For better sleep, doctors suggest low-tech, cheap solutions

August 1, 2018 by Linda A. Johnson
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Millions of people struggle to get enough sleep—and to stay alert the next day.

Lots of apps, fitness trackers, smartwatches and even mattress motion sensors claim they can diagnose or treat sleep problems. But sleep disorder doctors say there's little evidence consumer gadgets actually improve sleep.

"The technology can help describe the problem," such as waking repeatedly or too early, said Dr. Douglas Kirsch, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "It does not tell you what the cause is" or how to fix it.

Experts say such products have some value: They make people focus on and try to improve their sleep.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of adults and two-thirds of high school students report regularly getting less than the recommended amount of nightly sleep—seven hours for adults and eight to 10 hours for teens.

"The average person in America does not spend enough time trying to actually sleep," Kirsch said.

Regularly getting too little rest doesn't just cause fatigue. It can increase risk of accidents, run down your immune system and lead to heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity, reduced sex drive and other problems.


Many people simply stay up too late, and doctors say going to bed earlier is a good place to start if you're having trouble sleeping.

Block excess noise and light with ear plugs and heavy curtains.

"Make your bedroom a cave ... a quiet, comfortable, cool, dark place," Kirsch advises.

Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, and start winding down your activity an hour before bedtime.

Stop using computer, phone and TV screens well before then and keep them out of your bedroom. Turn your clock's face away from you and try an old technology: Read a book to induce drowsiness.

Good health practices also help. Don't smoke, limit alcohol, stop all caffeine by noon or 1 p.m. and get regular exercise, but well before bedtime. Also, try to avoid dozing off while watching TV in the evening.


Sleep doctors believe the blue light emitted by smartphones and other screens can keep people up.

One easy fix: Use the phone's display settings to switch from blue light to warmer yellow light in the evening.

For people who spend lots of time on screens late at night, there's evidence that so-called blue-blocker glasses can help, said Dr. Daniel Barone, associate medical director at the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine in New York. They can be found for less than $20 and filter out the stimulating blue light.

Data also show white noise can improve sleep, said Barone, co-author of the book "Let's Talk about Sleep." White noise machines start at around $20, and there are apps you can get for free or a few dollars.

Meditation tapes and apps benefit many people by helping them relax before bedtime.

Kirsch said there's data validating cognitive behavioral therapy, a range of strategies to train yourself to sleep better. Those include relaxation techniques, getting back up for a while if you can't fall asleep, even a paradoxical approach—going to bed and trying to stay awake.

Sleep clinics offer such programs, but there also are apps that can teach such techniques. The Department of Veterans Affairs developed a free one called CBT-i Coach .


If those measures don't help, ask your doctor to check for health problems that could be disturbing your sleep. Those include many common conditions: acid reflux, allergies, anxiety, depression, medication side effects, pain, sleep apnea and snoring. In some people, evaluation by a sleep clinic may be necessary.

Explore further: Sound advice for a sound sleep

Related Stories

Sound advice for a sound sleep

June 25, 2018
(HealthDay)—Insomnia affects up to 15 percent of Americans, but sleeping pills aren't the only—or the best—answer. A good sleep routine, exercise and mindfulness are all options to get the restorative sleep you need.

Q&A: Insomnia—what to do when you can't sleep

April 6, 2018
Dear Mayo Clinic: What is the best way to eliminate insomnia? For almost a year, I've had trouble getting much sleep. I've tried over-the-counter medications, but they aren't very effective.

Help for when you're wide-eyed at 3 a.m.

April 10, 2018
(HealthDay)—Something like this has happened to most of us: You wake up, wide awake, only to discover that it's 3 a.m. Suddenly your mind fills with worry about how hard tomorrow will be if you don't get more sleep. The ...

Can weekend sleep make up for the detriments of sleep deprivation during the week?

May 23, 2018
In a recent Journal of Sleep Research study, short, but not long, weekend sleep was associated with an increased risk of early death in individuals under 65 years of age. In the same age group, either short sleep or long ...

Video: What you need to know about sleep

March 21, 2016
Dr. Alon Avidan, a professor of neurology and director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, offers these tips for getting better sleep:

How technology can help you get a better night's sleep

March 16, 2018
It's smart to turn off mobile devices and other small screens at least an hour before bedtime, but technology can also help us power down for a good night's sleep, says expert Cary Brown, a researcher in the University of ...

Recommended for you

Low-carb diets cause people to burn more calories

November 14, 2018
Most people regain the weight they lose from dieting within one or two years, in part because the body adapts by slowing metabolism and burning fewer calories. A meticulous study led by Boston Children's Hospital, in partnership ...

Survey reveals how we use music as a possible sleep aid

November 14, 2018
Many individuals use music in the hope that it fights sleep difficulties, according to a study published November 14 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Tabitha Trahan of the University of Sheffield, UK, and colleagues. ...

Colder, darker climates increase alcohol consumption and liver disease

November 14, 2018
Where you live could influence how much you drink. According to new research from the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, people living in colder regions with less sunlight drink more alcohol than their ...

Want to cut down on your meds? Your pharmacist can help.

November 14, 2018
Pharmacists are pivotal in the process of deprescribing risky medications in seniors, leading many to stop taking unnecessary sleeping pills, anti-inflammatories and other drugs, a new Canadian study has found.

Your heart hates air pollution. Portable filters could help

November 13, 2018
Microscopic particles floating in the air we breathe come from sources such as fossil fuel combustion, fires, cigarettes and vehicles. Known as fine particulate matter, this form of air pollution increases the risk of cardiovascular ...

No accounting for these tastes: Artificial flavors a mystery

November 13, 2018
Six artificial flavors are being ordered out of the food supply in a dispute over their safety, but good luck to anyone who wants to know which cookies, candies or drinks they're in.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.