Key Strategies for Optimizing Your Sleep

Story at-a-glance

  • Poor quality sleep can disrupt your body at the cellular level and result in everything from weight gain to increased cancer risk and premature aging
  • One effective tool for addressing insomnia is EFT, helping you release worries, fears, and physical symptoms that may be interfering with your sleep
  • Other factors that can affect your sleep include daily light exposure, pre-sleep routine, and your bedroom atmosphere


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

Are you tired of being tired? If you feel sleepy during the day, there’s a good chance you need to get more sleep or better quality sleep. Even if you think you can “get by” on five or six hours a night, your body is not easily fooled.

Poor sleep impacts virtually every aspect of your health. Your sleep-wake cycle actually drives biological activity at the cellular level, so circadian disruptions tend to ripple out through your entire body.

This explains why many studies clearly show that poor quality sleep has been linked to everything from weight gain to cancer to premature aging.

One of my favorite tools for resolving anxiety contributing to insomnia is EFT, or “emotional freedom technique.” EFT combines tapping on certain points of your body with making statements that help pinpoint the underlying issues, as demonstrated in the video above.

EFT helps to release worries, fears, and physical symptoms that stand between you and a good night’s sleep.  

In addition to your reaction to daily stress, several other factors can interfere with your sleep, such as your pre-sleep routine, room temperature, and lack of daily light exposure. Read on if you want the secrets to achieving permanent, deeply restorative sleep.

The Risks of ‘Just Getting By’ on Minimal Sleep

Sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or illness,1 which may help explain why lack of sleep is tied to an increased risk of so many different chronic diseases.

Sleeping less than six hours per night more than triples your risk of high blood pressure, and women who get less than four hours of shut-eye double their chances of dying from heart disease.2

According to research from Great Britain,3 poor or insufficient sleep is actually the strongest predictor for pain in adults over age 50,4 and people with chronic sleep problems may develop Alzheimer's disease sooner than those who sleep well.

Interrupted sleep is equally harmful, leading to depressed mood, fatigue, and confusion. Besides making you more susceptible to pain and impaired cognition, poor sleep can also:

  • Harm your brain by halting new neuron production. Sleep deprivation can increase levels of corticosterone (a stress hormone), resulting in fewer new brain cells being created in your hippocampus
  • Pave the way to a pre-diabetic state, and make you feel hungry even if you've already eaten, which can lead to weight gain
  • Contribute to premature aging by interfering with your production of growth hormone, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training)
  • Increase your risk of cancer
  • Increase your risk of dying from any cause

How to Determine How Much Sleep You Need

Dr. Rubin Naiman, a Clinical Psychologist, author, teacher, and leader in integrative approaches to sleep and dreams, recommends simply sleeping "enough hours that your energy is sustained through the day without artificial stimulation, with the exception of a daytime nap," which he believes you are biologically programmed for.

While I generally agree with this functional description rather than trying to come up with a specific numeric range, the bulk of the scientific evidence indicates that most people need around eight hours of sleep for optimal health.

So in addition, I would suggest watching out for physical or biological symptoms that might indicate you’re not sleeping enough. For example, when I push myself and don't get enough high-quality sleep, I'm predisposed to postprandial hypoglycemia or tend to get tired after eating lunch.

Pay attention to clues your body may be giving you. For example, if you need an alarm clock to wake up and you awaken feeling tired and groggy, you probably need to go to sleep earlier (or get more restful sleep).

It’s also said that if you fall asleep within a few minutes of your head hitting the pillow, you’re probably sleep deprived. A well-rested person will take about 10 to 15 minutes to fall asleep at night.5

You might want to consider the use of a fitness tracker. In addition to providing exertion and fitness data, the latest technology includes sleep-monitoring algorithms, which can be quite useful and have minimal EMF exposure.

Newer devices, like Jawbone’s UP3 (up for release later this year) can even tell you which of your activities led to your best sleep and which interfered with your sleep.

Empty Out Your Stress Backpack BEFORE You Hit the Pillow

Many people who’ve learned EFT report excellent results when using it for sleep problems, especially if anxiety is a contributing factor. One of the reasons EFT works so well is that it’s such a powerful stress-reduction tool.

Tapping allows you to reprogram your body's reactions to many of the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, making it easier to take them in stride, and when your stressors improve, you will naturally sleep better.

In 2012, a triple blind study6 found that EFT reduced cortisol levels and symptoms of psychological distress by 24 percent—more than any other intervention tested. This is enormously significant, as there are few things that will destroy your health faster than stress!

Researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine discovered that how you cope with stress might have even MORE impact on your sleep than the number of stressors you encounter. They also found that mindfulness therapies worked best for suppressing the "mental chatter" that inhibits the onset of sleep. Lead author of the study Vivek Pillai, PhD wrote:7

“While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it's what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia.”

Tapping Your Way Toward Peaceful Slumber

The first and most important thing is to examine the underlying issues in your life that may be causing your ongoing pattern of wakefulness. This is crucial if you want to obtain lasting relief from your sleep difficulty. A sleep disturbance is always caused by something, be it physical, emotional, or both.

Anxiety and anger are two mental states that are incompatible with sleep. Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities is another common sleep blocker. To identify the cause of your wakefulness, analyze the thoughts that circle in your mind during the time you lie awake. Themes will emerge. Ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • What are these thoughts concerned with?
  • Do they relate to a specific theme or themes in my life?
  • Is there a particular concern or worry that refuses to leave me alone at night?
  • Do I have a problem that insists on seeking an answer right away?
  • Can solving this problem wait until morning?

One strategy is to compile a list of your current concerns. Once you have your list, simply start tapping on each issue, one at a time—anxiety, anger, job stress, physical pain, or whatever—EFT has worked on just about everything at one time or another. To learn how to tap, please refer to our free EFT guide. For specific instructions about how to adapt EFT for insomnia, including what to say as you tap, please read our prior article by EFT Master Patricia Carrington. You can also tap along with Julie as you watch the video featured at the top of this page.

Optimize Your Light Exposure for Better Sleep

Download Interview Transcript

Making sure you get some measure of bright sun exposure daily is also important for optimal sleep. Your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night. If you’re in darkness all day long, your body can't appreciate the difference and will not optimize melatonin production. Sleep researcher Dan Pardi recommends getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of outdoor light exposure during the daytime in order to "anchor" your master clock rhythm, in the morning if possible. More sunlight exposure is required as you age.

Once the sun sets, avoid light as much as possible to assist your body in secreting melatonin, which helps you feel sleepy. It can be helpful to sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the slightest bit of light in your bedroom can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland's melatonin production. If you need a bit of light to navigate down the hall in the wee hours of the night, install a low-wattage yellow, orange, or red light bulb. Light in these bandwidths does not shut down melatonin production in the way that white and blue light does. Salt lamps are lovely for this purpose. You can also download a free application called F.lux that automatically dims your computer device screens.8

Additional Sleep Tips

Small adjustments to your daily routine and sleeping area can go a long way toward ensuring you uninterrupted, restful sleep—and thereby better health. I suggest you read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines, but for starters, consider those listed in the table below. If you’ve tried everything to no avail, you might want to consider consulting a qualified sleep specialist. Sleep disorders such as insomnia can be treated in as little as several sessions, without medication. Dr. Silberman recommends a sleep specialist who does cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Keep the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people keep their homes too warm (particularly their bedrooms). Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime. This raises your core body temperature, and when you get out of the bath it abruptly drops, signaling your body that you’re ready for sleep.
Avoid loud alarm clocks. Being jolted awake each morning can be very stressful. If you are regularly getting appropriate sleep, you might not even need an alarm.
Avoid watching TV or using your computer in the evening, at least an hour or so before going to bed. These devices emit blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking it's still daytime. Normally, your brain starts secreting melatonin between 9 pm and 10 pm, and these devices may stifle that process.
Be mindful of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom. EMFs can disrupt your pineal gland and its melatonin production, and may have other detrimental biological effects. A gauss meter is required if you want to measure EMF levels in various areas of your home. Ideally, you should turn off any wireless router while you are sleeping—after all, you don’t need the Internet when you sleep.
Pre-sleep routine. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day helps keep your sleep on track, but having a consistent pre-sleep routine or “sleep ritual” is also important. For instance, if you read before heading to bed, your body knows that reading at night signals it’s time for sleep. Sleep specialist Stephanie Silberman, PhD suggests listening to calming music, stretching or doing relaxation exercises.9
Use your bed only for sleep and intimacy. Harvard sleep expert Dr. Lawrence Epstein10 advises creating a clear association between your bed and sleep. In fact, if you’re having trouble sleeping, he even advises against reading, watching TV, texting, or using your computer in bed. He says it’s OK to do those things in your bedroom but avoid doing them in your bed.
Relaxation exercises: Progressive relaxation and breathing exercises can help you relax. “Trying to relax” typically backfires, instead building up tension and frustration that often leads to more wakefulness. But there are specific progressive relaxation techniques that do work. Try the “Relaxing Staircase Technique,” for example.11 Mindfulness therapies have also been found helpful for insomnia.12
Physical activity. Getting adequate exercise every day improves sleep quality and is a major anxiety-reducer. Be careful about exercising just before bedtime, as it can be too stimulating for some people, although studies show that vigorous evening exercise can augment sleep for many.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other drugs. According to Dr. Epstein, two of the biggest sleep saboteurs are caffeine and alcohol, both of which also increase anxiety. Caffeine’s effects can last four to seven hours. It isn’t just coffee—remember that tea and chocolate also contain caffeine. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it makes sleep more fragmented and less restorative. Many other drugs can also interfere with sleep.


By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.