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Sleep Awareness Week 2024: How to start sleeping better tonight, according to the experts

For more than 30 years, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), an independent nonprofit organization, has been dedicated to promoting health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy. One of its biggest annual initiatives is Sleep Awareness Week, which is dedicated to bringing awareness to the direct connection between sleep and overall mental health and well-being. Throughout the week, Yahoo will celebrate Sleep Awareness Week 2024 — March 10th through March 16th — with articles dedicated to helping you take small steps each day to maximize the health benefits of your nightly slumber. Your first step is working on getting the recommended hours of sleep a night. Dr. Syed Aslam, a pulmonary disease and sleep medicine physician, tells us, “Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.”

How you sleep at night doesn’t only dictate how sluggish or grumpy you feel the next day. Numerous studies have shown how well you sleep is directly related to optimal cognitive performance, physiological processes, emotional regulation, mental health and quality of life. In fact, nearly 7 out of 10 people who are dissatisfied with their sleep report mild or greater levels of depressive symptoms. Pulmonologist Dr. Sandeep Gupta stresses that “chronic sleep deprivation can have adverse effects on health and increase the risk of industrial and motor vehicle accidents.”

What is Sleep Awareness Week?

Now in its 26th year, the NSF’s Sleep Awareness Week is held every year in March as an annual reminder of the crucial importance of sleep to healthy human functioning. During Sleep Awareness Week, the NSF shares a host of information about sleep in general, the results of its annual sleep study and surveys, and recommendations for small steps you can take day and night to positively impact your sleep health.

For example, to get a deeper, more restful sleep, the NSF recommends that you spend time during the day in bright natural light, eat your meals at consistent times each day and try to get in 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. At night, you should avoid heavy meals, caffeine and stress.

To learn a few more tips and tricks to help you enjoy a deeper, more restful bedtime experience, we spoke with our panel of sleep experts and medical professionals to find out their best sleep tips, as well as their thoughts on sleep tracking, breathing exercises to promote a more restful sleep, what bedding materials to look for, whether organic sheets are really necessary and which sleep position — back, side or stomach — is best for various health needs. Keep reading for tips to help you start sleeping more soundly.

4 tips for getting your best night’s sleep, according to sleep experts and medical professionals

1. Start a bedtime routine

“Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. Reserve your bed and bedroom for sleep only, avoid stimulating activities like watching TV or using your phone,” says Gupta, who also suggests avoiding alcohol, caffeine, heavy meals and intense exercise before bedtime.

Set the mood by dimming the lights an hour before bed, minimize loud noises and stressful situations, and do your best to release the stress of the day so you don’t find yourself trying to unwind when your head hits the pillow. Our experts also stress the importance of sleeping in a cool, dark room with an ambient temperature between 60-72 degrees Fahrenheit. “Cool temperatures mimic the body’s natural drop in core temperature during sleep, thus promoting a more profound rest and making it easier to fall asleep,” explains Aslam.

Also aim to go tech-free at least an hour before bed — unless you use tech-based sleep aids designed to help you fall asleep (more on that below).

2. Find your perfect sleep position

A 2017 sleep study found that, on average, 54% of adults sleep on their side, 38% sleep on their back and 7% sleep on their stomach. While, generally speaking, our experts said sleeping on your back carries the most health benefits, left-side sleepers are also reaping plenty of benefits — stomach sleepers, you may be inclined to try a new position after reading this. Dr. Kien Vuu, a Regenerative Medicine specialist and assistant health sciences professor at UCLA, tells Yahoo, “Sleeping on your back keeps your spine aligned, head and neck supported, acid reflux at bay and wards off sleep-induced wrinkles, since you are not smooching your face into the pillow.” That said, our experts also called out a few benefits side-sleepers reap. Dr. Shelby Harris, a psychologist and board-certified specialist in behavioral sleep medicine, tells us, “Side sleeping can be helpful for reducing acid reflux and heartburn and help those who snore — it may reduce the risk of sleep apnea — and [be helpful] for those who are pregnant, as it improves blood flow to the fetus.” That all said, there is no harm to sleeping on your stomach — if that is the best position for you, go with it— unless your doctor has told you otherwise.

Today, there are pillows specifically designed to promote sleeping on your back, side and stomach. I personally don’t want to know a life without my curved side-sleeper pillow. My back-sleeping spouse, on the other hand, doesn’t want to know a life without his down alternative pillow from Cozy Earth.

3. Splurge on sheets

You spend a third of your life sleeping; springing for quality sheets will go a long way toward maximizing the benefits of those (hopefully) eight hours a day. Dr. Ashley Magovern, a board-certified dermatologist, tells us that poor-quality sheets can cause irritation to the skin such as itchiness or acne, because of synthetic dyes and subpar materials. “Organic cotton, silk and bamboo sheets are hypoallergenic, breathable, softer and especially good for those with sensitive skin, allergies or who sweat while sleeping.” If you fall into any of those categories or are acne-prone, Magovern says the optimal sheet fabric is silk, which has many skin and hair benefits. “The fabric itself is lightweight and breathable, and airflow is incredibly important for those with acne-prone skin, as sweating at night can cause oil buildup. … Silk sheets also help reduce wrinkles, keep skin hydrated, and reduce frizz for your hair,” she explains.

If you are wondering if splurging on organic sheets is a good idea, our experts tell us that they’re, first and foremost, good for the environment, but if you use heavy detergents, you can still find yourself dealing with itchiness or acne due to chemicals and fragrances. It comes down to your preference and concerns about earth-friendliness. Additionally, look for products with OEKO-TEX certification, which is the gold standard in the textile and leather industries — it ensures that the materials are responsibly sourced and free from dangerous chemicals and materials.

4. Try a sleep app or sleep tracking

If you consistently have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, you may benefit from a sleep app or sleep tracking. Sleep apps range from those centered on meditation or that offer sleep sounds or narrated stories, such as Calm or Headspace. If you find yourself waking throughout the night, you may want to try a sleep tracker to see if patterns emerge. Sleep trackers are a devices you wear at night that will give you a detailed report in the morning about how well you slept and if there were any times of disturbance to your sleep cycle or breathing. Try a smartwatch or Oura Ring for in-depth reports on every aspect of your sleep health. “This data can help you identify lifestyle habits that improve or hinder your sleep, enabling you to make informed adjustments,” explains Vuu.

As a final word of advice from our expert, Dr. Gupta, “Finding the right balance of sleep will help you fall asleep more easily over time. It’s important to maintain a regular schedule, as irregular sleep patterns can lead to poorer sleep quality, as seen in students during summer vacation or in retirees without a set schedule who may experience poor and erratic sleep.”

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