Do you struggle to get a good night's sleep and never seem to feel rested? Whether your sleep is strained due to poor lifestyle habits such as staying up late to work or binge Netflix, or you suffer from insomnia or other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, losing sleep, especially on a regular basis, can significantly impact your mental, physical, cognitive, and emotional health. In this article we will let you in on 8 useful tips to improve your sleep routine and get you back on track so that you can start feeling as best as possible.
How to Get a Better Night's Sleep: 8 Easy Tips
There are many tips and tricks on how to improve sleep, which we call "sleep hygiene". These essentially are habits or actions you can take to prime your body and mind for a better night's sleep, as well as strategies for how to handle when you can't seem to fall asleep or when you wake up in the middle of the night. Give these next 8 tips a try to improve your sleep, but remember, everyone is different so what may work for someone else may not work for you; it's important to integrate these tips in a way that makes sense for you and your lifestyle.
1. Go To Bed And Wake Up Each Day At The Same Time
Do you wake up at the same time each day, or does it change from day to day? If your sleep schedule tends to be on the erratic side, you could be making it more difficult to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. Research shows that inconsistent sleep schedules can interrupt your circadian rhythm- your internal clock that regulates sleep and other bodily processes- and increase your risk for a number of other health issues such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.
If you want to get your body on a more consistent sleep routine, try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day—even if you don’t need to. By choosing the same time to head to bed each night and wake up in the morning, you are establishing a routine which will help condition your body and mind to know what to expect and when.
Pro Tip: It can be tempting to sleep in on the weekends (I mean, who wouldn’t want to sleep in on the weekend?), but try your best to stick with your sleep schedule every day of the week. Unfortunately, your body can’t tell what day it is, so sleeping in on the weekends can confuse your body and make it more difficult to return to your normal sleep schedule during the week.
2. Limit Electronics Before Bed
Many of us love scrolling through our phones or watching a movie before bed. But without realizing it, you may be making it harder to get to sleep. Your computer and phone screens emit what is known as blue light, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm, suppress melatonin levels, and strain your eyes even more than exposure to normal daylight. That said, it’s not just the screen that’s the problem. When you use devices before bed, the information your brain is trying to process can switch your brain back "on" and into action mode instead of shutting your brain down for sleep. This is particularly true when it comes to things like texting or using social media, where you are actively engaging with the information on your phone, as opposed to passively watching TV (which is also not recommended, however).
If you tend to look at your phone out of habit, try setting a time limit on how long you use your devices in the evening, or create a rule for yourself such as shutting off your devices an hour before you plan to go to sleep. You can even set an alarm on your phone to let yourself know when it’s time to put the phone away. Also, if you wake up during the night, it can be tempting to scroll through your phone or check texts. Try to avoid that! This can make it much harder to get back to sleep and can throw off your sleep cycle even further.
3. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, And Other Stimulants Close To Bedtime
Many of us love a coffee, pop, or a glass of wine during the day/evening—and that’s totally fine! You don’t need to give up the things you love in order to improve your sleep. What you want to try to avoid is drinking these drinks later in the afternoon or evening. Stimulants like caffeine can disrupt your circadian rhythm and also block receptors in the brain for adenosine, a chemical that promotes sleep. While you may think that it’s far enough from bedtime to be okay, these drinks can affect your sleep quality for hours—even up to 6 hours after you drink them! Nicotine can also contribute to poor sleep in a similar way. So come the afternoon, try to switch to drinks like tea (without caffeine) and water to help prepare your body ahead of time.
4. Keep Napping During The Day To A Minimum
Let’s face it—life can be exhausting sometimes! It’s easy to get tired during the day and crave a little rest time (or even want to curl up in bed for the entire day). Sometimes our days are hectic! And not all napping is bad for you. If you truly feel that you need a short 20-30 minute nap in the early afternoon to get through the day, then it can be beneficial! But when you start napping too often or for too long during the day or in the evening, it can do more harm than good. Daytime naps can start to throw off your sleep cycle and make falling asleep at night more difficult. This can then become a terrible cycle as your sleep at night becomes more erratic, you may begin napping more and more during the day.
Pro Tip: If you're finding that you are so tired you can't get through the day without a nap, you might want to consider speaking with your doctor, especially if this is a change for you. Excessive napping and fatigue can be signs of other underlying physical or mental health issues so it is good to get checked out. As well, speaking to a therapist can help you determine mental health factors that may be leading to your increased need to nap and work with you through the stress it is causing as a result.
5. Ensure Your Bedroom Is Cool, Dark, and Quiet
Do you ever fall asleep with the light on, or leave a movie playing, or sleep with tons of big blankets? It may not seem like a big deal, but these things can actually make it harder to fall asleep properly or sleep soundly. While you may doze off here and there, your brain can still become confused as to whether it is nighttime due to excessive noise, light, or overheating, which can interrupt your circadian rhythm. Make sure whatever room you’re sleeping in is set up for a good night’s sleep!
Leaving lights of any kind on in your room while trying to sleep can trick your body into thinking that it’s still daytime. To avoid light disrupting your sleep, make sure you close your curtains (consider blackout curtains if needed), turn off any devices that may transmit light, or any other artificial light that might be in your room. Keeping your room as dark as possible helps keep your circadian rhythm on track, as your internal clock relies heavily on light and dark to judge when you should be sleeping.
Avoid playing loud, upbeat music or movies/TV, and try to eliminate as much environmental noise as possible, as research shows it can have a detrimental effect on sleep quality. You may not fully wake up when you hear noises at night, but it can kick you out of restful sleep enough to undermine how good your sleep is overall. If you prefer having some background noise, try a sound machine or fan (this will also help regulate your temperature). If you have roommates or other family members who are loud and you find it’s making falling asleep difficult, give earplugs a try. They can help block out excessive noise and create a quiet environment even if you don’t live in one!
Finally, if you love to bury yourself in big, warm blankets at night, you may want to reconsider. If you get too warm while trying to sleep, research shows it can negatively impact the quality of your sleep. A cool room can help you lower your core temperature, which helps you fall asleep faster and get more slow-wave or deep sleep. So try getting rid of one of those blankets, and/or turn down the thermostat a degree or two. Experts suggest keeping your thermostat between 15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius to help create the best sleep environment.
6. Do Relaxing Activities Before Bed
Once you’re ready to start settling down before bed, try to stick to activities that are low-key and give you a chance to wind down. Having a dance party, doing a strenuous workout, playing video games, or watching an exciting movie is not going to help calm your mind and body before bed. Instead, you’ll end up energized and your confused body won’t know what’s going on! Doing relaxing activities in the evening can help calm your mind, ease any residual anxiety from your day, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and prepare your body for sleep. Bedtime activities can be things like taking a warm bath or shower, doing some meditation, reading a book, listening to some relaxing music, or anything else that you find peaceful. Even relaxation exercises can be useful for helping you fall asleep—give them a try!
7. Stay Active During The Day
If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, it often helps to get more physically active during the day—even better if it’s outdoors! Researchers have found that moderate exercise can improve how much deep sleep, also known as slow wave sleep, you get. This type of sleep is important for your wellbeing because it’s the time when your mind and body are able to recharge. Getting more active can also help reduce daytime drowsiness, improve and/or balance your mood, and help calm your mind, all of which are important for helping you get better sleep. But try not to exercise too late in the day, especially if you’re doing a harder or more strenuous workout. Doing a heavy workout too close to when you head to bed can raise your core temperature and make sleeping more difficult.
8. Make Sure Your Bedroom Is Just For Sleeping–But Don’t Force It
So you’re all comfy in bed and it’s been 10 minutes, then 20 minutes go by and you’re still staring up at the ceiling. Now what? Don’t try to force it! If you’ve been lying in bed for a while, don’t try to make yourself stay in bed. You’ll just get more and more frustrated the longer you’re awake and at that point there’s not much chance you’re going to fall asleep.
Plus, when you stay in bed and you’re wide awake, it can even cause the idea of sleep to become an actual source of stress and anxiety. This can spiral into associating your bed and even bedroom with being awake and anxious. You don’t want to start associating your bed with not sleeping or with activities you do when you’re awake, as it can begin to condition your mind and body to stay awake in bed longer and more frequently—which is definitely not what you want! It's important to condition your brain to associate bed with sleep, and nothing else (exception: sex/physical intimacy is ok for the bedroom!).
Pro tip: We know this one will be hard to accept- who wants to get out of bed when all you're trying to do is sleep?! But give it a try, at least a few times before counting it out. If its taking you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, it’s better to get up and go read on the couch or do something else that is calming temporarily in another room other than your bedroom. Once you feel tired again, then go back to the bedroom and try to sleep—hopefully with more success!
The Bottom Line
It may feel like sleeping is something that should just come effortlessly—and that would be great in a perfect world! But the real world is full of stress, distractions, and ways for us to sabotage ourselves when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep—even when we don’t mean to. But we need quality sleep to help keep our bodies and our minds healthy. If you’re having trouble sleeping or falling asleep, try these tips to improve sleep and see what works for you. Remember: consistency is key! Give your body time to get used to your new routine before you decide something doesn’t work for you.
If you find you’ve tried everything you can to help improve your sleep, but nothing is working, don’t be afraid to speak with a healthcare professional so that they can rule out any health issues or sleep disorders. If you’re dealing with deeper issues like anxiety, stress, trauma, grief, or depression that you feel may be affecting your sleep as well as other aspects of your life and you think counselling may help, please contact us for a free 15 minute consultation or to book a therapy session with one of our Barrie therapists or online counsellors!
Our team of online and Barrie therapists provides quality and effective counselling & psychotherapy services in Barrie and virtually across Ontario to individuals (6+), couples and families. We also offer an Affordable Therapy Program that provides counselling services in Barrie to individuals (12+) who are facing financial challenges that need mental health support.