When you sleep better, everything else follows. Maintaining good sleep habits is as important as taking care of your physical and mental health and leads to the betterment of both.
We all know that we should be spending more time getting well-deserved sleep. Since that’s the case, why is it so difficult to prioritize it? It sometimes feels that there are not enough hours in the day to fit in family time, work responsibilities, socializing, and everything else, but carving more time for yourself by sleeping less is not the answer.
Not getting enough shuteye can lower alertness, affect your mood negatively, increase weight gain, and add to your risk of developing medical conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Yikes! At the end of the day, staying up for one or two hours more to watch a TV show or look at your Instagram feed isn’t worth the price.
The good news in this regard is that sleeping better is usually a simple matter of wanting to do it. Here are six tips and tricks to help you improve your sleep health.
1. Maximize the Effects of Natural Light and Dark Exposure
It is essential for the human body to be exposed to bright sunlight during the day. Healthy sun exposure keeps your circadian rhythms consistent, making you more energized during the day and eager to sleep at night.
If your work keeps you indoors, try to go for a walk outside before you come in or during your lunch break. You can also sit by a window for a few minutes daily. This is relatively easier than the equivalent effort required during the evening.
At night, you should limit your artificial light exposure, particularly blue light—which computer, TV, and smartphone screens emit. While natural light is beneficial to sleep health, artificial light has the opposite effect. It confuses your body clock and makes it more difficult for you to wind down and fall asleep.
Enable night mode on your devices once the sun goes down and stop looking at any screens two hours before you intend to go to bed.
2. Optimize Your Bedroom and Accessories for Sleep
What does your bedroom look like? If it’s not comfortable and distraction-free, consider making some changes.
Your bedroom should only be for two things: rest and romance. Ideally, it should not double as your home office or your recreational area. Move your work desk, desktop computer, big screen TV, and entertainment devices elsewhere.
You want to create a cool, dark, and quiet environment. Make sure that the temperature at night is about 60 to 70 degrees. Install blackout curtains to cover your windows and keep sleep masks and earplugs on your nightstand for easy access, should you need them. A clean pair of socks may also help if you find yourself waking up or having trouble drifting off because of cold feet.
3. Splurge on a Good Mattress and Pillow
Did you know that you spend one-third of your life asleep? Mattresses and pillows are some of our most consistent life companions, and yet not many of us take the time and effort to purchase ones that are perfectly suited for the way we sleep. Think about it: You likely spend less time in your car, but you probably agonized over which model to buy and spent a huge chunk of money on it.
Even a good mattress typically lasts only about 10 years. If the one you’re using is nearing that age or if you’ve been experiencing back pain or restless nights, consider replacing your mattress with a supportive one that fits your taste. There are many online mattress companies that will allow you to return their products after a lengthy trial period.
Pillows are similarly overlooked as causes for poor sleep. You may be experiencing neck pain or trouble breathing because of your flat bolster. Consider getting an orthopedic pillow for your specific needs.
4. Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule
If you’re serious about adding healthy sleep habits to your routine, let it show in your schedule and your to-do lists. Treat those eight hours of sleep as an important nightly appointment. You wouldn’t miss a work meeting to watch another episode of your favorite Netflix series, so the same should be true for your bedtime.
Give up your snooze button—instead of stealing five or ten extra minutes of rest before you get up, sleep earlier. Set reminders on your phone to start winding down two hours before bed. Retire to your bedroom at the same time every night, whether it’s a weekday or weekend. With a regular sleep routine like this, you may soon find that you don’t even need an alarm to wake up on time.
What about naps? Take them only when necessary, and keep them short. Power napping when you’re tired is fine, but going longer than 30 minutes can affect your body clock and throw off your sleep schedule.
5. Relax and Clear Your Mind in the Evening
Managing your stress levels throughout the day is important, not only for sleep but for your general health. Feel the need to add more relaxing activities to your regular activities? You can try meditation or yoga.
If your sleep troubles stem from not being able to stick to your bedtime because you’re too anxious and wound up at the end of the day, create a bedtime ritual to calm yourself down.
We’ve already mentioned winding down and avoiding digital screens two hours before bed. Some other things you can do in those two hours are dimming or turning off the lights, breathing exercises, long baths or foot baths, and listening to music.
6. Have A sleep-friendly Diet and Exercise Habits
Avoid drinking and eating heavy meals as you are winding down, as well as stimulants like caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol. You want to decrease the likelihood of sleep interruptions due to heartburn, indigestion, or needing to go to the bathroom.
Cigarettes and alcohol can affect breathing, which can have a negative impact on sleep quality. Alcohol intake, in particular, is also linked to lower melatonin production at night. If you are already a snorer, consider quitting. Caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for up to eight hours, so it’s best not to drink coffee past the mid-afternoon.
Regular exercise—even a simple daily walk—can help support healthy sleep-wake patterns. However, you may want to schedule physical activity during the day. It’s not a good idea to exercise too close to your bedtime, as it is stimulating and can keep you up.