Warm milk, counting sheep, white noise … you’ve probably heard a million different suggestions on how you can fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. We’ve combined traditional wisdom with scientific research to give you what we consider to be the most definitive list of measures you can take to improve sleep quality.
- Sleep on the right mattress
The right mattress should conform to your body, and provide proper spinal support while taking weight off pressure points. It should also reduce motion transfer if you’re sleeping with a partner, and its upper layers should be temperature-neutral and comfortable.
- Accommodate your partner
For those of us who sleep with a partner, the very suggestion of sleeping separately can put a strain on the relationship. We suggest adjusting your mattress to accommodate. No matter which one of you tosses and turns, a mattress that reduces motion transfer can reduce sleep interruptions. Another great way to reduce partner induced sleep interruptions, is to sleep on a larger mattress.
- Don’t stay awake past 11
As our adrenal glands do a majority of their recharging and recovery between the hours of 11 pm – 1 am, it’s best to try to be asleep during these hours.
- Regulate your room temperature
Optimal sleeping temperature is 18-22°C (65-72° F). Anything outside of this range can lead to excessive tossing and turning, reducing the chance of you getting a good night’s sleep.
- Make sure your feet are warm
While a cool room and a lower core temperature will help you sleep better, cold feet can keep you awake. It’s usually a sign of poor circulation, which causes sleeplessness. Even if your circulation is fine, cold feet are uncomfortable and will keep you tossing and turning in an attempt to warm them up again. Warm socks or a hot water bottle near your feet can help.
- Use a proper pillow
Since 17% of your spine is in your neck, maintaining proper spinal neck alignment will not only lead to a more restful sleep, it will also prevent health issues related to spinal nerve compression. If you wake up with headaches, sore shoulders, or tingling and pain in your wrists and arms, a poor pillow may be to blame.
- Try to avoid using an alarm clock
It sounds radical, but alarms can disrupt your NREM and REM sleep cycles. If you can avoid waking up during these cycles, your sleep quality can improve. You can download smartphone apps that analyze your sleep cycles and wake you up during light sleep phases prior to when you would typically set your alarm, leaving you rested in the morning rather than groggy
- Make sure your room is dark
Melatonin production is directly affected by dark and light, and anything that disturbs it will affect your sleep. Before going to sleep, close your curtains and shut off all lights. Even turning on lights when going to the bathroom can affect your sleep. And if possible avoid putting light-emitting electronics in your room (such as bright clocks). It’s far better to let your body naturally produce the amount of melatonin it needs for sleep, rather than trying to self-regulate it by taking a supplement.
- Don’t have a nightcap
Consuming alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime will keep you from falling into NREM and REM stages of sleep, when most of sleep’s restorative action occurs. While alcohol may initially make you drowsy, its effect is short-lived, and may wake you up hours later leaving you unable to fall back asleep.
- Watch your coffee consumption
Since caffeine takes up to 11 hours to leave your body, have your last cup of coffee before noon to improve sleep quality and your ability to fall asleep quickly.
- Eat a protein-rich snack
Sometimes, hunger can’t be ignored. While it’s best not to eat right before bed, if you need to eat something, try a quick snack with lots of protein. Foods such as turkey, granola, and yogurt are protein-rich and can boost your body’s production of serotonin and melatonin, triggering drowsiness in as little as 20 minutes.
- Go for a walk
Taking a 30-minute evening stroll can improve your sleep. Gentle, relaxing workouts a few hours before bedtime spurs the release of serotonin, the hormone that helps you stay asleep throughout the night.
- Take a warm bath or shower
While Winston Churchill once said “never stand up when you can sit down”, we’re impartial between showers and baths. Both do wonders for your core temperature, and once you go to bed and it starts to drop, your brain will interpret it as a signal that it’s time to fall asleep.
- Read a book
The more relaxed you are when you go to bed, the better you’ll sleep. Going to sleep with a story in your head will take your mind off the day’s events that otherwise would keep you up all night. If you read an e-book, make sure the brightness is set to an appropriate level so you don’t strain your eyes. The harsh white light emitted from smartphones and e-readers profoundly damages sleep quality, so avoid screens as much as possible while trying to fall asleep. A soft, warm light on a book page is much healthier for your eyes and mind than an artificial backlight.
- Invest in good pyjamas
Loose-fitting, comfortable, breathable clothing will keep you at ease all night, without overheating or constraining you. If you have pyjamas that you strictly wear to sleep, your mind will go into sleep mode the second you slip into them. Taking off your clothes and sleeping in your underwear just doesn’t have the same effect as purpose-worn pyjamas.
- Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation can impact your thyroid and stress hormone levels, which can negatively affect your memory, immune system, heart, and metabolism, among others. Over time, this can lead to depression, weight gain, high blood sugar levels, and an increased risk of diabetes. While there’s no magic number for how much sleep one needs, the National Sleep Foundation® provided the following figures as guidelines in 2015, based on a rigorous review of medical literature:
Age (years) Hours 0-3 months 14-17 4-11 months 12-15 1-2 11-14 3-5 10-13 6-13 9-11 14-17 8-10 18-64 7-9 65+ 7-8If you’re pregnant or ill, you may require more sleep, and if you wake up feeling tired, you probably aren’t getting a quality sleep.
- Use visualization
According to British research, those who visualize a sunny beach or lush garden fall asleep 20 minutes sooner than those who count sheep.
- Wake up and open your curtains
Sunlight will tell your brain to stop producing melatonin and that it’s time to face the day, which will make you feel more alert and refreshed.
- Limit your naps
Napping turns off your nervous system, recharges your body, and pays back sleep debt, although anything longer than 25 minutes will deprive you of the sleep you need at night.
- Use your bed only for sleeping
Don’t eat in bed, use it as a couch for watching television, or use it as a desk. Your mind will associate your bed less with sleep and more with whatever other tasks you carry out in it during your waking hours.
- Sleep with your pets
Last but not least, all you pet lovers will be happy to know that it’s okay to sleep with your pets. As per Dr. Michael J. Breus (the Sleep Doctor), a Mayo Clinic study confirmed that people whose dogs sleep in the same bedroom as them at night tend to benefit from good sleep quality. A second finding indicated that people who allow their dogs under their bedcovers tend to have poorer sleep quality. So, don’t be afraid to sleep with your pets. Just make sure they’re above the covers.