Let’s talk about sleep. It’s that wonderful thing that bookends our days, carrying us off to the sweet land of dreams, so that we can rinse and repeat.
But if you’re one of the 50% of people who doesn’t get enough of it, sleep might be feeling more mythical than magical. Tossing, turning, and sleepless nights that won’t let up – no matter what you do.
Does that sound familiar? Then your put on your scuba suit. We’re taking a deep dive into everything you can do to improve your sleep. We start with the essentials and level up to the super tips. You can dip into this guide any time to get some handy tricks, tips and sleep hacks – or you can read it front to back for the full scoop.
By the end of it, you’ll be empowered with better tools to help you sleep well and wake up refreshed. Let’s go!
Better sleep and better mind: the ultimate power couple
A sound night’s sleep makes for a sound mind.
It’s well known that poor sleep aggravates pre-existing mental health problems. Unfortunately, disturbed sleep is also symptom of most mental health issues. It can easily create a cycle, where each problem makes the other worse.
The positive side? You can improve your mental health just by improving your sleep! (Or even have a look at our guide to taking care of your mental health). And there are so many things you can do to help your sleep.
But first, here’s some good stuff sleep can do for you:
🧠 Your brain detoxes from the day by taking out the neural trash. This is why we feel so refreshed after a great night’s sleep.
🧠 You build new neural pathways. That’s right, you literally sleep yourself smarter!
🧠 Your brain turns your experiences into memories during REM sleep. The better you sleep, the better your memory.
💪 Quality sleep boosts your immune system. So, are you ready to sleep your way to your best life? We hope so, because this guide is an epic roundup of everything you need for sweet, sweet dreams.
Diet: Eat well to sleep well
What’s diet got to do with sleep?
A whole lot, it turns out.
Not only does the food you eat affect your sleep, but your sleep changes the way you eat. We’ve all been there; bleary-eyed, exhausted, and reaching for nearest chocolate bar. Quick fixes might get you through the day, but they sure won’t get you through the night – sugary foods are well known to disrupt sleep.
One of the first and best things you can do to improve your sleep is work on your diet. But don’t worry, there are no carrot sticks on this agenda.
(Yay for this one) – eat more Mediterranean-style
The results are in and scientists say the Mediterranean diet is simply the best for getting better Zzz’s.
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 doesn’t stop there – the Mediterranean diet is packed with melatonin, serotonin and vitamin D, which can all work wonders for our sleep.
Switching to a Mediterranean diet doesn’t have to happen overnight (unless we jump on a late-night flight to Rome – anyone else with us?!).
Start by cutting as much processed food and red meat from your diet as possible. Then start introducing more vegetables and poultry.
Luckily, a Mediterranean diet is feel-good and tasty:
- Lots of fish 🐟
- Lots of fruit 🥝 🍓
- Lots of veggies 🥦 🥑
- Less processed food, more potatoes 🥔
- Less red meat, more chicken 🍗
- Medium amount of whole grains (the brown ones) 🍜
- Olive oil is the main type of oil in this diet 🫒
- Lots of dairy 🥛 🧀
- Eggs everyday 🥚 🥚 🥚
Is it just us, or does that sound pretty good?
If you’re wondering where to start, check out The Minimalist Baker for tonnes of mouth-watering Mediterranean recipes. Just try not to get distracted by the deserts…
Say no to sugar – you’re sweet enough
The average American eats more than their daily recommended intake of processed sugar. Almost three times more. Yikes.
But why do high-sugar foods stop us from sleeping?
Sugar sends our bodies on an energy rollercoaster. It creates unnatural energy spikes that are intense, but over quickly. Then we crash. Our body has to step in with a big adrenaline boost to keep us going.
What’s more, the adrenaline sticks around for up to 12 hours. This can keep us staring the ceiling long into the night, even though we are physically exhausted.
Routine: Keep things consistent
When it comes to improving your sleep, consistency is key.
You have to set time aside to make it work and you have to build good habits to support it.
These next three steps will be the most important for improving your sleep. Imagine you’re building the dreamiest, sleepiest empire known to man. You need good foundations to build on, right? 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.
We understand that this is not possible for everyone – as work and kids can prevent us from sleeping when we want. The key is to try your best.
Get 7-9 hours every night (the dream!)
Here’s a weird fact – 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, experiment. Be the scientist in your very own sleep lab. Your body will tell you when you haven’t slept enough (hint: you’ll feel tired!).
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
Keeping a regular sleeping schedule gets a whole a lot easier if you get up at the same time every day.
You know what that means, right?
No more snooze alarm on weekends. 😫
Before you click off this tab and never return, hear us out.
The later you get up, the less likely you are to burn off all your energy and go to bed at the right time. And so, every weekend, you’re messing with your hard-earned sleep cycle once more.
By keeping it consistent, your body knows what to do and you’ll find it much easier to sleep in the evenings.
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.
It is also much easier to convince yourself to get up 10 minutes earlier than usual, rather than 4 hours earlier than yesterday.
Relaxation: Curate a divine bedtime routine
If you have sleeping problems, you’ve probably built up some anxiety around bedtimes.
Create a bedtime routine that you love. It should be something that feels special, helping you relax and unwind, soothing your soul and getting your body ready for bed.
Having a lovely evening routine can help:
(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
Read on for our favourite ideas for a jzooshing up your bedtime routine to make it something you’ll love.
Bubble, bubble, bubble bath
If you don’t know already, baths are great before bed.
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.
First, 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.
Second, pop on some fluffy socks and jump into bed.
Doesn’t that sound dreamy?
Find your chill zone
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.
To drop your heart rate, you need to find your chill zone. What relaxation tips help you?
Here are some dreamy bedtime activities you could try:
🧘 Gentle yoga or stretching
😌 Meditation or mindfulness
✍️ Coloring books (remember that fad?!)
🎶 Listening to soothing classical music
As long as the exercise leaves you feeling relaxed, you’ll find it’s easier for you to fall asleep.
Go old-fashioned – that’s right… Books
We will talk more later about why it is so important to ditch the screens before bed. Reading is a great alternative and here’s why.
Reading can be done in low-light, doesn’t involve any screens, and can be done lying down or in a comfortable position. It’s also very similar to meditation in the way that it makes you concentrate while staying calm.
The calm part is important, so avoid getting stuck into an exciting read (what, no 50 shades?! We jest.)
You don’t want to stay up all night just to find out what happens next. Try something that you’ve read before, or a book on a topic that doesn’t interest you.
Put your worries down on paper
Want to let your worries go? Write them down!
Studies have shown writing down tasks helps your brain to let it go. Otherwise, your brain feels responsible to keep reminding you. And so, it pesters you all night, like an annoying toddler.
Before you go to bed, 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.
Distractions: Be a minimalist
You promised yourself you’d go to bed early today. But, somehow, it’s 12:00am and you’re watching videos of a sausage dog in a raincoat.
We’ve all been there. And that’s because our brain will choose a short-term hit of endorphins or dopamine over long-term rewards like sleep.
We have to outsmart that pesky, internet-addicted brain.
Here are some ways to put obstacles between yourself and the tempting distractions that stop you sleeping:
- Leave your phone in the next room
- Set restrictions on your phone apps
- Don’t just switch the TV off, unplug it
James Clear calls this creating friction. It also taps into digital minimalism, which is all about using our devices in a way that enhances our lives (rather than letting them steal our time). If you’re interesting in ending your toxic relationship with your phone, we’ve got a guide on digital detoxing for you too.
Warm up your light spectrum
Blue light is bad for sleep. It tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime and your body stops producing melatonin, the hormone.
You can increase the warmth on your smartphone/computer and enable nightshift mode. But for a good night’s sleep, you’ll want to avoid devices at least a couple of hours before bed (and that includes TV!).
Make your bedroom blissful
Your bedroom should be a place where you can unwind, relax, and feel peaceful.
They say a tidy space is a tiny mind. We’re not going to go full Marie Kondo on you, but there a few benefits to be had from a good declutter.
Cleaning up your personal space can be act of self-care. You may, (or may not!) enjoy the act of cleaning but the result can be quite peaceful and give you a sense of achievement.
By decluttering your bedroom, you also remind your brain it is a space made just for sleeping and relaxing.
Make the bed a sacred space
We’ll be frank here. Your bed should be for two things: Sleep and sex.
If you use your bed as a space for eating, watching Netflix, speaking on the phone, studying or doing your makeup routine, your brain starts to think of it as an ‘awake’ space.
For our brain to associate the bed with sleeping, it needs to be strictly sleepy vibes.
Avoid uncomfy bedding/pillows/mattress
Could your bedding be creating friction between you and your plans to sleep dreamily?
Here are some things to consider:
- Is your bedding scratchy?
- Is your mattress too lumpy?
- Are your pillows the right plumpness?
- Do you wake up with back, neck or shoulder pain?
Investing in good bedding can make all the difference. Just think, we spend a third of our lives in bed!
Keep your room cool (no, not that kind)
When humans lived outside, we could tell it was night-time 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.
But don’t worry, snuggling down under the blankets won’t with this environmental signal.
Keep noise down
A hangover from our hunter-gatherer days means 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, 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 leave the party anthems for the morning – now is the time for relaxing music.
Late night TV is off the list
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.
Late night TV is a triple threat:
- Lots of blue light
- Lots of noise
- Designed to hook you in and keep you watching
So, a couple of hours before bed, it’s time to turn off.
Luckily, there’s plenty of calming things you can do instead like sewing, knitting, Yoga, reading, cuddling your pet, or meditating.
TV is designed to keep you hooked, but social media takes this to a whole new level.
Here’s the sinister reality. Social media companies work with psychologists and gambling experts to design their apps. They design their apps to give your brain micro-doses of feel-good hormones, which keep you coming back for more. (If you haven’t seen ‘The Social Dilemma’ documentary, it’s well worth a watch – not late at night, might we add!).
It’s time to reclaim your headspace.
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.
Super Sleep Tips
We’ve covered four fantastic approaches to revolutionising your sleep: Diet, routine, relaxation, and distractions.
Before we leave you, here are 9 more tips to help you improve your sleep.
Get more natural light
Step outside and let the world see that beautiful face of yours.
Natural light helps our body to regulate its internal clock and so a simple walk outside every day can work wonders for sleep. The best time of day is late morning or lunchtime – and ditch the sunglasses. You can also try working near a window to maximise the natural light you soak up.
Get up off of that thang (yes, exercise)
Exercise can help with sleep, anxiety and overthinking – so, it’s time to get moving!
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 favourite tunes can improve your sleep.
Before you vow to simply swear off the Starbucks, remember that caffeine isn’t just coffee!
Here’s are some of the usual suspects:
- Coke and Pepsi
- Energy drinks
- Caffeinated tea (usually black tea but check the label)
- Some medicines like cold and flu tablets
Luckily, there’s plenty of ways to reduce your caffeine intake while still enjoying the best that beverages have to offer. Swap out caffeine for decaf and try lower-caffeine teas like Green Tea. Or how about a lovely, floral camomile tea. Mmm… Put the kettle on, would you?
Ever feel exhausted after a big night out?
It’s not just the dancing. It’s because alcohol is a toxin! Our body spends a lot of energy to filtering it out of our system. Long story short, this can make for a bad night’s sleep. So, despite being called a ‘nightcap’, it’s best to avoid alcohol for better sleep.
No late night snacking
We eat so that our body can turn that food into energy. If you eat too close to bedtime, then you will be hit by that post-meal wave of energy right when you should be sleeping.
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.
Break up with cigarettes
There are more reasons we can count to stop smoking, and sleep is one of them. 🚭
Nicotine is a very similar chemical to caffeine (but harsher on our bodies). After smoking, the nicotine gives us a buzz and endorphins that are released when we give in to the cravings. Smoking late into the day means the rush of nicotine masks your exhaustion and stops you sleeping.
Is mediation just the latest fad for apps to cash in on?
Nope! 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. 5-10 minutes of meditation before bed can help to relax you, clear your mind, and even lower your heart rate. Not only that, but it can help us to accept the present moment, be kind to ourselves, and develop more empathy for others.
And speaking of those apps, a lot of them are helpful for beginners, especially if you find it overwhelming at first. We recommend Headspace as a great place to start.
Journaling is so much more than just recording your day. You can write about whatever you want; happy things, worries, or to-do lists. The point is to get your thoughts onto paper and out of your head.
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
Are you highly visual or imaginative? You’ll love this one.
Body scans are an meditation technique from way back when. But it turns out, they’re well suited to modern life and can help us sleep.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Lie on your back and focus on the top of your head
2. Imagine a big ball of energy there
3. Move the energy ball down your body, relaxing each part as you go
By time you get to your feet, you should be feeling hella chilled out. Pair it with deep breathing techniques for the ultimate relaxing body scan.
Sleep can work wonders for your wellness.
The only catch is you might need to put some work in too.
Happily, a few small lifestyle changes can kickstart your journey from being an endless toss-and-turner to someone who sleeps oh-so soundly.
By preparing for bed with a relaxing night-time routine, you can signal to your brain that it is time to rest for the night. You can also reduce your screen time in the evening, reduce coffee intake, and eat less sugar. But if you’ve read the whole article, you’ll have heaps more sleep hacks in your armoury.
With the help of this article, we hope you’ll be feeling more rested than you ever have before!