For many, the start of a new year brings new resolutions. We’re bombarded with weight loss and gym commercials, with everyone telling us the latest and greatest way to look our best.

As important as it is to watch your diet and exercise regularly, I suggest you make sleep a priority and resolve to get a full night’s sleep, each and every night. As I’ve written in my previous posts, adequate, regular sleep can help you lose weight faster and make you look and feel younger. Sleep is key for our attention, concentration and energy levels.  Sleep aids in reducing your risk for cardiovascular problems and diabetes. Simply put: resolve to get a good night’s sleep in 2013.

COLUMN: Combine Sleep & Exercise to Enhance Weight Loss

In order to achieve this, I recommend that you start tracking your sleep for the next 1-2 weeks. Before I see a patient in my clinic, I always ask that the patient fills out a sleep diary for the two weeks before we meet. I also have my patients continue using the sleep diary throughout treatment to see how simple changes that we make can result in drastic changes in the quantity and quality of their sleep, as well as improving their daytime energy. There are many types of sleep diaries and a simple Internet search can yield many fancy examples. There are even new apps for the iPhone and other mobile devices that have sleep diaries. However, it is extremely easy to keep a log yourself, and I have more and more patients who track their sleep in a journal or even on their phone.

A basic sleep diary contains information about both your day and your night’s sleep.

Before you get in bed at night, think about your day and write down the following information (this should take a minute in total): how much energy you had on average for the day, and what time you consumed any alcohol, caffeine and tobacco (and the amounts). Write down any naps (and how long they were) as well as any medications you took. Write down any particularly stressful events that happened that day. Finally, write down the time that you decided to go to bed for the night.

When you get up the next morning, think about how you slept the night before. Estimate how long it took you to fall asleep, how many times you woke up in the middle of the night and how long you were up for each time. Write down what time you woke up as well as what time you got out of bed (these can be very different times!). Finally, write down how you felt when you woke up.

Don’t fill the diary out in the middle of the night since it’ll make you focus on your sleep and can make you stay awake! Also, just estimate the times you might be awake at night—don’t look at the clock as this can also make it harder for you to go back to sleep. You can usually tell the difference between being up for 20 minutes versus two hours.

Keeping a sleep diary is a key first step in making any necessary changes to your sleep and can give you particular insight into sleep problems. Basic modifications to follow proper sleep hygiene can make a world of difference for some patients. For example, some people may notice a nice correlation on their diaries between having an afternoon coffee or nap and waking up during their sleep later that night. Some might find that sleeping in on the weekends makes it harder to fall asleep on Sunday night.  Others may notice that exercise too close to bedtime impacts their ability to fall asleep.

Track your current sleep patterns for at least one week. Then, take a look at the following sleep hygiene recommendations and consider making some changes and recording them on your diary as well.

Proper sleep hygiene includes: 

  • Keep a consistent bed and wake time every day, seven days a week.
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, heavy meals, liquids and exercise within three hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine after 2:00 in the afternoon.
  • Avoid naps, especially after 2:00 in the afternoon.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool.
  • The bed is only for sleep and sex.
  • If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something calm, quiet and relaxing in a dimly lit room. Return to bed only when sleepy again.
  • Turn off all screen time (TV, iPads, iPhone, computers) one hour before bed and wind down with relaxing activities (reading, knitting, stretches, listening to music) in dim light.

COLUMN: Treat Insomnia, Naturally

Track these changes on your sleep diary for at least two weeks and see if it improves your sleep. If, despite making the above changes, you still have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or feeling unrefreshed during the day, consider making an appointment with a sleep specialist. There are many effective treatments to help you obtain a good night’s sleep in 2013.