8 tips to a good night's sleep

Published: July, 2012

With several popular hypnotic sleep aids, including zolpidem (Ambien) and temazepam (Restoril), now linked to an increased risk of death, the July 2012 issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch offers eight tips for getting a better night's sleep without medicine.

Almost everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. But when insomnia persists day after day, it can become a real problem. Beyond making a person tired and moody, a lack of sleep can have serious effects on health, increasing the risks for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Sleep issues can plague women as they get older. "Later in life there tends to be a decrease in the number of hours slept," says Dr. Karen Carlson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of Women's Health Associates at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Many women turn to sleep medications in search of more restful slumber. However, these drugs can have side effects ranging from appetite changes to dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, and strange dreams. A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that people who were taking hypnotic drugs had a higher incidence of cancer, and death, than people who didn't take these sleep medicines.

If a sleep aid is needed, there's no reason to avoid using one. But before turning to pills, here are eight tips for getting a better night's sleep:

  • Exercise at some point during the day.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and sex—not work or TV.
  • Keep the bedroom comfortable.
  • Start a sleep ritual.
  • Have a bedtime snack—but not too much.
  • Avoid alcohol and chocolate before bed.
  • Wind down before going to bed.
  • See your doctor about what's keeping you up at night.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.