How to Sleep Better: 20 Essential Tips

Sleep Better
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
7th August 2020

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Figuring out how to sleep better isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, so take time to combine a holistic approach with evidence-based tips to find what works for you.
A good night’s sleep requires good prep. Optimise your body by honing your diet and routine, and combine it with a setting that’s primed for sleep.
It’s not a modern problem, but it could require a modern solution. Complement your routine with sleep apps and advancements to encourage your body’s natural sleep pattern.

Can’t sleep? You’re not alone. We’re all aware of our own tell-tale hints of a poor night, but research shows the effects are more than anecdotal. Losing z’s disrupts hormones, hinders exercise and brain function, and can influence weight gain. In contrast, getting your recommended eight hours boosts your mood and performance and has long-term health benefits.

In this article, we’ll share 20 tips for how to sleep better. From optimising your diet and routine, to remedies and apps to try, there are plenty of ways to improve sleep.

Prep Your Body for Sleep

Sleep is as important for health as regular exercise. To exercise well, you prime your body beforehand. The same goes to get better sleep.

  1. Optimise your diet. B vitamins and magnesium are nutrients that can improve sleep. Dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains are good sources of these.

  2. Cut down on caffeine. Coffee stimulates your nervous system, enhancing your focus and energy, but keep it for the morning. The effects of caffeine can last for 6-8 hours, preventing your body from relaxing at night.

  3. Avoid large meals before bed. If you’re too full, lying down can cause heartburn. Your body is actively processing your meal and the energy boost from the food you’re digesting will hinder your sleep.

  4. Don’t drink alcohol right before bed, either. Alcohol helps induce sleepiness, but it also disrupts your breathing, preventing you from entering the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.

  5. Exercise. Cardio, strength training and yoga can help you get better sleep. Moderate cardio increases your slow wave sleep, or ‘deep sleep’. Building muscle can help you wake up less frequently in the night, and yoga can help you transition more easily into sleep.

  6. Consider light exposure. Your body has a natural daily cycle of physical, mental and behavioural changes that respond primarily to light, known as the circadian rhythm. 30 to 45 minutes of exposure to natural sunlight during the day helps keep you in sync, which will improve sleep quality and duration at night.

  7. If you can’t get outside, look for other ways to increase your exposure to bright light during the day, such as a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Lamp. These can also stimulate your brain to increase the production of serotonin, the mood-boosting hormone.

  8. Reduce blue light in the evening. The light from your electronic devices is similar in wavelength to sunlight, which reduces your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. If you can’t limit your screen time, consider wearing glasses with a blue light filter, or use an app to reduce blue light from your device. Try f.lux on your computer, Twilight on Android and if you’re on iOS, make sure you’re using your Night Shift mode.

  9. Consider supplements that mimic your body’s response to light. Melatonin supplements emulate your body’s natural sleep prompts, letting your body know it’s night, so you can fall asleep more easily. 

Set the Stage for Sleep

If your body’s primed but you still can’t sleep, other factors could be letting you down. Give yourself the best chance by creating a clear runway for sleep.

  1. Optimise your bedroom. The ideal setting is cool, dark and comfortable. Use blackout curtains, invest in a good mattress and pillows, minimise disturbing noises with a white noise machine, and keep your room at a constant temperature between 16 and 24°C.

  2. Ban work from the bedroom. Give yourself the Pavlov’s dog treatment (minus the animal cruelty) and associate your bed with two things only: sleep and sex. This will help your brain switch to sleep when it needs to.

  3. De-stress. If you’re losing sleep worrying, designate a specific time during the day to address the concerns bothering you. As these thoughts arise, schedule them in your calendar: the practice will help you manage worries productively.

  4. Try meditating. Meditation can reduce stress and even help manage pain. If you haven’t meditated before, begin with focusing on slower breathing techniques, or use an app such as Headspace or Digipill to guide you.

  5. Perfect your routine. Good sleep requires consistency. Priming your body with regular sleep-promoting activities will help them become a habit, which further helps you get better sleep. Experiment with the next few daily tips and stick to what works.

  6. Have sex or masturbate before bed. Hey, whatever works, right? After orgasm, your body releases oxytocin, the hormone that makes you feel safe and tranquil. Sex can also decrease your levels of cortisol, the hormone related to stress.

  7. Brew some chamomile tea. Chamomile extract contains an antioxidant called apigenin, which binds to receptors in your brain and works as an antianxiety agent.

  8. Visualise yourself asleep. Close your eyes and slow your breathing. Survey your body for tension, and as you breathe out, imagine it leaving your body. You’re tricking your body into winding down while helping your mind relax.

  9. Stretch. This also promotes mindfulness by drawing your attention to your body rather than the stresses of your day. You’ll loosen up muscles, alleviating tension and discomfort. In addition, easy leg lifts or squats will help direct the flow of blood away from your brain, helping you relax.

  10. Listen to a podcast. Sleep-inducing podcasts such as ‘Get Sleepy’, ‘Sleep Whispers’, ‘Slow Radio’ and ‘Snoozecast’ are calming and easy to drift off to. Many podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts also have a sleep timer feature that pauses a show after a period of time.

  11. Use an app. There are plenty out there, so take time to work out the best sleep apps for you. Try an app with relaxing sound sequences, such as Noisli, Pzizz, or Relax Melodies, then use SleepScore, Pillow or Sleep Cycle to monitor your sleep, which will help you identify what’s working.

The Bottom Line

If you can’t sleep, don’t worry. You’re part of the third of adults in the UK with sleep loss. The important thing to remember is not to judge yourself: avoid entering that “vicious cycle” of losing sleep, anxiety over lost sleep, and anxiety-induced sleep loss. Instead, take a methodical approach towards adopting new sleeping habits, from improving your diet and routine to sleep aids, then track the effects. Over time, you’ll find a solution to get better sleep, your way. Good luck!

References

  1. Janmejai K Srivastava, Eswar Shankar, and Sanjay Gupta (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/

  2. Kenneth L Lichstein, PhD, Kristen L Payne, MA, James P Soeffing, MA, H Heith Durrence, PhD, Daniel J Taylor, PhD, Brant W Riedel, PhD, and Andrew J Bush, PhD (2008). Vitamins and Sleep: An Exploratory Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2174691/

  3. Yingting Cao, Shiqi Zhen, Anne W. Taylor, Sarah Appleton, Evan Atlantis and Zumin Shi (2018). Magnesium Intake and Sleep Disorder Symptoms: Findings from the Jiangsu Nutrition Study of Chinese Adults at Five-Year Follow-Up; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6212970/

  4. Frances O’Callaghan, Olav Muurlink and Natasha Reid (2018). Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6292246/

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases – What are the symptoms of GER and GERD?: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes

  6. NHS – Alcohol studied for its effect on sleep: https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/alcohol-studied-for-its-effect-on-sleep/

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine – Exercising for Better Sleep: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep

  8. Lee T. Ferris, James S. Williams, Chwan Li Shen, Kendra A. O’Keefe and Kimberly B. Hale (2005). Resistance Training Improves Sleep Quality in Older Adults a Pilot Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3887339/

  9. Jeanne F. Duffy, M.B.A., Ph.D. and Charles A. Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D. (2009). Effect of Light on Human Circadian Physiology: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2717723/

  10. Sleep Education – How seasonal affective disorder disrupts sleep: http://sleepeducation.org/news/2020/02/19/how-seasonal-affective-disorder-disrupts-sleep

  11. Harvard Health Letter – Blue light has a dark side: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

  12. Sleep.org – The Ideal Temperature for Sleep: https://www.sleep.org/articles/temperature-for-sleep/

  13. Sleep Foundation.org – How Meditation Can Treat Insomnia: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-meditation-can-treat-insomnia

  14. Headspace – Mindfulness for your everyday life: https://www.headspace.com/

  15. Michele Lastella, Catherine O’Mullan, Jessica L. Paterson and Amy C. Reynolds (2019). Sex and Sleep: Perceptions of Sex as a Sleep Promoting Behavior in the General Adult Population: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6409294/

  16. Fang Wang, Othelia Eun-Kyoung Lee, Fan Feng, Michael V.Vitiello, Weidong Wang, Herbert Benson, Gregory L.Fricchione, John W.Denninger (2015). The effect of meditative movement on sleep quality: A systematic review: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1087079215001604?via%3Dihub

  17. Get Sleepy: Sleep meditation and stories – https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/get-sleepy/id1487513861

  18. Sleep Whispers – https://podcasts.apple.com/ua/podcast/sleep-whispers/id1092800054

  19. Slow Radio – https://podcasts.apple.com/tr/podcast/slow-radio/id1297180610

  20. Snoozecast: Stories for Sleep – https://podcasts.apple.com/sk/podcast/snoozecast-stories-for-sleep/id1448892174

  21. Noisli – https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/noisli/id862773459

  22. Pzizz – Sleep, Nap, Focus – https://apps.apple.com/ee/app/pzizz-sleep-nap-focus/id915664862

  23. Digipill: Guided Meditation – https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/digipill-guided-meditation/id578068250

  24. Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds – https://apps.apple.com/us/app/relax-melodies-sleep-sounds/id314498713

  25. SleepScore: Top Sleep Tracker – https://apps.apple.com/us/app/sleepscore-top-sleep-tracker/id1364781299

  26. Pillow Automatic Sleep Tracker – https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/pillow-automatic-sleep-tracker/id878691772

  27. Sleep Cycle – Sleep Tracker – https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/sleep-cycle-sleep-better/id320606217

  28. NHS – Sleep problems in the UK highlighted: https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/sleep-problems-in-the-uk-highlighted/

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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