Sleep Specialist Details His ‘Before Bed’ Routine
Aug 23, 2023
Ashley Boarman
Man sleeping in bed

Dr. Joshua Sternbach’s “before bed” routine consists of meditating, brushing his teeth and taking his dogs out. Noticeably absent from this sleep specialist’s nightly wind-down is scrolling social media.

“Scrolling late at night exposes our brains to unwanted light and can work to shift our circadian rhythms,” he says. “This makes it harder to fall asleep and can lead to sleep deprivation.

Dr. Sternbach is a board-certified pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine specialist. He’s affiliated with Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, where he provides inpatient pulmonary and critical care services. He also offers sleep counseling in the outpatient setting.

When it comes to good sleep hygiene, Dr. Sternbach practices what he preaches. He gets between eight and nine hours of sleep each night, acknowledging he needs a little more sleep than the average person.

In his practice, Dr. Sternbach treats individuals with disordered breathing such as sleep apnea and insomnia, noting that younger patients, teens and young adults tend to sleep better than older adults.

“This is because we have more wake time throughout the night as we age,” he says.

Bad vs. Good Sleep

Bad sleep, such as trouble falling asleep, getting too little sleep or experiencing fitful sleep, wreaks havoc on our bodies. According to Dr. Sternbach, “Sleep, in general, is crucial for our physical and mental health.” Numerous studies show that getting good quality or restorative sleep is just as important for our bodies as diet and exercise. Characteristics of this type of sleep include falling asleep soon after getting in bed (30 minutes or less), sleeping through the night and getting the recommended amount of sleep for your age group.

“Good quality sleep should be a priority for every person at every age,” he says.

A good night’s sleep consists of four to five sleep cycles, according to the National Institutes of Health. Each cycle includes periods of deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep, or REM sleep, when we dream.

Not getting enough sleep can lead to major impacts on immune, metabolic and cardiovascular health. Periods of short sleep, known as sleep deprivation, have been found to be particularly detrimental to these systems, says Dr. Sternbach, especially when lack of sleep becomes chronic, or lasting several weeks or months.

According to the NIH, good sleep, recommended between seven to eight hours each night, improves brain performance, one’s ability to focus and mood. People who are well-rested carry less weight and are able to maintain a healthy weight more easily than individuals who are routinely tired.

Getting good sleep also helps our bodies fight off illness and disease. Research shows that individuals who are regularly clocking more deep sleep also appear less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. People who are good snoozers also are kinder to others, studies show. And if looks are important, then beauty sleep is real. People who get good quality sleep are perceived as more attractive than their sleep-deprived selves, one study found.

Tips to Avoid a Sleep Slump

Sleep shouldn’t be treated as a throwaway activity. Dr. Sternbach recommends simple do’s and don’ts for winding down and getting the full rest your body needs each night:

  • Do: try to get up at the same time every day, get exposure to sunlight soon after waking (open those curtains!), establish a bedtime routine that helps you gradually wind down about an hour or two before you go to sleep, make sure the bedroom is only for sleep and is quiet, cool and dark.
  • Don’t: use screens late into the night, consume alcohol around bedtime, use your bed for non-sleep activities (aside from intimate relations).

Implementing good sleep habits can help you show up as your best self each day. Your mind, body, and friends and family will thank you.

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