Better Sleep for a Better New Year

Achieving more quality sleep may help you achieve your new year’s resolutions

Woman streching after waking up.

Published January 16, 2023

When entering a new year, many people make new year’s resolutions to in an effort to take advantage of the clean slate the new year inherently offers.

These resolutions often involve changing habits or the thought process around what we do in our day to day. Most often these include exercising more, eating healthier, losing weight, reducing stress and many other worthwhile goals.

However, there is one resolution you can make this year that will help with all of them: sleep better.

Headshot of sleep medicine expert Dr. Amanda Hassinger.

“Getting more sleep on a regular schedule is the easiest way to make all your New Year’s resolutions possible,” says Amanda Hassinger, MD, MS, sleep medicine specialist.  “Better sleep can improve all aspects of how we feel during the day. More and better sleep will give you more energy to exercise. It will make it easier to control your appetite and lose weight. Most importantly, it will allow your brain to function at a higher level with less fogginess, forgetfulness and distraction. It will be easier to think, focus and be productive.”

As for those wishing for the new year to bring less stress or improve overall happiness, sleep can help with that, too.

“There is also a strong link between the brain getting enough REM-sleep, or dream sleep, and mental health,” Hassinger says. “The brain cannot cope with complex emotions or challenges if it does not fully reset each night. Skipping even an hour of sleep can make it very challenging for your brain to handle stress and can lead to mood swings, anxiety and even depression.”

Is sleeping more now on your list for 2023? Here’s what you need to know to get better sleep in the new year.

How much sleep do I need?

“Getting more sleep on a regular schedule is the easiest way to make all your New Year’s resolutions possible. ”
Associate Professor

Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

“To make sure you get the 7 to 8 hours per night you need to be healthy, count back from when you need to wake up in the morning,” Hassinger says. “If you are up at 6 a.m., then you should be falling asleep most nights by 10-11 p.m.”

The time you fall asleep and the time you wake up should not vary by more than 30 minutes on weekends and weekdays. Consistency is key!

What if I have trouble falling asleep?

This is a common issue many people face. Take a look at your routine and focus on clearing out distractions.

  • When are you getting into bed?
  • What do you do right before going to bed?
  • What is the room like where you sleep?
  • What are you doing in bed?

“The bed should be primarily for sleep only,” Hassinger said. “It’s important to avoid reading, using screens or working in bed.”

When it comes to bed time, you want to avoid sending your body signals to stay awake as they can delay sleep and worsen sleep quality.

To help fall asleep and sleep well, follow the below:

  • No screen-time within 1 hour of your goal bedtime: phones, TVs, tablets – we mean it all!
  • No eating, alcohol or tobacco products within 2 hours of goal bedtime.
  • Avoid working out within 4 hours before bedtime.  
  • Don’t vary the time you wake up by more than 30 minutes on weekends
  • Keep your goal bedtime the same everyday
  • Sleep in a dark, cool, quiet room without lights, noise or blue light (i.e. where a TV is on)

“Following these recommendations and keeping your sleep schedule the same on weekends and weekdays will help keep your circadian rhythm in synch with your daily routine,” Hassinger says. “It is very important NOT to sleep in on the weekends if you are tired. This will only prolong your ability to fall asleep at night at your goal bedtime on Monday and Tuesday. Our biological clocks are set to a 24-hour schedule and cannot understand the five-day work week.”

What’s my “Circadian Rhythm”?

Sometimes referred to as biological clock or internal clock, the circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle on a 24-hour schedule.

“It’s part of our genetic make-up, which is why some people are natural ‘night owls’ and others are ‘early birds’ regardless of when they have to wake up for their day,” according to Hassinger.

“There are aspects of our daily life that tell our biological clock when night is coming or when it is time to wake up, but our modern world is saturated with these external clues that can lead to significant confusion for our internal clocks. Things like screens and eating at night can be potent signals to our brain that is it time to be awake.”

How can I fix my circadian rhythm?

The best way to determine what is causing issues with your sleep schedule is to listen to your internal clock and find ways to make it match with your daily schedule.

Once you’ve determined your goal sleep time by counting back 7-8 hours from when you need to wake up, begin doing this for about a week. Then, start to take note of how you feel – this is where you begin listening to your internal clock.

“If you have trouble falling asleep at that time, your clock may want to fall asleep later,” Hassinger says. “You can use things like bright light first thing in the morning or even very low doses of melatonin 2-3 hours before your goal bedtime.”

How can melatonin help? How do I use melatonin?

Melatonin can be a helpful way to put your biological clock on a schedule that works for your life and what you need your sleep and wake times to be.

Regardless of what the marketing may say about melatonin, it’s not a sedative, so it won’t make you sleepy. It works by sending a signal to your brain that it is time to start the gradual process of making its own melatonin and winding down.

“The labelling on the packages is actually not the recommended dosing or timing,” warns Hassinger. “Because the products are considered ‘supplements’ there is no regulation over the actual dosing provided. Some studies have shown that the true amount of melatonin in an over-the-counter supplement can be far more or far less than the box or bottle says. The best and most reliable type of melatonin is the liquid melatonin.”

The optimal dose is 0.25 to 0.5mg of liquid melatonin about 2-3 hours before your goal bedtime. “If you take a higher dose later, like close to your bedtime, you could have way more melatonin in your system already and the extra melatonin won’t have any effect.”

Melatonin must be used at the same time every day, weekends and weekdays, for it to work to get your schedule on track. Hassinger notes it takes at least two weeks to start feeling the effectiveness, so don’t get discouraged.

Melatonin is supposed to be used in conjunction to sleep tips above. “If you do any of those things that tell your body and your biological clock that it is daytime after you take your melatonin, it will cancel out the dose; things like eating, working out or looking at a computer, phone or tablet screen.”

What if I have trouble waking up?

Many people may not view themselves as morning people, but for others it might go beyond just a dislike for the morning.

“The most common reason for being tired or having trouble waking up is insufficient sleep,” Hassinger said. “If a person is consistently getting less than 7-8 hours of sleep each night, they are building up a sleep debt that can cause sleepiness, morning grogginess and problems with thinking and functioning during the day.”

Once you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep, make sure your wake-up time isn’t varying by more than 30 minutes. Otherwise, Hassinger cautions that the body and brain get confused about your internal clock/circadian rhythm.

Also, make sure you get exposed to light first thing in the morning. Go outside, open up the blinds or use a light-therapy lamp to help your body understand it’s time to wake up and be ready for the day.  “The best types of therapy lights are at least 5,000 lux and should be on for 30 to 60 minutes when you first wake up,” Hassinger says. “These lights can be on a table or within 3 to 6 feet of you as you get ready for your day.”

What if my child is having trouble sleeping?

While it may not be part of their new year’s resolution, if your child is having trouble sleeping, many of the tips listed can be used for them as well.

“The first thing to look at when a child is struggling at bedtime is their routine or sleep habits,” Hassinger said. “Children need consistency and earlier bedtimes to allow for more sleep than adults. This is because they are actually GROWING and their brain is developing when they sleep.”

Each age range has different sleep needs to be considered.

Sleep Time Recommendations
Age Range Sleep Range Optimum Bedtime
Pre-school children 10-13 hours 7-7:30 p.m.
School-aged children 9-12 hours By 8 p.m.
Teenagers 8-10 hours Can be 9-11 p.m.
Adults 7-8 hours  

Preschoolers should also have one afternoon nap.

However, there is one age range that may need extra attention: teenagers.

“Teenagers are the worst in their sleep habits because high school starts earlier than grade school even though their biological clocks are telling them to stay up later,” Hassinger says. “Teenagers often do not get sleepy until 10 or 11 p.m., yet they have to be up for school by 6 a.m. This shortens their sleep time five days a week to less than the 8 to 10 hours they need to function. Most teenagers sleep in on the weekends to make up for their short nights of sleep in the weekdays, but two days cannot make up for five days and this leads to problems falling asleep on Monday and Tuesday and causes a vicious cycle.”

Given this, the majority of teenagers in the US do not get enough sleep as a result and inadequate sleep in the teenage years can be very detrimental to their emotional development and higher-level thinking, causing issues with focus, concentration, retention and more.

“In fact, inadequate sleep can cause depression and anxiety,” Hassinger warns.

But, don’t lose hope! Start having your all children keep the same sleep and wake times on the weekends as they have during the week. It can make a big difference to their bedtimes and falling asleep on the weekdays.

Once they are stable across the entire week, if your children still aren’t hitting their targeted sleep amount, try to move their bed time up by 30 minutes each week until they reach the ideal timing. 

Other ways to help:

  • No naps! Try to make sure they don’t fall asleep during the day. Napping for teenagers – weekdays or weekends – can perpetuate trouble falling asleep at night and make all of these changes very difficult to accomplish.
  • Tired after school? Have them try some physical activity, such as a walk or even just doing homework standing up. This can be just enough to keep them awake through to bedtime.

On your journey to better sleep, think about it as a whole-household effort.

“If everyone in the house is mindful of the importance of sleep and what activities in the day disrupt sleep, you can all change your habits to sleep better,” Hassinger says. “When a child is sleeping better, the entire house does. You don’t need to cut out anything that you love, just move these activities to further away from bedtime.”

 Some of this may include:

  • Shift your screentime. Any homework or leisure screen activities (e.g., video games, video chatting with friends, etc. ) should be done right after school. Then have any reading or homework that’s on paper moved to after dinner.
  • Set up a household screen curfew. Have all tablets and phones plugged into their chargers in a location in the house away from the bedrooms. “If you give up your phone, the children will do it, too.”

When should I seek help for me or my child?

After trying the tactics above, if they do not seem to improve your sleep after a few weeks, it may be time to see a sleep medicine specialist. If you’re still having trouble most nights falling asleep, staying asleep or not waking up refreshed, it’s time to see a health professional.

“A sleep medicine specialist can also help with any behaviors during sleep which can be dangerous to your safety or may be signs of something more serious,” Hassinger says. “Examples of these behaviors include acting out dreams, moving your arms/legs a lot at night, having very restless sleep, snoring or having pauses in your breathing and falling asleep during the day unintentionally.”

UBMD Physicians’ Group has sleep medicine specialists for both children and adults.

While it may take some effort and time to change your sleep habits, it will be a worthwhile effort that will improve several other aspects of your health and achieving any other health goals you may have set for the new year.

Dr. Hassinger is a board-certified sleep medicine specialist with UBMD Pediatrics and an associate professor of pediatrics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the University at Buffalo. Dr. Hassinger also runs the UBMD Pediatrics Sleep Medicine Center and Lab in conjunction with Oishei Children’s Hospital.

Sleep Medicine Specialists

UBMD Pediatrics

Sleep Medicine Center & Lab

Phone: 716.323.0370

Phone: 716.961.9900