Every year, one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to get more sleep. According to the CDC, nearly half of us don’t get enough sleep every night and it’s causing drastic amounts of damage to our bodies.
The average person is aware of how awful one bad night’s sleep can make us feel. However, most people aren’t aware of the long term side effects of not sleeping enough.
Many of us have such trouble sleeping that we go without it or turn to prescribed sleeping pills to solve the problem. These are short term solutions that will not improve our overall health. Sleeping pills have many unwanted side effects.
Is there a way to get more sleep without having to take sleeping pills?
Yes. In fact, throughout this article, you will find dozens of tips and tricks which will help you get to sleep at night. Not only will they help you get to sleep but they will help you sleep better. Which means you will feel more rested when you wake up.
Better Sleep and Better Mind: A Connection
Lack of sleep has been linked to a variety of health problems.
One of the most worrying side effects of not getting enough sleep is that it aggravates pre-existing mental health problems. What makes this so problematic is that insomnia and/or disturbed sleep is a symptom of most mental health issues. This often leads to a vicious cycle of not being able to sleep because of the illness and the illness getting more intense because of the lack of sleep – each problem making the other worse.
Two of the best things that people with mental health issues can do, outside of seeking the proper medical attention, is to take control of their sleeping schedule and to exercise – two things that go hand in hand.
If we do not get enough sleep then our brain is more likely to start releasing our stress hormones and raise our blood pressure. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the time where our brain is building new neural pathways and creates new memories. Our brain is not able to function properly or process our experiences without the right amount of sleep.
If you are struggling with a mental health problem then you may think that there is nothing you can do to improve your sleep. The good news for you is, this is simply not the case. We have filled this article with proven sleep improvement techniques that can help anyone to sleep better.
Healthy Diet and Healthy Sleep: A Connection
One of the more commonly known side effects of lack of sleep is that it is bad for our physical health.
Studies show that people who regularly work night shifts are more likely to develop cancer. And that people who do not sleep enough are more likely to have high blood pressure.
While many of us cannot choose when we sleep, we can change our lifestyle to make getting to sleep easier for ourselves.
One of the first things many people can do is change their diet.
Change to a Mediterranean type diet
Multiple studies over the last decade have suggested that the Mediterranean diet may be the key to better sleep.
Not only were the healthy oils found throughout the Mediterranean diet proven to help reduce anxiety levels but they may also help us to sleep better. It is also believed that the high levels of melatonin, serotonin, and vitamin D found in this diet can improve our sleep schedule.
Switching over to a Mediterranean diet doesn’t have to happen overnight. Start by cutting as much processed food and red meat from your diet as possible. Then start introducing more vegetables and poultry.
In the studies, a Mediterranean diet was loosely defined as:
- Limiting red meat intake
- Limiting processed food intake
- Lots of fish
- Lots of fruit
- Lots of vegetables
- Medium amount of whole grains
- Olive oil is the main type of oil in this diet
- Potatoes instead of processed carbohydrates
- Lots of dairy
- Eggs everyday
- Poultry as the main meat in this diet
Cut down on sugary meals and snacks
The average American eats more than their daily recommended intake of processed sugar.
Why does sugar prevent us from sleeping?
Well, when we eat our body breaks the food down into energy. Because sugar has no nutritional value and is incredibly easy for our body to break down, it gives us unnatural spikes of energy.
These energy spikes are intense but are over quickly and they leave our body feeling more tired than it did before the spike. We crash. To prevent us from needing to lie down in the middle of the day our bodies release adrenaline to keep us going.
The bad news is that adrenaline takes a long time (+12 hours) for our body to filter out. This means that we will be awake long into the night, even though we are physically exhausted.
Consistency & Scheduling – Set Up A Pattern
Improving your sleep should be treated like any other major change you want to make in your life. You have to set time aside to make it work and you have to build good habits to support it.
Following the next three steps is the most important thing you can do to improve your sleep. If you make going to bed early and getting 8 hours of sleep a habit, your body will start to do it without you forcing it to.
The rest of the tips in this article will not be able to help you if you do not try and keep to a regular sleep schedule. The pattern is the foundation on which we will build everything else.
We understand that this is not possible for everyone – as work and kids can prevent us from sleeping when we want.
Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night
The amount of time you need to sleep for your body to function properly is affected by a few factors – including your height and genetic makeup.
If you are not sure how much sleep you need every night then experiment. Your body will very clearly tell you when you have not slept enough.
Once you know how much sleep you need, you can start to plan your sleep schedule. If you need 8 hours of sleep a night then you should be settling down at least 8.5 hours before you need to wake up.
Wake up at the same time every day
You will find keeping a regular sleeping schedule a lot easier if you get up at the same time every day.
We understand that it can be tempting to lie in on your days off. But it is best to resist this. The later you get up, the less likely you are to burn off all your energy and go to bed at the right time.
Instead of lying in on your day off, why not go to bed a couple of hours earlier – it will have the same effect and you won’t break the pattern.
Adjust your schedule gradually
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And good sleeping habits can’t be developed overnight.
Trying to change your sleeping pattern out of the blue can really upset your body and can even send it into shock.
Instead of trying to change everything at once. Start by getting into bed at the right time, and setting your alarm 5-15 minutes earlier each day. This will give your body a chance to get used to it.
It is also much easier to convince yourself to get up 10 minutes earlier than usual, rather than 4 hours earlier than yesterday.
Relax & Unwind – Set up a nighttime routine
Having a routine that you do every day before you go to bed, is a great way to
(a) calm yourself and prevent your mind from racing once you get into bed
(b) signal to your brain that it is time to go to bed
If you get into bed straight after having a shower for enough days in a row, your body will learn that having a shower means that it will be bedtime soon. Eventually, you will start to feel sleepy as soon as you turn your shower on.
When we sleep our body temperature drops. But, we also start to feel sleepy when our body temperature drops. So, if you want to trick your body into thinking that it is tired, you just need to drop your body temperature.
There are two little tricks that will help you do this.
Firstly, wear socks to bed.
Secondly, have a warm bath. While the bath itself will raise your body temperature, you will experience a drop in body temperature once you get out of the bath.
So, have a bath then pop on some fluffy socks and jump into bed.
Our heart rate drops when we sleep. We also start to feel sleepy when our heart rate drops. Just like with our body temperature, we can reverse engineer our body to feel sleepy by relaxing.
There are many relaxation techniques that can lower your stress level and heart rate. You will need to find one that works well for you. Many people find yoga or meditation relaxing. While others like to color or listen to classical music.
As long as the exercise leaves you feeling relaxed then you will notice that it is easier for you to fall asleep.
Read a book
We will talk more later about why it is so important to ditch the screens before bed. A great alternative to this is to read.
Reading can be done in low-light, doesn’t involve any screens, and can be done lying down or in a comfortable position.
Reading is very similar to meditation in the way that it makes you concentrate while staying calm. Not only can reading help you sleep but it can also increase the amount of time that you are able to focus for.
Obviously, you want to avoid picking up any books that are too exciting. You don’t want to stay up all night reading, just to find out what happens next. You may want to consider reading something that you have read before, or a book on a topic that doesn’t interest you.
Write a ‘to do’ list
When you start to panic, your body goes into fight or flight mode. One of the many things it does while in this state is it releases large amounts of adrenaline into our system. As we have touched on before, this can keep you up for hours.
So, before you go to bed, you need to find a way to calm your noisy mind. While taking a bath, meditating and reading can help – we have one more tip that has helped hundreds of thousands of people over the years.
Before you go to sleep, take a notebook and pen (not anything with a screen!) and write down everything that you have to do tomorrow. We mean everything that comes to mind, even the small and trivial things like buying dog food or watching your favorite show.
Studies have shown that the simple act of writing a task down can allow the brain to detach from it. What this means is that when you write a task on your list at the end of the day, your brain will stop wasting energy trying to remember because it knows the thought is stored somewhere. It lets go and starts thinking about something else.
If you write down everything your brain could be panicking about for the next day then you can create a clear headspace before bed.
Some people find journaling before bed helpful for the same reasons. They get all of their feelings out on paper and then don’t have to worry about them while they lie in bed.
Our brain is all about the short term. Feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep is a long term reward. Your brain can get endorphins more quickly if you stay up all night and scroll through Instagram. Your brain will take the easy way out if it can.
For this reason, you need to make going to sleep as easy as possible for your brain. This means making the good habits easier to do and the bad habits harder to indulge in.
James Clear calls this creating friction.
Avoid light disruption
The effect that blue light has on our ability to sleep is probably one of the most documented discoveries in the last 10 years.
Our brains read the blue light from our phones, computers, and TVs in the same way that they read sunlight. If you are looking at your laptop at 11pm, then your brain still thinks the sun is up.
It takes our brain about 2 hours after seeing the sun (or blue light) to start producing melatonin – the sleep hormone – again.
If you want to sleep well, then you need to quit the screens long before you want to be asleep.
Avoid uncomfy bedding/pillows/mattress
If you are having trouble sleeping then you may want to give your betting a closer examination.
Are they creating unnecessary friction between you and your plans to sleep well? Is your bedding too scratchy? Is your mattress too lumpy? Are your pillows too flat? Is your whole setup making your back pain worse?
Investing in good bedding can make all the difference.
Lots of people are reluctant to spend money on bedding and mattresses. But we think that these items are worth splashing out on. We spend around a third of our lives in bed.
Set a temperature-keep your room cool
When humans lived outside, we could tell it was nighttime because it got dark and the temperature outside dropped.
Now that we live in houses with AC and central heating, we no longer get these environmental signals. Even though our brain is still wired to react to them.
If you want to trick your brain into preparing for bed then you should set your thermostat to dip the temperature in your room after you have eaten dinner. Your body will notice the temperature difference and start releasing melatonin.
Keeping yourself warm under your blankets won’t interfere with this environmental signal.
Keep noise down
Another hangover from our hunter-gatherer days is the fact that our brain thinks that all loud noises could mean danger.
When your brain hears a loud noise, it releases chemicals – like adrenaline that will help you stay alert. This is the last thing you want before bed.
After dinner, you should avoid using headphones and start to turn the volume down on any devices you are listening to.
If you want to listen to music before bed, make sure that you keep the volume below the level of your speaking voice. And don’t listen to anything too exciting.
No late-night TV
Having read the four tips before this one, you will probably be able to guess that we recommend avoiding late-night TV at all costs.
Not only do TVs admit a large amount of blue light and noise. But TV programs are designed to be engaging and keep you watching. They are a triple threat.
We recommend watching your last TV program or movie no later than 2 hours before you want to sleep.
You can replace late-night TV habits with calming activities like sewing, knitting, Yoga, reading, cuddling your pet, or meditating.
When you are watching TV, avoid doing it in pitch black. This can strain your eyes and heighten the effects of the blue light.
We mentioned above that TV programs are designed to keep you engaged. Social media takes this to a whole new level.
Social media companies work with psychologists and gambling experts to design their apps. The apps are designed to keep you scrolling for hours on end.
They do this by tricking your brain into releasing small amounts of endorphins that it then wants more of. The easiest way to get more is to keep scrolling.
To stop yourself from scrolling all night, you want to make that as difficult as possible. Try keeping your phone away from your bed or locking the apps from 10pm-8am. The harder you make it to access these apps, the less likely you are to want to scroll.
No phones, no blue light, no scrolling.
Super Sleep Tips
Before we leave you, here are 8 more tips to help you improve your sleep.
See the light during the day
The human brain hasn’t gone through much evolution since we were hunter-gatherers. So, understanding that lifestyle can teach us a lot about getting our body to cooperate with us. When we lived like that it was dangerous to sleep in the day – you could get sunstroke and you were very visible to predators. This is why our body does not like sleeping if it thinks it’s light outside.
Our brain knows it’s time for sleep when the sun goes down. Our brain knows the sun has gone down when it goes dark. As we mentioned before, using your phone or laptop before bed can leave the brain thinking that it is still daytime.
To help the brain understand when it is time to sleep you should make sure that you expose your body to the sunlight during the day. This will create a contrast later.
To help this process you can dim your lights after your dinner. Then when you climb into bed make sure that the room is pitch black. Blackout curtains can be a really useful tool for this. Sometimes the light from street lamps can be enough to trick our brains into thinking it is still the day.
If you want to get better sleep then exercising every day is one of the best ways to make this happen.
If you are someone who struggles with anxiety or overthinking then regular exercising can make a huge difference to your quality of life.
We have talked multiple times about how your brain releases adrenaline when it thinks you are in danger. It can do this for no reason when you have anxiety. Because you can’t burn off the energy you end up staying up all night.
However, we burn adrenaline while we exercise. If you exercise during the day, your body will not have enough time to make adrenaline that will keep you up all night. This is why so many doctors are pushing exercise as a form of treatment for depression, PTSD, and anxiety.
The good news is that the exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous. 1 hour of light exercise or 20 minutes of intense exercise is enough to burn through your adrenaline reserves. Yoga, running, or even 20 minutes of dancing to your favorite tunes can improve your sleep.
Monitor caffeine intake
Before we dive into this section. We aren’t just talking about coffee when we say caffeine. Energy drinks are full of caffeine. As are sodas like Coke and Pepsi. Even tea has a small amount of caffeine in it – although caffeine in tea acts differently from these other types of caffeine.
Caffeine has a similar effect on the body as sugar. It gives you a large spike, followed by a crash. The adrenaline then kicks in to help you make it through the rest of the day.
If you are exercising then it is okay to drink tea for most of the day or to have a couple of cups of coffee before lunch. Unless you are taking part in a lot of strenuous exercises then you will want to avoid energy drinks altogether.
Cut down on alcohol
Alcohol is mostly sugar. This is why it causes many people to put on weight when they drink a lot and it also stops a lot of us from sleeping.
Because alcohol is a toxin, our body has to spend a lot of energy to filter it out of our system. This is why we often feel exhausted after heavy drinking.
Alcohol can also exacerbate mental health issues, which in turn can prevent sleep.
Don’t eat too late
We eat so that our body can turn that food into energy. If we are eating enough, we will get a burst of energy after we finish a meal. This is why we have evolved to eat in the middle of the day.
If you eat too close to bedtime then you will be hit by that post-meal wave of energy when you should be sleeping.
You want to try and eat your last meal of the day around 5 hours before you want to be asleep. You should also try to avoid snacking before bed.
Nicotine is a very similar chemical to caffeine. However, it is a lot harsher on our bodies. After smoking our bodies get a rush from the Nicotine and the endorphins that are released when we give in to the cravings.
The main difference between Nicotine and caffeine is that smokers tend to smoke throughout the day, and don’t leave enough time between smoking to allow the energy crash to happen.
The rush of ingesting Nicotine can mask exhaustion and prevent us from sleeping.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years, but only now is science beginning to understand the amazing effects it can have on our bodies and minds.
Meditation is a great way to relieve anxiety. It allows us to detach ourselves from our negative thoughts and move on from them.
5-10 minutes of meditation before bed can help to relax you and clear your mind. It can even lower your heart rate.
Many people can find starting to meditate an overwhelming experience – as it is something completely different. However, there are many free, online guided meditations designed to help beginners develop their practice.
If you are someone who worries or has a habit of dwelling on the past then you might want to try journaling.
Journaling is often mistaken as just a way to record your day. But, it’s more than that. You can write about whatever you want. Some people choose to write about happy things to calm themselves before bed. While others like to get all the bad things out before sleeping.
Whichever method you choose, know that journaling can be a powerful tool to improve your sleep.
Just like with meditation, there are vast amounts of free, online journaling resources to help you get started if you need guidance or inspiration.
Deep breathing & body scan exercises
Body scans are an old meditation technique. You lie on your back and begin to focus on the top of your head – imagining a ball of energy there. You will then move the ball of energy down your body, relaxing each part as you do so.
By the time you reach your feet, your body will be completely relaxed and it will feel heavy.
You can pair your body scan with deep breathing that is designed to slow your heart rate.
This exercise should be done in bed, right before you want to fall asleep.
Around half of us don’t get enough sleep. The number is closer to 80% in some states. However, sleep is essential to our survival and not something we can forgo without serious consequences.
The good news is that a few small lifestyle changes can drastically improve your ability to sleep.
By preparing for bed with a relaxing nighttime routine, we can signal to our brain that it is time to rest for the night. We can also reduce our screen time in the evening, reduce our coffee intake, and eat less sugar.
With the help of this article, you’ll soon be feeling more rested than you ever have before!