Sleep is the Holy Grail of health, ensuring that we perform our best physically, cognitively and emotionally. A healthy adult should make sure to get 7-8 h of sleep every night. Yet it is not enough to know that adequate sleep is important, one has to know what to do and what not to do in order to get a good night’s sleep.
In this article I provide you with 12 powerful tips on how you can get the best of your nightly sleep. These tips are written in a somewhat prioritized order, so that the first tips are likely to give you the most benefit and potentially are the easiest to follow.
1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule
Humans are truly creatures of habit. One of the most powerful habits you can adapt to ensure good quality sleep is to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday even if it is the weekend, your birthday or Christmas. In this way you train your body to know when it is time to sleep and when it is time to wake up, so that your body starts doing the work for you! When your body knows your sleep time and your wake-up time, all biochemical processes will be tuned perfectly to fit your schedule: sleep inducing chemicals will be released in the evening and make you sleepy, while chemicals that wake you up and make you ready for the day will be released in the morning.
2. Give yourself time to wind down before sleep
Us humans, unfortunately, do not have ON/OFF switches and we need time to wind down after the day and get ready for sleep. Carve at least 1-2 hours of relaxation time before bed and create your own perfect evening routine, be it meditation, writing, drawing, slow walks, reading, slow yoga or stretching, hot baths or spending time with your loved ones.
3. Get sunlight in the morning
Every morning when you wake up you have the chance to set your inner biological clock right. Light is the most potent signal that tells our brains that we have woken up and it is time to start the day. Then the brain and body will do the work for you and coordinate all your biochemical processes to fit your schedule and be “on time”. Aim to get at least 15 min of sunlight within 1 h of waking up. In the morning our eyes, which send signals about light conditions to our brain, are not very sensitive to light, therefore we need high intensity light, such as sunlight, to get the signal through. Just remember – do not look straight into the sun!
4. Enjoy darkness in the evening
As light is the signal that tells our brain that the day has started, we should avoid light in the evening to not confuse our brains whether it is day or evening. In the evening our eyes are more sensitive to light than in the morning, therefore we should keep away even from moderate intensity light, not to send “wake-up” signals to our brain. Stay away from intense light and screens at least a few hours before sleep, use red shifted night filters on your screens, and use low intensity lights if you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
5. Keep your bedroom dark, silent and cool (around 18oC)
Sudden unpredictable sounds and light (even the one coming from the streets!) disrupt our sleep and might wake us up. Use light blocking curtains, ear plugs or an eye mask to reduce noise and light pollution during your sleep. Also, our bodies need to cool down to reach deep sleep, that is why it is so hard to sleep when it is too warm. Air the bedroom out before sleep and keep it rather cool at around 18oC.
6. Make your bedroom your sleep sanctuary
Our brain makes associations relatively quickly. For this reason, it is important that your brain associates your bedroom and your bed only with rest and sleep. Do not use your computer and do not work or stress in your bedroom, go to your bedroom only when you feel sleepy. In this way, your brain will associate your bedroom with sleep and will help you in making you sleepy when you enter your bedroom every night.
7. If you can’t sleep – don’t stay in bed
For the same reason that our brains make associations fast, if you can’t sleep and start to get anxious about it – get out of bed and go to another room to do something boring until sleep comes back to you. This is to make sure that your brain doesn’t associate bed with anxiety and fear of not being able to sleep.
8. Stay physically active everyday
Physical activity increases your sleep pressure and might aid you in falling asleep and staying asleep through the night.
9. Keep your dinner light and give enough time to digest before sleep
Heavy meals close to sleep time disrupt your nightly sleep as instead of resting, your body has work to do to digest the food. It is recommended to have light dinner at least 3 hours before sleep.
10. Avoid caffeine 8-12 h before sleep
Caffeine fragments our sleep, increases number of awakenings through the night and reduces sleep quality. A lesser-known fact is that caffeine stays in our bodies for quite a long time – 8-12 hours on average. Therefore, it is recommended to have the last dose of caffeine 8-12 h before sleep.
11. Avoid alcohol and nicotine 3-4 h before sleep
Both alcohol and nicotine disrupt your sleep and reduce sleep quality. Nicotine is a stimulant and might even make it harder to fall asleep. Alcohol is a bit sneaky as many people think they fall asleep easier with alcohol. While there is no evidence showing that alcohol shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, there is plenty of evidence showing that alcohol reduces sleep quality and severely impairs your REM sleep, which is important for your psychological and emotional health, memory and many other processes.
12. Don’t worry!
We are all humans, one or few nights with a late dinner or a movie in bed won’t hurt you. Just try to prioritize sleep in the following nights.
Most importantly, remember to start slow and small, but persistent. Make gradual adjustments, set achievable micro-goals and build your sleep hygiene so it organically integrates into your life.