How did you sleep last night?
The truth is, most of us don’t sleep very well. Two thirds of all adults in developed countries don’t get the required hours. The good news is that getting to sleep and staying asleep are easier than you think! Here’s my 15 tips for getting a full 7 – 9 hours of solid sleep and waking up fresh.
1: Get some natural light early in the morning
Source: "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker
It’s counterintuitive, but what you do in the morning impacts your sleep at night.
Your body has a natural sleep cycle (called a circadian rhythm) that is responsible for how sleepy we feel. The problem is that it doesn’t always align with our day: sometimes we’re wide awake at 11pm and drowsy at 10am.
The amount of light we’re exposed to is the strongest signal we can use to tell our brain time of day it is. Getting light in the morning tells your body the day has started, and helps you sleep better that night.
Here’s the tip: exposing your eyes to natural light as soon as you wake up helps reset your internal body clock, increasing the chance of feeling sleepy in the evening.
Try to experience around 15–20 minutes of natural light first thing in the morning – it could be by opening the curtains when you wake up, starting your day with a 15 minute walk around the block, or choosing to have your morning coffee outside. Whatever it is, get some daylight in your eyes.
Sunlight is the most effective, but even an early morning walk on a cloudy day will help. If that’s not possible, just open the curtains and turn on some bright lights in the morning!
2: Limit exposure to screens at night
The reverse of tip 1 is also true: if you’re stuck staring at a screen late at night, all that blue light emitted is telling your body it’s the morning.
Try to limit exposure to screens for the two hours prior to bed. Even better, turn the main lights off around the house and put some mood lighting on.
If you can’t avoid using a screen prior to bed (it might be a crammed study session late at night), use a blue light filter on your screen. These programmes will adjust the level of blue light your screen emits as it gets later in the day.
On your computer, install Flux for free. On a mobile phone, use the built-in Night Shift feature.These settings automatically adjuss the blue light your screen emits at night.
3: Stick to a sleep schedule – set an alarm for bed-time
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. A sleep-in on the weekend won’t make up for sleep-deprived nights in the week, because it throws your body’s sleep cycle out-of-whack.
Aim for 7 – 9 hours of sleep a night, and try to keep your schedule strict. Set an alarm for bed time and aim to be in bed the same time every night.
You’ll find that after a week or two of regular sleep times, you naturally start to fall asleep and wake up around the same time, even without an alarm clock. A crazy late night rewarded with a midday sleep-in won’t just make it harder to sleep the next day: it will reset your sleep-cycle and make sleeping more difficult for days.
Exercise during the day and work up a sweat. You’ll sleep better for it.
Just try not to exercise too late at night. Keep it at least 2 – 3 hours away from when you’re planning to sleep.
5: Try a Shakti Mat or Massage
These things can knock me out and send me into a trance.
I fall asleep on my Shakti mat most nights. I put my mat on the floor next to my bed, plug my headphones in, put on some music, and drift away. I don’t set a timer, but instead naturally let myself stir, then sleepily peel myself off my mat and roll into bed. A good night’s sleep normally ensues.
This thing is great for a busy mind. When you’re on that mat, the spikes don’t let you think about anything else but the uncomfortableness you’re experiencing. Give it 5 minutes, and that pain turns to a warmth that spreads throughout your back. A couple of minutes later, and I’m usually fast asleep.
6: Take a cold shower
This also puts me to sleep better than anything else. I jump in the shower, turn it up so hot it hurts, let myself sweat it out for a bit, then turn the temperature all the way down and breathe calmly.
If I head straight to bed (or my Shakti mat) after a couple of minutes under freezing cold water, I always seem to sleep better.
7: Try Tim Ferriss’ honey and apple cider vinegar bedtime cocktail
30 minutes before bed, try make yourself a cup of hot water mixed with 1 tablespoon raw honey (the good stuff, not the squeezable stuff you can buy) and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar.
Tim swears by it. Some people say taking this bedtime drink causes them to wake up feeling like they’ve already had a triple shot of coffee.
Honey has long been used as a natural sleep treatment in Chinese medicine, and there’s something funky about the apple cider vinegar that makes it work (along with all the other health benefits).
8: Invest in your sleep with earplugs and a sleep mask
The body naturally likes a room that’s dark and quiet for sleeping. If that’s not possible, invest in some earplugs and a good sleep mask. They’re some of the best purchases I’ve ever made.
Don’t skimp out on a mask! Find one that’s best for you. I’ve tried a bunch of sleep masks, and the ones that are available at most pharmacies can slip off during the night and don’t block all the light.
After hunting for a while I bought this sleep mask from Amazon while overseas. It looks ridiculous, but it works! Extra padding around the nose, inset places for your eyes, and a good velcro band. Plus it makes the day of anyone that sees me sleeping.
9: Do a brain-dump and get everything that’s off your mind on to paper
No matter what else you do, a busy mind can stop you sleeping. A couple of hours before bed, I like to do a brain-dump: I write down everything that’s bothering me, everything I have to do, and everything that’s on my mind.
Writing things down always helps me clarify my thoughts. On paper is best. Something can seem life-threatening when it’s swirling around your brain, but it’s often a lot less intimidating when it’s written down. I’ll write anything from “need to complete part 1 of my assignment,” to “I’m worried about a friend,” or “don’t forget to hang out washing tomorrow.” I find the physical act of writing these thoughts makes them less scary.
If I do this too close to sleeping I tend to stress myself out, but doing it a couple of hours before bed lets me unload my brain before I start to unwind.
Even better, I’ll often write tomorrow’s to-do list a couple of hours before hopping into bed. If I have a plan of attack ready for the morning, it seems to take a weight off my shoulders.
10: Meditate in the evening
Sitting still for 15 minutes before bed helps me wind down. I don’t do this every evening, but I find it makes a difference.
If you’re interested in meditating before sleep, listen to a guided meditation while lying in bed before sleeping. The first time I tried it I was in such a deep trance that I felt like I was floating.
Download Headspace, Oak (for iPhone), or one of the many meditation apps and do a guided meditation session before bed.
11: Limit caffeine and alcohol prior to sleep
I don’t drink coffee past 3pm. For most people, caffeine stays in your system for as long as 8 hours. A 4pm coffee might prevent you from sleeping 6 hours later.
The same goes for alcohol. Having a drink at night can help send you to sleep, but prevents you from getting the deep, restorative sleep we need. A measly two standard drinks is all it takes to rob you of deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy the next morning.
I now try to avoid a wine with dinner and have found a noticeable improvement in my sleep. Sure, there’s plenty of social occasions where I’ll want to have a drink. Life’s all about balance, but it’s worth knowing the impact of those two small glasses of wine I’m having.
12: Don’t take naps late in the day
I love a post-lunch nap, but a late afternoon nap can prevent you from sleeping that evening. Try to limit naps to no later than 3pm.
13: If you’re not falling asleep, GET UP
Sleep is as much psychological as it is physical. Lying in bed anxious about not sleeping can make it harder to fall asleep. We should be teaching our brains that a bed is for sleeping, not for tossing and turning. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.
Go to the couch and read for a while, listen to calm music, or meditate. Don’t scroll on your phone or look at a screen! Once you feel sleepy, make your way back to bed.
Repeat this as many times as necessary – it’s better than the alternative of tossing and turning. Insomnia can cause you to view your bed as something to be feared. Don’t let that happen, and only head there when you’re ready to sleep!
14: Read a book before bed
It works wonders. Turn down the lights, turn off your phone, and open a book!
15: Keep your bedroom cool
If you’re living in a wintery freezing climate, you’ll probably have the opposite problem, but a cool (but not freezing) bedroom is needed for deep sleep. Do whatever you can to keep your room cool.
What works for you?