On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the current quality and consistency of your sleep?
If you're like most people, your answer is probably six or below.
We have good news and bad news regarding sleep.
The bad news is poor sleep quality is a likely contributor to other health and wellness problems you've been experiencing.
Quality rest not only helps re-energize all our body's cells but also clears waste from the brain. Without consistent, quality sleep, your body and immune system will weaken, and both memory and cognition will begin to suffer1.
Loss of sleep adds up. One restless night will stick with you until you "make up" the hours another day (with interest). So it is better to maintain a consistent, high-quality sleep schedule if you want to boost your health.
The good news is there are easy ways to improve the quality and quantity of restful and rejuvenating sleep. Proactively taking steps to improve your sleep will pay dividends on improving your overall health and wellness.
Laying in bed for hours doesn't count towards getting sleep. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that over 50 million Americans struggle with getting quality sleep at night2.
Severe sleep issues should always be mentioned to your doctor so they can address any underlying concerns. The good news is that there are also plenty of things you can do at home to help improve the quality of your sleep. We've compiled the top 20 proven ways to get better sleep at night, and we're kicking this post off with numbers 20 through 11.
Coffee is considered a morning drink for a reason. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concluded that consuming caffeine as close as 6 hours before bed can noticeably affect your body's ability to rest3.
Your unique caffeine sensitivity should be taken into account, as well. For some people, elevated caffeine levels can take up to 8 hours to recede.
Melatonin helps you get to sleep faster and keeps you asleep longer. Typically melatonin creation is an internal process. When we eat foods high in calcium, magnesium, or specific vitamins, our bodies use those nutrients to convert serotonin into melatonin.
However, you can bypass this step by going straight to foods that contain fully-formed melatonin, such as fruits, grains, or nuts.
Do you lack ingredients in your diet that contain melatonin? If so, melatonin supplementation is another option to consider. Clinical research suggests that melatonin supplements improve sleep and morning alertness.4
Sometimes that nightcap sounds good, but remember that alcohol can affect your body's ability to produce melatonin. Alcohol consumption worsens sleep apnea and other conditions that disrupt sleep5. You don't have to swear off alcohol completely, but try to limit your drinks and enjoy them earlier in the day.
We all want to be cozy and warm, but lower room temperature is associated with better sleep quality. The general suggested temperature range is 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, but your individual needs may vary. The National Sleep Foundation has a handy breakdown of the best sleeping temperature for everyone by age6.
Humans are creatures of habit. While it can be tempting to stay up extremely late on the weekends, this can mess up your body's natural rhythms. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule is especially important as we age, and it becomes harder to bounce back on Monday mornings. Try setting a standard alarm, even on the weekends.
You may have heard conflicting information about the benefits and drawbacks of napping. The truth is that the benefits of napping are highly dependent on the individual7. It usually comes down to regularity. If your body took advantage of a brief siesta around 2 p.m., then it may not affect your sleep. Irregular or very long naps, however, may prevent you from falling asleep at night.
Natural light during the day will keep your body's sleep rhythm on track. In wintertime, the lack of natural sunlight can mess with your sleep8. Some artificial lights will compensate for this.
Invest in some new, high-quality pillows and perhaps a new mattress. Many of us keep our bed paraphernalia long past its expected lifespan. Not to mention all the germs that gather on your pillow over the years9.
According to Harvard Health, blue light can affect your circadian rhythm. Humans are not naturally meant to be awake during the night. Our bodies are programmed to want to sleep once it gets dark and to be alert when the sun is out. Natural sunlight contains blue light that tells our brains to be awake10.
Most screens also emit blue light. So if you spend a lot of time on your phone right before bed, you may be fooling your brain into thinking it's still daytime. Try to limit screen time after dark, or use the night mode settings that filter out blue light.
That late-night snack could be holding you back or helping you out! It all depends on what you eat. For example, a meal heavy in carbs may help you hit the hay faster.
You'll never be able to fix your sleep problems if you don't know what they are. Keeping a sleep journal will help you identify the areas that may be holding you back. Log the following points daily:
By tracking your sleep conditions nightly, you can paint a picture of your overall sleep habits. If you find yourself getting better or worse sleep, you may be able to identify what changed to cause the difference.
Many people swear by a calming soundtrack right before bed. Studies have shown that calming music can significantly improve sleep quality12. So whether your song of choice is classical music, calming nature sounds, or an opera ballad, let it play through your speakers or headphones as you drift off to sleep.
In a similar vein, white noise can help calm down your brain, resulting in a quicker and deeper sleep. For years, studies have shown that as little as five minutes of white noise can help you fall asleep immediately13.
Meditation can be a powerful sleep tool. There are two approaches you can take to improving sleep through meditation.
A short meditation can slow your brain down as low as 8 to 12 Hz14. These slow, calm brain waves are referred to as Alpha Waves, and they are most common right before you drift off to sleep. So it stands to reason that bringing your brain down to this level through meditation will help you drift off easier.
Alternatively, you can try to enter a more profound meditation sometime during the day. A brief meditation session can function just like a refreshing nap to help you recharge.
A sleep-tracker won't replace a sleep log, as they both perform different tasks. While a sleep-log helps you track outside influences on your sleep, a high quality sleep tracker can give you exact insight into how well you're sleeping. For example, whether or not you toss and turn.
Our bodies and minds don't quickly go between zero and a hundred. It can take some time to wind down after a trying day. If you go to bed with your body still in high gear, you'll only lay awake, possibly for hours.
Try to set up a calming routine that your body will begin to associate with sleep. Warm baths, aromatherapy, or a hot cup of chamomile tea will all do the trick.
The National Sleep Foundation also recommends several breathing exercises to help you find sleep faster15.
Cortisol is an important hormone. It keeps us alert and functional. Yet too much cortisol (also called the stress hormone) can become a problem. Did you know exercise can cause heightened cortisol levels?16 Typically these recede after a few hours, but this means that exercising right before bed will make it harder to fall asleep.
Natural light is the best alarm clock. We've gone over how adjusting your exposure to natural light can help you reset your sleep patterns17. However, you should also consider opening your curtains or blinds to let in natural light in the mornings. Obtaining exposure to natural light is more difficult in the wintertime. Still, during the sunnier months, that sunshine will help you rise without the snooze alarm or the grogginess.
Have you ever spent hours awake in bed with thoughts and worries just racing through your mind? It's a common problem. You may be able to get your brain to disregard these worries and let you sleep if you take a moment to write them all down.
If the previous 19 tips aren't getting you the results you want, then you may need to see a professional. Underlying disorders may contribute to sleep trouble. Don't be afraid to broach the topic with your doctor to get your sleep issues addressed.
Sleep is one of the pillars of health. If you neglect your rest, all other areas of your health will suffer. In a way, sleep is like medicine. It repairs our bodies after each long day and gets us ready for what lies ahead.
So stop thinking of sleep as time lost, and start viewing it as the essential health booster that it is.
(1) Scientific Amerian (2015 Sept) What Happens in the Brain During Sleep?
(2) American Sleep Apnea Association (2017) The States of Sleephealth in America
(3) Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (2013 Nov) Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed
(4) Journal of Sleep Research (2007 Dec) Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness
(5) Taasan VC, Block AJ, Boysen PG, Wynne JW. (1981 Aug) Alcohol increases sleep apnea and oxygen desaturation in asymptomatic men
(6) National Sleep Foundation (2020) Temperature for Sleep
(7) McDevitt EA, Alaynick WA, Mednick SC (2012 Aug) The effect of nap frequency on daytime sleep architecture
(8) Sanassi LA (2014 Feb) Seasonal affective disorder: is there light at the end of the tunnel?
(9) Schultz C (2012 Oct) Germophobes Take Note: Your Pillowcase Is As Dirty As Your Toilet
(10) Harvard Health Letter (2018 Aug) Blue light has a dark side
(11) Hitti M (2007 Feb) Carbs May Help You Fall Asleep Faster
(12) Jespersen KV, Vuust P (2012) The Effect of Relaxation Music Listening on Sleep Quality
(13) Spencer J, Moran D, A Lee, and Talbert D (1990 Jan) White noise and sleep induction
(14) Bergland D (2015 Apr) Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression
(15) National Sleep Foundation (2019) Relaxation Exercises for Falling Asleep
(16) Hackney A, Walz E (2013 Aug) Hormonal adaptation and the stress of exercise training: the role of glucocorticoids
(17) Yi C (2016 June) Can sunshine help you sleep better and wake up earlier?