How to Get Better Sleep
At some point, everyone is likely to deal with sleep problems. Maybe you have chronic insomnia, or maybe you get overtired after traveling. While everyone is different, there are a few things you can try to help you get better sleep at night. Some of these are ideal when incorporated into your nightly routine, while others specifically focus on getting better sleep before, during, and after traveling. Not everything will work for everyone, but most people should experience improved sleep by trying these tips.
Adjust Your Routine – Both During the Day and at Night
Many of the ways to get better sleep revolve around setting a nighttime routine and sticking to it. The following tips focus on improving your sleep by adjusting that routine.
Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
One of the first things you should try to do if you have trouble sleeping is to find a sleep schedule that works for you and stick to it. Shifting your sleep schedule by one or two hours can be enough to reduce your energy and feeling of being refreshed in the morning.
To do this, start by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. This will put you on the path to setting your internal clock, helping optimize your sleep quality. When trying to figure out when to go to sleep and wake up, think about your schedule and what time you tend to feel tired. If you go to sleep too early, it will be harder to fall asleep. You can tell that you chose the right bedtime if you naturally wake up without needing an alarm, at least most or some days.
A regular sleep schedule also applies to when you wake up. It can be tempting to sleep in on the weekends, but this can lead to symptoms that are similar to jet lag. For most people, the best option is to take a nap instead of sleeping in. This way, you can make up for the lost sleep but not ruin your natural sleep cycle or rhythm.
Speaking of naps, most people will notice that their sleep cycle tends to get messed up if you nap too much. With the exception of naps to make up for lost sleep, try to keep most naps to about 15 to 20 minutes.
If you currently take longer naps during the day and don’t experience sleep problems, you may not need to worry about this point. Research shows that those who are used to naps during the day will not experience the same negative effects on their nighttime sleep as those who are not used to daytime naps.
Adjust Your Light Exposure
Melatonin regulates your sleep and wake cycle. Your body’s production of melatonin is strongly influenced by the amount of light you are exposed to. More melatonin is produced when it is dark, so you get tired. Because of this, your goal should be to maximize your exposure to light during the day and limit it at night. This way, your melatonin production will complement your sleep cycle.
In the morning, try making sure you get some bright sunlight, even through a window. Then, during the day, spend time outside if you can. If you can’t, let in natural light into your home. You may even want to rely on a light therapy box, which can be incredibly helpful in winter.
At night, do the opposite. Start by avoiding bright screens for an hour or two before bedtime, including your computer, TV, and smartphone. If you have to use one of these screens, at least turn down the brightness. This may take some minor adjustments. For example, instead of reading on a backlit device, choose to turn on a small light in the room and read with a non-backlit device.
In addition to reducing light exposure in general, make sure to reduce your exposure to blue light in particular. Blue light is what is most commonly emitted by computers and smartphones. It is even worse at keeping you up than regular light. Consider installing a blue-light-reducing app on your smartphone if you use it before bed.
When you want to go to sleep, make the room as dark as possible, and if that is not possible, invest in a sleep mask. Are you waking up in the middle of the night? Keep the lights off and rely on something small like a nightlight, so you fall asleep again more easily.
Adjust Your Food and Drink Consumption, If Necessary
Your eating and drinking habits can dramatically affect your ability to sleep well at night, even if you eat half a day before bed.
Start by reducing your consumption of stimulants, like nicotine and caffeine. Caffeine can even affect you for 10 to 12 hours after drinking it. You should also reduce refined carbs and sugar as these can encourage wakefulness at night and ruin your deep sleep.
Right before bed, avoid alcohol, big meals, and too many fluids. Ideally, dinnertime should be earlier, and you should not have heavy foods two hours or less before bed.
Drinking too much liquid can increase your need to go to the bathroom at night,
interrupting your sleep. Additionally, alcohol can help with relaxation initially, but it will cause problems for your sleep cycle once you fall asleep.
Exercise Regularly – But Time It Properly
Experts believe that if you exercise regularly, you will not only feel more alert during the day but will also sleep better. Regular exercise can improve sleep apnea and insomnia. It can even boost the time spent in the deepest, most restorative sleep.
While vigorous exercise produces better results, anything can make a difference, even just going for a short walk every day. Work to build the habit and be patient. You may not experience the full benefits to your sleep for at least several months.
For the best results, try to finish any vigorous exercise a minimum of three hours before bed. That is because exercise can make sleep harder, thanks to elevating your body temperature, speeding up the metabolism, and stimulating cortisol and other hormones.
Reserve Your Bed
For people with small apartments or very comfortable beds, it is very common to spend time in bed other than sleeping. While this is comfortable at the moment, it can be harmful to your ability to fall asleep. Instead, limit your bed’s use to just sleeping and sex. This way, you will associate it with sleep and get in the proper frame of mind before bedtime.
Extra Tips for Your Nighttime Routine
Of the above adjustments to your entire routine, some takeaways for your nighttime routine include:
· Go to sleep at the same time every night
· Don’t use bright devices before bed
· Sleep in a dark room or with a sleep mask
· Don’t eat or drink too much at night
· Don’t exercise within three hours of going to sleep
In addition to those, follow these nighttime routine tips.
Optimize Your Sleeping Area
To help you fall asleep more easily and stay asleep, do what you can to optimize your sleep environment. Try to keep your room quiet, if possible. If it is not possible, opt for a sound machine or even a fan or earplugs. You should also try to keep the room cool, ideally at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and ensure your bed is comfortable.
If you cannot find a comfortable position at night, try different things, like using more pillows. For example, if back pain keeps you up, try using a leg pillow.
Some people have problems sleeping at night due to pain. If this applies to you, try to treat the source of the pain. This can involve a combination of methods, including consulting your doctor and using products like CBD oil. Always involve your doctor in the conversation if your pain is severe enough to interfere with your sleep.
Limit the Bed to Humans
If you have pets, you should consider banishing them from your bed at least at night. In the worst case, pets can bring dander, pollen, fur, and other allergen triggers to your bed. In the best-case scenario, they can move around at night and wake you up.
Clear Your Head Before Bed
It is common for thoughts from the day to make it harder to sleep at night. Overcome this by creating a routine before bed that lets you clear your head. Some common options are listening to soft music or taking a bath. Deep breathing exercises can also do wonders for clearing your mind of the stresses of
the day. Other options include a relaxing massage, reading a book, visualization, and meditation.
Save Stressors for Later
Although it is much easier said than done, you should make it a habit to avoid thinking about stressors before bed. This will only keep you up. Some of this comes from stress management techniques during the day, but you can also make it part of your nighttime routine.
Get in the habit of jotting down your concerns before bed, then not thinking about them until the morning. This will take a little bit to get used to. But once you make it a habit, you should find it easier to fall asleep.
Know How to Fall Back Asleep
It is common to wake up in the middle of the night, but not everyone can fall back
asleep easily. If you have problems with this, try to avoid stressing about falling asleep. Instead, clear your head with deep breathing. You can also reduce the stress of falling back asleep by focusing on relaxing instead of sleeping. When you are relaxed, sleep will come naturally.
What If You Can’t Fall Back Asleep?
What happens if you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep? You should get out of bed and find a relaxing activity you can do in low light. If you have been in bed and sleepless for about 20 minutes or more, your mind may begin to associate your bed with feeling annoyed at your sleeplessness, and you want to avoid this. The idea is that if you think about something other than sleep for a while, it will be easier to fall back asleep.
Try a Melatonin Supplement
Melatonin is a sleep hormone that helps your body know when to go to sleep. Many people take melatonin supplements to help them fall asleep. Research has even shown that taking a small dose of melatonin helps people fall asleep and improves their sleep quality. You are also unlikely to experience any withdrawal effects if you stop taking it.
Ideally, you want to take 1 to 5 milligrams of melatonin about 30 to 60 minutes before trying to fall asleep. Keep in mind, however, that as with any other supplement, it is wise to talk to your physician before you start taking melatonin.
Try Other Supplements
Although melatonin is the most common supplement for sleep issues, there are also some other supplements that people try to help with sleep, from CBD oil to Ginkgo Biloba.
Gingko Biloba is a natural herb that may help with sleep, stress reduction, and
relaxation but has limited evidence. Some studies show glycine, an amino acid, may improve the quality of your sleep. Some studies indicate valerian root can help with sleep quality and falling asleep. Other supplements people indicate can help with sleep include magnesium, lavender, and L-theanine.
As mentioned with melatonin, you should always talk to your doctor before you start taking any supplement since it may interact with your medical condition or prescriptions. You should also only try one supplement at a time.
Be Cautious With Sleeping Medications
In some cases, your doctor may suggest prescription sleeping medicines to help you fall or stay asleep. While these can be helpful, they are typically best as short-term solutions. Your doctor will likely warn you that these medications can be habit-forming with long-term use.
Sleeping at home is one thing, as you are in complete control of the environment and timing of your schedule, but what about when you travel? Lack of control combined with jet lag can make sleep very difficult. The following tips can help reduce your issues in this respect.
Follow the Local Schedule
If you can, try to stick to the local schedule for your sleep. In other words, if you land during the day, try to stay awake until nighttime. You may need to use some extra tricks to help with this, such as letting the sun guide your body’s clock by intentionally exposing yourself to the bright sunlight or staying moving, so you do not sleep too early.
Or the Two-day Rule
The exception to this local schedule rule is for short trips of about two days or less. In this case, it is best to stick to your own sleep schedule since your body will not adapt before you leave.
Adjust Ahead of Time
To help your body get used to following the local schedule, plan ahead. Start moving your bedtime by an hour a few days before your trip, with a one-hour adjustment per night.
Consult Your Doctor
Before making any changes to your routine, whether to your sleep routine, diet, or
exercise, you should always consult your doctor. Your physician will be able to advise you as to what changes are safe for your unique circumstances and body physiology.
Confirm It Is Not a Sleep Disorder
Consulting your doctor is also important because it allows you to confirm that you do not have a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea, for example, leads to interrupted and inconsistent breathing while asleep. A study found that 9% of women and 24% of men have it. Others may have circadian rhythm sleep/wake disorders or sleep movement disorders.
While many people deal with problems sleeping at night, some solutions should help most people overcome these challenges. From turning off lights and relaxing before bed to setting up a comfortable, dark sleeping environment to avoiding heavy meals before bed, there are plenty of minor changes that may lead to significant sleep improvements.