When beloved TV personality Dr. Oz talks about sleep, he cuts straight to the chase: Sleep, he insists, is “the single-most underappreciated problem we have in America.” For the most part, we pretend like it isn’t a problem. We cram more into our days, drink more coffee, rely on short-lived carb energy boosts, stay up later and act like naps are only for kindergarteners.
The health guru happily showed off his napping couch and shared his most important tips for improving sleep habits and hygiene.
1. Find an app for that
You can’t improve your sleep health until you understand your current sleep patterns. Dr. Oz suggests starting your journey to smarter sleep by tracking your sleep habits and gathering data. Thanks to a number of apps, anyone can keep a log of both duration and quality of sleep, which allows troubled sleepers to pinpoint days and times when their sleep is better or worse.
2. Try the 20-minute challenge
Another place for would-be better sleepers to start is by getting to bed 20 minutes earlier than normal. For many, that new bedtime turns out to be “shockingly early,” Dr. Oz admits. Pick the right bedtime and count back, making sure to account for time to brush your teeth, wind down, and if you want to read, switch from digital devices to paper. Bedtime isn’t when you start getting ready for bed; it’s the reason you’re turning out your light.
3. Embrace the darkness
Sorry, phone addicts: Dr. Oz recommends falling asleep in a totally dark room. He warns that falling asleep to the light from a phone, table or television is disruptive to your circadian rhythm. In the morning, only natural light can truly get your body on its circadian cycle. If you have blackout curtains or don’t get much natural light, a sun lamp is a smart investment.
4. Buy more pillows and fewer PJs
To align your spine while you sleep, Dr. Oz says to sleep with two pillows under your neck and a pillow between your knees. When you turn on your side, the knee pillow takes pressure off your spine and keeps your joints from touching. This pillow strategy has the added benefit of preventing restlessness caused by discomfort. Regarding your nighttime style, sleep in loose, cotton, moisture-wicking pajamas — such a favorite old T-shirt. If your favorite sleeping attire is your birthday suit, no problem! But you might want to invest in a thick comforter, because you’ll hit your ideal sleep stride when the room is 68 degrees or colder.
5. Keep it natural
Dr. Oz is emphatic: “Sleeping pills are not the answer.” Though they may seem like a tempting solution for sleepless nights, he points out that not only do they provide less than 10 minutes of extra sleep a night, they instigate a fractured sleeping pattern. If you use sleeping pills more than three times a week, it’s time to visit a sleep doctor. Alcohol before bed also disrupts normal sleep and isn’t advisable.
To make the case for sleep, and plenty of it, Dr. Oz takes us back to the beginning: “If you’re sleeping, an animal can eat you,” he says. “Evolution tends to evolve to protect you. So what evolutionary benefit is there lying asleep for eight hours unless there was something really important about it?”
So you’re a lot less likely to be mauled by a tiger today, but the point still stands: Go to bed!