We all have experiences with a bad night’s sleep. Nightmares, disturbed sleep, or not being able to get off to sleep all together. But are you one of those people who seems to have more bad nights than good ones? If so, this article is for you. The average adult needs around 6-9 hours of sleep every night, so are you getting the hours that you need? Here we will discuss 10 tips on how to sleep better.
Good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is defined as “habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.” This means that you should be paying attention to what you do at night time, as it could be contributing to your sleepless nights.
What is good sleep hygiene? First of you should ensure that your room is the right temperature. Your bedroom needs to be “dark, quiet, tidy, and be kept at a temperature between 18oC and 24oC,” says NHS UK. Your room shouldn’t be too hot or too cold for you to sleep in, which is something you really need to consider in the winter and summer months.
As the NHS UK says, your room shouldn’t be too noisy or light, either. Noise, of course, can disturb us and make it difficult to relax into sleep. This means that having the TV on in the background could be disrupting your sleep. So, either turn it right down, or better yet, turn it off all together. The television can be stimulating, which is not what you want before bed. Also, if you live in a noisy household, try wearing earplugs to block out the racket.
Similarly, you should ensure there is a limited amount of light in the room, so invest in blackout curtains if required. Or, as a cheaper alternative, you could wear an eye mask. If your room is too light, it can confuse your internal body clock, leading your brain to believe that it is still daytime.
Another key part of good sleep hygiene is trying not to eat too much before going to bed. You should not go to sleep feeling hungry, though, either. Feeling too full or too empty can cause trouble with sleep. Ensure you eat enough at an appropriate time to avoid this. Plus, try to limit the amount of junk food you eat in a day, as it can contribute to poor digestion and poor sleep.
You should aim to keep your bed, or even your whole bedroom space, purely for sleep. It is important that you don’t work from your bed or do any stressful or complicated tasks in bed, because your brain needs to associate your bed with sleep. This way, when you get into bed, you will feel sleepy right away because your brain knows what is happening. Beds are for sleeping (and sex) only.
Lastly, you need to think about comfortability. Your room should be clean and tidy; a messy space makes for a messy mind, which is not good for sleep. Fresh bed sheets will go a long way to providing comfort for you. Have the right number of pillows and blankets to achieve comfort, proper sleeping form, and healthy body alignment.
It should come as no surprise that caffeine contributes to poor sleep. We reach for a cup of coffee at work to keep us going throughout the day, right? However, you should be careful with the number of caffeine beverages that you consume in a day. If you are someone who drinks a lot of coffee, then you could be setting yourself up for poor sleep at night because the caffeine remains in your system.
Remember that caffeine is in more than just coffee. It’s also found in: sugary soft drinks (like Cola), Tea, decaf coffee (yes, even decaf has a small amount in it), and hot chocolate. It is even found in some of the foods we eat regularly, like chocolate and ice cream. Plus, caffeine is found in some medications (so check the label or ask your doctor).
Try to consume no caffeine after 7pm on the evening, giving your body enough time to get it out of your system before bed – of course, this time should depend on your intended bedtime. Try to reduce the amount of caffeine drinks you consume in the day; four cups of coffee maximum is about right. If you need to reenergize, then reach for some water instead; dehydration can lead to tiredness and fatigue, remember that.
Good sleep hygiene includes establishing a healthy sleep routine. Having a set, normal sleep routine helps you to have a healthier night’s sleep time and again. It alerts your body to your bedtime, which helps to prepare you for sleep by getting you into the right mindset.
Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Catching up on sleep on the weekends can have the opposite effect to what we’re after here. By “catching up” on your sleep, you are setting your sleep routine off-balance, thus confusing your mind and your body clock.
A key part of your routine should be your wind down routine. This can be whatever you personally find relaxing, and should ideally start around an hour before your intended bedtime. Good ideas for your sleep wind down routine could be: having a bath, reading, meditating (see below), writing a to-do list (see below), listening to relaxing music, and so on. Once you know what works, keep doing it!
An important contributor to poor sleep is stresses in our every day lives. For this reason, it is crucial that you check in with yourself to see if you’re having consistently poor sleep due to something going on in your life. Are you stressed? Strained? Overworked? Anxious? Depressed?
There could be all kinds of stresses that are weighing on your mind and effecting your sleep. These could be relationship problems, work stresses, low self-esteem, worries about the future, loneliness, boredom, pains, trauma, and so on. These stresses will need to be addressed to get yourself back on track with your sleep.
Don’t ignore the signs. If you are having poor sleep, but you have done everything to establish good sleep hygiene, then there could be a bigger problem. Stress can be hidden in our behaviors and therefore not be as obvious as we may think. But if you aren’t sleeping, stress could be the reason why.
As we said before, watching TV right before or in bed can affect your sleep. If you want to know how to sleep better, then your television habits may be the first thing that you need to address. You need to wind down before bed so that you are relaxed enough to sleep. It is better to do an activity like reading before or in bed, rather than watching TV like many people do.
TV is stimulating for the eyes and brain in ways that reading a book is not. Reading a book is known to help tire us out before bed, too. Plus, the paper is better for our eyes to look at than a bright screen. If reading isn’t for you, then alternatively, you could try something like Word Searches or Crossword puzzles. And of course, don’t rule out audiobooks.
Ask yourself honestly, do you exercise enough? Are you active enough throughout the day? If you work in an office or spend the majority of your time sitting down, then this could be contributing to your poor sleep.
Our bodies need to move to tire us out and use our pent-up energy. If you are sat at a desk all day, and you don’t do any activity, then you will be consuming caffeine and foods that give you energy that doesn’t get used – resulting in spare energy, lack of sleep, and not to mention potential weight gain.
Don’t exercise too close to bedtime, though. Exercise and activity are important, and you must include it in your day wherever possible. However, exercising right before bed can be ineffective. You will feel more awake, as your body will be fuelled by high-energy endorphins, feeling energised rather than sleepy. So, exercise at a more appropriate time; perhaps at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Another thing to remember if you are inactive all day is that your body believes it is in rest mode, which means that it thinks that it doesn’t need to sleep. Therefore naps, no matter how short, can work against us because they tell the mind and body that “you’ve already slept today” and so when it comes time to sleep at night, you feel wide awake even though you’re tired. This is why activity is so important. Use up your energy, get your body moving, and make yourself tired enough to get into bed and be ready to sleep.
It’s not just televisions that are the enemy of sleep, it’s all screens in general, including your phone. Using your phone at night, and in bed, could be what’s contributing to your poor sleep. The Blue Light in the screen wakes the brain and strains the eyes, which leads to disturbed sleep. This is due to it disrupting the melatonin, which is a sleep regulating hormone in the body.
As much as we love our phones, they are bad for our sleep. They affect our hormones, our brain activity, and so they keep us awake. If you're serious about a good night’s sleep, then don't use your phone in bed or right before sleep. Instead, try to turn off your phone at least 1 hour before bed.
As we know, being calm and relaxed before sleep is the fundamental goal for achieving better sleep. This means that any sort of meditative practice should be considered for this goal. By meditative practice, we mean calming, focused, quiet practices for the mind, body, and spirit. This is things like: meditation, yoga, mindfulness, journaling, or the like.
Meditation and yoga, in particular, are known for aiding in good sleep. These are relaxing activities which should help us to wind down and feel less tension in our bodies, thus be in a better mental state to sleep. The reason why meditation and yoga help with sleep could be due to the easing of stress and anxiety, which will in turn make it easier to sleep.
If you have never meditated or practiced yoga before, then you could take a class, get advice from a friend, or do further research of your own. Whatever you do, don’t rule them out. If you really want to improve your sleep, then these are a must-try. At the very least, you could try relaxing music or meditation guides; podcasts or audiobooks which are particularly calming and meditative.
The aim is to feel calm and at peace before bed. This is why meditation, mindfulness, or things like yoga work so well. They help you to come to terms with your day, process how you feel, relax, let go, and quiet the mind – all very appropriate for good sleep.
You can’t allow yourself to think too much about what you have to do the next day, or what happened the day of; it will only keep you awake. Therefore, it is important to rid your mind of these thoughts (which can be done through meditation, as mentioned above).
Write down whatever is in your head, so that it doesn’t sit in your mind festering anymore. This can be to-dos, or random thoughts (positive or negative), creative ideas, or other. Get it all out; don’t let your mind go around in circles.
Set out a to-do list the night before if it helps you to feel more organised and keeps your mind off these tasks. Alternatively, if writing the list makes you anxious about what the day has to hold, then don’t write one until the morning of.
Of course, it would be best to try to get things done in the day, so that they don’t weigh on your shoulders on the night. This means less procrastination, more productivity. If you know you have responsibilities and deadlines (etc.), don’t put them off; get them done – your mind and your sleep will thank you for it.
Speak to your doctor
Last but definitely not least, if you have exhausted this list of tips on how to sleep better, and you’re still sleeping poorly, then you need to contact your doctor. It is important to rule out any potential disorders or problems, like insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression, or medications that are keeping you awake.
Your doctor can advise you on what is best for you personally. They could even help you to get back on track by giving you some sleeping pills, though these are not to be taken for too long due to potential dependency risks.
Your doctor will likely ask you to keep a sleep diary, so that they can visibly see your sleep pattern. It could be a good idea to get ahead of this and already have your sleep diary ready (for at least a week, ideally longer) to show the doctor. Even if it’s just for you, it could highlight a pattern that you didn’t realise before.
So, there you have it: 10 tips on how to sleep better. If you take the things on this list seriously, you will be sleeping better in no time. Best of luck.