Everyone dreams of getting that perfect night’s sleep, but it’s not as difficult as you might think!
A good night’s sleep doesn’t just make you feel well-rested and alert. In fact, your sleep quality has a huge influence on your physical and mental health and well-being. Seriously, researchers at Harvard have linked poor sleep to decreased judgment, mood, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health problems. This research shows that if you haven’t been prioritizing sleep in your life, you should probably start!
Of course, knowing how great sleep is really isn’t helpful when you’ve been tossing and turning for hours on end!
That’s why we’ve compiled this list of ten science-based tips and tricks for helping you fall asleep, and stay asleep. So, the next time you find yourself counting sheep for hours on end, try one of these strategies and see if it helps!
1. Exercise Regularly
I know, I know. When you’re exhausted, exercising seems like one of the most impossible tasks in the world. However, most studies agree that exercising regularly is one of the best ways to help your body prepare for sleep. After all, if your body hasn’t burned any physical energy it may not feel that it needs to sleep!
There are many contradictory studies in the literature about what time of day is best to exercise. Some claim that it’s best to exercise in the morning so that you aren’t hyped up in the evening. Others believe that exercising at night can help you to feel more exhausted. The consensus is that no matter what time of day you exercise, it’s better to exercise at the “wrong” time than to not exercise at all!
Still, you may choose to do more active exercise (like cardio or intense strength exercises) in the morning or early evening, and save before-bed hours for something less stimulating, like yoga.
2. Limit the Blue Light From Screens
Study after study shows that the blue light coming from screens can seriously interrupt your sleep patterns. Your late night TV-watching or social media checks may be having a significant impact on your sleep quality. The light suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate your sleep cycle.
Ideally, you should completely stop using your devices before bed, but that is unreasonable for many people. Instead, try using a blue light filter app like F.lux for Windows and Mac (does F.lux really work?), Twilight for Android, and the Night Shift setting for iOS devices.
3. Stick to a Bedtime
Look, one of the most important sleep strategies is to make sure you get enough of it! Make sure that you are going to bed early enough that you can regularly get about eight hours of sleep each night.
Not only that, but researchers recommend that you also fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day. This strategy helps to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and cue your sleeping patterns. If you struggle with waking up to your alarm, there are many creative alarm apps out there to prevent you from falling back asleep.
4. Make a Before-bed Routine
You know how toddlers sleep better when they follow the same routine every night? Believe it or not, adults are basically the same. Take some time to craft your own going to bed rituals. Anything calming should do the trick — your routine could include reading a few pages of a book, journaling, using scented hand lotion, or doing some meditation.
These activities help to decrease the stress hormone cortisol, allowing your body to feel calm and safe enough to fall asleep.
If you remain anxious or worried, try writing down everything you are worrying about on a pad of paper by your bed. You can also add a sentence explaining how you will begin to fix the problem tomorrow. This can help to release the worry from your mind, and allow you to react.
5. Limit Your Caffeine and Alcohol Intake
If you are truly struggling with falling asleep, your daily caffeine habits may be to blame. After all, caffeine is a drug — a stimulant that keeps your body from recognizing signs of exhaustion.
It can take five to six hours for your body to process half of the caffeine you consume. For this reason, it’s safest to stop drinking any caffeine after about two or three in the afternoon. Once it hits 4pm or later, it’s time to switch to green tea or other non-caffeinated drinks!
What might surprise you is that alcohol is also a stimulant! Even if a few drinks initially makes you feel sleepy, the stimulating properties of alcohol can worsen your sleep quality later in the night. If you are worrying about your sleep quality, try to only have 1-2 drinks at a time, and to stop drinking two hours before falling asleep.
6. Snack Smarter
Studies show that certain foods can encourage your body’s production of the amino acids and hormones that maintain your circadian rhythm.
If you’re feeling peckish before bed, consider:
- Dairy products or kale (for calcium)
- Walnuts or chickpeas (for tryptophan)
- Almonds and whole grains (for magnesium)
- Cherries (for melatonin)
- Fish (for vitamin B6)
- Chamomile tea (for glycine production)
7. Stop Checking the Clock!
It can be so tempting to see exactly what time it is so you can start calculating how much sleep you’ll get if you fall asleep at 10:53… or 11:13… or 12:22.
However, every time you do this it causes your body’s stress response to increase. The anxiety you feel about not getting enough sleep triggers alertness — which is exactly what you don’t want!
The problem only intensifies if you check your phone — now not only are you anxious about the time, but you also re-introduce your system to blue light and get distracted by an e-mail.
Experts recommend that if you are awake in the middle of the night, you should get out of bed and do a calming activity in dim light (such as listening to music or gentle stretching). After about fifteen minutes, you should go back to bed and try to fall asleep again.
If You Still Can’t Sleep…
If you try these tips and others, and nothing seems to be helping, the doctor’s office should be your next stop. Changes in your sleep habits can be a symptom of physical and mental health concerns, and should be taken seriously! Your doctor may also be able to tell you if your sleepless nights are due to medications you are taking or other factors that an online article can’t diagnose for you.
It can be difficult to make changes in your sleep hygiene, but the results of a good night’s sleep are worth it!
Do you have any tried-and-true tricks for falling asleep quickly and staying asleep all night? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Image Credits: lenetstan/Shutterstock