Sleep is the ultimate force multiplier.
It can either enhance your health and your productivity.
Or, it can diminish your results by making you sleep-walk through life.
And given that the average person will spend 24 years of their lifetime being asleep, you better make sure you are nothing short of phenomenal at it.
When you start sleeping better, that’s when you can slap a big ol’ “S” on your chest…
…because you’ll be unstoppable.
And today I have something that will make you feel like you have sleep superpowers:
16 insanely actionable sleep improvement techniques that you can use tonight.
If you ever wanted to know how to sleep better, this guide is for you!
Let’s dive right in!
[DISCLAIMER: I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet. Speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your sleep, exercise and dietary habits m’kay?]
You can either skip to a particular section using these quick links or grab a coffee, get comfortable and commence scrolling!
1. Keeping A Sleep Diary – The Ultimate Sleep Hack
When it comes to a good night’s sleep, there is no “one size fits all”.
How do I know?
I’ve tried every sleep hack and sleeping tip that I could find. Not all of them have worked out for me. At least not straight out of the box. Some had great potential, but had to be personalized to fit my own sleep routine.
You’ll have to do the same.
Tweak. Adjust. Personalize.
Before you get to do all of that, you first need a tool that will allow you to effortlessly keep track of your sleep experiments.
This is where a “sleep diary” comes into plan.
“What can be measured, can be improved”
A sleep diary will help you keep track of all the little (and major) tweaks that you are going to do to your sleep routine and all of the outcomes. Armed with this data, getting to the “perfect night’s sleep” becomes just a matter of time.
How To Create Your Sleep Diary:
1. Get yourself a good old fashioned journal
This can range from a simple notebook, to a basic journal that you can get from Walmart for $5, to a fancier one such as a Moleskine. Go as basic or as high-end as you want, you’ll get no judgement from me 🙂
Whatever you decide is good, as long as you stick to paper and avoid using your phone, tablet, laptop or any other electronic device.
You’ll be making your notes and filling in your observations as soon as you wake up. Starring at a screen that close to opening your eyes is never a good idea.
Keep it simple. Keep it offline.
2. Before going to bed, collect the necessary data
If you don’t know where you are starting from, making any adjustments to your sleep routine is like driving with your eyes closed.
Knowledge is power.
Before you change anything, figure out what your starting point is. Write it down.
Next to it, write down what you are going to change.
Example: average bedroom temperature during the night: 70° F >> changing it to 65° F
3. As soon as you wake up, write down how you feel
This is where it gets exciting!
You made a change or you tried something new. Write down the results.
Record the following:
- How are you feeling? Excited, pumped up, groggy, “I hate Mondays”, etc. Rate your mood on a scale from 1 to 10
- How much energy do you have? Rate it from 1 to 10.
- How was your sleep? Deep, light, interrupted, restless, etc.
This is the basic data. Feel free to add more to it.
Write your information down as close to waking up as possible. If you leave it for later, you risk forgetting to do it altogether, or having your data be skewed by the mood of your morning.
It only takes a few minutes to keep a sleep diary and the information you’ll get from it is invaluable.
Tweak. Record the outcome. Adjust accordingly.
If there is a “magic bullet” for a better night’s sleep, or an “ultimate sleep hack”, this would be it. The journey to answering the “how to sleep better” question begins with a keeping a sleep diary.
2. Make Your Bedroom Pitch Black
The quality of your sleep is dependent on a magical biochemical produced by your brain’s pineal gland called melatonin.
Melatonin is responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle. It lowers blood pressure, glucose levels, and body temperature – all key physiological responses responsible for restful sleep.
OK, enough with the science…
Here’s the big catch though – your body pumps out this much needed magical ingredient only when it’s dark.
The darker the better.
If you could wrap yourself in a cocoon and sleep in it, that would be ideal, but that is not an option for most of us, so here’s the next best thing – making your bedroom as dark as possible.
How To Sleep Better By Making Your Bedroom Darker
— Block out as much external light as possible – invest in a good set of blinds or curtains (or both).
Not all of them are created equal. Look for “blackout” blinds and curtains. They should have a designation on the packaging of how much light they block. Aim for at least 95%, ideally 99.9%.
As an added bonus, most blackout curtains also block heat, cold and even noise.
You can find them in most major home goods and furniture stores, as well as online. After testing a lot of different options, these Thermal Insulated Blackout Curtains are my current favorite.
— Take out all your electronics – if it plugs into an outlet or runs on a battery, it doesn’t belong in your bedroom.
— Black out all remaining light sources – there will be some devices that you cannot remove from your bedroom (an AC unit or a thermostat on the wall) and some that you need for health reasons (a humidifier).
This is where black tape becomes your best friend.
Tape over any light, even the smallest ones. It might not look fancy during the day, but the improved quality of your sleep more than makes up for it.
— Get rid of your alarm clock – especially if you have one that you can read the time on it in the dark.
If you wake up during the night, there is absolutely no need to know what time it is.
Having that information can only lead you down a rabbit hole of “it is way too late to be awake” or “it is way too early to be awake”. Either of them moves you further away from a getting a good sleep.
Eliminate that chance.
Blissful ignorance of the time is best, plus LED lights can disrupt your sleep.
— Use a sleep mask – if blocking all external lights is not an option, or if you want to achieve absolute darkness for your eyes, a good sleep mask is a must.
Avoid using cheap one-time-use ones (think of the ones you get during long flights). They are uncomfortable and don’t block as much light. Invest in a good hypoallergenic sleep mask.
3. How To Improve Sleep By Making Your Bedroom As Quiet As Possible
While your are asleep, your brain still registers sounds on a basic level. Noises can cause you to move, shift between stages of sleep and even wake up.
To make matters worse…
Odd sounds tend to be more disruptive closer to the morning. This is also when the level of noise in most people’s lives increases – early-rising neighbors wake up, public transportation starts, dogs needing a walk start barking, etc.
The bottom line is this: the least sounds you hear, the better your sleep will be.
How To Make Your Bedroom As Quiet As A Graveyard
1. Eliminate as much internal noise as possible
Let’s start with the basics:
- Keep your bedroom windows and doors closed during the night
- If you have an en suite bathroom, keep the door closed. Same goes for your walk-in closet.
- Eliminate all unnecessary electronics from your bedroom
- Sweep the rest of your house for noise-makers – a computer with a noisy fan or a ticking clock can disrupt your sleep even from a room away. Switch off all electronics and appliances that you don’t need during the night.
- Fix your leaky facets – nothing can be as annoying as drops of leaking water in the middle of the night
Once you start looking (listening in this case) and paying attention, you’ll be surprised by how much tiny noise is around you. Eliminate as much as you can to get a good night’s sleep.
2. Invest in a good pair of earplugs
It is an easy and relatively inexpensive solution.
You are not going to care too much of what is going on in the world around you because you’ll hear very little of it.
When you are choosing earplugs look for their NRR (Noise Reduction Rating). This is an indication of how much sound they block. The higher, the better.
For example, earplugs with NRR 33 technically means that your level of noise exposure would be reduced by 33 dB when you wear them.
But, unless you are an audiophile, that might not mean a lot. This chart will help you visualize things better:
My current favorite earplugs are the 3M “E-A-Rsoft FX Earplugs“. I arrived at them after trying a few of the best-selling brands. If you want to get a better sleep, especially in a noisy environment, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
3. Get soundproof curtains
A good pair of soundproof curtains can reduce outside noise by as much as 95%.
They are not cheap when compared to normal curtains, but they can be a worth-while investment, especially if you cannot (or don’t want to) use earplugs.
Not every furniture store sells them, but with a little Googling you can quickly find one in your area in under 5 minutes. Just search for “soundproof curtains + your city” and you’ll have more than a few choices.
Amazon carries a good selection as well.
If sewing is your forte and you want a DIY project, you can even make them yourself following this guide.
4. Invest in acoustic panels
Acoustic panels are one level up from soundproof curtains. They go on your existing walls and are meant to reduce noise, control sound and give you a better sleep.
Here’s a good primer on acoustic panels.
If the noise comes from another room through a specific wall (say the one that you share with your neighbor or a night owl room mate), or the ceiling, acoustic panels can be a life-saver.
You can find a wide selection of them on Amazon. Or Google “acoustic panels + your city” to find a local supplier.
As an added benefit, you can let your inner interior designer run wild and spice up your bedroom with some creative acoustic wall panel designs.
5. Soundproof your walls
This is the most expensive solution, but it provides the best results.
If excessive noise is keeping you awake at night and you have the budget for it, soundproofing your bedroom is the way to go.
You have three major choices:
- Replace your drywall with a soundproof alternative such as Quietrock – this can take your room from STC 50 (the usual legal minimum) to as high as 80 (recording studio quality).
- Replace your drywall with a normal (or thicker) one, but use a soundproof glue such as Greenglue – this is a cheaper alternative that some claim to do an even better job than option #1.
- Use option 1 or 2, but install the drywall on top of your existing wall – if you live in a condo that does not allow construction, you rent, or you simply don’t want to have a major construction project on your hands, you can install a soundproof layer on top of what your already have.
Soundproofing is major project, but it will block out the maximum amount of noise, thus helping you sleep a lot better.
6. Get a white noise machine
There is an alternative to blocking all the annoying noise that keeps you awake – drowning it out with something more pleasant.
This is where a “white noise machine” comes into play – a device that produces sounds that usually imitate nature (ocean waves, waterfalls, wind blowing through trees, etc.). The idea is to mask the bothering noise with something more soothing that will help you fall asleep faster.
There is no shortage of white noise machines on the market, but I highly suggest the “Marpac DOHM-DS Natural White Noise Sound Machine“. It sounds more like a fan (because it has one inside), than nature, but it gets the job done better than most other choices.
4. Create The Ideal Room Temperature For Sleeping
There is no one magic number when it comes to the optimal temperature for sleeping.
Most studies recommend setting the thermostat between 65° F and 70° F (18° C to 21° C).
You would normally think that setting the thermostat to the desired temperature is all that you need to do, but that would mean robbing yourself of the optimal sleep.
While the temperature in your bedroom is regulated by a simple thermostat, you have a few more variables to consider – your PJs, mattress, cover and pillow.
They all play a crucial role.
How To Create The Best Temperature For Sleep
Set the thermostat to 65° F (18° C) – this is a good starting point. Increase it by one degree every night and monitor how that affects your sleep. Record the findings in your sleep diary.
Get a memory foam or latex mattress (or mattress covers) – most modern-day mattresses are made from materials which are infused with millions of tiny gel beads that help with temperature control.
If you have the budget for it, a cooling / heating mattress pad such as ChiliPAD is worth trying out.
Get a memory foam, breathable pillow – same as with the mattress, you need something that would not make you too warm, or too cold, but will keep your head temperature just right.
After a lot of experimentation, this is my current favorite – Shredded Memory Foam Pillow.
Light to medium-warmth blanket works best – something that would keep you warm, but not get you too hot. Unless you live in an ultra-cold environment, avoid using wool, cashmere or polar fleece blankets as they tend to overheat you.
Choosing the right pajama fabric is an art – you have quite a few choices when it comes to PJs, but not all of them are created equal.
Here are pros and cons of the major players:
- Cotton – all-natural, light and soft to the touch. This is usually your best bet. It is breathable and tends not to irritate the skin. The only problem with this fabric is if you are a cold sleeper, as cotton does a poor job at insulation. It also doesn’t do well with moisture, so if you tend to sweat a lot during the night, it might be a problem.
- Silk – it does a phenomenal job at thermal regulation. It keeps you warm when you need to be warm and cool and when you need to be cool. On the flip side, it is quite pricey and requires dry-cleaning. If you are on a budget, it might not be your best bet.
- Flannel – great for the colder months of the year. It is soft and a warm, but some people get too warm in it.
- Bamboo – all natural and fully biodegradable, this is a great, but not an inexpensive choice. It is hypoallergenic and a great moisture-wicker.
- Wool and fleece – while both are very warm, they are not the best choice as they promote overhearing. Plus, fleece is not very breathable, so even a little sweat can get uncomfortable.
The bottom line: test out a few different materials and see which one works best for you and provides you with the best sleep.
Don’t forget the socks – if your feet get cold, that will prevent you from falling asleep fast.
Some bodies do a better job than others at keeping extremities warm, so it is worth experimenting with socks. If you decide to go down that path, make sure you are using a breathable material. Sweaty and stinky feet are never a desired result 🙂
On the flip side, there are studies that suggest sleeping without socks and even with one foot out of the blanket is better.
To me the jury is still out on this subject. I sleep with no socks and love it. My wife cannot sleep without her favorite pair of bedtime socks. We both sleep well.
The bottom line is this: test, test and then test some more. If you want to learn how to sleep better, you need to run your own little sleep experiments and find what best suits YOU.
5. Figure Out Your Best Sleeping Position
What is the best way to sleep is probably the ultimate sleep question.
There is a ton of research supporting and refuting almost every imaginable sleep position.
This can only lead to one obvious conclusion – there is no such thing as the “best” sleeping position.
By gender, age, culture, religion, health condition, level of fitness, etc.
You need to figure out what works best for YOU.
The Pros And Cons Of The 3 Most Common Sleep Positions
On Your Back
Pros: best for back and spine health because the back is straight. It also allows for the mattress to support properly the natural curve of you spine and for the pillow to support the neck. As an added beauty bonus, it causes the least amount of wrinkles.
Cons: back sleeping is closely linked to sleep apnea and snoring.
When you sleep on your back, the force of gravity causes your tongue to slip back further in your throat and obstruct your airway, causing the not-so-pleasant sound of snoring that keeps your spouse and the neighbors awake at night.
On Your Side
Pros: whether you curl up in a fetal position or stay straight, side sleeping is recommended for pregnant women as it improves circulation to the heart. If you are not expecting though, side sleeping is said to aid with heartburn and acid reflux.
Cons: dozing off on your side puts pressure on your stomach and lungs which can cause troubles breathing.
On Your Stomach
Pros: it helps with snoring and sleep apnea.
Cons: it flattens the natural curve of your spine which can cause serious lower back pain. It is also known to strain the neck.
The takeaway: no solution is ideal. Experiment with different positions and see which one best fits you.
Having said all that…
Here’s my favorite sleep position and why it works for me:
Half-military craw position:
It is a blend between side and “on your stomach” positions.
The folded leg and arm along with the pillow ease the pressure on the spine when compared to plain “on your stomach” sleeping. It also doesn’t put as much pressure on the shoulders when compared to “on your side” positions.
The best part – it makes switching from one side to the other a breeze.
Instead of turning the entire body, I just need to turn my head, straighten one leg and arm, bend the other side and voila, mission turning completed with little to no effort.
As an added bonus, my non-violent turns no longer wake up my wife – happy wife, happy life 🙂
6. Sleep Aromatherapy – The Magical Smell Of Sleep-Inducing Scents
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes. It can be dated back to ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and Greeks.
Some scents (on top of making your bedroom smell nice and fresh), make for great natural sleep aids.
Practical disclaimer: aromatherapy is still a controversial topic and it might sound a little woo-woo and “out there” to some readers. I, myself, am not sold on it as a form of alternative medicine for curing serious diseases.
But, the sense of smell is closely linked to memory, probably more than any other sense, and that makes it a powerful sleep remedy.
Just like smelling a particular spice can make you think of your grandma’s cooking from 20 years ago, you can train you brain to associate some scents with sleep. If you want to learn how to sleep better, using some basic aromatherapy will go a long way.
The Best Essential Oils For Sleep
Lavender – by far the most popular and widely-used one. Researchers have seen an increase in the quality of deep sleep when people smelled lavender just before going to bed.
Chamomile – another staple scent widely used for stress relief and lowering anxiety. It is known for relaxing muscles, emotions and even brain waves.
Jasmine – while this is known more for its aphrodisiac capabilities, researchers from the Wheeling Jesuit University have found that study participants who felt a slight sense of jasmine in the air reported a deeper sleep at night.
Vanilla – not just for cookies and ice-cream. It is known as an anti-depressant and for its tranquilizing qualities, lowering blood pressure and promoting feelings of well being and calm. In a study in the early 90s, researchers reported that participants who felt the smell of vanilla experienced 63% less overall anxiety.
Sandalwood – this rich and woodsy scent is known to be high in sesquiterpenes. It’s able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and help oxygenate the pineal gland, which in turn releases natural melatonin, which helps you fall asleep faster and have a deep sleep.
How To Use Scents As A Natural Sleep Aid
• Use only all natural essential oils – avoid using synthetic smells. The essential oil of your choice should have only one ingredient – the oil itself.
• Stick to single scents – avoid using blends of two or more scents, at least at first. This makes it hard to distinguish what works for you and what doesn’t.
• Use an essential oil diffuser – this is the easiest way to start using essential oils. Use it for 10 – 30 minutes before going to sleep or place it right next to your bed when you go under the sheets. You have two major choices:
- A candle diffuser – a tealight candle goes on the bottom, a few drops of oil go on top and the heat from the candle starts slowly burning the oil. Simple and inexpensive.
- An electric diffuser – the same basic principle as the candle diffuser, but instead of a candle, it plugs into an outlet. It is a little more expensive, but as an added bonus, it also humidifies the air in the room. My personal favorite is the Essential Oil Diffuser URPOWER.
• Make your own linen spray – fill a small spray bottle with clean water, preferably distilled, and dissolve a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
Spray your pillow and your sheets before going to bed. Don’t make the mix too strong though, or you might achieve the opposite effect.
• In your bath / shower – if you are used to taking a bath or a shower (more on that later) before going to bed, this is a great place to introduce some sleep aromatherapy. Drop a few drops of the essential oil in the water, or use a diffuser in the bathroom.
Even if you are a little skeptical about aromatherapy and its benefits, I urge you to give the basic sleep-inducing scents a try.
After only a few nights of using the same scent, you’ll feel how quickly your brain start associating with a good, deep sleep. This becomes especially useful when you have troubles falling asleep because of a busy and stressful day. A few whiffs and your mind would quickly switch from “work mode” to “it is time for sleep” mode.
7. How To Sleep Better By Eliminating Your Nutritional Faux Pas
One of the biggest sleep destroyers is improper nutrition, especially in the time leading up to going to bed.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convert you to some silly dietary plan like drinking cabbage juice for 24 hours. When it comes to good nutrition there is no one right answer.
…there are many wrong ones, especially related to a good night sleep.
What you eat and when you do it has a profound effect on the quality of your sleep. But, before we talk about what you CAN do to aid your sleep, let’s discuss what you should NOT be doing.
More often than not, eliminating a bad habit is more powerful than creating a positive one.
The Biggest Nutritional Mistakes To Avoid Like The Plague
1. Avoid Caffeine After 2 PM
If you can give up caffeine altogether, that would be the ideal scenario for your sleep. But, if you cannot resist a nice frothy cappuccino or your favorite green tea in the morning (like me), the battle is not totally lost.
As long as you create a cut off time at around 2 PM, caffeine should not affect your sleep.
Caffeine has a half-life of approximately five to six hours, meaning that it takes this long for its concentration in your bloodstream to reduce by half.
This depends on the type of coffee you use, the caffeine concentration, the method of preparation and a variety of different factors so your mileage will vary.
Better be safe, than wide awake at night.
Give your system a full 8 hours to process the caffeine.
Keep in mind that coffee is just ONE source of caffeine. Here is a full list of caffeinated beverages and foods to avoid:
- Hot / cold drinks containing coffee – cappuccinos, lattes, mochas and even some decaf coffees
- Soft drinks and sodas – some contain as high as 320 milligrams of caffeine
- Green and black teas – a regular cup of black tea can contain up to 49 milligrams of caffeine and the green tea equivalent, up to 25 milligrams
- Energy drinks – most get their “energy” comes from a healthy dose of caffeine
- Chocolate – the darker the chocolate, the more cocoa it contains, the higher the caffeine content
- Ice cream – if it is coffee or chocolate flavored, chances are that it contains caffeine
- Cocoa – any product that contains cocoa is sure to contain caffeine
2. Have Your Last Meal 3 Hours Before Going To Bed
Studies suggest that this is not only good for your sleep, but also helps keep your weight in check.
Avoid making dinner your biggest meal of the day. If you gulp up a a huge portion of food in the evening, the energy your body needs to use to digest it can prevent you from falling asleep on time.
3 hours is also the ideal time for not getting hungry right before trying to fall asleep or waking up in the middle of the night ready to devour the fridge because of low blood sugar.
3. Stop Smoking And Chewing Tobacco
Tobacco use has been linked to a long list of health problems and poor quality of sleep is one of them.
It changes your natural circadian rhythm, increases your risk of developing sleep apnea, causes you to wake up more often during the night, prevents you from falling asleep on time, and can even lead to serious cases of insomnia. And this is just to name a few.
4. Skip The “Night Cap”
This is a double-edged sword.
Some studies support that having a glass of red wine at night is good for falling asleep fast.
So, you are going to fall asleep faster, but have a poor sleep.
The jury is still out on this one, but if you are having sleep troubles or even insomnia, alcohol consumption and timing is a viable thing to test.
8. Nutritional Sleep Aids – Foods, Drinks And Supplements That Help You Sleep Better
Sometimes, to have the perfect, long, deep sleep and to wake up refreshed and ready to conquer the world, you need to give your body a little push in the right direction.
Enter “sleep aid supplements”.
When I say “sleep aid”, I don’t mean pop a pill of Ambien and hope that you’ll wake up the next day.
What we are going to talk about here are natural sleep remedies, foods, herbal sleep aids and minerals that can take your sleep quality to the next level.
Let’s dig into this nutritional magic.
The Best Natural Sleep Remedies
1. A Soothing Hot Tea
A nice tea made from the right ingredients can do wonders to relax you, help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
But, before you raid your local food store for the best sleepy time tea keep these in mind:
- Stick to organic and all-natural teas
- Loose leaf teas are superior to tea bags – Loose leaf are more expensive, but far less processed which means stronger taste, nicer smell and greater outcome. My personal favorite is David’s Tea. You can find specialized tea stores locally, or buy your teas online from places like Teavana and Amazon.
- Avoid blends – sticking to a single-herb teas would allow your to better understand what effect it has on your sleep
- Make sure it is not sweetened – you will be surprised by how many teas contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. The single ingredient listed on the packaging should be the herb or spice itself.
- Avoid stimulating teas at all costs – it goes without saying, the goal is to get yourself relaxed, not pumped up. Stay away from green, black, gray and any other stimulating teas
OK, now that I’ve turned you into a tea aficionado, let’s explore the best bedtime tea ingredients:
Chamomile – it is known for its relaxing effects on the body by calming your nerves and your stomach.
Valerian root – this medicinal herb has been known to treat sleep problems since ancient times. It is known for its sedative and relaxation properties.
Lavender flower – it is traditionally used to support balanced mood, reduce stress and support sleep.
Skullcap leaf – it is widely used in meditation practices to “enhance awareness” and it is known to be emotionally and physically calming.
Different teas work differently on different people, so the best practice is to try them one by one and see which one works best for you. Steep yourself a cup of tea 20 to 30 minutes before going to bed and see how much it helps you.
My personal favorite is the Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime tea. It is a clear deviation from the “don’t use a blend” recommendation, but I only switched to it after testing the single-herb teas mentioned above.
This mineral can be found in low levels in many foods such as leafy greens, pumpkin seeds and almonds.
It plays an important role in muscle relaxation, energy production and, crucially, the deactivation of adrenaline. Studies have shown that magnesium supplementation improves sleep efficiency, sleep time, sleep onset latency and early morning awakening.
Or, in more normal words – it helps you sleep better.
The suggested dosage to start with is 400-500mg, right before going to bed.
You can find it in the form of pills in almost all stores that sell vitamins and supplements. You can also get it from Amazon.
3. California Poppy Extract
This is a natural mild sedative that comes in the form of an oil or in as a tea.
As an oil, you can dilute a few drops in your water, or ingest it directly.
As a tea, you steep it as you would any other tea
The dosage can be tricky, especially with the oil. Depending on the brand you buy, the concentration will vary which makes it impossible to suggest a proper dosage.
My rule of thumb in cases like these is always the same: read the label, start with 1/2 of the recommended dosage and build up from there (if necessary).
How To Use Sleep Aid Supplements
When it comes to nutritional sleep aids, you have choices, a lot of them, so it can get overwhelming pretty fast.
The best approach is to start with one, test it for a few nights, and see how it affects your sleep. Then (if needed) try another one.
Whatever you do, do NOT use them in combination with each other. In your journey to understand how to sleep better, you can get impatient, but mixing sedative supplements is not a shortcut worth taking.
9. Block Blue Light At Bedtime For The Best Sleep Possible
Ah technology, can’t live without it!
From the smartphone in your pocket, to the laptop on your desk, to the tablet next to your couch, it is all so magnificent and makes your life better and more productive.
All these gadgets are killing your chances of a great night’s sleep.
Not so much the devices themselves, but the constant blue light emitted from their screens.
The human body is not designed to be exposed to so much light. Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, after sunset, you had only two choices: complete darkness or dim candle light.
24-hour light sources are only a modern-day invention and we have not evolved yet to deal with it properly.
Humans are still primitive creatures when it come to dealing with light.
When it gets dark, the sensors in your eyes signal to your brain that bed time is coming. Your pineal gland starts secreting melatonin, which is responsible for you having a good night’s sleep.
But what happens when it is 11 PM and you are binge-watching the latest Netflix series? Or quietly working on tomorrow’s presentation on your laptop? Or catching up with friends on Facebook?
Your eyes are exposed to bright lights, so they never signal your brain that it is bed time.
No signal, no melatonin, poor sleep.
Of course, this is an extreme oversimplification of the process. Your system is much more sophisticated, but it helps drive the point home:
You need to limit your exposure to artificial light sources during the evening.
Especially harmful to your sleep is the “blue light” that gets emitted from most electronic devices with a screen.
How To Block Blue Light Before Bedtime
1. Don’t use any electronic devices 2 to 3 hours before going to bed – this is highly unlikely, but the ideal scenario. If you can without any electronics in the evening, your are going to sleep like never before.
2. Dim your screens – if you are going to use your electronics, your best bet is to dim their screens and lower the light you are exposed to.
Luckily for you, you don’t need to do this manually. There is an app for that and it is FREE!
Installing f.lux on all your computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones will make the process automatic. As the sun sets, the software will automatically adjust your screen settings. As the sun rises, it will readjust again. It is literally set it and forget it.
3. Wear blue-blocking glasses – there are special types of glasses which are solely designed to protect you from the harmful light of screens.
And they are orange!
You might look a little silly by wearing what looks like sunglasses at night and at home, but you are going to sleep better (backed by science).
If you want to test the theory out, getting the Uvex S1933X Skyper Safety is your best bet. They are a little bulky and are going to make your look like you just came out of the lab, but they are inexpensive.
Once your have proven the concept to yourself, you can upgrade to the more stylish models such as BluBlockers.
Wear your blue-blocking glasses for 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. They are most useful when you are facing a screen, so feel free to take them off while cooking, reading or doing something else that does not involve electronics.
Blocking the harmful blue light in the evenings is one of the easiest steps you can take to improve your sleep. Just install f.lux, wear your blue-blocking glasses and you’ll be all set.
10. Create A Bedtime Routine (For Adults)
“We are what we repeatedly do.”
The quality of your life (and your sleep) is largely dependent on the quality of your habits.
Use this to your advantage and create a solid bedtime routine. A ritual that signals to your brain “hey, it is time to sleep soon, you know what to do, so start doing it”.
When you were a kid you surely had one.
Whether it involved a bath, a bedtime story, a lullaby or something else, the 1 hour leading to your parents kissing you goodnight and shutting off the lights was routinized. And surely, every time the routine was broken, you couldn’t fall asleep.
But somehow, as you grow up, this proven sleep concept gets disregarded.
It is time to bring it back.
It is time to create a bedtime routine (for adults).
How To Create The Ideal Bedtime Routine
1) Decide on a specific time for going to bed and set an alarm for 30 minutes before that. Yes, an alarm for going to bed.
2) Decide on a list of specific activities that you are going to do every night and the order you are going to do them in.
These can include things like:
- Fluffing up the pillows on your couch
- Making sure all your dishes are washed
- Running a quick sweep of your house and putting everything in order
- Deciding on what clothes you are going to wear the next day and prepping them
- Preparing lunch (or any other meal) for yourself and for your family
- Taking a shower
- Brushing your teeth / hydrating your skin / making yourself even more beautiful / handsome
- Reading a few pages of fiction
- Writing in your journal
These are just examples, of course. Feel free to personalize the list.
Notice how all of these activities require very little mental power. They are all simple, require little concentration, take just a few minutes and don’t include any electronics.
3) Once you’ve created your routine, practice it over and over again.
Same activities, same order, same time of the night. Don’t overthink it. Little deviations are normal and expected, but try to stick to the general outline.
You are training the behavior.
You are creating the habit of going to bed.
You’ll notice after some time of doing this that you are going to start getting sleepy and relaxed as soon as you fluff those pillows or engage in the first activity on your list.
This is powerful!
Now, you can trust that you can disconnect and ready yourself for sleep even after the most stressful day. All you need to do is go through your routine.
It is like having your very own recipe for sleep. You can expect a predictable result every time – a great night’s sleep.
11. Close Out Your Day – A Productive Habit That Helps You Fall Asleep Fast
There are two major things that can prevent you from falling asleep fast:
- You are preoccupied physically – you had too much food, caffeine, alcohol, worked out too in the evening, etc.
- You are preoccupied mentally – your body is ready to sleep, but your mind has a different opinion.
All of us have been there – you body is in bed, but you mind is on tomorrow’s presentation. Instead of counting sheep you are mentally crossing off items from your to-do list.
It can be very hard to turn off your brain, especially if you had a busy or a stressful day.
Having a good bedtime routine, as discussed earlier, can really help you disconnect, but there is something you need to do even before it. Something that will not only help you fall asleep faster, but help you have a more productive day after you wake up.
You need to close out your (work) day.
Here’s how to do it:
1) Decide on a “closing time” for your work and stick with it.
Every business has hours of operation and so should you. If your local grocery store closes at 8:00 PM, you won’t show up at 8:30 PM expecting it to still be open.
Treat your work in the same manner.
Regardless if you work for yourself or for someone else, decide on a cut off time of at least 3 hours before bedtime and be religious about it. When the clock hits 8:00 PM you stop.
“But, Kosio, this does not apply to me… I work in an office and come home at 6:00 PM every day”.
That may be true, but how many times do you peek at your work email after you come home? How many times are you watching Netflix with your family, but your mind is at work preparing for tomorrow’s meeting?
Your work does not stop when you leave the office, it stops when you stop thinking about it.
2) Review your day
Now, that you have stopped working, it is time to review your day.
What did you do? What didn’t you do? How can you make tomorrow better?
Taking just a few minutes to review your day will allow your mind to tie any remaining loose ends. The type of loose ends that wake you up in the middle of the night.
Being deliberate about it and giving your mind the time and space to process things will prevent it from having to do it while you are trying to fall asleep a few hours later.
3) Make your to-do list for the following day
Think of the following day and prepare your agenda.
Transfer any tasks that you couldn’t accomplish today to tomorrow’s list.
Make sure today’s to-do list is fully completed. The tasks are either done, transferred to the next day or you have decided not to do them and intentionally crossed them off.
This final step achieves two goals:
- Ensures that “today” is completed. This gives you closure. It puts you in control. And more importantly, it eliminates those “oh damn, I forgot to do X” moments just when you are trying to blissfully drift asleep
- Prepares you for the following day. You’ve made a plan. Now, you can peacefully go to bed, knowing that everything is accounted for. When you wake up, you can hit the ground running because you already know what needs to be done.
When you know that today is completed and tomorrow is planned, your mind can be at ease.
Peaceful mind, better sleep.
12. Optimal Sleep Duration – The Art Of Figuring Out How Many Hours Of Sleep Do You Need
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that the average adult should be sleeping at least 8 hours.
Another study claims that “eight hours or more has consistently been shown to be hazardous”. According to that research the optimal sleep duration for adults is around 7 hours.
Which is the correct answer? 7,8 or something else?
None of the above.
There is no magical number.
How much sleep you need depends on your age, gender, lifestyle, nutrition, stress level, fitness level, family status and so much more that it is impossible for any study to give YOU the right answer.
Just look at how your sleep needs change solely based on age:
You need to find YOUR optimal sleep duration.
The good news is that it is super easy.
How To Figure Out How Much Sleep Do You Need
1. Measure Your Current Average Sleep Time
Choose a typical week and record when you go to bed and what time you wake up. Start on Monday night and end on the following Monday night.
Collect the data in your sleep diary.
Every morning, immediately upon waking up answer these questions:
- What is your energy level from 1 to 10?
- What is your happiness level from 1 to 10?
At the end of the week, calculate your average sleep duration for the work days and for the weekend. Simply add up all your sleep hours during the work week and divide the total by 5. Do the same for the weekend and divide by 2.
This is going to be your baseline.
2. Experiment With Adding An Extra 15 Minutes Of Sleep
For an entire week, add an extra 15 minutes of sleep every night.
You can either go to bed 15 minutes earlier or wake up 15 minutes later than usual.
Every morning quickly asses yourself.
- What is your energy level from 1 to 10?
- What is your happiness level from 1 to 10?
Write your answers in your sleep diary and go about your day.
3. Review The Results
After a week of experimentation, it is time to review your results.
Compare your energy and happiness level to your original baseline.
You should see a pattern. Sleeping more either gave you more energy and better mood, or it caused you to oversleep so you saw a dip in both.
Based on your results, decide on an experiment for the following week. You can either up your sleep time by another 15 minutes, or decrease it and see how it makes you feel.
4. Rinse And Repeat
As all shampoo bottles say “lather, rinse and repeat”.
Keep running your mini sleep duration experiments, record the results and review your findings.
With every change, you are going to get closer to finding YOUR optimal sleep time.
Sleep Duration Experiment Best Practices
Here’s how to make the most out of your mini sleep trials:
- Run each experiment for an entire week – it might seem like a long period and you can get impatient at times, but shortening the length of the experiment will give you improper results. Every day is a little bit different than the others and weekends are even more unique, so getting the average over a 7-day span is the best way to go.
- Adjust 15 minutes at a time – a 15-minute change in your sleep is short enough to be easily-implementable and long enough to give you some measurable results.
- Don’t get discouraged from negative findings – during your mini experiments you can reach a point where you dip below your minimum sleep requirement. That is OK. This is valuable data. Now you know what doesn’t work and which direction you need to go.
Regardless of what the research says, it is on you to find your optimal sleep duration.
You might be pleasantly surprised to find that sleeping less gives you more energy. You might find that you need a lot more pillow time than you are currently getting.
There is only one way to find out.
No sleep study can ever publish results that apply 100% to your case. If you want to learn how to sleep better, you need to take the data and the recommendations and test them for yourself.
13. How To Fall Asleep Fast – The Art Of Getting To Sleep In Record Time
Your bedroom is pitch black and quiet like a graveyard. You’ve done your bedtime routine, haven’t eaten or worked for a few hours and even steeped yourself some chamomile tea… but you still cannot fall asleep.
Try the 4-7-8 technique:
You simply breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds.
Sounds too simple to work?
Just try it tonight and you’ll most likely not even remember falling asleep.
This is a breathing technique popularized by Harvard-educated Dr. Andrew Weil.
In order for you to be able to hold your breath for 7 seconds and then exhale for a full 8 seconds, your body has no choice, but to slow down your heart rate. This helps you relax and blissfully drift asleep.
It is almost like a drug.
It takes under a minute to try it out, so you have nothing to lose and a great night’s sleep to gain.
It might feel silly the first few times you try it, but hey, so did walking when you were a toddler 🙂
14. How To Improve Your Sleep With Proper Exercise
“People who sleep better report exercising more, and people who exercise tend to sleep better”
~Matthew Buman, Ph.D
The benefits of regular exercise are seemingly endless – it reduces stress and anxiety, lowers the risk of many mental and physical diseases, improves your mood and makes you an overall happy and shiny person.
When it comes to a good night’s sleep, there is only one word to describe regular exercise – an absolute MUST.
Women who exercise 3.5 to 4 hours a week report less troubles falling asleep. Another study by the National Sleep Foundation showed that 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, provided a 65% sleep quality improvement. Exercise is even proven to help people with serious cases of insomnia.
The bottom line is this: if you want to sleep well at night, you need to exercise, regularly.
And you don’t have to run marathons, spend countless hours at the gym or do yoga for 2 hours a day (unless you want to of course).
“Exercise” is a very loose term.
Almost any physical activity that you can do on a regular basis can constitute exercise.
Any. Regular. Physical. Activity.
The key word here is “regular”. Something that you can do ideally every day.
But, if you are short on time, trying to squeeze in yet another task in your already packed schedule can seem like mission impossible.
Fear not, here are some physical activities that you can do in 15 minutes or less (rated from easy to harder):
• Take the stairs – depending on which floor you work or live on, taking the stairs up and down can be all the exercise you need. You’ll burn twice as many calories as walking.
• Take a walk – walking might not seem like too much of an exercise, but it is times better than no movement at all.
Take your next call outside, listen to a podcast or audio book instead of sitting and reading, or just enjoy the scenery and take the time to disconnect from all electronics. If you walk in nature, you’ll get even more out of it.
• Do 3 x 5 minutes of Tai Chi or Qigong – the first is a form of marshal art mostly used for its health benefits. The second is a combination of physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention.
Both are native of China and widely used in the East. You can start practicing them at home (or at the office) with no equipment or special knowledge and they take just a few minutes.
• Do 20 minutes of yoga at home – you just need a yoga mat, 20 minutes and quiet place and you’ll be rocking some yoga poses in no time without ever leaving your home.
Rodney Yee’s AM Yoga For A Week would be an ideal place to start.
• Do some HIIT exercises – they are short, but pack a serious punch.
HIIT stands for “High Intensity Interval Training” and in calorie-burn-to-duration ratio it is almost unbeatable.
My friends from FitnessBlender provide some of the best (and FREE) training available anywhere (for both men and women). 7 minutes of their workouts on a daily basis is all you need.
If you can spare 28 minutes 3 times a week and you want a full 12-week program, Kayla Itsines is a great choice (guys, don’t get discouraged by the pink website, the workouts are killer for both men and women).
Most of these take less than 20 minutes, so you have no excuse for not doing them at least 3 times a week.
If you haven’t exercised regularly, it is best to start super slow and build your way up.
Figure out the smallest consistent amount of action you can take. Cut it in half and start there.
Start ridiculously small. One flight of stairs, 2 minutes of Yoga, 1 HIIT exercise.
The key here is to train the behavior.
If you go gung ho from no exercise to “I’m going to run 5 miles every morning” you’ll be disappointed once the initial motivation wears off.
Slow and steady. Build up the habit of exercise. Your sleep will thank you for it.
15. How Acupuncture Can Make You Sleep Better At Night
Acupuncture if a form of alternative medicine largely practiced in the East, especially in China.
In the western world unfortunately, acupuncture has gained an undeserved reputation for being an unsupported practice with no evidence behind it.
Stop a person on the street and ask them about acupuncture and you’ll most likely hear something related to “poking yourself with needles”.
There is more to it though… a lot more.
Acupuncture has been proven to increase nighttime melatonin and total sleep time. Another study has shown that acupuncture improves sleep quality in patients with HIV, among whom poor sleep is a common problem. It also helps with different types of chronic pain which are some of the worst sleep destroyers available.
Acupuncture will greatly improve your sleep…
… if you are willing to give it a shot and go outside of the traditional methods.
How To Use Acupuncture For Sleep Improvement
1. Put Your Skepticism Aside
Poking yourself with sharp objects might not seem like the best idea, I get it. Initially, I wasn’t sold on the concept either, so I did some research.
The more I read, the more I understood that what I considered acupuncture and what it actually is were two different concepts.
This resource does an outstanding job at explaining acupuncture and its benefits in non woo-woo terms.
2. Find A Certified Acupuncturist
The key word here is “certified”.
As with any profession, there are people who study the subject intensely, train for years and get certified and those who get their certificate on the internet. I’ll let you decide who you think is better at their job.
Every country has its own certification regulations, so check this page for more information.
When you call to make your first appointment, ask what certifications the acupuncturist has.
A great place to start your search for a good acupuncturist is POCA. It’s an organization of acupuncture clinics that make acupuncture extremely affordable.
(If you happen to be in or around Toronto, feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll connect you with my acupuncturist who makes me sleep like a baby after every visit. She is phenomenal (and certified)!)
3. Be Honest And Open With Your Practitioner
The more they know about your problems, the more they can help you.
You need to “click” with them. If you don’t trust that they can help you, they won’t be able to.
Ask questions, a lot of questions.
4. Try It For At Least 5 Sessions
As powerful as acupuncture is, it is not magic.
You won’t feel a lasting difference after just one visit. Do it once a week for a least a month, ideally two, and only then decide if it is worth it for you.
Acupuncture is definitely an alternative route, but it has been proven to help with sleep. I can personally attest to that.
Give it a shot and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
P.S No, the needles don’t hurt 🙂
16. Sleep Meditation And The Incredible Power Of Mindfulness
In order to be able to sleep, you have to be able to relax your mind.
It sounds really easy in theory, but practicing it is a whole different story.
Give it a shot, right here and now.
Close your eyes and try to think of nothing for just 30 seconds.
The first few seconds are easy, but then your mind starts wandering in random directions… work, the grocery list, your car, what did you have for breakfast today, food, you need to feed your dog when you come back from work… it’s a like watching a movie at 10 times the speed.
This is where meditation comes in.
Meditation is a calming practice that, over time, thwarts emotional reactivity, reduces unhelpful stress, and steadies your mind under pressure.
~ Dave Asprey
It has been proven to lower anxiety and attention deficit. It can lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. It is used to treat depression, increase grey matter concentration in the brain, improve focus and attention, and even make you stronger against pain.
This is how much your brain gets activated after just 10 minutes of meditation:
In short, meditation makes you a healthier and happier person.
… and helps you sleep better.
The Different Forms Of Meditation
There are more than a few different types of meditation. Here are the major players:
The practitioner deliberately heightens his or her awareness of what’s happening in the moment, giving full notice to thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, and allowing them to exist without judgment. In this way the practitioner deepens his or her ability to observe life-including difficult or painful situations – calmly and with acceptance.
Transcendental meditation or TM:
A type of “mantra” meditation in which you repeat a calming word, sound, or phrase (the yogic “om” is an example) to displace distracting thoughts. In transcendental meditation the mind becomes so fixed on the mantra that it relents all effort at concentration, and deep relaxation follows.
While most forms of meditation require you to stand still, meditative yoga combines meditation with a set of physical postures:
Most lineages of yoga emphasize the meditative aspects of the practice by instructing the yogi to focus on the breath and link physical postures together with the flow of inhalation and exhalation. Based on the Yoga Sutras, the eventual goal of the physical practice is to be ‘still the mind’ to meditate without distraction, linking mind and body for maximum benefit.
When it comes to meditation, there are no right and wrong types. Different people respond to different types, so you need to find the one that works best for YOU.
The easiest to start with is mindfulness meditation.
“Mindfulness In Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana is by far the best primer on the subject (thanks to Chris from ALOP for recommending it to me). It breaks down the different aspects of meditation, the benefits and how to get started in a very practical, down-to-earth language.
How To Get Started With Meditation
Meditation is a very simple practice that people often over-complicate.
Here’s how to easily get started:
- Schedule 10 minutes in the morning or in the evening – block off a spot on your calendar to make sure you don’t forget
- Find a quiet place where you are not going to get disturbed – close the door, shut down all the electronics
- Sit in a comfortable position on the floor – use a pillow to make yourself comfortable
- If you feel uncomfortable sitting on the ground, feel free to lay down or sit on a chair
- Get a timer – the basic timer on your phone will do just fine. The timer helps you not think about how long you’ve been meditating and how much time you have left.
- Set your timer for 2 minutes and press “start”
- Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath
- This is what meditation is all about – perfecting your concentration
- You can concentrate on any aspect of your breath – the inhalation, the exhalation, the feeling on the outer ring of your nostrils, on your mouth, etc.
- Don’t think
- This is the hardest part, trying to shut off your mind
- Bring your attention back to your breath
- When your thoughts start wandering (and they will), just catch yourself and bring your attention back to your breath
- This is where most people mess meditation up – the belief that your mind is “not supposed” to wander, or meditation does not work is a very detrimental approach. Your mind will wonder, it is normal. Don’t fight it. Catching yourself and bringing your attention back to your breath is what meditation is all about.
- When the timer goes off, open your eyes, smile knowing that you just finished your meditation and slowly get up.
This is all there is to it.
Start with 2 minutes at first. It might seem like too little, but when you sit down and try it, you’ll realize it is more than enough.
Once you have mastered the 2 minutes, try doing it twice a day – once in the morning and once at night. When you get good at it (it will take you some time) up your time to 5 minutes, 10, 15 and so on.
The key to making meditation work is consistency.
How To Hack Your Meditation
There is a great alternative to traditional meditative practices that combines meditation and awareness with neuroscience and modern technology.
Holosync is a sophisticated form of neuro-audio technology allowing the listener to easily enter various desirable states, and creating many desirable mental, emotional, and spiritual changes, through entrainment of electrical patterns in the brain. This creates a synchronization, or balance, between brain hemispheres, enhancing mental/emotional health and mental functioning. In the process, new neural connections are created between the right and left brain hemispheres, leading to what is known as “whole brain functioning.”
Simply put, Holosync is listening to a very relaxing audio (enhanced with special types of audio stimuli) that allows you to enter a deeper meditative state faster and easier.
It is the ultimate meditation hack.
You can read more about how the program works and the technology behind it here.
It is easy – you just need to put your headphones on, press “play” and let the tech do its job.
Your mind is supposed to wander – the hardest part of meditation is stopping your mind from wandering. With Holosync, your mind is supposed to wander, making the experience much easier.
Almost guaranteed relaxation – the technology behind Holosync does most of the work for you, thus making your relaxation practically “guaranteed”.
It is not free – Holosync is not expensive, but it is not free either. The programs run from a around $50 to over $1000 for the more advanced ones.
You don’t get the benefit of mindfulness – traditional forms of meditation help you raise your mindfulness and awareness through the repeated practice of controlling your concentration. Holosync doesn’t require any concentration, so you won’t get the same benefit.
The bottom line:
Holosync is not cheap, but it does help you relax almost on demand.
Being able to relax “at a press of a button” will help you sleep better. If sleep improvement is what you are after and you have the budget for it, give it a shot.
If increased awareness is important to you or, you don’t want to spend any money, stick to traditional meditation.
You can do both. They are not self-exclusive in any way.
Meditate for 5 minutes in the morning and practice your mindfulness and concentration. In the evening, pop a Holosync audio in your computer and bliss out for 30 minutes.
Now It’s Your Turn
You deserve the best sleep possible and now you have a step-by-step blueprint on how to achieve it. Now you know how to sleep better, fall asleep faster and and wake up full of energy.
It’s time to put these techniques into practice.
Right now, I want you to do one thing:
Get started with this process.
Pick one (1) sleep improvement tactic that you think will have the biggest impact on your sleep and implement it.
But, before you do that, take a second and leave a comment below.
I’d love to know what you think of this sleep guide.
The comment section is also the best place to ask any questions or even make suggestions. This guide is a work in progress, so if you have something to add to it, leave me a comment below.