How to sleep better

There are lots of things you can do to improve your sleep quality so you can experience deeper, more relaxing sleep. 

Have a look at these tips on how to improve sleep. When you understand how to get better sleep you’ll awaken your best self and feel more energetic, ready to enjoy your day.1

 

An A to ZZZ guide

How to sleep better

Adjust the room temperature

When you go to sleep, your body’s core temperature drops. So a cooler room often leads to a better night’s sleep, 16 to 18 degrees Celsius is an ideal temperature range for sleep. Any higher and you may have a restless night.2,3

Avoid drinking liquids before bed

While you’re asleep, your body produces hormones that slow down urine production, but drinking a lot of liquids at bedtime may counteract this, so your bladder wakes you for bathroom visits during the night.4

Bright light in the daytime

Bright morning light tells your body that it’s time to be awake and regulates your sleep wake cycle. So try to spend some of your morning outside. Bright light at night has the same effect on your body, so to sleep better, try and avoid bright light from any source in the evening, especially from electronic devices that shine light into your eyes.5

Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea is a mild sedative which may help you to sleep better and wake up less frequently during the night. Although it’s been used for centuries, there haven’t been any definitive scientific studies that show it’s actually effective. Check with your doctor if you’re taking other medications as chamomile may interact with them.6,7

 

Choose a good mattress

A good quality mattress can make a big difference to your sleep quality. If you suffer from back or shoulder pain, changing to a better mattress can have significant benefits for your sleep.8

Choose the right pillow

The best pillow for a good night’s sleep depends a lot on how you like to sleep; tummy, back, side or, all over the place. If you’ve been sleeping on the same pillow for some time, it might be past its use-by date. And if you have back or shoulder pain, choosing a good quality pillow can help you sleep better.9

 

Dim the lights at night

Turning the lights down in the evening helps to set your body up for sleep. How? By stimulating it to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin. Melatonin is mainly released after dark, so encourage your body to produce melatonin by dimming the lights for a few hours before bedtime.10

Do stretches

Do some stretching before bed to get you back in touch with your body and put the stress of the day behind you. It can relieve muscle tension and help prevent night cramps. But don’t overdo it. At bedtime, gentle stretches work best to help you sleep better.11

Enjoy a bath

Your body temperature naturally falls at night. Treat yourself to a hot bath 2 hours before bedtime. It will raise your body temperature. The temperature dip that follows is likely to help you sleep better.10

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise is a good way to improve your sleep quality. A morning workout can lead to deeper sleep cycles and more time asleep. Exercise in the morning sun gives you a double whammy because it also helps to regulate your sleep/wake cycle.12

Kick the smoking habit

If you’re a smoker, you probably find a cigarette relaxes you, however, the nicotine in cigarettes won’t help you to sleep better. That’s because nicotine is actually a stimulant that can interfere with your sleep quality. Also, because it’s so addictive, nicotine withdrawal symptoms can wake you in the night. Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health, (including your sleep).15,16

Listen to music

When you’re trying to find out how to sleep better, don’t overlook the power of music.17,18 Listening to music that you like causes your body to release dopamine, a feel-good hormone.19 A soothing tune can help you relax, shrug off stress and put you in the mood for sleep. Music can also help to mask background noises that interfere with your sleep. 

 

Magnesium

Magnesium may help you sleep better by activating the parts of your nervous system that make you feel calm and relaxed. It also regulates melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycles. Magnesium is found in water, green vegetables, nuts, cereals, meat and fish. You can also take magnesium as a supplement.20

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle and gets your body ready for slumber.21 

 

No alcohol

While it may make you sleepy, an alcoholic night cap won’t actually help you sleep better and it can disrupt your sleep patterns, in particular interfering with your dreaming sleep. It also suppresses your normal breathing pattern, which can cause snoring and sleep apnea. Sleep experts recommend drinking no more than 2 standard drinks a day if you don’t want to adversely affect your sleep quality.22

 

No coffee at night

Drinking coffee at night may make it more difficult to sleep properly. You may have trouble falling asleep after an evening coffee. You may also find it hard to stay asleep. Your bladder may wake you for a bathroom visit during the night, as caffeine encourages your body to produce more urine. Some people are so sensitive to caffeine that they need to avoid it from lunchtime onwards.24

Play pink noise

Pink noise is a sound that you can play to help enhance your sleep quality. It’s similar to the sound you hear in waterfalls, thunder or heavy rain. Scientists aren’t sure how helps you sleep better, but clinical studies are underway to understand more about its effects on sleep. There are devices that play pink noise to help you sleep better or you could download a pink noise app.23

Power nap

An afternoon nap is often tempting, but it can interfere with your night time sleep. If you do need a snooze, make it a power nap of 20 minutes or less. Set an alarm so you don’t sleep too long or too deep. This way you’ll awake refreshed and it won’t interfere with your night time sleep.24

Quiet please

Background noise can make it hard for you to get to sleep and stay asleep. Noise that repeatedly disrupts your sleep can cause daytime fatigue, difficulty thinking and mood changes.25,26 Your choices are to move to a quieter room (not always possible), wear earplugs or play sounds to mask the noise. Try streaming music or pink noise to mask background noise and help you sleep better. There are apps that play soothing sounds of waves, rain or waterfalls. Noise-cancelling headphones may also work for you. If a snoring partner is disrupting your sleep, urge them to seek treatment so you can both sleep better. 

 

Read a book

Reading can be a very good way to relax and take your mind off the worries of the day. Reading can help you fall asleep faster but, if it’s a real page turner, you may find it actually keeps you awake. If you keep reading past your normal bedtime it’ll be harder to fall asleep. Sleep experts tell us to reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex, so it may be better to read in the living room before going to bed, and don’t let that exciting book keep you up late.27

Relax now

Take time to wind down before going to bed. Don’t interact with social media, emails or texts in bed. Play a meditation app instead, calm your thoughts and put the day’s worries behind you.

Rule out sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a secret sleep stealer. It disrupts your sleep by interfering with your breathing when you’re asleep. You could have sleep apnea without knowing it. Tell-tale signs include snoring, daytime sleepiness and grumpiness. If you think sleep apnea may be affecting your sleep quality, take the online sleep assessment to see if you’re at risk.  A home sleep test will help measure the severity. Treatment for sleep apnea can help you to sleep better and enjoy more energetic days.

 

Select foods that aid sleep

While jury is still out on which foods help or interfere with sleep quality, anecdotal evidence suggests that cherries, milk, whole grains, bananas, turkey and sweet potato eaten before bedtime, can help promote sleep. Avoid high protein, spicy or fatty foods, especially if you’re prone to heartburn. Chocolate is also a no-no at bedtime because it contains caffeine. Let your dinner digest for a good 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed.28,29

 

Valerian root tea

Valerian is a herb which is claimed to have a sedating effect and may reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep. Check with your doctor if you’re taking other medications as they may interact with valerian.30,31

Warm socks

Pull on some nice soft bed socks. Wearing socks to bed may not be fashionable but with warm feet, you may be able to fall asleep faster and sleep better.32 And if you tend to wake in the night with cold feet, you’ll agree that sleep quality trumps fashion. 

Weighted blankets

Weighted blankets were originally designed to help people suffering from anxiety and other disorders. Lying under a weighted blanket can produce a calming effect, rather like the one you get from a good hug or a massage. A 2015 study showed that a weighted blanket can also help promote a calmer night’s sleep. People in the study using a weighted blanket found that they settled down to sleep more easily, slept better and felt more refreshed in the morning.33

 

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Citations

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7

Source: Hieu T et al. Phytother Res. 2019 Jun;33(6):1604-1615.

8

Source: JacobsonBH et al. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2002 Feb;25(2):88-92.

16

Source: Wetter DW and Young TB. Prev Med. 1994 May;23(3):328-34.

17

Source: Feng F et al. Int J Nurs Stud. 2018 Jan;77:189-196

19

Source: Ferreri L et al. PNAS February 26, 2019 116 (9) 3793-3798.

23

Source: Debellemaniere E et al. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 08 March 2018 

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