How to Improve Your Sleep

Healthy sleep habits may make all the difference

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Anyssa Garza, PharmD

It doesn't just help you feel rested — sleep is important for your overall health and well-being.

Ways to Improve Your Sleep

To improve your sleep, try these simple, healthy sleep habits:

  • Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This includes weekends and holidays.
  • Avoid drinks and foods that may keep you awake. Avoid caffeine, tea and nicotine. Furthermore, being full can keep you awake. In addition, avoid drinking too much liquid before bed. Drinking too much may cause you to have to get up several times during the night to use the restroom. Although alcohol may make you feel tired at first, it may actually disrupt your sleep.
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment. This may mean turning down the temperature, turning off the TV, avoiding all electronics and making the room dark. Avoid bringing computers, iPads, TVs or work into the bedroom. The bedroom should be reserved for sleep.
  • Get ready for bed. Engage in activities that will tell your body it is time to relax. These activities may include taking a bath or listening to soothing music.
  • Avoid taking naps during the day. Taking long daytime naps can affect your ability to fall asleep when it's actually time to go to bed. If you decide to take a nap, make sure your nap does not exceed 30 minutes.
  • Exercise. Engaging in physical activity can help promote sleep. However, you need to pay attention to what time you exercise. If you exercise too late in the day, you may have difficulty falling asleep.

Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids

If these sleep habits don't do the trick, you may be tempted to turn to over-the-counter sleep aids. Although sleep aids can help you fall asleep on occasional sleepless nights, there are a few things to consider.

Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. For example, Unisom contains doxylamine or diphenhydramine. Diphenhydramine is the active ingredient in Benadryl.

The fact that these sleep aids contain an antihistamine can pose several problems:

  • If you take a sleep aid that contains an antihistamine, this may be an issue if you are already taking an antihistamine to treat allergies. Taking two antihistamines results in duplicate therapy and can lead to unwanted side effects.
  • Taking these types of sleep aids for a long period of time can lead to tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines. This means the longer you take them, the less likely they are to make you sleepy.
  • Taking these types of sleep aids can result in grogginess the next morning, which can be dangerous for some people, especially the elderly.
  • Besides causing sedation, side effects of antihistamines include dry mouth, dry eyes, blurred vision, constipation, dizziness and even irritability. These medications can cause urinary retention that can even lead to urinary tract infections. These side effects can pose several problems in the elderly and, therefore, should be used with caution.
  • Just because these sleep aids are found over the counter does not mean they don't pose a risk of medication interactions. These medications can interact with other medications you are taking.

​​​​Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking a new product.

When to See Your Doctor

It is normal to have an occasional sleepless night, but if you find yourself having trouble falling sleep or staying asleep on a regular basis, speak to your doctor. Certain health conditions could be affecting your sleep patterns. Furthermore, certain prescription medications can help you fall asleep or stay asleep.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 3, 2016