Sleep and How to Improve It

Get Better Sleep

Sufficient sleep is a known factor in good health and wellbeing.

In fact, "sleep is taking its rightful place as a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” says behavioral scientist Brooke Aggarwal, Ed.D., who has been studying heart health and sleep for six years in the Department of Medicine (in Cardiology) at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Consistent sleep not only positively affects your heart, it also helps keep your mind sharp for the next day and each day after that.

Read on to find out how your Columbia benefits can help you improve or maintain a regular sleep routine.

Sleep Problems

Solution: More physical activity throughout the day 

"Physical activity, particularly aerobic, helps to relieve stress resulting in an easier time relaxing later on," says Carl W. Bazil, M.D., Ph.D., the Caitlin Tynan Doyle Professor of Neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. "Don’t exercise within a couple hours of bedtime however – that may leave you energized with a harder time relaxing."

During the day, take a walk around the block, or start walking uphill, or build up to a run. If you don’t exercise regularly, getting started can be as challenging as any lifestyle change. Finding help, however, is easy. Your Columbia benefits include one-on-one wellness coaching and self-guided tools.

Quick tip from Dr. Bazil: Find a sleep app that uses meditation techniques before bed, which can be helpful in getting your mind to turn off the clutter of the day. 

Solution: Relieve Stress

If your to-do list keeps you up at night, you’re not alone. One in four Americans develops insomnia each year and stress is one of the leading causes.

If exercise isn’t doing the trick, try a hot shower, or consider your caffeine intake since stimulants can increase anxiety. Your Columbia benefits include resources to help with stress reduction, which can contribute to a better night’s sleep.

Quick tip: If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, don’t toss and turn - get up and do something else until you feel sleepy.

The self-care app – AbleTo Sanvello – has complimentary meditations to listen to for sleep or daily stress relief. Unlock all the content with the use of your UnitedHealthcare Insurance card for a premium experience.

*Username: Columbia; Password: eap

Reminder: You can reach out to someone at the Employee Assistance Program at any time. Not just when things get too busy, stressful or overwhelming. If everyday issues are keeping you up at night, consider the free, short-term therapy option: Six sessions per topic, with a licensed professional offering confidential guidance and counseling.

Televisions, computers and smartphones can interfere with a good night’s sleep. More than 90% of Americans report that they use technology within an hour of going to bed. These devices can emit a light that the brain translates as daylight, which reduces melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep.

1 in 3 adults do not get the recommended number of hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep has been linked to a number of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression. Sleep hygiene is an important component of well-being that should be considered.

It is important to keep children in mind as well when it comes to technology use at night. Consider setting a technology curfew for them; keep in mind that the earlier the better, but even 30 minutes before bed is better than no curfew.

    Sleep hygiene is all about fostering good habits that promote restful sleep. Make a personalized plan for optimizing your bedroom environment, nailing down a consistent sleep schedule, fine-tuning a bedtime routine, and eliminating any daytime habits that are making it more difficult to sleep.

    • Stick to a sleep schedule: Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Make sure others in your household are aware of your schedule so you experience fewer disruptions to your sleep.
    • Create a bedtime ritual: Try reading a relaxing book, listening to calming music or taking a warm shower.
    • Pay attention to what you eat and drink: Try not to consume caffeine after noon (if you are sensitive to it). Avoid eating heavy meals right before bed. To prevent nighttime bathroom trips, reduce fluid intake in the evening. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, it seems that alcohol may help you fall asleep quickly, but it disrupts your sleep cycles.
    • Create a sleep-friendly environment: Consider using blackout curtains to keep the sunlight out of your room or wear an eye mask. Keep the temperature in your bedroom between 60° and 67° F.

    Go to the Office of Work-Life's Sleep Health page for more information.

    Upcoming Workshops

    CopeColumbia Presents: How to Sleep Better: Ask the Experts 
    Thursday, April 6, 2023: 12 – 1 p.m. | Register Here

    CopeColumbia welcomes you to an engaging follow-up session focused on sleep. We invite attendees to pose questions to our experts live as we collectively explore the science of sleep, strategies to maximize rest, and identify empirically supported tools that support sound sleep. 

    Our expert panel will: 

    • Briefly review the science of sleep, and impact on health and well-being 
    • Answer your questions about sleep 
    • Highlight empirically supported research and tools to support quality sleep, even when there does not seem to be enough hours in the day


    Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, CCSH, FAHA: Associate Professor of Nutritional Medicine; Director, Center of Excellence for Sleep & Circadian Research; Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine.

    Jared O’Garro-Moore, PhD: Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology (in Psychiatry) at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, faculty of CopeColumbia, faculty of Diversity and Inclusion Alliance Committee, Assistant Director, Columbia Day Program. 


    Erin Engle, PsyD: Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology (in Psychiatry) at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, faculty of CopeColumbia, co-Chair of the Well-Being Committee in Psychiatry, Clinical Director of Columbia University Psychiatry Specialty Services, providing therapeutic support for our healthcare workforce. 

    Self-Care Options for Sleep Workshop
    Wednesday, April 26, 2023: 12 – 1 p.m. | Register Here

    In this one-hour virtual workshop, you will learn about a variety of self-care practices to optimize your sleep. The virtual “tour” will include evidence-based complimentary & integrative health therapies such as: Mindful Breathing, Letting Go Techniques, Body Awareness, Acupressure, Tapping, Aromatherapy, Self-hypnosis and Self-massage.

    This overview and introduction will be followed by a survey to gauge your interest in learning more about these self-care practices for sleep that may be used for future programming.