We don’t need to explain to you how important sleep is. If you don’t get enough of it, you surely feel it – all day long, unfortunately. And we all know it’s hard to play catch up. Starting a week off sleep deprived makes for a long trek to the weekend. But what if we can help improve your quality of Z’s? We searched the web to find the expert-recommended best ways to improve your sleep and we’ve listed them here for you.
Do your friends and family consider you clumsy? You may even place the label on yourself. If you’re often tripping over yourself as you try to navigate a sidewalk, we may have an answer as to why: poor sleep quality. That’s right, research finds “that a lack of sleep can affect our gait (or walking style).” Turns out it may not be trying to chew gum or avoid cracks that has you falling over. In an “experiment with student volunteers, the [research] team found that overall, the less sleep the students got, the less control they had when walking during a treadmill test.” Researchers suggest, of course, that people get eight hours of sleep, but when that’s not possible, they suggest “strategies for mitigating effects of sleep deprivation,” of which they mention napping or catching up on sleep on weekends.
Your love life may be affected by lack of sleep as well, and not in the way you’re thinking. A study finds that lack of sleep “makes others look less attractive.” By “using eye-tracking technology that can detect what a person is looking at in real time, the [research] team studied 45 young men and women. Participants spent one night with no sleep at all and one night with an eight-hour sleep opportunity. Their eye movements were measured in the mornings following both nights.” The results? Sleep-deprived subjects “rated angry faces as less trustworthy and healthy-looking and neutral and fearful faces as less attractive indicates that sleep loss is associated with more negative social impressions of others.” And this means that you may not be up for social interaction when your view of others is that of a negative one.
Those are just a small sample of the many reasons that getting a full night’s rest is so important. And so you can do that, let’s get to the expert recommendations. Below is our list of the top five expert-recommended best ways to improve your sleep. Of course, we want to hear from you. Which sleep strategy helps you wake up feeling refreshed? Comment below and let us know!
The List: Best Ways to Improve Sleep, According to Experts
1. Create the Right Sleep Environment
While this seems a no brainer, experts call much attention to the fact that not having an ideal sleep setting will certainly be detrimental to sleeping habits and quality of sleep. Falling into this category are strategies such as having a dark room, a comfortable mattress, the right temperature, and more.
The Mayo Clinic writes: “Keep your room cool, dark and quiet. Exposure to light in the evenings might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.” They also mention that “doing calming activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or using relaxation techniques, might promote better sleep.”
“Most experts agree that the sweet spot for temperature is between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit,” writes Headspace. “According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 73% of Americans say the darker the room the better. 65% of people use shades, curtains, or blinds to block unwanted light…many people rely on ‘white noise’ or some type of ambient sound to help mask disruptive noises like car horns or highway traffic.” They also recommend a fan for noise as well to keep the room cool.
According to Healthline, “many people believe that the bedroom environment and its setup are key factors in getting a good night’s sleep. These factors include temperature, noise, external lights, and furniture arrangement.” They share that “Numerous studies point out that external noise, often from traffic, can cause poor sleep and long-term health issues. In one study on the bedroom environment of women, around 50% of participants noticed improved sleep quality when noise and light diminished.” And finally, “To optimize your bedroom environment, try to minimize external noise, light, and artificial lights from devices like alarm clocks.”
2. Stick to a Schedule
While scheduling sleep might sound strange, there is research to back it up. Sticking to a bedtime and a time to wake up (even on weekends) helps your body maintain a rhythm. Our bodies like patterns and routines, and very much push back when we don’t have them and when we change them.
Sleep Foundation says to set a fixed time to get out of bed: “It’s close to impossible for your body to get accustomed to a healthy sleep routine if you’re constantly waking up at different times. Pick a wake-up time and stick with it, even on weekends or other days when you would otherwise be tempted to sleep in.” Another recommendation is to budget time for sleep: “If you want to make sure that you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep each night, then you need to build that time into your schedule. Considering your fixed wake-up time, work backwards and identify a target bedtime. Whenever possible, give yourself extra time before bed to get ready for sleep.” And if you do need to adjust your sleep schedule, they recommend doing so gradually: “When you need to change your sleep schedule, it’s best to make adjustments little-by-little and over time with a maximum difference of 1-2 hours per night. This allows your body to get used to the changes so that following your new schedule is more sustainable.”
HelpGuide.org says, “Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better. If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, you’ll feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times, even if you only alter your sleep schedule by an hour or two.” They go on to recommend that you try to go to sleep and get up at the same time each day as “this helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Choose a bedtime when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock, you may need an earlier bedtime.”
Mayo Clinic Health System says setting a bedtime is just as important for adults as it is for kids. “Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time, during the week and on weekends. Doing the same thing before bed each night can help prepare your body for rest and condition your brain for sleep. Stick to activities that promote relaxation, such as gentle stretching, writing in a journal, reading or meditation.”
And if you’re still having trouble, the share that you may benefit from keeping a written log of your sleep schedule and turn off all electronic devices and hour before bed.
This is a sure-fire way to help you sleep better. A hard workout during the day ensures that your energy levels wane in the evening. Though if you can only workout in the evening you may find it challenging to wind down for bedtime.
Harvard Health Publishing recommends even going for a brisk daily walk. Why? “Exercise boosts the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin. A study in the journal Sleep found that postmenopausal women who exercised for about three-and-a-half hours a week had an easier time falling asleep than women who exercised less often.” And, as we mentioned above, they too say to “just watch the timing of your workouts. Exercising too close to bedtime can be stimulating. Morning workouts that expose you to bright daylight will help the natural circadian rhythm.”
“Work out wisely,” writes WebMD. “Regular exercise helps you sleep better — as long as you don’t get it in too close to bedtime. A post-workout burst of energy can keep you awake. Aim to finish any vigorous exercise 3 to 4 hours before you head to bed.” And vigorous is a key. If the workout isn’t taxing enough for you, then you may not find your energy levels fading when it comes time to get in bed. And if you are having trouble winding down, they note: “Gentle mind-body exercises, like yoga or tai chi, are great to do just before you hit the sack.” Even meditation can help before bed. Following your breaths may calm your mind and body enough to make you nod off.
The British Heart Foundation agrees: “Physical activity is great for sleep, as well as for your health generally. However, some people find that if they do vigorous exercise less than two hours before bedtime, it can make it harder to get to sleep. If you don’t find this a problem, then there’s probably no need to change…People spend a lot of time and effort exercising and making sure they eat healthily – which is great – but they forget sleeping, which is the third side of the triangle.”
It’s important to remember that sleep is how your body recovers from workouts and, well, life in general, so it’s not something to skimp on.
4. Manage Stress
We’ve all been there: tossing and turning because stressors on repeat roll through our minds. Attempting to sleep while stressed is often a futile exercise, and that’s why experts recommend the following strategies to quiet your mind and ease stress.
“Anxiety, worry and stress can affect how well we sleep,” writes NHS. They share that “Luckily, there are things you can do daily to help manage your worries, like talking to someone you trust or writing in a notebook about your concerns.” They continue: “If you often lie awake worrying, set aside time before bed to make a to-do list for the next day – this can be a good way to put your mind at rest.” They also recommend “techniques like reframing unhelpful thoughts” to ease your mind before sleep.
MBG Health says to examine your inner dialogue. “Getting enough good sleep isn’t just about your physical habits—it also hinges on your internal thoughts and attitudes…‘Look at the stories you’re telling yourself about sleep,’ says Victoria Albina, N.P., MPH, nervous system specialist and holistic nurse practitioner. ‘If you’re saying sleep is something elusive, then that makes that story stronger in your nervous system, in your body, and in your mind, and physiologically creates more anxiety, which will rev up your sympathetic nervous system and make it harder to fall asleep.’”
Healthline says to practice clearing your mind as you fall asleep and directly before it. “Many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them relax. Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia. In one study, a relaxing massage improved sleep quality in people who were ill.” Other recommendations include: “listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating, deep breathing, and visualization.”
And if you decide that the hot bath (or shower) route sounds perfect, they mention that they “can help improve overall sleep quality and help people — especially older adults — fall asleep faster. In one study, taking a hot bath 90 minutes before bed improved sleep quality and helped people get more deep sleep.” And if you don’t want a full bath, they say that “simply bathing your feet in hot water can help you relax and improve sleep.”
5. Consider Food & Beverage Choices
The obvious culprit here is caffeine. Limiting caffeine intake hours before bed is always a good idea. But many people think alcohol helps them sleep better, and it doesn’t. Though it may help people fall asleep, it doesn’t promote quality sleep. A belly full of food may also make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. That’s not to say that it’s not okay to eat any food before bed.
The British Heart Foundation lays out some helpful tips: “Spicy food, alcohol and large meals shouldn’t be consumed in the hours before bedtime. For many, drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks in the afternoon can affect sleep. Sugary food in general is bad, because the energy spike and ensuing crash you get can play havoc with your body clock. Also, research has shown that, if you don’t sleep well, you tend to turn to junk food the next day, creating a cycle of poor sleep and bad diet. Eating healthily improves sleep generally, but some foods are particularly beneficial, such as milk, chicken, turkey and pumpkin seeds. They contain the chemicals tryptophan and serotonin, which are vital for the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep.”
“A grumbling stomach can be distracting enough to keep you awake, but so can an overly full belly,” writes Harvard Health Publishing. “Avoid eating a big meal within two to three hours of bedtime. If you’re hungry right before bed, eat a small healthy snack (such as an apple with a slice of cheese or a few whole-wheat crackers) to satisfy you until breakfast. If you do have a snack before bed, wine and chocolate shouldn’t be part of it. Chocolate contains caffeine, which is a stimulant. Surprisingly, alcohol has a similar effect. It makes you a little sleepy, but it’s actually a stimulant and it disrupts sleep during the night. Also stay away from anything acidic (such as citrus fruits and juices) or spicy, which can give you heartburn.”
Health Partners writes: “A cup of coffee in the morning or a soda on a lunch break can put a little pep in your step, but it might be affecting your sleep more than you think. It can take up to 10 hours before caffeine is completely out of your system. If you drink a coffee at two in the afternoon, it can still affect you at midnight…Do your best to finish drinking caffeine before lunch hour. And try to limit yourself to 200 mg of caffeine a day — that’s about the equivalent of two cups of coffee.”
And as far as eating before bed, they share that “If you feel like you could have a little snack before bed, indulging might help you sleep better. There are many foods that have vitamins and nutrients that can promote better sleep. Magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, omega-3 and vitamin D can all help you sleep. Snacks like yogurt with bananas, apple with string cheese, hummus, almonds or peanut butter with whole-grain crackers are all good late-night choices.”
- Mayo Clinic
- Sleep Foundation
- Harvard Health Publishing
- Mayo Clinic Health System
- British Heart Foundation
- Health Partners
- MBG Health
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