How to improve sleep is a topic that interests many people. Getting enough sleep is not as easy as it sounds! Today we have a lot of distractions and obligations that keep us from sleeping well. What can you do to improve the sleep you’re getting and get more rest?
There are steps you can take to improve your sleep. You might think that it’s best to just lie in bed until you fall asleep, but this conventional wisdom is not actually a good choice. It’s better that you learn a few tricks to helping yourself fall asleep and to getting better quality sleep whenever possible.
Why Your Sleep Might Be Bad
People suffer a lack of sleep for many different reasons. Sometimes stress can get in the way of your rest by making you restless and anxious at night. Other times you are not scheduling enough time for your body to sleep properly. Conditions like insomnia can also play a large role in why you aren’t sleeping well enough, although they may be caused by some other problem.
Most conditions that will make your sleep suffer can be treated in similar ways. If there is an underlying health issue, then you may have to treat that medically before you will sleep well. But, most people can improve their sleep by trying out a few methods outlined below.
Steps to Improving Your Sleep
Try some of these things to begin improving your sleep:
Avoid Caffeine and Other Sleep Inhibitors
You might like to take a cup of coffee in the morning and that’s okay. But, if you usually drink coffee, sodas, caffeinated teas, energy drinks, or anything with a lot of sugar later in the day than you should stop this habit. Excess sugar and caffeine can prevent you from sleeping at a reasonable time. Even if you ingest these items in the afternoon you might still suffer from it during the evening.
If you’re going to eat or drink anything to help you stay awake, limit yourself by only taking it before 12 noon. After that time, you need to cut off everything which might be keeping you awake longer in the evening. You might not feel particularly energetic or awake, but the substances could still be ruining your sleep.
Create a Sleep Routine
This step comes in two different parts. First, you need to plan ahead to make sure you have long enough to sleep. The ideal thing to do is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – yes, even on weekends! Doing this will help your body get used to the routine and will make it easier for you to sleep and wake up every day.
Plan your sleep schedule around your wake up times and count backwards at least 7.5 hours. This is the time you need to be asleep (Not just going to bed, but actually asleep by then).
For example: If you need to be awake by 7AM every morning, you should be in bed sleeping by 11:30PM. It might be wise to get ready and go to bed by 11PM to make sure you’re actually asleep by 11:30.
The second part to creating a sleep routine is developing a set of habits you always do right before sleeping. If you get used to a certain 10-20 minute routine before you sleep, your body will automatically adjust into sleep mode when you begin your routine.
Try to only do calming, low-energy things before bed. You could have a routine like brushing your teeth, washing your face, getting into your pajamas, and reading for 10 minutes until you turn off your light and sleep. After a few weeks of doing this consistently, brushing your teeth in the evening will become a sort of trigger for your body to prepare for sleep and you will feel more able to sleep.
Go to Bed When You Feel Tired
Although it sounds intuitive, many people actually ignore this obvious body sign. When you are feeling tired it is your body’s way of signaling you that you need to sleep. Even if you’re feeling tired before your normal bed time, give in to that need and let yourself rest early. By staying awake you are going to cause your body to work harder at staying awake by releasing the wrong hormones.
In order to sleep your body has to produce the right combination of hormones at the right time. Tiredness is a good sign that your body is ready for sleep and is producing the necessary chemicals to make it happen. Ignoring your tiredness long enough makes your sleep hormones go away and other wakefulness hormones to be produced instead.
Have you ever noticed how difficult to can be to fall asleep once you stay up past a certain point? Sometimes this is called your “second wind”. That feeling you get comes from your body realizing it will not be sleeping and producing hormones to keep itself functioning consciously. If you reach that point, you’ve waited too long and will now find it difficult to sleep when you want to.
Avoid this issue by going to bed when you feel tired at night!
Watch Your Diet and Eating Times
Certain items in your diet can cause you to lose sleep or have a harder time falling asleep. It’s easy to identify a lot of foods and drinks that we shouldn’t take late at night, such as coffee or energy drinks, but did you know there are actually a lot of things you might want to avoid before sleep? Here is a short list of the most common sleep-disrupting foods, with some explanation why they are not a good idea: http://www.epicurious.com/archive/blogs/editor/2013/11/sleep-better-foods-that-are-keeping-you-up-at-night.html
Along with your diet, you should pay attention to when you’re eating your meals. Late night meals and heavy evening meals are not advisable. Your digestive system has to work to properly digest your meals, so if you take a heavy meal in the evening it will be working hard while you’re trying to sleep. Even if this doesn’t keep you from falling asleep, it may affect the quality of your sleep.
It’s better to eat a heavy meal for lunch and eat a lighter dinner. Or, if you eat a heavy dinner, eat it early on so that you have the right time to digest it. Take a lighter, less sugary snack before bed if you get hungry.
No matter what time you exercise during the day it is going to help you sleep better at night. Getting your body active and expending some of the excess energy will always help you get more shut-eye. Some people like to exercise in the morning to make waking up a bit better. Others enjoy afternoon or evening exercise. As long as you don’t do your work out 2 – 3 hours before bed you should be able to sleep well.
Try to avoid exercising right before sleeping. Give your body a chance to cool down and relax after the workout. 8pm is probably a good cut-off time for most people, depending on your specific schedule and when you plan to eat dinner and sleep.
Make Yourself Comfortable
Maybe it seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning that a comfortable sleep environment will help you immensely at night. Comfort is sometimes neglected, whether you realize it or not. This includes a good mattress, pillows, sheets and blankets, but also other elements of the room. Use thick curtains to block out light from outside, get a white noise machine to mask annoying sounds, or try something relaxing like aromatherapy. If possible, make your room an electronics-free zone.
Your ideal comfort zone might not be the same as everyone else’s. Make an environment that helps you feel completely relaxed and ready to rest.
Pro Tips for Better Sleep
Along with the steps above, try a few of these tips to make your sleep even better:
- Avoid bright digital clocks
If you have a bright clock, you might be distracted by looking at the time. You should look for a clock with dimmer lights in a neutral color like blue, green, or dim orange. Avoid red lighted clocks.
- Take shorter daytime naps
Do you nap during the day in the afternoon? Try to limit your naps to 30 minutes so you will not impact your sleep that night.
If possible, keep your shades open once you turn off the light. When the sun rises and fills your room with light, you will wake up more pleasantly from your sleep. This is going to make you feel better rested.
Natural light isn’t always available. Sometimes during the winter months, the sun can’t shine through the clouds and everything is a bit duller. If for any reason you can’t use the natural light to wake up, use a wake up light instead. These alarms turn on a light and gradually increase the brightness to simulate a real sunrise and give you light exposure in the morning. The benefits are the same, or nearly as good as waking up to the actual sunlight.
Don’t give up on a sleep routine or other sleep improvement methods! Keep trying for at least a few weeks to give your body time to adjust. If it isn’t working after 3 weeks of consistent trying, move on to something else.
Getting the right amount of sleep can be tricky, but if you get a good sleep schedule down you will be much better rested and more able to take on your daily challenges. Try out some of these methods on how to improve your sleep! You might find a whole new energy and life waiting for you. What do you have to lose if they don’t work?
Do you know any other ways to help get to sleep? Have any of these methods helped you before? Please let me know what you think in the comments below!