Try to keep a good sleep routine, which means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, including weekends. Our bodies prefer regularity in our activities so that they can better anticipate and prepare for meals, exercise, sleep, etc. These activities become the milestones of our day, together creating a physiological rhythm that is perhaps more important than we once realized. A study at the University of Arizona, Department of Psychology, found that for college students, regularization of a sleep-wake schedule was associated with a consistent reduction of daytime sleepiness. That doesn’t just go for young people, though. At the Center for Research and Study of Ageing at the University of Hafia, Israel, a study of ninety-six elderly patients found that increased stability of daily routine produced higher sleep efficiency and improved sleep quality. While it might be difficult to achieve a perfect sleep routine with the varying activities, work schedules, and travel we have to do, try to incorporate as much sleep consistency as possible into your life for the best results!
Exercise has long since been anecdotally associated with better sleep, but psychological studies and surveys have also provided results to back up that idea. A study at Stanford University demonstrated that, at least for older adults, 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) daily caused significant improvement in the amount of time it took to fall asleep, sleep quality, and sleep duration. Still, other studies have found mixed results for the efficacy of exercise for falling asleep, noting that while aerobic exercise did increase slow-wave (deep) sleep and total sleep time in general, other factors like gender, age, fitness level, type of exercise, and time of day played a role in its potency.
Many sources discourage exercising in hours before bedtime, claiming that the added body heat and boost of stimulation may make it difficult to fall asleep. However, a 2013 Sleep in America Poll carried out by the National Sleep Foundation suggests that physical activity any time of day will help facilitate better sleep. Really, it’s just important to find the right exercise routine that fits your schedule and body. Consistent physical activity, even for just half an hour each day, can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep.
It is no surprise that anxiety can keep us from falling asleep. Whether we are worried about stressful events (like work deadlines or an illness in the family) or are afflicted with a more long-term anxiety disorder, it can be frustratingly difficult to fall asleep at night. We’ve previously discussed natural ways to reduce anxiety to get to sleep faster and stay asleep through the night. Simple things like breathing exercises, physical activity, meditation, and eating habits can have a major, positive impact on our mental health, allowing us to have the sleep we need each night (even when stressful situations come our way).
Give yourself the best chance for a good night’s sleep by turning off lights, finding the right noise level (or sleep music), and keeping your sleeping space at the right temperature.
Any light, but especially blue light, will keep your brain from producing melatonin, which is its chemical signal for the body to sleep. If complete darkness is not possible, consider wearing a comfortable sleep mask over your eyes.
Nighttime noise seems to be a matter of personal preference: while one person might require complete silence to fall asleep, another person might prefer music or the sound of rain. Experiment to find what works best for you. If the city streets are too loud, invest in a good pair of earplugs. If your sleeping space is too quiet, add a soundtrack.
We’ve written all about the efficacy of music and hypnosis in helping get better sleep, and so we’ve incorporated them into our App. But whether it’s Pzizz, whale song, or a recording of Morgan Freeman reading haikus, try to find the sounds that help you relax and fall into a deep sleep.
Help your body drift off to sleep with the right room temperature. Sleep studies have shown that our bodies first go through an initial drop in core body temperature (2–3 degrees) before we drift off to sleep. That initial, rapid drop in body temperature, a natural part of our circadian rhythm, increases the chances of falling asleep and may help with the transition into deeper stages of sleep later on. If the room temperature is too high, our bodies may have trouble with that initial, natural body temperature drop-off. Alternatively, if room temperature is too low, it may cause you get cold and wake up in the night. Experts recommend an ambient room temperature between 60–67℉.
Sleep is a time to get really comfortable. You spend a good chunk of your life in bed, so it’s worth investing in a good, supportive mattress, good pillows, and comfortable bedding. Wear loose pajamas made from a soft, breathable fabric, or if you prefer, no pajamas at all. Find a good sleep position that allows every part of your body to relax. Some sources recommend specifically sleeping on your left side, as it helps to keep airways open, reduces heartburn symptoms, and improves circulation.
Our televisions, computer screens, phones, and tablets emit light that is concentrated with the blue section of the visible light spectrum. All light, but especially blue light, prevents the release of our natural melatonin, the chemical that signals to our body that it is time for sleep. Turning off all screens at least an hour before bedtime will allow for the proper release of melatonin and keep our circadian clocks right on time. If for some reason you MUST look at a computer before bedtime, software like f.lux and physical blue-light filters that fit over your computer screen are designed to reduce the concentration of blue light emitted from your device. Also, many mobile devices have an automated blue-light filters built in, like Apple’s “night shift” for iPhones.
Our bodies are designed to digest upright, so eating right before bedtime can cause acid reflux, with symptoms like heartburn and indigestion, when we lie down. If possible, eat at least three hours before sleep to ensure your food is farther along in your digestive track. That said, hunger pangs will also keep you awake, so if a snack is necessary, just avoid things like dense proteins and fats that are harder to digest. Try a piece of fruit with a little bit of nut butter or a cup of low-sugar cereal or oatmeal with milk.
We all love a good cup of coffee or tea to get us going in the morning, but just remember to keep it a morning beverage! Caffeine is an effective stimulant that stays in your system for a long time: half of its potency diminishes after 3–5 hours, but the remainder of the stimulant remains in your system for 8–14 hours. To avoid nighttime alertness and sleeplessness, be sure to stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages at least six hours before bedtime. In fact, the earlier in the day you consume your caffeine, the more time the stimulant will have to wear off. Try to consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine (about 2 cups of coffee) to keep your daily caffeine levels low.
And while we’re on the subject of beverages, to get the best sleep, it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol too close to bedtime as well. While alcohol initially acts as a depressant, allowing you to fall asleep more easily, it can also disrupt the later stages of sleep by cutting down on essential REM sleep time. Want a beer when you get home from work or a glass of wine with dinner? No problem. Just allow a few hours for your body to metabolize your drinks before bedtime. And remember: even though alcohol close to bedtime will help you fall asleep faster, experts warn against using it as a sleep aid since it disturbs the later stages of sleep so greatly.
Some experts believe that keeping the bedroom for only sleep and sex will help condition your brain to fall asleep when you jump into bed at night. That means no eating, no texting, no working, and no watching movies in bed. Without all of those other stimuli, your brain will begin to associate your bedroom only with rest and relaxation. Think you are up to the challenge? If you are having trouble falling asleep at night, turning your bedroom into a sleep-and-sex-only sanctuary might be worth a try!
In addition to designating a sleep-and-sex only space, another cognitive behavioral therapy tip is to position your clocks so that you cannot see them at night. Watching the clock may make you anxious that you haven’t fallen asleep yet, and in turn that anxiety prevents you from falling asleep. Instead, lie passively awake, try to rest and relax, and enjoy the comfortable sleep environment you have created for yourself.
Several studies have shown the efficacy of yoga practice on the reduction of stress, and subsequent improvement in sleep quality and immune system response. Yoga practice is comprised of body movement (including stretching, balance, and strength-building) called asana, controlled breathing called pranayama, and relaxation of the mind through meditation. By both calming the mind and releasing tension in the body, yoga can be a powerful tool for helping us sleep at night. Many great websites and online videos have lists of the best yoga poses for a good night’s sleep. Most incorporate at least a hamstring stretch, a hip-opening stretch, and a back twist to release tension all over the body, as well as a final resting post like child’s pose or corpse pose to wind down. Try lots of yoga poses (at your yoga practice level) to determine which releases the most tension and provides the most relaxation for your body.
As we discussed briefly in our How to Fight Anxiety without Medication article, deep breathing can have a very calming effect on the entire body. Deep, slow belly breathing using your diaphragm activates the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for “rest and digest” mode), which relaxes us.
Yogis incorporate breathwork, or pranayama, into their practice to intentionally manipulate mood and energy levels. To relax and drift off to sleep, youcan practice the three part breath. Yogis call it Dirga Pranayana: First, find a relaxed position, then inhale deeply and slowly, first into the belly, then the ribcage, then into the top of the chest. Exhale in the reverse order: first out of the top of the chest, then the ribcage, then the bottom of the belly. And repeat!
Integrative Health expert Dr. Weil teaches a similar breathing technique, the 4–7–8 Breath. The breathing technique, based on the aforementioned yogi practice of pranayama, also works as a “natural tranquilizer” for your body. Dr. Weil recommends the 4–7–8 breath at least twice a day, but not for more than four breath cycles per session in the first month of practice.
Although it is practiced more in Eastern cultures than Western ones, studies have shown the major impact of acupuncture on treating insomnia. The 3,000 year old practice improves the body’s functions and promotes the natural self-healing process by stimulating specific anatomic sites, commonly known as acupuncture points. Though acupuncture is thought to be very effective, it may not be financially feasible for everyone (health insurance sometimes covers acupuncture treatments, but not always). As an alternative, self-acupressure techniques can also help you get to sleep. Modern Reflexology provides a list of some of the most effective acupressure points for insomnia. You or a partner can apply direct, moderate pressure to each point by holding it or massaging with a finger or thumb for up to a minute each. It’s remained popular for 3,000 years, so it must be worth a try!
Getting enough sleep is critical for your health. The “common knowledge” that everyone needs eight hours of sleep every night isn’t quite accurate though. It varies based on a host of factors, including your age, genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, and more.
The National Sleep Foundation published research in Sleep Health, that made the following recommendations: