12 Proven Tips for Better SleepYou may have heard terms such as “life hacking” and “bio-optimizing” recently, as popular culture focuses on wellness. While these may be trendy buzzwords, the concept behind them – modifying habits and environment to maximize well-being – presents significant opportunities to improve our lives in multiple areas.
One area that experts are now examining is the relationship between sleep quality and wellness. A good night’s sleep, they are finding, is extremely important for those who want to lose weight, improve memory, enhance athletic performance, increase productivity, or simply feel good.
Many people in industrialized societies suffer from sleep disorders -- far more than are actually documented and studied. This is because folks often write off poor sleep as “just one of those things” and don’t consider it an important medical or health issue. Worse yet, they believe that there’s nothing they can really do about it.
Actually, you have more control over the quality of your sleep than you might think. That is the realm of “sleep hygiene”, and the topic of this article. Researchers have identified many practices and habits that can help you maximize the benefits of your sleep cycle, even if you’re affected by conditions like insomnia or jet lag.
There are many benefits to honing your sleep hygiene and putting together a routine that optimizes the quality of your resting hours. Poor sleep can cause weight gain, weaken the immune system, and impede memory and cognition during waking hours. Inversely, good sleep can help you eat less, exercise more, and feel better during the day.Here are twelve evidence-based tips for getting better sleep at night:
#1 Avoid Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep
We regularly ingest quite a few things that can have a negative effect on our sleep including alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
Caffeine is a stimulant and probably the most commonly consumed substance that interferes with sleep quality. Caffeine is found in coffee, some teas, chocolate, soft drinks, certain pain relievers, and -- obviously -- energy drinks. Its stimulant effects typically last four to six hours, so researchers recommend against taking in caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
Nicotine is also a stimulant and a barrier to good rest. Nicotine usually leaves the system more quickly than caffeine, so it’s recommended that users cut off all use of tobacco products about two hours before bed.
The impact of alcohol on sleep is often misunderstood. While drinking alcohol makes many people drowsy, the depressant effect only lasts for a short time. After a few hours, alcohol acts as a stimulant, which is why people who use alcohol to fall asleep usually wake up during the night or suffer from poor quality sleep. Experts recommend consuming no more than two alcoholic beverages per day and not drinking any alcohol within three hours before bedtime.
#2 Make Your Bedroom Sleep-Friendly
To optimize your sleep, take a look at where you’re sleeping. The best rest can be found in a quiet, dark, and cool environment.
Lower the volume of ambient noise with earplugs or a white noise generator. (While many people find it difficult to fall asleep without a TV or radio playing in the background, white noise can provide ambient sound without the risk of sound effects or volume changes that can wake you up suddenly.)
Darkness is key, as our bodies use light as an indicator to wake up. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light while you slumber.
Keep the temperature in your sleep space comfortably cool—between 60° and 75°F—and the room well ventilated.
Keeping computers, TVs, and other non-sleep related items out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep. You may also want to consider barring any pets from the room if they have a habit of waking you up.
#3 Establish a Pre-Sleep Routine
The idea is to “wind down” your mind and body before it’s time to hit the mattress. Action movies and video games are stimulating and not conducive to this idea. Light reading has the opposite, calming effect on the mind and is the most recommended pre-sleep activity.
Ease the transition into sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed.
Take a bath (the changes in body temperature promote drowsiness), read a book, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities -- for those working from home, that includes finishing up that important report or responding to emails.
#4 Go to Sleep When You’re Really Tired
Struggling to fall asleep is an exercise in futility that leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing until you are tired enough to sleep. It’s very difficult to “fight” your way into sleep, as the increase in stress and worry will only keep you up longer.
#5 Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher
Staring at a clock in your bedroom is another way to increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you and fight the urge to keep mental tabs on the time.
If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and start a relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music. (Keep the lights dim, as bright lights will further stimulate you into wakefulness.) Once you feel drowsy again, return to bed.
#6 Use Light to Your AdvantageYour internal clock uses ambient natural light to govern its sleep-wake cycle. Let sunlight inside or go for a walk early in the morning. Exposure to sunlight (and the beneficial infrared light it brings) is healthy during the day. At night, it can confuse your internal clock and make it harder to fall asleep.
You may have already heard that blue light is the worst in terms of confusing our internal clocks. Blue light is emitted in large amounts from electronic devices like smartphones and computers, which is why such devices are considered a major factor in the growing “poor sleep epidemic”.
There are methods you can use to reduce nighttime blue light exposure including:
- Wear blue light-blocking glasses. These are especially useful if you’re using devices late into the evening.
- Use an app such as f.lux to block blue light emissions on your computer. Similar apps are available for smartphones.
- Cut off screen time and turn off bright lights two hours before heading to bed.
#7 Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Set patterns and routines are integral to sleep optimization. Sleeping on a schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent rest.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets your internal clock to expect sleep at a certain time each night. Monday morning “sleep hangovers” often occur because people tend to change their sleep habits on the weekends. Avoid this effect by keeping your sleep routine consistent day after day.
Waking up at the same time each day is the most effective way to set your clock. Even if you did not sleep well the night before or went to bed late, the body will rebound more effectively if you wake up on schedule than if you sleep in.
#8 Nap Early—Or Not at AllNaps are part of some peoples’ daily routine. For others, they’re an occasional attempt at “catching up” on lost sleep.
For those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic, afternoon napping may be making the problem worse. Naps late in the day decrease the sleep drive, and therefore make it harder to fall asleep later in the evening. If you must nap, it’s recommended that you do so before 5 PM -- and keep the naps in the shorter, 20-minute-or-so range.
#9 Avoid Eating Heavily Late in the DayLate meals have often been linked to insomnia. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime to avoid this risk. If you get hungry at night, don’t partake in a large meal. Choose small snacks that don’t trigger indigestion or discomfort (this varies from person to person).
#10 Hydrate ProperlyThe body loses a lot of moisture during sleep, which is why many people wake up thirsty every morning. Hydration is another key part of overall wellness, so try to drink enough fluids before bedtime to keep yourself from waking up parched. Balance this intake in such a way that you’re not woken up during the night to run to the bathroom.
#11 Exercise -- But Not Before Bedtime!
Exercise helps promote restful sleep by stimulating production of the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain and increase the sleep drive. The drowsiness comes later, however, as most people will feel energized and wide awake for several hours after working out. To avoid this, exercise at least three hours before you’re planning to go to sleep.
#12 Follow ThroughSome of these tips are easier to adopt than others. The key to success is often making small, iterative changes toward a goal rather than throwing your entire routine into upheaval in one fell swoop. The important thing is to stick with the changes, develop a sleep routine, and remain consistent day after day with your sleep hygiene. If your routine can’t be managed long-term, it won’t likely give you the results you’re looking for.
Not all sleep problems are easily remedied with the environmental and lifestyle changes we discussed. If you take the above steps and still have trouble with sleep, consult with a medical professional or sleep specialist to determine if a sleep disorder such as apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, or another clinical problem might be involved.