults need an average of six to nine hours of sleep per night, there’s no magic number. Different people need different amounts of sleep, which can fluctuate depending on our current life circumstances. For example, we need less sleep as we age — infants require a whopping twelve to sixteen hours and teens require eight to ten hours — and sleep tends to get less efficient as we age.

We may also need more or less sleep depending on how active or stressful (physically and mentally) our days are and whether we are managing other, longer term physical or mental health stresses. What really matters is sleep quality and whether we wake up feeling rested. So, how can we improve the quality of our sleep?

Practical Strategies for Better-Quality Sleep

1. Identify Barriers

First, reflect on what might be getting in the way.

  •  Are there stressful things going on in your life? Are there problem-solving or stress-management techniques that you could use to manage your stress?
  • Are you revenge-procrastinating? That is, delaying bedtime because you don’t get enough time to yourself during the day. Build more time into your schedule for relaxing, hobbies, and decompressing without cutting into sleep.
  • Have you experienced any big life events? Any change takes time to adapt to and can affect your sleep quality. Try to be easier on yourself and give yourself time to adjust.

2. Work On Your Sleep Hygiene

Take concrete steps to improve your sleep hygiene, which involves building habits and an environment for good-quality sleep.

Good sleep habits involve consistency, association, and repetition. Our minds and bodies are like computers that we can program to associate bed and bedtime with a calm, relaxed, “go-to-sleep” state.

  • Try to go to bed around the same time every day, and get up around the same time even if you go to bed later than usual.
  • Build a consistent evening routine to wind down (e.g., take a shower, brush your teeth, read). Getting out of a warm shower can help your core temperature drop, which mimics what happens during sleep and can kick-start the process.
  • Avoid big meals, exercise, or any substances before bed. Caffeine and alcohol have long half-lives, which means they take several hours to break down. Caffeine more obviously disrupts your sleep, but alcohol can be deceiving — it’s a sedative and may help you fall asleep, but it disrupts the quality of that sleep (e.g., by keeping your heart rate up and your system engaged in breaking the alcohol down).
  • Keep the bed for sex and sleep! Don’t work on your laptop in bed or do any other activities that get your mind whirring. If you can’t sleep because your brain is racing, and it feels like it’s been more than twenty minutes, get out of bed and do a low-stimulation activity (e.g., read in low light) before trying again. And finally, don’t check the clock! That can trigger thoughts that can activate your brain instead of winding it down.

In general, a good sleep environment involves
low temperature, light, and noise. For example:

  • Keep your bedroom on the cooler side.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark as possible, and stay off devices that emit light close to bedtime that can trigger the ‘wake-up’ chemical process in our bodies.
  • Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible, or with consistent and low-level background noise (e.g., white noise, a fan).

3. Keep Calm and Dream On

Finally, don’t panic! It’s normal to experience sleep disruption from time to time, and our bodies are very capable of ‘resetting’ themselves. Take action when it becomes a chronic concern — this may require a bit of trial and error.

If you find yourself grappling with sleep, don’t hesitate to reach out! A wide range of well-established, effective supports are available, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, help from your family doctor, or an appointment with a specialized sleep clinic.

ARTACares is included at no additional cost with all ARTA Extended Health Care Benefit Plans and is provided by HumanaCare, an Alberta-based health and wellness provider with more than thirty-five years of Canadian health-care experience. For more information, visit