A Sleep Doctor’s Tips to Maximizing Those ZZZ’s

by Dr. Rebecca Robbins

What if I told you there was a simple, no cost solution to looking better, feeling better, getting more out of your workout, and maybe even increasing your odds of a promotion at work? Believe it or not sleep is the foundation of success, however you might define it.

Despite its benefits, one third of Americans forego sleep each and every night, depriving themselves of the recommended 7 hours they need on a nightly basis. Approximately 20% of our population report insomnia-related sleep difficulties, such as difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep, or waking up too early. 

This trend has a tremendous impact on wellness. When we’re running on insufficient sleep we are less able to exert ourselves in our workouts and our bodies  begin to crave unhealthy foods such as carbs and sugar. Our mood also suffers. Without healthy sleep we are more likely to snap at our spouses, friends, and loved ones. We are more likely to be irritable, anxious, and depressed.

Fortunately, for many of us, small changes to our daily routines can dramatically improve our sleep, health, and overall well-being! Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your sleep.


Relax before bed.

Falling asleep is actually a process. We cannot simply turn our brains off and slip into sleep (although that would be lovely!), so start a relaxing bedtime routine tonight. Pick one or two things that sooth you. Whether that is lighting a candle, practicing meditation, reading, or taking a warm bath. Adding at least two of these activities – even for just 5-10 minutes before bed – can help you switch over from your busy day to preparing your body for sleep. If you practice this relaxing ritual before bed nightly, your body will begin to pick up on these cues and you may find you slip into sleep faster without wasting time tossing and turning.

Revise your routine.

It is easy at night to fall into “just 1 more” episodes of your favorite tv show or a single “last minute” work task. Before you know it, it’s 1AM and you only have a few short hours before your first morning meeting. For many of us, our current bedtime is at least an hour away from an ideal time for bed. Tonight go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual and practice your relaxing bedtime ritual. Commit to this routine for at least one week and see how you feel at the end of 7 days. You will love the results – I guarantee it!

Mind your daily activities.

Good sleep actually starts as soon as we wake up! Exposure to natural light from the sun (even if it is grey outside) is one of the best things you can do as soon as you wake up. Whether it is a short walk outside, or walking to the bus or train, this exposure helps us sync our circadian rhythm to the pattern of light and darkness in our environment.

Keep in mind that nutrition can improve or interfere with your sleep too! The no-nos? Caffeine after 2pm and alcohol (more than 1 glass) can interfere with your ability to unwind at night. Also, try to heave a hearty breakfast and lunch, but a lighter dinner. After all, earlier in the day is when you will need nutrition to power your waking life. A meal that is too late or very heavy may keep you from being able to slip into sleep.

Exercise for better rest.

Physical activity releases endorphins that are great for sleep. Some prefer to exercise in the morning, while others at night. Whenever works for your schedule, making exercise a priority will improve your sleep. One caution is that exercise that is extremely vigorous right before bed may interrupt your sleep – so throw in a Restorative Stretch class following as a cool down & calm down. Nevertheless, exercisers get better quality, deeper sleep compared to those who do not work out regularly so get your sweat on!

Want to learn more? Watch our Wellness Talk with Dr. Robbins below!

Dr. Rebecca Robbins 

Dr. Robbins is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the NYU School of Medicine where she leads an NIH/NHLBI funded study with Principal Investigator Dr. Girardin Jean-Louis entitled “Tailored Approach to Sleep Health Education,” a project that develops materials to promote awareness about sleep and sleep disorders in minority populations. In 2011, Dr. Robbins co-authored a book summarizing these findings entitled Sleep for Success! with Dr. James B. Maas.


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