13 Gentle but Effective Strategies to Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Insomnia Is a Serious Problem
According to the American Insomnia Survey, women are likely to suffer from sleep problems than men1.
Insomnia and disturbed sleep can leave you feeling tired, irritable and depressed if it continues for more than a night or two. Recent research shows that trouble sleeping is a common problem. Most of the factors which contribute to poor sleeping patterns relate to modern lifestyles. Here are 13 proven and gentle ways to make sure you get a good night's sleep and wake feeling refreshed and ready for the new day.
1. Cut Screen Time Before Bed
Research shows that people who watch computer screens, tablets and other devices, keep their phones near the bed, or use digital alarm clocks, are less likely to sleep well2. The light frequencies emitted by these common devices stimulate the visual cortex in the brain. The human brain has evolved to prepare for sleep as daylight fades. Artificial light stimulation keeps your brain "switched on" and makes it harder to sleep.
Experts recommend you switch off your devices at least an hour before going to bed. Keeping the phone on during the night can create anxiety and stop you sleeping. Switch it off, put it in a closed drawer, or leave it face down on the other side of the room.
2. Ditch the Digital Alarm Clock
Using a digital alarm clock, particularly one which emits light in the blue part of the spectrum, can disturb your sleep3. It's not only the light which can keep your brain active, however. Glancing at the clock when you should sleep can make you anxious about the following day. Most people need an alarm clock to get up for work, but you need not see it. Try putting it out of sight, perhaps under the bed, in a drawer, or even under a towel or sweater.
3. Lower the Lights
In nature, the brain prepares for sleep as daylight fades. This change in light frequency triggers the release of melatonin, a hormone which makes you feel sleepy4. You can simulate this experience at home by lowering the lights a few hours before bed. Switching off the TV and reading a book or listening to music will also help get you in the right "brain state" for a good night's sleep.
4. Keep it Quiet
The sound of the next-door neighbor's TV set, a dripping faucet, traffic in the street outside, or the humming of a fridge can keep you awake at night5. Try to switch everything off before going to bed, rather than leaving things on standby. If noises are beyond your control, consider getting earplugs or moving your bedroom into another part of your home.
5. Sleep and Sex Only
Research suggests that people who work in the same room they sleep in, or who have a disorganized and cluttered bedroom, suffer disturbed sleep. Your bedroom should be a clean, clutter-free space reserved only for sleeping and sex. To get a good night's sleep, you need to let go the anxieties of the day and feel comfortable and safe. Sex is quite stimulating while it's happening, but afterward, the brain releases a flood of hormones that make you feel happy and relaxed, which is perfect for sleeping6.
6. Get a Good Pillow
Too many pillows, or a pillow that's too hard or too soft, can make you uncomfortable and interrupt your night's sleep. A good pillow should be soft enough to feel cozy, but firm enough to support your neck in a natural position. You should be able to breathe freely with your head on your pillow, even when lying on your side to sleep7.
7. Reset Your Body Clock
Human brains like forming habits. If you get up and go to bed at different times every day and don't have a clear routine, your natural "body clock" won't work. You should try to get to sleep and wake in the morning at the same time every day. Although that might be difficult to do if you work shifts or travel a lot, once your brain has learned to expect sleep at a certain time, you'll find it easier to slumber. If you keep the habit going for long enough, you'll also find you can wake up on time without an alarm clock8.
8. Don't Eat Too Late
While you shouldn't go to bed hungry, neither should you go to bed on a full stomach. Eat your main meal at lunchtime and have something lighter in the evening. If your body is busy digesting food, it will still be in active mode and you'll take longer to get to sleep9. If you are hungry before bed, eat something digestible, such as a piece of fruit or a water biscuit with cream cheese.
9. Cut the Caffeine
The reason people drink coffee in the morning is to help them wake. If you drink coffee after midday, it can keep you awake late into the night10. Remember, you'll find caffeine in other foods and beverages. Avoid colas, soft drinks and tea. Check the ingredients in your food to make sure it doesn't contain added caffeine. Weight-loss products can also contain caffeine. Use them earlier in the day to help you sleep.
10. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant. A small amount before bed can make you feel relaxed and sleepy, but once it wears off during the night, it can cause cravings which wake you up again11. Also, because alcohol is a diuretic, drinking it before bed will have you getting up several times during the night to use the bathroom.
11. Leave the Liquids
Even a healthy drink like camomile tea or a glass of water can get you up in the night heading for the bathroom. If you want to sleep through, stop drinking liquids altogether two or three hours before bedtime. Once disturbed, it's difficult to get back to sleep12.
12. Exercise Right for a Good Night
Taking exercise during the day will help you sleep at night. It's important not to exercise too close to bedtime; the buzz you get after a workout is the wrong state of mind for a good night's sleep, and your brain is releasing the wrong hormones for rest13. Do your exercise routines with two or three hours at least to wind down and relax before you mean to sleep.
13. Mental Relaxation Matters
Worrying and overthinking can keep you up all night. Remember that whatever problems you have to deal with, or difficult decisions you have to make in your daily life, they will be easier to handle after a good night's sleep. If you have difficulty "letting go" in the evening, try practising meditation, relaxing in a hot tub, or listening to gentle, quiet music before you go to bed14.
13 Tips to Help You Sleep Well
1. Cut screen time
2. Ditch the digital alarm
3. Lower the lights before bed and sleep in the dark
4. Sleep in a quiet place or use ear plugs to cut out external noise
5. Keep your bedroom clean and tidy and separate from daytime activities
6. Don't have too many soft pillows
7. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
8. Don't eat late at night
9. Stop drinking caffeine
10. Avoid alcohol, especially before bedtime
11. Go to the bathroom for a pee just before bed
12. Don't workout just before you sleep. Do some gentle relaxation instead
13. Take up meditation, do some breathing exercises or self-hypnosis to help you de-stress
When to See a Doctor About Sleep Problems
All the above strategies can help you get a good night's sleep. Sometimes, sleeping pills can be helpful, but always remember they are not an alternative to a proper night's sleep. Many pills can become addictive. If you have problems sleeping for more than two weeks, you should talk to your doctor.
Underlying medical conditions and severe psychological illness such as depression can cause sleeplessness. Your doctor will help you find any other issues which might stop you sleeping and recommend a course of treatment or counseling if needed.
- Kessler, R.C., Berglund, P.A., Coulouvrat, C., Hajak, G., Roth, T., Shahly, V., et al. (2011). Insomnia and the performance of US workers: results from the America insomnia survey. Sleep; 34(9): 1161-1171.
- Mayo Clinic. (2013, June 3). Are smartphones disrupting your sleep?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130603163610.htm
- "How alarming! Your bedside clock could be bad for your health" Daily Mail. Retrieved from: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-412283/How-alarming-Your-bedside-clock-bad-health.html
- Duffy, J. F., & Czeisler, C. A. (2009). Effect of Light on Human Circadian Physiology. Sleep medicine clinics, 4(2), 165-177.
- Basner, M., Brink, M., Bristow, A., Kluizenaar, Y., Finegold, L., & Hong, J. et al. (2015). ICBEN review of research on the biological effects of noise 2011-2014. Noise & Health, 17(75), 57-82.
- "The Connection Between Sex and Sleep". Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-truth-about-exercise-addiction/201808/the-connection-between-sex-and-sleep
- "Good Sleeping Posture Helps Your Back". University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4460
- "Resetting the Body Clock and Other research and insomniac treatment contacts" Flinders University. Retrieved from: http://www.flinders.edu.au/sabs/psychology/research/labs/sleep/bas.cf
- St-Onge, M. P., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(5), 938-49. doi:10.3945/an.116.012336
- 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), 1195-200. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3170
- Stein, M. D., & Friedmann, P. D. (2005). Disturbed sleep and its relationship to alcohol use. Substance abuse, 26(1), 1-13.
- Ancoli-Israel, S., Bliwise, D. L., & Nørgaard, J. P. (2010). The effect of nocturia on sleep. Sleep medicine reviews, 15(2), 91-7.
- Dolezal, B. A., Neufeld, E. V., Boland, D. M., Martin, J. L., & Cooper, C. B. (2017). Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Advances in preventive medicine, 2017, 1364387.
- Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep DisturbancesA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494–501. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081
© 2018 Amanda Littlejohn