No matter how much our toddler selves may have hated nap time, the benefits of good sleep are plenty: Improved concentration, better mood, a stronger heart, and lowered effects of depression and inflammation are just a few. Plus, there’s also that simple, immeasurable joy of waking up refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
But of course, getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done for a lot of us. In the US, one out of three adults report not getting enough sleep — a trend that’s gotten worse with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To experience the benefits of a good night’s sleep for yourself, here are 10 science-backed tips that just might help. Some of them may sound a little silly or inconvenient, and I get that. But, I’m sorry to report that they happened to work for me.
Enjoy Some Sunshine
Getting some sunshine — ideally in the morning, soon after you wake up — is a good way to set yourself up for a restful evening.
That’s because exposure to the sun helps regulate your circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural internal clock. It’s what tells your body when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to sleep, and works to help regulate your hormones.
In fact, a cross-sectional and longitudinal study conducted among 400,000 UK Biobank participants found that a lack of time under the sun was a significant risk factor for not just insomnia and sleep problems — it was also tied to poor mood and depressive symptoms.
Kind of wild that sunshine (or a lack thereof) can do all that, but the good news is that it’s not too hard to enjoy the benefits of daylight exposure yourself. Try having your breakfast next to a sunny window, or enjoy your coffee outside. Find some time to walk your dog (or just yourself) during the day, or take work breaks outdoors.
If you can, try and let as much sunshine into your home office as possible. Open your curtains and blinds during the day, and see if you can rearrange your furniture to let you enjoy as much sunshine as possible.
Just be sure to use sunscreen!
Minimize Blue Light at Night
It’s good to enjoy light during the day for better sleep, but nighttime light exposure can have the opposite effect.
That’s because our bodies and circadian rhythms haven’t evolved enough to account for the blue light from our phones and electronic devices — many of which we use to wind down before bed. Blue light at night tricks our body to think that it’s still daytime, and we end up reducing hormones like melatonin, which is responsible for helping us relax and enjoy deep sleep.
Regular room lighting has this effect on our melatonin levels as well, but the blue light from our screens tends to have the worst impact, and so it makes sense to tackle exposure to it first.
Now, there are lots of articles out there recommending we avoid our screens within 1 to 2 hours of bedtime, and if you can do that, good for you! I couldn’t, at least not for my phone, but I found that there are still ways to lessen your exposure and help you get a good night’s sleep.
Try using glasses that block blue light or an app like f.lux to block it on your laptop or computer. Instead of trying to wind down on social media (and ending up doomscrolling — guilty!), try listening to relaxing music or audiobooks instead.
If you have to get up to pee in the night, try to use dim lighting. This can help you go back to sleep much easier.
Keep It Cozy
You know how we fall asleep by lying down and acting like we’re asleep? It turns out that setting the scene around you for a good night’s sleep can help you achieve it, too.
Aside from minimizing light, it’s a good idea to try and minimize noise. Try laying down a rug to soften the sounds of creaky floorboards, or use a towel to seal the bottom of your bedroom door if your housemates tend to be noisy at night. Investing in a good pair of earplugs can also go a long way. If you have the budget for it, a white noise machine is also proven to help.
It’s also a good idea to keep your room cool. The temperature often recommended is 18.3 °C (or 65 °F). But as a child of the tropics, I find that I’m better off in the low 20s in °C. So, see what works for you, as the optimal temperature really depends on you and your habits.
Next, try and make sure your bed is comfortable. If your bed covers are scratchy or dirty, that’ll definitely have an effect on your sleep. You may also need to experiment with different kinds of pillow and mattress firmness to see what works for you.
Last but not least, do your best to avoid working in bed. Doing work tasks on your bed will lead your brain to associate the place with the level of stress you get from your tasks or coworkers, which can make it hard to relax at night. As much as possible, reserve your bed for sleep and sex.
Lay off the Coffee After 4
Aside from being delicious, coffee also has plenty of health benefits. Your everyday cup of joe is associated with not just an energy boost, but also with lowered risks of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and kidney disease — when consumed in moderate amounts, of course.
But aside from the how much, the when matters, too.
When consumed too late in the day, caffeine might keep you from resting — making a good night’s sleep virtually impossible.
The stimulating effect of coffee can last even six hours after you drink it, so if you’re looking to get some shut-eye at around 10 pm to 12 midnight, it makes sense to avoid coffee from 4 pm onwards. If you’re still craving coffee in the late afternoon, make sure to go for a cup of decaf.
Cut Back on the Alcohol
Aside from coffee, alcohol is another type of drink to be wary of if you’re looking to get a good night’s sleep.
Okay. I know what you’re thinking: Drunk people pass out at random places all the time. Surely, a drink or two most evenings can help me sleep better?
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol causes your brain to slow down and can make you feel relaxed and sleepy. This can make it easier for you to doze off, which can certainly seem like a good thing. However, drinking alcohol before bed has been linked to poor sleep quality and shorter sleeping times.
That’s because the same substances that make you sleepy also throw off your natural sleep cycle — particularly when it comes to your slow wave sleep (the stage where you’re at your most relaxed) and your REM sleep (or rapid eye movement, the stage where you dream).
So the end result is that though you fall asleep faster, you tend to be tired and not very well-rested the day afterward. This can start a vicious cycle, where you might reach for the wine more often, thinking it’ll help you sleep — only for it to make you feel even worse come morning.
Alcohol also increases your likelihood of experiencing sleep apnea, a condition where your breathing stops and restarts several times in your sleep.
Given this, it’s a good idea to lessen your alcohol intake whenever you can. You don’t have to quit altogether — but it’s a good idea to be more mindful of how much and how often you drink, so you can let your mind and body rest better afterward.
Exercise During the Day
Okay, this one’s a bit complicated.
As someone who grew up on the heavier side, I’ve been told that I need to exercise basically all my life, often in unkind ways, even when I was, in fact, pushing my body to the limit. That experience is a whole other article, but I know now that I’m not alone in having a complicated relationship with exercise and fitness.
If you have similar experiences, then I promise this isn’t one of those tips that treat exercise as the magic solution to everything. We’re not here to worship at the altar of thinness.
What I am here to do is to help you get a good night’s sleep. And it turns out that moving your body during the day — even when you’re not doing it in influencer-approved ways, or losing the weight your mother wants you to — can help a lot in that regard.
Researchers know that aerobic exercise can help improve slow wave sleep, which is essential for rejuvenating both mind and body. Burning your energy through exercise can help prevent sleepiness during the day and help you fall asleep faster at night.
The effect of exercise on sleep is so strong that researchers have found that it helps people with insomnia: They fall asleep 55% faster, are 30% less likely to wake up at night, and are 15% less anxious about falling asleep. Exercise also helped the participants sleep 18% longer than they used to.
As for the time and exercise regimen to follow for a good night’s rest, there are no hard and fast rules. It may differ for everybody, so try and listen to your body and what it best responds to.
Take a Nighttime Bath or Shower
Researchers have found that a warm bath or shower can do wonders for your sleep. According to one study, bathing around 90 minutes before bed in warm water — somewhere between 40 to 43 °C (104 to 109 °F) can help you fall asleep faster and enjoy a more refreshing sleep.
There are different reasons behind this. Some studies focus on the effect of the hot water on your body temperature. Interestingly, it helps your body lower its temperature to the one most optimal for rest. Others, meanwhile, point to the hot water’s effects on your blood pressure.
Plus, bathing in the evening allows you to go to bed much cleaner than if you had just changed into your pajamas. This helps you reduce the buildup of dirt, sweat, and other body oils on your sheets — keeping them cool and comfortable.
Clear Your Head
As many of us know all too well, stress, worry, and even anger can keep you awake at night. Particularly bad cases can cause nightmares and keep you from falling back asleep no matter how much you toss and turn.
This is why taking some steps to clear your head before bed can help improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. A nice warm bath or even soft music, as recommended above, can help you do that.
If you have the privacy at home for it, you can also try journaling. The act of writing down your thoughts has been found to help reduce anxiety, regulate emotions, and create better awareness of a stressful situation. For instance, there were times I found solutions to my problems literally as I was writing them down.
But the big thing about journaling for me — no matter how hyped up it may seem — is that it can help you let go of your worries for the evening. In other words, it helps you get it out of your mind and onto paper. They’ll still be there come morning, but they don’t have to bother you in your sleep.
Another thing that has helped me get a good night’s sleep is to plan for the next day. Even if it’s just a short sentence on what to expect or a quick to-do list, writing it down has calmed my nerves, helped me feel more in control, and let me rest my brain from the task of having to remember everything I need to do.
Studies have found that irregular sleeping patterns are linked to poor quality sleep. That’s because they alter your circadian rhythm and lower your melatonin levels.
Going to sleep and waking up at similar times can help you maintain your body’s circadian rhythm — and help you get better sleep quality in the long-term. Over time, you might find that you may not even need an alarm to wake up in the morning, because your body has learned when it’s time to get up and start your day.
What also helps is to set a regular sleep routine that combines things we’ve already covered. For me, falling asleep is preceded by fixing tomorrow’s to-do list, taking a warm shower, doing my skincare routine, dimming the lights, switching on the air conditioning, and listening to soft music.
You don’t have to have the same routine yourself, but finding one that works for you — and sticking to it — can help reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
But if Nothing Seems To Be Helping You Get a Good Night’s Sleep…
… then it might be time to see a doctor.
The tips above can help a lot of people the same way they did for me, but if you’re still having trouble sleeping, then there may be something else that’s keeping you awake at night. Seeing a doctor can help you rule out issues like sleep apnea, which affects a staggering 936 million people around the globe.
Other conditions that might be keeping you up at night include sleep movement disorders or circadian rhythm disorders.
Do you have any other tips that have helped you fall — and stay — asleep? Let us know in the comments.