Sleep tips are like diet tips or marketing tips: never-ending. We can always keep finding more, but at some point we realize that we don’t need more, we need the basics and most of all we need to take action on those basics.
It’s like the famous 80-20 rule you hear in business: 80% of the results come from 20% of the strategies.
It’s also a great principle to apply when you’re trying to figure out how to sleep better.
That’s what we set out to do when we made this guide: We wanted to get back to basics and find the 20% of sleep tips that would give us 80% of the results and then find ways to take action.
We spoke with 13 experts to get their single best strategy on how to get better sleep, which we broke up into six distinct categories to help make them even more actionable and usable. Let’s get started.
Note: To help you take action, we turned the tips in this article into a PDF checklist for you to save or print out. Get the checklist here.
1. You have to make sleep a priority.
When we set out asking experts how to sleep better, we thought we’d get a lot of tips about turning electronics off after this time, not drinking water after that time, or keeping the temperature in a specific range.
What we didn’t expect is that almost 25% would focus on something much deeper than finger-wagging rules and clever life hacks: to sleep better we have to make sleep a priority.
This shows how important our mental relationship with sleep is – that is, if we don’t genuinely value sleep, no amount of life hacks and top ten lists will help us sleep better.
This is strikingly similar to advice you’ll hear if you ask successful people how they “made it.”
Ask a successful entrepreneur and they won’t tell you “You know, it was definitely this briefcase,” or a professional athlete isn’t going to say “Yeah, it was those shoes.”
No, they’ll use words like “persistence” and “drive.” In other words, their business, or their sport was a priority.
This is true for sleep as well.
Why obsess over the latest tools, hacks and trends, hoping that we’ll find something that will finally “do the trick?”
Check out what these three experts have to say about making sleep a priority:
“We need to make sleep a priority and stop wearing sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. The first step in chipping away our chronic sleep debt is understanding the importance of sleep and need of proper sleep hygiene. We live in an overscheduled, 24/7 society and the first thing we take for granted is our sleep and erase it from our schedules. We are better workers if we sacrifice our sleep to work more hours. We are better parents if we sacrifice our sleep to tend to every need of our child’s but at the end of the day we aren’t doing ourselves, our employees and most importantly our family any favors. We need to put sleep back in our schedule. Get it in your iCal’s and Google Calendars. Give it the respect it needs for your optimal health.”
Alanna McGinn is founder of Good Night Sleep Site and serves as Regional Representative and Director of Canada for the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. She is a certified sleep consultant and has appeared in numerous online and print publications. Follow her @GNSleepSite.
Brian St. Pierre
“The best thing most folks can do to sleep better is to make good sleep a priority. Once people decide to improve their sleep, the best thing they can do is to create a sleep routine.
This means trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, turning off electronics an hour before bedtime, minimizing caffeine intake after noon time and purposefully de-stressing for five to ten minutes before bedtime.”
“Make good sleep a priority! So often we think about eating well and working out, but we skimp on sleep. Just like you schedule your workouts, set goals to sleep a certain number of hours a night or to be in bed by a certain time. With more and better quality sleep, I guarantee you’ll feel better — and your workouts will even improve!”
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of FitBottomedGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com and author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet, published by Random House. Follow her @FitBottomedGirl.
Actionable steps to help make sleep a priority:
- Start small. – If you’re sleeping horribly, don’t make your goal be “I’m going to get 8.5 hours of sleep every day for a year.” You’ll likely fail. Instead, set a small goal, a baby step, such as “Every night after dinner, I’ll change into my pjs.” This isn’t just hocus pocus. Renowned behavior change expert and Stanford professor B.J. Fogg has helped over 26,000 people change their behaviors with this principle.
- Plan a reward. – Habit experts also know that we do things that give us a reward. To build a new habit, we need new rewards. Pick a reward for your new baby step. “If I change by ten every night, I can read my favorite ___.”
2. Create a smart sleep routine.
Going hand in hand with making sleep a priority is creating a routine. In fact, some of the expert advice in our other categories (Brian St. Pierre above and Jay Ferruggia below) also talk about the importance of establishing a routine.
Creating a sleep routine is definitely one of the 20% of strategies that will get you 80% of results.
The best part? It’s free and takes maybe five minutes to setup. You might even be done in two minutes or less.
Check out what our experts have to say and check out our next steps below to take action right now.
“I like to think of getting to sleep like writing a good story. The last act, the last few hours before I sleep has to lead me to the conclusion, it shouldn’t just happen abruptly or the audience (and in this case your body) will be confused. So I try to eat dinner early, avoid exercise at night, get washing up out of the way, stop checking all emails/texts, start to dim the lights, avoid watching TV that’s too engaging and finally head into my bedroom for sleep. I find proper sleep requires its own space.”
“My best actionable advice to aid in better sleep is to develop a consistent bedtime routine and sleep pattern. Having a bedtime routine with consistent sleep hours will help train your body to slow down and relax, which will lead to more peaceful sleep and a consistent sleep pattern will enable your body to rejuvenate each night.”
Makenna Jo is the Director of Health and Fitness and the head Personal Trainer at MacJoFit, a Health and Fitness company based in Ohio. She devotes herself to personal training and helping others achieve their health and fitness goals.
“Create a routine. Consistency is king (and queen) – try to get as close to a normal eight hour night’s sleep when you can and make sure to create a routine of going to bed at the same time each night. Your body will find a natural rhythm.”
Dai Manuel is a dad, husband, Fitness Town COO, professional blogger, brand strategist, motivational speaker, CrossFit athlete and coach. Helping people lead “FUN”ctionally fit lives, one workout at a time. Follow him @DaiManuel.
Actionable steps to help create your own sleep routine:
- Write down your routine. – Creating a routine in your head is one thing, but you’ll forget it tomorrow. Instead, take two minutes to sit down and write down what your routine is going to be.
- Put your routine where you can see it. – Another key to taking action and following through is being constantly reminded of your goals. Tape your sleep goals next to your bed, on the wall, on the door, on the dresser or anywhere where you’ll see it daily. It can work wonders.
3. Sleep in complete darkness.
We thought it was noteworthy that just like making sleep a priority and creating a bedtime routine, sleeping in complete darkness is also a necessity to achieving better sleep, according to three of our experts.
Biologists across the world know that sunlight dictates our sleep/wake clock. This internal clock’s reliance on light is why you can travel to the other side of the planet and get on their schedule in a few days.
But only in very recent history have we had artificial lights to screw it all up (thank you, Thomas Edison.) What’s worse is that our phones and computers (and anything with an LED screen), are even worse than a regular light bulb, because they shine extra blue light at us, which makes our bodies produce less melatonin, a key hormone that helps us fall asleep.
“Sleep in complete darkness: think bat cave. The tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the tiniest glow from your cell could be interfering with your sleep. Close your bedroom door and get rid of night-lights. NO JOKE!
I also use blue light blocker glasses at night: highly recommend them. Studies show that when people use blue-blocking glasses, even in a lit room or using an electronic device, they produce just as much melatonin as if it were dark. For other ways to block blue light and hack your sleep, visit my SleepHacks page.”
Ameer Rosic is a biohacker and optimal health warrior that helps entrepreneurs, athletes and top performers get in shape and upgrade their sleep. He is a #1 Best Selling author on Amazon, has a TV show, is a podcast host and has written for The Huffington Post. Follow him @AmeerRosic.
Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg
“Turn off your electronics one hour before bedtime. Electronic devices such as iPads, iPhones, laptops and televisions emit light in the blue spectrum. This type of light is most disturbing to sleep. It suppresses our melatonin production and in fact delays it. This leaves us unable to fall asleep and unable to waken alert in the morning. Blue light emitting devices are a major cause of insomnia in the USA.”
“Having a routine to wind down at night is the most important thing. Keep the lights low. No computer or bright lights for at least two hours before bed. Do a brain dump into a journal to wrap up the day and prepare for tomorrow. Listen to some calming music. Read non-stimulating stuff. Meditate and practice deep breathing. Stretch and do some light self myofascial release. And eat some carbs within a few hours of bed to help you sleep better.”
Actionable steps for sleeping in complete darkness:
- Have an alternative to your phone for nighttime. – If you’re addicted to your phone, just saying “I’ll stop using it at night” isn’t going to work. Instead pick out some alternatives right now and put them by your bed. A book? Magazine? Your Kindle (yes, a Kindle can be better for night time readers)? Or even a conversation with your spouse?
- Try black out shades. – City lights or other lighting coming in through a window bothers many of us. You can fix that. Try black out shades or other heavy blind and drape systems. If all else fails, a good old eye mask can also work like a charm.
4. Try natural solutions for better sleep.
We get it, sometimes even if you make sleep a priority, create a routine, turn off electronics and sleep in complete darkness, you still have trouble sleeping.
For many people, it’s a real problem. We know from the CDC that over eight million adults use prescription sleep aids every year in the U.S.
Fortunately, there are also a few natural solutions that can help you sleep better every night.
“Start drinking two glasses of tart cherry juice every day. One glass in the morning and one glass in the evening, though don’t drink it too close to bedtime or you will be up going to the bathroom. Recent studies have shown that drinking tart cherry juice can help people suffering with insomnia fall asleep faster and clock approx. 90 minutes more sleep per night. Tart cherry juice is a natural source of the sleep hormone melatonin and amino acid tryptophan. Before you down sleep aids or try to deal with the ever tricky to properly dose melatonin capsules, try the much more natural option of cherry juice. Give it at least a week before you expect to see results.”
“Use a drop of lavender essential oil on your feet or pillow. It can help you relax and fall asleep faster and stay asleep.”
Actionable steps for trying natural solutions:
A trusty Google search can help you find lavender oil, if you want to try it out and you can find Montmorency tart cherry juice at your local grocery or health food store. Interested? Go get some now instead of waiting for better sleep to happen on its own.
5. Incorporate exercise in your routine.
As if you needed one more reason to exercise, right? Registered dietitian and fitness blogger Anne Mauney mentions below that she notices worse sleep if she doesn’t get exercise and there’s solid science to support it.
The New York Times’ health blog profiled a study showing that exercise and sleep for most people have a great correlation: exercise more and sleep better. But even for people with insomnia and other serious sleep problems, long-term exercise (months of consistency) can improve their sleep.
That sounds pretty powerful.
“My biggest tip for falling asleep faster and getting better sleep is to exercise daily.
I notice a big difference in the quality of my sleep – and how quickly I fall asleep – if I haven’t gotten in a good sweat session that day.”
Actionable steps for getting more exercise:
Of course, this section could be its own blog post, book, or billion dollar industry. But, exercising more is also about building habits just like sleeping better, for this strategy, go back to the tips for making sleep a priority and do the same for exercise. What is your first small step? Write it down!
6. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed.
Some nights, regardless of rock-solid habits, we can have trouble falling asleep.
We’re human and we have human problems: work, family, relationships, your favorite team losing in the Super Bowl etc. Or even positives like a huge presentation the next day can keep us awake.
What do you then?
The answer, as Dr. Michael Grandner explains below, is to not stay in bed tossing and turning.
Dr. Michael A. Grandner
“If you are having trouble sleeping, the best thing you can do is to get out of bed. Do something relatively boring for a while and try again later. Spending excessive time in bed awake could lead to developing insomnia later.
You want the bed to be for rest and sleep, not tossing and turning and if you spend too much time in bed awake, you can program your brain to associate the bed with being awake not asleep.”
Dr. Grandner is an Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published over 40 articles on sleep and has been featured in the New York Times and CNN.com. Follow him @MichaelGrandner.
Actionable steps to avoid tossing and turning in bed:
- First, put a nice book or magazine (not an iPad or laptop!) by a couch that’s not in your bedroom.
- Second, have a sweater or robe and slippers next to your bed. That way, if you’re tossing and turning you won’t think “It’s too cold!” you can just toss on something cozy and go read.
- Then, read or listen to calming music in low light for a little while until you start to feel sleepy again, only then returning to bed.
Ready to start? Review our better sleep checklist.
Use this checklist to review the same tips on how to achieve better sleep but in PDF form to save to your desktop or to print out to put next to your bed. Download it here.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.