What difference could an extra hour of sleep make in your life? Based on recent studies, the benefits of adequate sleep range from better heart health and less stress to improved memory and weight loss. Since sleep is one of the main pillars of a healthy lifestyle, it’s no wonder March has been designated National Sleep Awareness Month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults in the U.S. routinely sleep fewer than six hours a night. For adults ages 18-60, it’s recommended we get seven or more hours of sleep per night.

Getting more rest can be challenging, so check out these natural ways to help you sleep better at night.

1. Develop a sleep routine. The key to developing a sleep routine is being consistent. Going to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends, holidays and other days off, helps to establish your internal sleep clock.

2. Get some exercise. Regular exercise helps you sleep better. Just remember to wrap up your workout session several hours before bedtime so you’re not too revved up to get a good night’s sleep.

3. Change your diet. Changing your diet could help with your sleep. Cut out foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate, by mid-afternoon. Also, make dinner your lightest meal and finish it a few hours before bedtime.

4. Don't smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant, just like caffeine. Tobacco can keep you from falling asleep and make insomnia worse. Smoking also makes sleep apnea worse, which makes it difficult to get restful sleep.

5. Say "no" to a nightcap. Alcohol can make you sleepy at bedtime, but beware: After its initial effects wear off, it will make you wake up more often overnight. Warm milk and chamomile tea are better choices.

6. Power down. Light from electronic devices stimulates the brain, making it harder to wind down. Put your gadgets away an hour before bedtime to fall asleep more quickly and to sleep more soundly.

7. Hog the bed. Everyone deserves their own sleeping space, so keep the pets out of your bed. According to a recent study, 53 percent of pet owners who sleep with their pets experience sleep disruption every night.

8. Keep it temperate, not tropical. Striking a balance between the thermostat, the bed covers and your sleeping attire will help you drift off to sleep faster and more deeply. Eighty degrees may be great for the beach, but it’s bad for the bedroom at night. A temperate room is more conducive to sleeping than a tropical one.

9. Black it out. Light tells your brain it’s time to wake up, so make your room as dark as possible for sleep. Even a small amount of ambient light from your cell phone or computer can disrupt your sleep.

10. Save your bed for sleeping. Your bedroom should feel relaxing and should not be associated with working, eating or watching TV.

To learn more about getting adequate sleep, visit


Dr. Lubna Maruf, M.D., is the Medical Director at QualChoice Health Insurance in Little Rock.