For some lucky people, sleeping comes as easy as breathing. For the rest of us, the occasional refresher on how to get healthy sleep helps make falling asleep a little easier.
If you’ve been experiencing less than restful sleep or occasionally have trouble drifting off, think of it as a check-engine light. Your body or mind is telling you something in your routine isn’t working. Much of the time, a little maintenance can help diffuse the problem and you get your sleep back on track.
Over the past decade, quite a bit of research has looked at what differentiates good sleep from poor sleep, and what people can do to help themselves get better rest. Though the term may remind you of cleanliness, the phrase “sleep hygiene” actually refers to these best practices for improving sleep quality.
Luckily, many of these are factors are things that we can largely control, such as the conditions of our sleeping environments and our behaviors. If you’re ready for sweeter dreams, we’ve collected ten of the most influential ways you can help yourself plan for better sleep and develop healthier nighttime habits.
1. Support Your Circadian Clock
Most animals and even plants are regulated by internal clocks that tell our systems when we should be doing certain things.
Our circadian clocks govern arousal, sending our bodies signals on when we should be awake and when we should be drowsy. When functioning optimally, we get tired about 30 minutes before our normal bedtimes and wake around seven to nine hours later.
Circadian rhythms take their cues from different sources, including light and your habits. One of the best ways you can support your body is to wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day, even on the weekends. Make sure your schedule gives you enough sleep to feel well-rested the next day. Some research shows that wake time is the most important one to keep consistent, so if you do need more sleep from time to time, heading to bed earlier may be better than sleeping in.
Making gradual changes can be helpful if your current bedtime isn’t in where it needs to be. Ensuring you get direct sunlight exposure during the day can also help support your internal sleep clock.
2. Establish a Regular, Relaxing Bedtime Routine
If you want to get good sleep on the regular, than a regular bedtime routine is important. Following a similar pattern of activities at night (in addition to keeping a regular bedtime) helps prepare your mind for sleep. For the parents out there, routines are also helpful for getting kids to bed.
A good bedtime routine avoids arousing activities like working, exercising, paying bills, overly stimulating media or games, arguments, social media and other potential sources of stress or sleep-stealing thoughts.
Warm baths are one helpful thing to include if you have difficulty getting drowsy, as the temperature drop from warm to cool supports the body’s natural process of drowsiness. Baths work better than showers, but a warm shower or just a warm foot soak could do the trick. Ideally, baths and showers should be one to two hours before your bedtime.
Other sleep-friendly activities include zoning out to relaxing music, scanning an book, writing in a journal, gentle bedtime stretches, herbal tea or other activities that you find help bring calmness and reduce stress. If self-help techniques aren’t working, you may want to consult with a professional therapist specializing in relaxation techniques.
3. Keep Bedrooms Comfortably Cool
Sleep is a biological activity, and one of the processes taking place as we doze involves body temperature. As your body signals it’s ready for sleep, your internal temperature dips slightly, hormones and neurotransmitters are released, and you get drowsy.
Recent research has shown that external temperatures also play a role in sleep quality. Particularly, findings show that cooler rooms result in deeper, higher quality sleep. Though individual comfort preferences will vary, ideal room temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees so mind the thermostat before bed.
Using weather-appropriate bedding made with breathable materials can help you achieve the right balance. If you feel too warm or too cool, evaluate room temperature, bedding and your pajamas, too. For partners with dramatically different ideas of comfortable climes, a device like the ChiliPad can help optimize sleep environments without compromise.
4. Embrace Digital Detox and Darkness
Another thing going on within your body that supports sleep is the release of melatonin, which usually begins a little before your normal bedtime, peaks at the midpoint of your sleep, and tapers off close to wakeup time.
However, a lot of light exposure late at night can delay melatonin release and affect your sleep quality — keeping you up later and leaving you tired the next day.
Research has focused on blue light sources in particular, which are believed to be most disruptive. The biggest culprits? Your television, tablet, e-book, smartphone and computer. It’s best to power these devices down at least an hour before bed, keep smartphones away from your nightstand, and keep indoor lighting dim close to bedtime.
5. Sleep With a Comfortable Mattress and Pillows
A comfortable place to sleep is an important part of the equation. The best mattresses are those that reduce tossing and turning and doesn’t trigger pressure points, all while keeping you cool. If you wake up with more pain, feel pressure points, or see noticeable wear and damage, your mattress may have exceeded its lifespan. A quality mattress typically lasts eight to ten years; after that there’s a good chance you’ll get better sleep on a newer model. If you think existing pain is being exacerbated by your bed, read our guide on what makes a mattress good for back pain.
If pressure points are a major concern, look into investing in memory foam. While foam was once considered a heat trap, the best memory foam mattresses now feature advanced cellular technology which helps cool you cool and comfortable all through the night.
Pillows are also important, and generally have a much shorter lifespan than beds. If you’re experiencing neck or shoulder pain, make sure your pillow is keeping your head at a natural, neutral angle relative to your spine. Opt for hypoallergenic pillows or wash them regularly to limit allergens and bacteria.
6. Use Your Bedroom Only for Sleep
Using your laptop, working, studying or channel surfing from bed can be comfortable, but it can also break the mental association between your bed and snoozing. It’s best to reserve the bed for sleep and sex only, that way your body and mind are on the same page come bed time.
If there any other objects in your bedroom that give you anxiety, try nixing them from your sleep space, too. If staring at your textbooks or work files leaves you thinking about your to-dos, check them in study. If your alarm clock causes you to worry about when you have to wake up, turn the display off or face it away.
7. Finish Eating Well Before Bedtime
Eating or drinking too much may make you less comfortable when settling down for bed. The energy of digestion can raise your core body temperature, spicy foods can cause heartburn, and greasy foods can give you indigestion.
Meals with healthy carbs and lean protein are thought to be best for sleep, but one study says dinner should be four hours before bedtime to see positive effects. A light nighttime snack is fine, but again, keep portions small and skip potential stomach irritants.
Also, try to focus your water intake earlier in the day and reduce fluids close to bedtime so you aren’t waking up often for the bathroom.
8. Get Cardio Exercise Regularly
Exercise and sleep have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship. If you’re getting good sleep, you’ll have more motivation and energy to exercise, and healthier body weight is associated with less risk of problems like sleep apnea.
In the other direction, getting regular exercise can actually help you get more sleep at night. In one study of middle-age insomnia sufferers, the benefits of regular, moderate cardio mirrored the effects seen from pharmaceutical sleep aids. After four months, people were sleeping 45 minutes longer.
National Sleep Foundation surveys also found that people who reported regular exercise were more likely to also report good sleep, while non-exercisers were most sleepy.
Ideally, it’s thought that exercise is best earlier in the day. If you are an evening exerciser, try to work it in at least a few hours before bed to give your body time to wind down if you feel wired come bed time.
9. Avoid Caffeine Close to Bedtime
We all know that caffeine gives us energy, but it’s easy to underestimate or overlook it’s impact. Caffeine can linger in the body for hours — it takes about six hours just for your body process half of a caffeine dose. Researchers found significant effects on sleep even after six hours, and it can affect some people for up to 12 hours.
If you are having a lot of trouble sleeping, cutting out caffeine completely at least temporarily may help. Those who regularly consume caffeine in the evening could be experiencing effects without realizing it, as one study documented changes to sleep patterns and quality even with low doses. At the very least, switch to decaf coffee, herbal teas, and decaf soda after lunch time.
What tips and tricks help you get a better night sleep? What techniques seem to work the best for achieving better rest in your experience?