The Summer of Sleep: How a sleep expert says you can get better sleep starting tonight

Dr. Azizi Seixas is a sleep expert, researcher, and Assistant Professor in the Departments of Population Health and Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. In addition to studying the impact of sleep on cardiovascular disease, mental, and brain health, his research focuses on behavioral, psychosocial and environmental causes of chronic diseases, and developing precise and personalized health and wellness solutions. He is considered a national and global innovator and thought leader in digital health technology. In 2020, Dr. Seixas was chosen by Cell Press as one of a hundred most inspiring Black scientists in America.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. But we all know that, realistically, that’s not always the case since time spent tossing and turning or delaying bedtime may bring the actual number of hours below 7.

You may be asking yourself, why is sleep so important, and how can I get more of it?

Well, we asked sleep expert Dr. Azizi Seixas about the value and importance of sleep and what his most important tips for better sleep are.

Read below to see what he said.


What is the purpose and value of sleep?

So, why is sleep so important? According to Dr. Seixas, sleep is what keeps us going. In fact, without it, it would be impossible to function properly.

“Sleep is one of the most important activities the body uses to take care of itself,” said Dr. Seixas. Though the absolute existential and biological reasons for sleep are not fully known, there is mounting evidence that sleep helps us with the following:

  • Recuperate physically and mentally
  • Conserve energy vital for all basic human functioning
  • Maintain equilibrium in all biological processes
  • Supports critical brain function, the epicenter and motherboard for all biological hardware and processes.
  • Deep Sleep = Deep Healing

Dr. Seixas tells us that more recently, scientists have discovered that sleep may be a secret elixir that may cure or reduce risk of dementia. How? Dr. Seixas describes it as “ a fascinating vacuuming system that clears the brain from toxic protein tangles called beta amyloid, a stronger biological marker for dementia.”

How do we sleep?

Your sleep consists of two major phases: non-rapid eye movement sleep (which consists of three stages: Stage 1, 2, and 3) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Each stage is important for several biological processes. Specifically, Stage 3, marked by slow wave sleep, is linked with biological recuperative and restoration processes.

However, your sleep is much more than these biological processes and stages. Dr. Azizi urges you to not just focus on how much sleep you get but rather the quality, timing (when you sleep), efficiency, consistency of sleep time, and how satisfied you are after sleeping—which he says are all important in determining if you are getting “good, healthy sleep.”

How does sleep affect our overall health and wellness?

It’s no secret that sleep can affect our physical and mental well-being. In fact, according to Dr. Seixas, healthy sleep duration can reduce risk for:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Dementia
  • Mental illness
  • Respiratory disease
  • Inflammation
  • Reduced immune function

In addition to over well-being, Dr. Seixas also says healthy sleep improves brain function (such as concentration and memory), mood, quality of life, libido, and even your level of attraction. “One of the strongest evidence for the benefits of sleep is seen in its ability to reduce the risk for heart disease. Sleep is linked with lowering of blood pressure and glucose levels during the night thus reducing risk for hypertension and diabetes.”

How can we get better sleep?

While there is no one-size-fits-all sleep routine, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for better sleep at night. Here are some of Dr. Seixas’ tips on how to "hack" your sleep.

Tips for preparing for better sleep

  1. Avoid heavy meals 2 hours before bed.
  2. Avoid exercise 2-3 hours before bed.
  3. Avoid bright lights at least 30 minutes before bed. Turn off the TV and other electronic devices, and be mindful of blue light from mobile devices and excessively bright LED lights.
  4. Try to keep a consistent bedtime routine or schedule. Dr. Azizi recommends trying to keep both the time you go to sleep and the activities you do before bed the same.
  5. Avoid any stressful or emotional conversations before going to bed. You know what they say, “don’t go to bed angry!”
  6. Avoid naps, especially too close to bedtime. Sometimes, a power nap is a great way to recharge your energy during the day. But if it’s the late afternoon or early evening, consider how laying down to rest could impact your ability to fall asleep later in the night.
  7. Avoid stressful activities 30 minutes before bed. Yes, this includes doing work! Instead, aim to work a calming activity such as reading into your night routine.
  8. Ensure your sleep environment is conducive and a sanctuary for sleep. Dr. Azizi recommends sleeping in a dark room with optimal temperature and no noise. Also, it helps to have comfortable pillows.
  9. Take a warm shower before bed. This step is optional, but Dr. Azizi says this can be a soothing step of your bedtime routine that may help you feel more restful once you jump into bed.
  10. Dress in loose clothing. There’s nothing worse than feeling restrained by tight clothing while trying to get comfortable for sleep. Wearing loose clothing for bed promotes better circulation and will allow your skin to breathe at night.

What should we do if we can’t fall asleep at night?

Sometimes, even with a good night routine and sleep preparation, our bodies just won’t let us doze off. Don’t worry, Dr. Seixas has tips for that, too.

Here are 7 tips that may help you fall asleep

  1. If you don’t fall asleep within 15-20 minutes, get out of bed. This may seem like a strange recommendation since your bed is the very place where you want to fall asleep. However, Dr. Azizi recommends getting up and trying to wind down in other ways before you climb back under the sheets.
  2. Avoid reaching for your smartphone. As mentioned earlier, blue light from mobile devices and excessively bright LED lights can block natural melatonin production and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Instead of aimlessly scrolling through social media in the middle of the night, try reading a relaxing book for 15-20 minutes instead.
  3. Drink a cup of hot decaf tea. The soothing effect can help to fall asleep.
  4. Meditate or practice mindfulness. Breathing exercises can help clear your mind and calm your body.
  5. Too much ambient noise around? Try a sound machine or soothing sleep story. If you’re having trouble falling asleep due to surrounding noises, you may find sounds like soothing ocean waves or raindrops calming. Research has also shown that sound machines and white noise can help block out other noises that are disturbing.
  6. Ensure room temperature is 60 to 67 degrees F. Your body's temperature naturally decreases during sleep. So, a cool but not cold, room will help you better settle into and maintain sleep throughout the night.
  7. Try a hot shower or bath. A hot shower or bath can cool and relax your body, which are ideal to induce sleep.

If you’ve been having a hard time getting to sleep lately, we hope these tips make you feel more ready to crawl into bed and catch some z’s! But before you snooze off, head over to our Instagram for more content like this.

We offer over 30 other at-home lab tests that can help you take control of your health and wellness. Browse here.

Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More