How to Get More Sleep

man who can't sleep looks at his sleeping wife in bed

Are you getting enough sleep at night? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 70 million Americans have sleep problems that keep them awake when they want to sleep, and lead to drowsiness when they want to be alert.

The NIH says adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night to be well-rested, but that most people get less than that. They recommend these tips for getting a good night’s sleep:

  • Go to sleep at the same time each night, get up at the same time each morning, and avoid naps after 3pm.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day. Avoid nicotine completely.
  • Get regular exercise, but not within 2-3 hours of bedtime.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal late in the day, but a light snack before bedtime is OK.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable, dark, quiet, and not too warm or cold.
  • Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, do something calming until you feel sleepy, like reading or listening to soft music.
  • See a doctor if you continue to have trouble sleeping.

Could it be depression?

Sometimes trouble sleeping is just trouble sleeping, but sometimes it’s a sign of clinical depression – a sadness that doesn’t go away or that interferes with your everyday life. One type of depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is more common around this time of year, when the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Treatment for SAD often involves light therapy and can also include talk therapy and prescription medication.

Other kinds of depression may be caused by a tragic event, a period of stress, an illness, changes in the brain that affect mood, or for reasons nobody understands. Getting help is important, because treatment, including medicines, talk therapy, or a combination of both, can reduce the suffering that comes along with depression and improve quality of life.

If you suspect you may be depressed, make an appointment to see a doctor. If you notice symptoms in a friend or family member, talk with them about getting help. If someone tries to hurt themselves, or has a plan to do so, urge them to get help from their doctor or the emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If you have cancer

People in cancer treatment may experience changes in sleeping habits. Learn what patients and caregivers can do to help.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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