How To Sleep Better

Sleep is a basic function of life – we all need it and we all do it. Yet for something so seemingly simple, getting good sleep on a regular basis proves challenging for many us.

Luckily, given its crucial importance to health and well-being, the subject of how we can all get better sleep is an important one for researchers. The concept of “sleep hygiene” refers to the collective behaviors and habits that have been found to promote better rest. Ranging from how you schedule your day to the conditions of your bedroom, there are quite a few things you can do to increase your odds of sweet dreams and break cycles of sleepiness. Read on to learn dozens of proven strategies you can implement tonight to start experiencing better sleep.


Back to Sleep Basics

The foundations of getting better rest involve understanding how much sleep your body needs and learning to prioritize it your routine.

1. Know How Much You Need

Eight hours of sleep is the well-known standard, but there’s actually some variation in how much you may need to feel your best. Some people feel peppy on six to seven hours, while others may need up to nine hours to feel well-rested. If you haven’t found your sweet spot yet, start with seven hours, see how you feel, and work up from there if you need more rest.


2. Make a Sleep Plan

A big part of developing healthy sleep habits is consistency. Research shows people who sleep and wake around the same time every day (especially kids, teens and younger adults) are less likely to have sleep problems, and consistency has even been linked with healthier body weight. Having an established bedtime and waketime that gives you adequate sleep time is important for keeping yourself consistent and avoiding weekday jet lag.

Start by setting your wake up time. When do you need to be up by in order to start your day comfortably (not in a stressed rush)? Try to pick a time that you will be able to stick to within 60 minutes, even on the weekends. Then, work backwards by the amount of sleep you need, and add an extra 30 minutes to give yourself adequate time to fall asleep. It takes the average person at least 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep once in bed, so it’s important to factor that in, and a little wiggle room can keep you from feeling stressed about the clock. For example, if you want to wake at 7 AM, that means you might plan bedtime around 10:30 to 11:30 PM.

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3. Have a Relaxing Routine

In the hour or 30 minutes before bed, it can be helpful to follow a regular pre-bed routine. Getting in this habit lets your mind and body know that sleep is coming soon. Your routine should focus only on things that make you feel good and calm. Nothing stressful like bill paying, work, emotional talks or violent or exciting shows or games. Follow a predictable pattern as often as you can, and just like your sleep schedule, try to do it around the same time.

Perhaps your routine could involve laying out tomorrow’s outfit, brushing your teeth, doing a face mask, some light stretching, a little reading or sketching — any low key activities that work for you.


4. Prioritize Snoozing

If you struggle with sleep, it really is important to make getting rest a conscious priority. Getting a good night’s slumber is more beneficial than a late night Netflix binge or another round of Candy Crush. Remind yourself that you’ll wake up with a clearer head, better looks, a better mood or better health — whatever is important and motivating to you.

In the 2015 Sleep in America poll by the National Sleep Foundation, stress and pain were found to dramatically affect sleep. However, stress and pain sufferers who said they made sleep a priority reported longer sleep and better sleep quality than those who did not. If looking to focus on getting a good snooze, look for the best mattress for back pain.


5. Set Aside Time for Make-Up Sleep

While the concept of “sleep debt” isn’t entirely understood, recharging after nights you’ve skimped on slumber can be helpful for bouncing back.

Kelly Bulkeley, Ph.D., Director of the Sleep and Dream Database, says, “One of the most surprising findings of modern sleep science is the power of the “rebound effect.” If we don’t get enough sleep one night, we tend to sleep extra long and deep the next night. This finding has useful implications for people in present-day society.” He adds, “Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid a few nights of shortened sleep for work, family, or other reasons. The best thing people can do in these situations is make sure they get plenty of “rebound” sleep when the time comes, by going to bed extra early and/or sleeping in later than usual. By taking advantage of the rebound effect, busy people can maximize the overall benefits of sleep.”

In terms of the best way to get makeup sleep, it’s thought to be less impactful on your sleep cycle to head to bed earlier and then wake up at your normal time, if possible. But since many people can experience “sleep onset insomnia” when trying to sleep earlier than usual, mid-afternoon naps can also be helpful.

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6. Reduce or Diffuse Noise

Some of us can easily sleep through a concert, while others awake at slightest creak or breeze. If you fall into the light sleeper group, ambient noise or earplugs may prove helpful. Sound conditioners, fans, white noise machines, and even apps that play nature sounds help diffuse background noises and prevents those bumps in the night from bothering you. Ambient noise may also be useful for drifting off if silence sends your mind running.

The other option is earplugs, which are ideal for people who find any noise distracting. If you’re weary of earplugs or headphones and waking up on time, a vibrating phone or wrist alarm could give you some peace of mind.


7. Determine the Best Arrangement

Many people find comfort sleeping near their significant other, and it’s also often reported as a sign of a healthy relationship. But, sometimes coupling up can mean sleeping less, which can in turn cause more fights, bad moods, resentment and other undesirable things. Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, MSc, associate professor of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, shares, “An early study on the effects of aircraft noise on sleep found that sharing the bed with somebody caused more sleep disturbance than the outside noise,” he suggests. “If your bed partner turns or snores frequently, you may briefly wake up multiple times during the night. Even if you do not wake up consciously (i.e., you cannot recall these episodes in the morning), your sleep may be less restful. If you have tried everything else, try sending your partner to sofa exile for a week, and see if it makes a difference,” he added.

In addition to snoring, some people are easily awakened, have different schedules, and can have different comfort preferences. If you’re not sleeping great, bring it up with your partner and see if you can find a solution that works for both of you. Heavy snoring can also be a sign of sleep apnea, another reason to discuss it (kindly) with your partner.


8. Keep Rooms Dark at Night

Light plays a significant role in our internal circadian rhythms, by affecting the mechanisms that govern drowsiness and wakefulness. Your body is generally geared to get sleepy in the dark and active in the light. Most sleep professionals suggest keeping the bedroom as dark as possible at night, including turning off all electronics, clocks and lamps. For people who live in cities, dark drapes or light blocking shades can minimize outside light from windows.

Blackout shades or eye masks may be even more important if your sleep schedule involves sleeping much past sunrise, as the bright sunlight could make the last couple hours of your sleep less restful.

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9. Use Dim Lights in the Evening

To further use lighting to your advantage, start dimming down in the couple of hours leading up to your bedtime. Turn off bright fluorescent or halogen bulbs and opt for dim lamps in living areas and bedrooms instead.

Having a dimmer switch installed or using a lamp with a “smart” lightbulb would allow you to gradually taper off the light closer to bed and even change the hue, helping to encourage natural drowsiness.

Lightbulb tips:

  • Choose bulbs that say warm or soft.
  • Look for Kelvins under 3000. Color is given in Kelvins. Lower Kelvin temperatures are dimmer and yellower, while higher Kelvin temperatures are brighter and bluer thus less ideal for sleep.
  • Look for lumens under 450. Brightness is given in lumens. Lower lumens are dimmer and better for evenings, while higher lumens are better for daytime and workspaces.


10. Put Your TV To Bed Early

Watching a few shows on TV is a common evening routine for millions of people, and while entertaining and often relaxing, it may not the best thing to do right before bed. The cool glow of your TV screen delivers melatonin-suppressing blue light which may keep you up longer than intended.

Shows that have you on the edge of your seat can also be hard to turn off when bedtime comes. Others with emotional or frightening content can cause anxiety or stress, even for adults, which can make it harder to feel calm and peaceful. Try to keep shows light hearted in the hours before bed, use the dimmer function if your TV has it, and have a set off time that’s at least 30 minutes before your bedtime. Sleep experts generally recommend not having a TV in the bedroom at all, especially for children’s rooms.


11. Banish Smartphones

Smartphones and tablets deliver sleep stealing blue light as well, and their impact may be even greater than TV since you tend to hold them quite close to your face. Beyond light, smartphone distractions are virtually unlimited between games, social media, texting, emails and late night reading. In one survey, up to 20% of younger adults admitted to waking up multiple times per week due to disturbances from their phones and 26% admitted to texting or emailing after initially going to sleep in the 2014 poll. Teens in particular are more likely to lose sleep to smartphones.

Leave phones outside of the bedroom, or at the very least, put them in silent mode facedown to minimize disruptions. Some phones and apps also have do not disturb functions that can be helpful.

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12. Don’t Hang Out in Bed

According to most sleep hygiene sources, beds should only be used for sleep and getting intimate. This way, your brain associates your bed with sleep and sleep alone, not with gaming, watching TV, eating or other activities. Getting used to the habit of working, web surfing or studying in bed can also make it harder to turn off stressful thoughts and pressing to-dos when you’re ready to go to sleep. It’s best to keep waking activities in another room, or have a separate desk or comfy chair in your bedroom.


13. Give Pets Their Own Beds

Pets are comforting and cozy, and many people enjoy snuggling up with Fluffy and Fido at bedtime. However, it might not be so great for your sleep. Pets can be fidgety and hot, even obnoxious at times, and they can indeed wake you up at night and affect sleep quality. If you have allergies, they also track dander, dirt, outdoor debris and other not so cozy things into bed with them.

A better solution is to have separate pet beds so everyone can get great rest. You can even make it a DIY project using your old clothing or bedding so they have something comforting to snuggle up up with.


14. Sleep Cool

The ideal temperature for sleep according to research is in the neighborhood of 60 to 70 degrees. There is some variance for personal preference, but generally cooler temperatures are best for maintaining restful sleep. Our bodies natural see a temperature dip at night, so it’s thought that being too hot might work against this effect and prevent deeper sleep. Adjust the thermostat and see what works for best for you. If you and your partner have significantly different preferences, using different blankets or a dual-sided temperature control device could help keep the peace.

If you’re looking for a memory foam mattress, make sure it’s one that uses advanced open-cell foam to promote airflow and help you sleep cool throughout the night. Cheaper foams restrict airflow and can cause you to sleep in a heat trap.

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15. Use Breathable Bedding

Breathable fabrics like cotton and wool help balance temperatures and wick away moisture, so you’re less prone to overheat or feel too cool. Some synthetics like polyester can keep heat and moisture in, making sleep unpleasant. If you find yourself tossing covers off mid-night or waking in a sweat, make sure your bedding or pajamas aren’t the culprit.


16. Green it Up

A few plants can go a long way toward freshening indoor air, giving you a cleaner place to snooze. Some of the best at purifying indoor pollutants are chrysanthemums, English ivy, snake plants, Boston ferns, and spider plants. Aloe and snake plants also give off extra oxygen at night, perfect for bedrooms.