Sleep disturbances are quite common, so if you haven't been getting enough sleep at night or have problems getting yourself to fall asleep, not to mention, stay asleep, you're not alone. Yet, that doesn't make it okay since a good night's sleep is vital to your brain functioning, fitness, and overall well-being.
Great, so not sleeping well is bad news – now what? In this guide, we’ll provide you with 10 ways to help you get a better night’s sleep at night. These have been proven to stand the test of time, so you can count on them to keep your eyes shut as long as you need them to!
1. Eliminate or Shorten Daytime Naps
Do you tend to nap in the middle of the day? Well, it's time to reduce long naps or eliminate them altogether. When you frequently take long or irregular naps during the day, you confuse your internal clock, which, accordingly, leads you to struggle with sleeping at night. Plus, they can harm your health as well.
But what if you’re so used to these naps and can’t resist them? Then you’ll need to shorten your nap length. Short power naps (not exceeding 30 minutes) are beneficial, actually, and can help you improve your productivity. They also don’t affect nighttime sleep quality for most people.
With that said, however, if you’re used to taking regular daytime naps and have been doing so for years without experiencing any signs of disrupted sleep, you shouldn’t be concerned. The effects of napping tend to vary from one person to another, so you do you!
2. Don't Eat Late at Night
While eating late in the evening is a habit many people have, consuming a large meal directly before you go to bed can cause poor sleep and hormone disruption. In particular, it could negatively affect your body’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone associated with controlling your sleep-wake cycle.
But is it completely prohibited to eat late in the day? No. It all depends on what you’re eating – particular meals or snacks can prove beneficial for your body if consumed a couple of hours before you head to bed.
For instance, a small, late-night, nutrient-rich snack below 200 calories is acceptable. Examples would be tart cherries, kiwis, pistachios, protein smoothies, crackers and cheese, hot cereal, yogurt, eggs, and similar. Many of them even include sleep-supportive compounds, so they’ll serve you well.
And if you’re really hungry at night, try to eat your last large meal at least 4 hours before you sleep.
3. Increase Daytime Light Exposure
To get a better night’s sleep, you need to understand how your body works in that area. The most important thing for you to know is that your body has its own internal clock, also known as your circadian rhythm. These rhythms or cycles are what handle your natural sleep-wake schedule and generally affect how your body functions.
So, basically, they cue you when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake up and stay awake during the day. But how can they get disrupted? Circadian rhythms significantly respond to light and dark, which is why exposing your body to natural sunlight or even bright light during the day keeps your rhythm in check.
Also, exposure to light affects your mood positively, keeps you alert, and boosts your metabolism. In contrast, not getting enough of that exposure will lead to circadian dips and lead to a vicious cycle of insufficient sleep and, as a result, possibly several medical conditions.
The bottom line is: make time to take regular outdoor breaks during the day or even to look outside of the window for an hour or two. It'll improve not only your sleep quality and duration but also the time it takes you to fall asleep, especially if you have insomnia.
4. Minimise Blue Light Exposure at Night
We were just saying that daytime light exposure has tremendous benefits, but at night, that’s quite the opposite. Remember all that talk about the circadian rhythm? Well, back to that again, if you give yourself too much light exposure at night, you’re tricking your brain into thinking that it’s still morning time and not time to sleep yet.
What happens next? Melatonin (the sleep hormone) is reduced, and your body goes out of its standard sleep cycle. And that means you won’t relax or get any deep sleep.
So, what does that mean for you? It means reducing your usage of electronic devices (like smartphones, laptops, tablets, and computers) at night because they emit blue light in large amounts. Fortunately, there are many ways to control your nighttime blue light exposure, including:
- Wearing blue-light blocking glasses
- Using red or orange reading lamps or lights, since they don’t emit blue light (candles work too)
- Turning off any bright light in your room at least 2 hours before bed
- Installing mobile apps that block blue light on your smartphone
- Installing screen filters on your smartphone to reduce your blue light exposure
- Installing apps like f.lux or Iris to block blue light on your laptop
- Sleeping with an eye mask
5. Don’t Drink Alcohol at Night
You may think that having a couple of drinks with your friends is no big deal, and it may have never crossed your mind that it's associated with your sleeping issues, but the reality is that those couple of drinks can significantly affect your sleep (negatively). Yes, we see in movies that it induces feelings of sleepiness, but it all depends on the consumption quantity.
Actually, for a very long time, since the 1930s, excess alcohol has been associated with increasing the symptoms of sleep apnea and causing disrupted sleep patterns among individuals. On top of that, it immediately hinders nighttime melatonin production, which again causes you to stay wide awake or have irregular sleeping habits.
Accordingly, it’s best to avoid alcohol before bed or at night in general – at least 4 hours before bedtime, to avoid any decreases in your sleep quality.
6. Cut Off Caffeine Consumption Late in the Day
There’s no denying that caffeine works like magic during the day, and since it contains high levels of antioxidants and nutrients, it’s also generally very healthy. We’ve all witnessed how it instantly enhances our focus and boosts our performance right when we need it most.
But does the same apply if you consume caffeine at night or late in the day? Well, yes, it has the same effect, but that's precisely what you don't want or need at night. Since caffeine stimulates your nervous system, it completely stops your body from relaxing at night as it should.
As a result, as much as we all yearn for that sip of coffee at night, it’s best to remember that caffeine can stay in your blood anywhere between 6-8 hours. Therefore, depending on when you sleep, you should eliminate any caffeine consumption accordingly, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine in general.
Plus, if you’re craving coffee, always remember that decaffeinated coffee is always an option – it doesn’t necessarily have to contain caffeine.
While we’re at it, in general, you shouldn’t be drinking any liquids before bed to avoid nocturia, which is excessive urination during evenings. Nocturia also affects sleep quality since you’re waking up frequently, and that can easily be avoided by not drinking large amounts of liquids before bedtime.
So, when should you stop? Ideally, 1-2 hours before heading to bed.
7. Take a Warm Bath
This may seem like a cliché tip that our parents would give us, but there’s actually scientific evidence to back it up. Warm showers can boost your overall sleep quality and even help you fall asleep faster. And that applies to both the younger generations and the older ones!
The mechanism behind why this works is that showers augment the body's temperature rhythm over the span of 24 hours. Thanks to our inborn body clock, our core body temperature tends to fluctuate throughout the day, and typically, when it's time to sleep at night, our body temperatures start to cool down.
What a warm shower does is that it augments that natural cooling of the body’s temperature, which promotes better sleep and maintains it. So, if you’re facing any sleep disturbances, go ahead and take a warm bath an hour or two before you head to bed, and you’ll be surprised by how you’ll get more deep sleep during the night.
Also, if time doesn’t allow it or if you have any reason not to take a full bath at night, you can simply bathe your feet in warm or hot water – it’ll have nearly the same effect since it releases any core heat in your body through the outer surfaces, like your feet. It’ll relax your body and improve your sleep as well, especially in winter. But it works perfectly fine on summer days too!
So, no, the reason this works isn't because your body gets warm due to a hot bath – actually, it's the opposite. You're letting out all the awareness through the radiators of heat in your body and only keeping the core temperature you need for the night to be able to sleep.
That's exactly why it's equally important to set your bedroom temperature overall since you won't be able to sleep well if your room is too warm. You should aim for 70°F (20°C), which is the sweet spot for most people. But you can always test variable temperatures to discover the most comfortable one for you.
8. Set a Sleeping Schedule for Yourself
As we’ve seen so far, most of the issues leading to the disruption in your sleep are due to an irregularity of some sort relating to your circadian rhythm. To eliminate any chances of that happening, you can set a sleeping schedule for yourself and do your best to stick to it.
By sleeping and waking at the same time every day, your circadian rhythm will synchronise with your own set loop and align itself to your timings, which will indefinitely support long-term sleep quality.
Have you ever noticed that if you stay up late on weekends and then go back to your regular sleeping schedule on workdays, it takes you longer to fall asleep? That's exactly what we're referring to here. Your circadian rhythm basically adjusts itself to whatever you set it to, and by confusing it, poor sleep will remain to be the result.
So, as tempting as it is to stay up late on Saturdays and sleep in the next day until noon, you’ll thank yourself later if you don’t do that since you won’t end up tossing and turning in bed all night.
With that being the case, if you’re currently struggling with sleep, now’s a good time to start getting in the habit of setting a precise sleeping schedule, and in a matter of weeks, if not less, your sleeping will be natural, deep, and restful. And remember, your sleep/wake cycle should be applied on weekends too – in fact, especially on weekends!
9. Clear Your Mind Before Bed
We know that this one’s easier said than done because thoughts don’t exactly take permission before they pop into our minds, but it’s really important to clear your mind before you go to bed.
Ruminating the day's to-do list or thinking of tomorrow's stressors will only leave you with racing thoughts that'll lead to insomnia. Therefore, it's essential to learn to shut off your brain when you can't sleep.
Many people have reported that a pre-sleep routine helped them with this issue, employing a mix of relaxation techniques that eventually improve sleep quality. Examples include listening to quiet, relaxing music, listening to podcasts, reading books, taking a warm bath, deep breathing, visualisation, and meditation.
A lot of others also resort to regular exercising, not before bed, but within the day. Over time, exercise has been established to be one of the best ways to improve not only your health but also your sleep. Generally, you should expect exercise to halve the time it takes you to fall asleep while simultaneously granting you around 41 more minutes of extra sleep daily.
Many of these are actually used to treat insomnia, so they’re guaranteed to work. Of course, what works for one person may not work for you, so it’s going to be a trial and error process until you find the method that works for you.
Yet, it's also essential to keep track of your thoughts and know when to seek the help of a doctor if you're having too many racing thoughts that you can't seem to take control of. While it's fine to encounter a sleepless night every once in a while, it shouldn't be a habit. So if you're regularly staying up because of your overactive mind, maybe it's time to talk to a doctor.
Sometimes, all you need is a thorough analysis of your lifestyle habits that may be contributing to your insomnia. The solutions may be simple – possibly as simple as merely identifying the issues that interfere with your shuteye and taking it from there. The solution can even be supplements, like lavender or magnesium, that help with relaxation.
10. Rule Out the Possibility of a Sleep Disorder
Picking up on the previous point, while your sleeping issues may seem trivial to you, they may be a signal of an underlying health condition. Sleep disorders are far from being uncommon, and you could be missing out on your diagnosis.
For instance, you may have sleep apnea, leading you to have difficulty staying asleep, causing excessive daytime sleepiness, known as hypersomnia, irritability, and morning headaches, among other symptoms.
Sleep apnea is only one among sleep-related issues that could easily be medically diagnosed if you seek the help. Also, if you’re a shift worker, note that circadian rhythm sleep/wake disorders are also common since your internal clock can’t seem to pick up on a consistent sleep pattern.
So, what we’re trying to say is that if your struggle with sleep has been with you for your whole life or even for a couple of years and not just days, it’ll never be a bad idea to consult your healthcare provider. Remember: consistent lack of sleep shouldn’t be a constant in your life.
Go Ahead, Sleep More!
To wrap up, sleep is an absolutely beautiful thing, and above all, it's essential to your well-being. For that reason, you must do what it takes to get the most restful nights you can, and hopefully, the adjustments we've covered in this guide will help you do just that.
And before you head off, remember that you shouldn’t be getting less than 7-8 hours of sleep per night to achieve optimal health.