25 Tips For Deeper, More Restful Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important, but most undervalued healthy habits. Maintaining good sleep hygiene is critical to getting deeper and more restful sleep.

Sleep is one of the most important, but most undervalued healthy habits. Maintaining good sleep hygiene is critical to getting deeper and more restful sleep. Sleep is a time when your body repairs and restores itself both physically and mentally. Improving your sleep is a critical factor in improving your health.

When we seek to improve our health, we tend to focus on diet, exercise, and other lifestyle habits. But something that is too often overlooked but might be more important than all of those other things combined, is sleep. Sleep is a time when your body repairs and restores itself both mentally and physically. It’s a time when hormones are secreted and proteins are synthesized (those may not sound important but they are crucial for proper functioning of your body).

what is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene sounds like something you do in the bathroom before you head to bed (like brushing your teeth or taking a bath), but this is just a fancy, clinical term for all of the things you can do to make sure that you get better sleep each night. The routines and rituals you follow each evening that center around sleep are referred to as sleep hygiene.

Some poor sleep hygiene practices include things like staying up all night (or very late), going to bed at inconsistent times throughout the week, and attempting to make up for lost sleep on the weekends. Practices such as following a regular sleep schedule and making sure that you avoid caffeine later in the day are considered good sleep hygiene practices.

Many people turn to medications when they can’t sleep, but improving your sleep hygiene practices are some of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your sleep.

why sleep is so important

An estimated 60 millions Americans suffer from sleep disorders or sleep deprivation. Since we now have the ability to flip a switch and turn on the lights when it gets dark outside, we also have developed the ability to override our body’s natural tendency to sleep after the sun goes down. Lack of sleep affects almost all aspects of your body. It increases your likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke, increases your blood pressure, increases your risk of diabetes and prediabetes, and suppresses your immune system which increases your chances of catching every illness that goes around the office. There are even a number of studies showing that those who work night shift are more likely to develop cancer.

There are over 2,000 genes in our bodies that work differently when we are asleep compared to when we are awake. [1] DNA that codes for muscle repair and memory are active at night, while other segments of DNA such as those that code for our stress hormones are active during the day. This may not seem important, but it indicates that our body actually functions differently when we are asleep than it does when we are awake.

A good night’s sleep improves learning, helps you focus better, improve decision making processes, and allows for increased creativity. Getting high-quality sleep is essential to being a better human.

Health Concerns Related to Poor Sleep

There are some pretty impressive (and scary) health concerns related to lack of sleep.

  • Those who sleep less than 6 hours per night have a 23% high risk of heart disease than those who get more than 7 hours of sleep.

  • Those who sleep less than 6 hours and have poor quality sleep have a 79% higher risk of heart disease compared to “normal” sleepers.

  • Poor sleep more than doubles your risk for high blood pressure (hypertension)

  • Young women who sleep less than 5 hours per night are 8 times more likely to have a stroke.

  • Sleeping less than 5 hours or more than 9 hours increases the likelihood of weight gain. On average, those who are sleep deprived overeat by 500 calories per day (side note: I don’t believe that calories are the be all end all of weight gain/loss, but they do matter).

  • In children, sleeplessness has been linked to aggression, bullying, and even suicidal thoughts.

Poor sleep is also associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, decreased immune system functioning, increased anxiety and irritability, dying younger from any cause. Those who struggle with addiction are more likely to relapse if they are not getting adequate sleep.

One study showed that getting six hours of sleep per night was just as bad as getting none at all. The worst part is that the participants in the study who were only getting six hours of sleep didn’t feel tired, but their cognitive performance was declining. [2]

The reasons for poor sleep and sleep problems need to be addressed. They could be physical, mental, or a combination of both. Counting sheep isn’t going to work if you are in a bad relationship or having trouble with your boss at work. Depending on your age and metabolism, it might not matter when you had your last cup of coffee because caffeine can stay in your system for over 24 hours. If you have trouble staying asleep it might be because your blood sugar is dipping and your body wants more food.

If you’re an athlete, sleep is even more important. A study done at Stanford on athletes showed that getting adequate sleep actually improves athletic performance.

25 Ways To Improve Your Sleep Right Now

The absolute best plan would be to go to sleep when the sun goes down and to get up when the sun comes up. But for most of us, this is not practical. So here are some things that you can do to improve your sleep hygiene and get better, more restful sleep. Most of these are even things that you can do tonight!

1. Turn out the lights

Melatonin is one of the hormones in your body that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to indoor light after the sun goes down (which is when your melatonin levels start to rise) can suppress the production of melatonin by almost 50%.

If you live in a place where days are long during summer months, invest in some blackout curtains. Also, consider covering up your alarm clock (and definitely don’t use your cellphone as your alarm clock) or investing in an old fashioned analog alarm clock. If you are having trouble sleeping, even the slightest amount of light can be disruptive.

2. Keep your room cool

Our body temperatures have a natural pattern of highs and lows over a 24-hour period. Typically, our maximum temperature occurs during the late afternoon and our minimum around 5am. In someone with a healthy sleep pattern, sleep is usually initiated as their body starts to cool off. If you struggle to fall asleep, a warmer core temperature may the culprit. This makes the temperature in your bedroom that much more important for getting to sleep quickly as your ability to feel cool can determine how easy it is for you to fall asleep.

Research shows that a temperature between 60°F and 67°F is optimal for sleep. Temperatures above 75°F and below 54°F can disrupt sleep. In studies with those who suffered from sleep apnea, sleep quality improved as temperature was decreased from 75°F to 60°F. Body temperature has also been linked to the amount of deep sleep you might get during the night, with cooler body temperatures correlating with deeper sleep.

3. Shut out the noise

It might seem obvious, but noise can hinder sleep quality and duration. Soundproofing your bedroom would be an ideal option, but that’s not practical for most of us. Other options include keeping your windows and doors closed and investing in a sound machine to provide white noise. If you need to cool down your room and keep it quiet, a fan might be a good option to provide white noise along with a nice breeze.

4. Get some daytime sunlight

While it may seem counterintuitive, getting exposure to sunlight during the day is critical to improving your sleep. Outdoor light is much brighter and more intense than indoor light, which messes with our circadian rhythms and can disrupt your sleep cycle. Indoor light is just intense enough to disrupt your production of melatonin at night, but not quite intense enough to signal to your body that it’s daytime and you need to be awake.

If your body doesn’t know it’s daytime because it’s not being exposed to bright enough light, you will feel tired. You will also have a hard time knowing when it is actually time for sleep if there’s not difference in your light exposure levels from daytime to nighttime. Getting outdoor light exposure is most important early in the day or in the afternoon. This cues your body in that it’s time to be awake. This light is known as “anchor-light” because it helps to anchor your sleep and wake cycles. Also, the more bright, outdoor light exposure you get during the day, the less light at night affects your sleep.

5. Avoid screens before bedtime

Blue light (the kind of light that is emitted by all electronic devices) is a similar wavelength to daylight, so our bodies get confused and think it’s time to be awake. Experts recommend powering down electronics at least 2 hours before bedtime and not keeping them in your room.

If you work night shift or need to have exposure to screens during hours that you should be sleeping, consider investing in a pair of blue light blocking glasses to minimize the effects. These glasses should not be used as a substitute for sleep. There is some anecdotal evidence that wearing blue light blocking glasses during hours when you are supposed to be sleeping actually mimics sleep, so your body thinks it’s sleeping. However, you are not getting any of the actual benefits of sleep so be careful and make sure that you are still getting adequate sleep.

6. Use aromatherapy

There is plenty of evidence that the smell of lavender before bed can lead to a deeper sleep. [3] There is, however, a percentage of people for whom lavender actually makes it more difficult for them to fall asleep or gives them nightmares. Body chemistry plays a huge part in which essential oils will be effective for sleep for you so a little bit of experimentation may be required.

Other essential oils that are great for sleep are vetiver, roman chamomile, ylang ylang, bergamot, sandalwood, and cedarwood.

The most effective way to use essential oils for sleep is to have a diffuser in your bedroom. Add a few drops of your favorite oils and turn it on about 30 minutes before bed. If you don’t have a diffuser, a drop or two on your pillow will also work. If you are using a pure, high quality essential oil, it should not be greasy or leave spots on your sheets.

7. Have a caffeine curfew

Once you are sleeping better, you’ll rely on your morning cup of coffee less. However, your afternoon cup of coffee may be preventing you from getting quality sleep. We all differ in our ability to metabolize caffeine. However, there is evidence that even in healthy people with normal sleep patterns, consuming caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime can reduce sleep by an hour or more. [4]

Your caffeine metabolism also slowly increases (meaning it takes longer to get it out of your system) as you age. That means that while you may have “always” been able to drink an afternoon cup of coffee, it might feel like suddenly you can’t sleep. Consider only consuming caffeine before noon.

 
Your caffeine metabolism also slowly increases (meaning it takes longer to get it out of your system) as you age. That means that while you may have “always” been able to drink an afternoon cup of coffee, it might feel like suddenly you can’t sleep. Consider only consuming caffeine before noon.
 

8. Fix your gut

Scientists who are looking at the relationship between sleep and the human microbiome are finding that it may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a many different ways. It can shift circadian rhythms, alter the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and affect hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness. [5, 6, 7] Sleep may also affect the health of our microbiome.

The relationship between sleep and metabolic health is well established. Poor sleep is tied to higher rates of obesity and other metabolic disorders such as diabetes. [8] The understanding of the gut microbiome and its relationship to sleep is still emerging, but current research suggests that it’s extremely important.

Healthy gut function can be achieved by eating a wide variety of whole foods, limiting processed or packaged foods, getting plenty of fiber (mostly from vegetables), eating fermented foods, supplementing with probiotics, and reducing stress. If you have persistent digestive symptoms, it is advised that you work with a functional or integrative practitioner to address your gut function.

9. Get some exercise

It seems pretty obvious that exercise would make you tired, but what seems less obvious is that regular exercise can actually make you sleep better. [9] Data from a poll done in 2013 reported that although the sleep needs and patterns of those who do and do not exercise regularly were similar, those who engaged in regular exercise reported more frequently that they had a good night’s sleep and more frequently felt that their sleep needs were being met. [10] Doing something as simple as adding 10 minutes of walking per day can increase your likelihood of a good night’s sleep. But be aware that exercising too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect and keep you awake.

10. Supplement wisely

Supplementation can help in a variety of health issues including sleep. I don’t recommend going straight to supplements if you are looking to sleep better. This would be a step to take after you have implemented some of the other sleep hygiene tips mentioned in this article.

Here are some supplements that can help to improve your sleep quality (please talk with your doctor before starting any supplements):

  • Magnesium: Magnesium improves sleep quality and decreases nighttime awakenings. It also helps to maintain good muscle and nerve function, keeps your heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong.

  • Melatonin: A hormone that regulates the normal sleep/wake cycle, melatonin is useful as an occasional sleep aid, and is especially effective against jet lag. Supplemental melatonin can assists with this process, but be careful as there are some side effects of longer term melatonin use including memory issues and decreased natural melatonin production. Be advised that most melatonin supplements are sold in 1, 3, 5 or 10 mg tablets. A physiologic dose (meaning a dose that mimics what your body produces) is 0.3mg to 0.5mg. If you’ve tried melatonin and had no luck, consider trying a much lower dose as this often works better.

  • L-theanine: An amino-acid derivative found in green tea, theanine is triggers GABA release in the brain, which promotes relaxation and decreases anxiety. GABA is difficult for the body to absorb which is why experts recommend theanine as it is easily absorbed and boosts levels of GABA. Avoid drinking green tea in the late afternoon as it does contain caffeine.

  • Valerian: Many experts recommended this herb to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. According to the NIH, valerian has sedative properties and it may also help to increase GABA.

  • 5-HTP: A compound derived from the amino acid L-tryptophan, 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in sleep. A 2009 study found that those who took a product containing 5-HTP needed less time to fall asleep, slept longer, and reported improved sleep quality.

  • Lemon Balm: In one study of people with minor sleep issues, 81% of those who took a combination of valerian and lemon balm reported sleeping better than those who took a placebo.

  • B vitamins: B12 as methylcobalamin and folate (B9) as methylfolate are critical for neurotransmitter formation (and many other functions). Most vitamins contain the forms of B12 as cyanocobalamin and folate as folic acid. These synthetic variants do not work well in our bodies. Please check with your healthcare provider for dosing on B vitamins.

As always, speak with a functional medicine or holistic health practitioner to decide which supplements are right for you. Most of these supplements are generally considered safe, but if taken incorrectly they can cause some undesired side effects.

11. Clean your air

The Harvard School of Public Health found that poor indoor air quality increased risk of sleep disorders. The surprising thing about this is that, on average, indoor air quality is 4-5 times worse than outdoor air quality. [11] This is mostly due to the chemicals we use in our homes for cleaning, as well as from chemicals sprayed on furniture and fabrics prior to purchase (most of which have been banned in other countries).

Air purifiers and plenty of indoor plants as well as being aware of the chemicals you are using in your home can be helpful in decreasing indoor air pollution. [12]

 
Plenty of indoor plants can be helpful in decreasing indoor air pollution
 

12. Limit alcohol before bed

While alcohol may initially leave you feeling drowsy and may appear to help you fall asleep, it actually decreases the quality of your sleep. It can interrupt your circadian rhythms and cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Alcohol also blocks REM sleep, which is the most restorative part of your sleep cycle. Less REM sleep means you wake up feeling groggy and unfocused.

13. Develop a ritual

The last thing you do before bed can have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels the following day. Developing a bedtime ritual can take some time and practice, but there are some interesting studies that show that the most successful people have a ritual they perform each night. [13] Things such as taking a bath or reading before bed are easier to adopt and can go a long way towards making the next day better.

Cleaning up messes, making a plan or list for the next day, having a cup of tea, and doing some yoga or stretching can also help set the mood for bedtime and improve your mood the following day. Start with something simple and adjust as you find what works for you!

14. Balance your hormones

The endocrine system (the system responsible for secreting hormones) has a complex response to sleep. The secretion of some hormones increases during sleep (growth hormone, prolactin, and luteinizing hormone), while the secretion of other hormones is inhibited (thyroid stimulating hormone and cortisol).

The link between endocrine dysfunction and sleep dysfunction (specifically insomnia) is well established. Making sure your hormones are in balance can improve your sleep, and improving your sleep can help to balance your hormones. Eating plenty of good fats, limiting caffeine, exercising, improving your digestion, and prioritizing sleep are all good ways to balance hormones. If things are particularly out of sync, you would likely benefit from working with a functional medicine or holistic health practitioner to improve your hormones and your sleep.

15. Keep a schedule

Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends) is one of the smartest things you can do for your sleep and energy. Staying up late and sleeping in later than normal can shift your body’s internal clock in the same way that traveling across multiple time zones does, even if it’s just one night. This something called social jet lag and can make it much more difficult to fall asleep when Sunday night rolls around, which makes for an even more unpleasant Monday morning.

Having a consistent bedtime and getting up at close to the same time daily is linked with lower body fat percentages, increased pain tolerance, better mood, and decreased anxiety. [14, 15]

16. Don’t snooze

Hitting the snooze button is tempting, but the sleep you snag between alarms is not restful. Your alarm most often disrupts your REM sleep which leaves you feeling drowsy when you wake up. Setting your alarm for a little bit later and skipping the snooze can help you feel more awake when you do get up.

If you are also keeping a consistent schedule, eventually you might find yourself waking up without an alarm clock in the morning.

17. Try separate blankets

If the person who shares your bed also steals your blanket, or you can’t agree on how many covers you need (one of you is always hot while the other is cold), you might consider sleeping with separate blankets to minimize disruptions. Use a single fitted sheet and then add two sets of twin flat sheets and whatever blankets are needed to meet each of your needs. If you don’t like the way two sets of blankets looks, you can cover it with a duvet in the morning once you get up.

 
blankets.jpeg
 

18. Create a sleep sanctuary

While it may seem strange to create an amazing sleep environment because you’ll be spending all of your time in it asleep, it can go a long way towards improving the quality of your sleep and your health goals. Improving your sleeping environment can remove distractions that interfere with sleep and become a place that allows you to relax, decompress, and fall asleep easier.

19. Lose weight

Carrying a few extra pounds, especially around your belly can disrupt your sleep. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that participants in a study who lost an average of 15 pounds and reduced their belly fat by 15% improved their sleep quality. A reduction in belly fat was the best predictor of improved sleep. Improving your sleep can also help you if you are trying to lose weight. [16]

20. Calm your inner chatter

Some experts swear by doing a before bed “brain dump” where they write down all the things that are swirling around in their head. This helps you clear your mental desktop and can prevent you from stressing about things you need to remember or what happened during your day. Journaling can also help you turn off your brain and go to sleep.

21. Go to bed at the right time

There are two different types of sleep that we experience, non-REM and REM. Non-REM dominates sleep cycles in the early part of the night and is deeper and more restorative than REM sleep. The shift from non-REM to REM sleep happens at certain times of night no matter what time you go to bed. This means that if you go to sleep very late, your sleep will be skewed towards lighter, less restorative REM sleep which can leave you groggy the next day.

The best way to determine the correct bedtime for you is to subtract eight hours from the time you wish to get up and plan on getting in bed at about 15 minutes before that. Once you adapt to you new sleep-wake routine, you can try going to bed when you feel the sleepiest (which may vary slightly from day to day, but should still be within a 30-60 minute window allowing you to get eight hours of sleep).

22. Start a meditation habit

Doing yoga or meditating can be incorporated into your nightly routine. They can help you slow your breathing and fall asleep faster. Meditating can be as simple as focusing on your breathing and can be done while you’re lying in bed. A simple practice is to breathe in for a count of 3, holding your breath for a count of 3, and exhaling for a count of 3. Even just a few minutes of meditation daily can have profound benefits for your health, including reducing stress which is one of the most common things that interferes with sleep.

23. Set a bedtime alarm

If you find yourself having a hard time getting to bed on time, set an alarm for bedtime. If you own an iPhone, this function is built into the clock app. You can set your morning alarm and set how many hours of sleep you want (aim for at least seven, but eight is better), and your phone will kindly remind you when it’s time to get into bed.

24. Progressive muscle relaxation

If you have trouble falling asleep, try progressive muscle relaxation. This technique involves systematically tensing, then relaxing every muscle in your body. This practice can also lead to lower blood pressure, less anxiety, and a better sense of overall well-being.

25. Get out of bed

If you can’t fall asleep or find yourself lying awake in the middle of the night, it’s best to get out of bed for a bit. Staying in bed and stressing about not being able to sleep trains your brain to think that it’s ok to be awake and in bed, when what you really want is for your brain to equate your bed with sleep. If you can’t fall back asleep within 15 minutes or so, get out of bed and do another quiet activity, like reading, until you feel very sleepy again. Then get back into bed and you should fall asleep quickly.

You also should not be doing things like working, watching TV, or playing on your phone while you are in bed. Even though it feels like you’re winding down and getting ready for sleep, being awake and doing other activities in bed (especially if you have trouble falling or staying asleep), tells your brain that it’s ok to be awake when you are in bed. Even reading in bed can train your brain with the wrong message. Wait until you are ready to go to sleep before getting into bed.

Bonus: Get a new mattress

Even if your mattress feels comfortable, if you are having trouble sleeping, it’s worth looking into getting a new one. Sometimes you don’t realize how much it’s affecting your sleep until you find a more comfortable mattress. When looking for a new mattress, make sure to find one that suits your desired level of softness or firmness.

Finding a mattress that is made from all-natural and eco-friendly materials is also important. You don’t want to be breathing in toxic chemicals (and contributing to indoor pollution) while you sleep. It’s also important to make sure that your mattress is big enough to suit your needs. Most often, bigger is better as they tend to absorb movement from a partner better which means that you are more likely to get a deeper and more restful sleep.

Sleep Is Important, but don’t stress about it

While there are many negative health consequences of not getting enough sleep, one thing that I think is very important to mention is that even though I’ve just laid out 25 tips for improving your sleep hygiene and getting better sleep, don’t use this as an opportunity to get stressed out about sleep! Being stressed doesn’t help your health either.

If this list makes you feel anxious, pick one or two things off of this list to focus on and work on making them habits. Once you’ve gotten those down, add one or two more things. Much like improving your diet, improving your sleep is a process. Yes, it’s easier to take a pill that makes you fall asleep, but that only masks the problem rather than solving it.

If you’re having trouble sleeping or you are feeling stressed about, I’d love it if you’d reach out to me (email me at hello@therenegadenp.com)! Let’s create a plan to help you sleep better and wake up feeling rested!

 

References

  1. Anafi, R. C., Pellegrino, R., Shockley, K. R., Romer, M., Tufik, S., & Pack, A. I. (2013). Sleep is not just for the brain: Transcriptional responses to sleep in peripheral tissues. BMC Genomics, 14(1), 362. doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-362

  2. Van Dongen, H. P., Maislin, G., Mullington, J. M., & Dinges, D. F. (2003). The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: Dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep, 26(2), 117-126. doi:10.1093/sleep/26.2.117

  3. Goel, N., Kim, H., & Lao, R. P. (2005). An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Chronobiology International, 22(5), 889-904. doi:10.1080/07420520500263276

  4. Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 9(11), 1195–1200. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3170

  5. Thaiss, C., Zeevi, D., Levy, M., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Suez, J., Tengeler, A., … Elinav, E. (2014). Transkingdom control of microbiota diurnal oscillations promotes metabolic homeostasis. Cell, 159(3), 514-529. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.048

  6. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. (2019, August 13). Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm

  7. Schwartz, J. R., & Roth, T. (2008). Neurophysiology of sleep and wakefulness: basic science and clinical implications. Current neuropharmacology, 6(4), 367–378. doi:10.2174/157015908787386050

  8. Taveras, E. M., Gillman, M. W., Pena, M., Redline, S., & Rifas-Shiman, S. L. (2014). Chronic sleep curtailment and adiposity. Pediatrics, 133(6), 1013-1022. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-3065

  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25426516

  10. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/RPT336%20Summary%20of%20Findings%2002%2020%202013.pdf

  11. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100614141346.htm

  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Clean_Air_Study

  13. http://www.businessinsider.com/what-successful-people-do-before-bed-2016-6/#2-they-disconnect-from-work-2

  14. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.4278/ajhp.121012-QUAN-500

  15. https://www.futurity.org/sleep-loss-pain-1998102/?fbclid=IwAR0D7kd91L4MhTBx3vAmxBk73_6lCiuYpPDktvHcTj4CPuBJQ6tk5-rjRlI

  16. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/losing_weight_especially_in_the_belly_improves_sleep_quality_according_to_a_johns_hopkins_study