Are you getting enough sleep? Here are some great ways to get better sleep every night.
The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults should get 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly.
For teens, that goes up to 9 to 10 hours, and over 10 hours for younger kids.
However, surveys from adults, kids and high schools students consistently show that many of us aren’t getting the recommended number of sleep hours.
If you’re having issues with sleep or falling asleep, the following tips will help improve your sleep hygiene. This way, you wake up fresher, with more energy every morning.
What Happens to the Body During Sleep
Sleep is an important phase of life.
The body needs it on a regular basis.
If you have a healthy lifestyle, then you should be getting the 7 to 8 hours recommended nightly.
Besides the number of hours sleep, there is also what’s known as the phases of sleep.
In total, there are 5 phases of sleep, each affecting the body differently.
How well rested you are in the morning depends on which phase of sleep you are able to enjoy most during a given night. You may wake up revitalized or feel lethargic. At times regardless of the number of hours you slept.
Here’s an explanation of what happens to the body during a night’s sleep.
Now that we understand what happens during sleep, and why we feel more sleepy at night, here’s our list of ways to help improve sleep quality.
Ways To Help You Sleep Better Each Night
1. Keep Your Bedroom Dark When It Is Time to Sleep
We’ve gotten used to being awake during the daytime when there’s light. Then asleep during the night when it gets dark.
Because of this, our bodies have learned to respond to light and darkness in such ways.
These 24 hour mental, physical and behavioral changes are what’s called the circadian rhythm.
So the more light you have entering your bedroom or inside it, the more difficult it can be to get yourself to sleep.
The light can disrupt our internal clocks. This is true whether it’s coming from the window, your digital devices or night light.
By keeping your bedroom dark you don’t disturb your body’s production of melatonin. It also helps you get more regular sleep cycles.
If this is difficult to do, another way to completely shut out light is using an eye mask.
2. Reduce the Noise Level in Your Bedroom
Just as light can disrupt your ability to sleep, the noise around you can also keep you awake. Our hearing provides us with that extra sense.
When our eyes are closed, our other senses pay even more attention. This makes our sense of hearing more active when we try to get shut eye.
Noise can keep you from falling asleep. It can also wake you up in the middle of your slumber.
The noise may come from traffic outside, airplanes or trains passing by. It can also be from within your home like dogs barking or your partner snoring.
Keeping the bedroom quiet and free of noise helps you get more sleep. And, better quality of sleep as well.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, during sleep, our brains continue to register sounds and processes them. This allows us to get up when something isn’t right or alerts us.
More interestingly, there’s a noise level that can wake you.
Whether noise wakes you or not depends on whether you’re in light sleep (stages 1 or 2 of sleep), or in deep sleep (stages 3 and 4).
Noise Levels During Sleep
So how much noise can keep you up?
A study done in the sleep laboratory at the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital observed that:
- During stage 2 sleep, healthy individuals’ brains would be aroused 90% of the time when there are whispers around. Whispers hover around the 40-decibel range.
- When there are people talking or conversation going on, the participants found it just about impossible to get sleep. Talking gets to about 50 decibels loud.
One way to combat the background noise is to use a white noise machine.
These machines make their own low-level noise. This is similar to the noise made by an electric fan or air purifier.
It’s been shown that white noise helps level off the background noises like people talking or the doors shutting. With it, we are able to sleep better.
Another cheaper option of blocking out noise is to get ear plugs.
3. Keep Your Bedroom Temperature Between 60 °F and 68 °F
Ever notice that we’re more alert during warm environments and tend to feel sleepy in colder rooms.
There’s actually a scientific reason for this.
The body’s temperature regulation system likes cooler temperatures.
In fact, our bodies hit their lowest temperatures during the first 4 or so hours we’re asleep.
Studies also show that the optimal temperature for sleeping is between 60°F and 68°F.
So, keeping temperatures in the bedroom to between 60 and 68 degrees helps with sleep.
But, the National Sleep Foundation reports that the opposite is true for temperatures below 54 °F and above 75 °F.
So the take away is, keep your room’s thermostat level within the sweet spot.
This gives you a better sleeping environment.
4. Increase Your Melatonin Levels
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in our brains.
One of its main roles is to regulate our waking and sleeping cycles.
It also plays a role in fighting free radicals. This helps prevent cancer cells from developing.
Studies show that melatonin helps promote sleep. It works by making us feel sleepier. It also keeps us asleep and allows us to fall asleep faster.
Our body’s internal clock regulates how much melatonin it produces. In part, this is based on how much light there is and when we’re often awake.
During the earlier part of the day, our body produces less of it.
But towards late afternoon the levels start increasing. And, our body’s levels of melatonin stay high through the night.
When our circadian rhythm is disturbed, our body’s melatonin production decreases. When this happens, our ability to sleep as we regularly do is hampered.
Fortunately, there are a number of natural ways to increase your body’s level of melatonin.
Aside from getting sunlight in the morning, some foods can boost melatonin. These include pineapples, oranges, oats, and cherries.
If that’s a bit difficult to do, you can also turn to melatonin supplements.
5. Stop Working 1 Hour Before Going to Bed
When we’re working, our brain is in focus mode. It is thinking and concentrating.
Working up until the moment you go to bed or close to it, means that your brain continues to be active till then.
Sure, you’re more productive.
But, this prevents your mind from relaxing and unwinding. Both help you fall asleep.
Keeping your brain in focus mode, on the other hand, makes it harder for it to “turn off” and let you sleep.
By putting away your work for at least an hour before going to bed, it allows your brain to get away from what you were concentrating on.
It also reduces any anxiety or nerves if you have some special deadlines or presentations coming up.
6. And No TV Before Bed Too
Getting away from your work to relax does not include television.
TV is a great way to unwind and get your mind away from everything. But depending on what shows or movies you’re watching it can keep you awake even more.
TV stimulates the brain and actually contributes in making it more difficult to sleep.
Studies show that TV, especially in the bedroom, is associated with sleep problems.
Another thing about television is that you may start out planning to watch it for 30 minutes or an hour. But, end up spending 2 to 3 hours instead.
This eats up into your sleep time.
A better alternative is to listen to music that is relaxing.
7. Don’t Drink Alcohol at Night
We know that drinking alcohol can make people sleepy. It actually helps you fall asleep faster.
The problem with alcohol is that it disturbs your sleep.
The drowsy feeling alcohol induces allows you to fall asleep initially.
A few hours later, though, you’ll find yourself awake and not able to get back to bed. This affects your quality of sleep.
What’s more important is that drinking alcohol prevents us from getting into deep sleep. This is the stage where the body heals itself the most.
So, you end up missing out on sleep’s benefits.
8. Avoid Caffeine by Early Afternoon
We all know that caffeine helps make us more alert. It wakes us up or keeps us awake.
This is why we drink coffee in the morning.
It is also why many people use energy drinks to help them get through long work sessions.
One issue with caffeine is, depending on your genetics, your body may or may not be able to process it properly. This is why coffee can have very strong anti-sleep effects for some people and not much for others.
The stimulant in caffeine can stay in our systems for as long as 8 hours.
This means that drinking it within that time period from your regular sleep hours can disrupt your routine. It is why an afternoon cup of coffee may be enough to keep you from getting sleepy by bedtime.
To see its effects, the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at the Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan ran a test. Here, participants drank 400 grams of caffeine at 3 different times. One before bed, another 3 hours before and the last one 6 hours before sleeping.
The results showed that all 3 durations affected sleep hygiene. Compared to those that didn’t take any caffeine, the participants had significant sleep disturbance.
This tells us that drinking anything with caffeine, including coffee, colas, and even some medication, can affect our regular sleep.
If you can’t avoid doing so, enjoy your coffee or caffeine drink at least 6 hours or more before sleep time.
9. Take a Warm Shower or Bath Before Going to Bed
We mentioned earlier that lower temperatures help the body get to sleep.
One good way to simulate that experience is to get a hot shower or bath an hour or two before bedtime.
Taking hot baths or showers increase our body’s temperature. It also helps soothe and relax us.
Once we get out of the bath, our body’s core temperature starts dropping quickly.
The much lower temperatures of the surrounding air cause this. This change in temperature helps signal our body that it’s time to sleep.
A study by the Loughborough University in England did an experiment to test this. It made participants take a warm or cool bath to see how these affected sleep.
Results revealed that the cool bath didn’t affect the sleep patterns of the individuals. But, the hot bath made them sleepier during bed time. It also increased stage 4 sleep.
This showed that taking a hot bath helps you get deeper sleep. Plus, it gets you to feel sleepier come bedtime.
10. Stay Away from Sugar (and Grains) Before Bedtime
We know that sugar gives us that energy boost. It also helps keep us more alert.
This is what happens when we eat foods loaded with sugar like cakes and pastries.
Beside obvious sugary foods, don’t forget juices and sodas as well. Both are loaded with sugar.
Whether your sugar rush comes from loading up on carbs, or sugary food and drinks, enjoying them before bedtime can keep you up at night.
Or, at the very least delay your sleep.
11. Stop Smoking or Stay Away from Cigarettes at Night
Cigarettes contain nicotine, a stimulant that will keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. This is one reason to avoid getting a puff a few hours before bedtime.
If you can, try staying away from smoking or quitting.
It’s not only been shown to be associated with harmful health effects but also proven to your disrupt sleep pattern.
To see how smoking affects sleep, the University of Kentucky’s Department of Medicine asked over 480 individuals to fill out a health and sleep questionnaire.
It results revealed that cigarette smokers had more problems trying to get to sleep. They also had more issues staying asleep. Plus, they experienced more daytime sleepiness.
Why is this so?
According to a study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, smokers experience nicotine withdrawal as the night goes on. This results in getting a full night’s sleep difficult.
It is also why smokers often feel less rested in the morning.
12. Have a Sleep Schedule That’s Regular
Establish a sleep schedule.
This includes both work days and weekends.
A schedule helps let your body’s internal clock know what to expect.
A regular sleep-wake cycle also improves overall sleep quality. Plus, it lets you fall asleep faster during bedtime.
The University of Arizona’s Department of Psychiatry tested the effects of sleep regularity by comparing a group that was instructed to get 7.5 hours of sleep nightly and another group that kept a regular sleep schedule.
The group that kept a regular schedule reported reduced sleepiness during the day. They also had better and longer lasting improvements in being alert.
Just as importantly, the regular sleep group had better sleep efficiency.
Sleeping and waking up the same time regularly allows you to get in sync with your body’s circadian rhythm. This lets your body’s internal clock behave properly and help you sleep better.
13. Exercise Regularly and Eat a Balanced Diet
Eating a healthy balanced diet and getting regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve your sleep quality.
The Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern University found that adults who had problems going to sleep and staying asleep benefited from this.
They improved from being poor sleepers to good sleepers after adding aerobic physical activity to their lifestyle.
How much exercise do you need?
The participants were given either two 20 minute aerobic exercise sessions 4 times a week. Or, one 30 to 40 min. session 4 times weekly.
They also experienced less daytime sleepiness and more energy.
The key is doing aerobic exercise. This can be anything from walking to yoga.
Something worth noting is not to exercise too close to bedtime. This will keep you awake due to all the energy you’ve built up.
14. Get a Comfortable Pillow and Mattress
Remember tossing and turning because your bed, pillows or bedding weren’t comfortable?
You aren’t alone here.
In fact, having the wrong type of pillows or mattress can keep you up all night.
A poll by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that 92% of Americans say that an important factor in getting good sleep is a comfortable mattress.
Meanwhile, 91% said the same thing about a comfortable pillow.
This is one reason to choose the right type of mattress and pillows for you.
What suits you best will also depend on any existing conditions you may have. So, do take into consideration any physical issues like back, shoulder or neck pain.
The other question to ask yourself is what’s your sleeping position. Do you sleep on your stomach, side or back?
Each position has its own effect on sleep. Also, different types mattresses and pillows are better suited for certain sleeping positions.
This is why choosing the most expensive memory foam mattress or pillow isn’t always the best solution. In fact, there are some affordable options that are worth your while, especially for kids and teens.
These products “hug” the contours of your body. But, they’re also warmer than regular mattresses.
If you don’t like sleeping in a warm bed, you may want to avoid these. Or, at least get a memory foam mattress that has a gel upper layer.
15. Limit Your Nap Times During the Day
We’ve all taken naps at one point or another.
Naps are actually good because we wake up feeling refreshed and have more energy.
Long naps, however, can be detrimental to overall sleep quality.
Some people even use daytime naps to make up for not having a good night’s sleep.
This may sound logical. But, it doesn’t work.
In a review done by the Harry S. Truman VA Hospital in Missouri, researchers learned that naps that last for about 10 minutes help improve performance.
The same goes for napping inside of 30 minutes. Doing so improved learning ability, performance and helped our wakefulness.
But, taking longer naps frequently may be associated with a higher mortality and morbidity rate.
So, limiting your afternoon naps to between 10 and 30 minutes seems optimal.
It helps refresh you. And, it’s been scientifically proven to help with productivity and learning.
Going beyond half an hour on a regular basis, on the other hand, isn’t a good idea. It disrupts your night-time sleep quality and may also lead to earlier death.
16. Avoid Eating Large Meals at Night
Eating right before going to bed or close to it can prevent you from falling asleep.
If you eat something wrong or have spicy food, it can end up giving you stomach discomfort. This will keep you from getting your rest.
A large meal can also lead to indigestion. This will keep you up all night because you don’t feel comfortable.
During sleep, the body works to recover and regenerate.
So, loading up during dinner forces it to use the energy that’s reserved for recovery to digest food instead.
A good rule of thumb is to have light meals at least 2 to 3 hours before going to bed.
17. Check Your List of Medications
Our doctors often recommend that we get our nutrients from diet rather than medication or supplements.
It’s true that medicine works much faster than food. But, they often come with some side effects as well.
This is true when it comes to sleep.
If you have a good sleeping environment but still can’t sleep well, check your medications list.
You may be taking medicines that disrupt your sleep.
Medicines that Disrupt Sleep
According to the AARP, the following medications may cause insomnia:
- ACE inhibitors
- Cholinesterase inhibitors
- H1 antagonists
- SSRI antidepressants
Many of the medications are related to lowering blood pressure. But the medicines that disrupt sleep aren’t limited to this list.
Asthma medication, as well as anti-smoking, ADHD and thyroid medications, can all cause sleep disruption.
There are also some over the counter (OTC) drugs that do this. These include medicine for pain relief (some contain caffeine), colds (decongestants) and allergies.
The same is true for many herbal remedies or supplements. Some of these can interfere with sleep.
Sleep is one of the most important things for staying healthy. It is an essential part of our lives because it allows our bodies to heal.
As valuable as getting enough good quality sleep is, a large percentage of us aren’t getting it.
The good news is quick changes in your bedroom environment, diet and lifestyle help. They can dramatically improve how much sleep you get and the quality you’re getting.