A good night’s sleep is as essential to your physical and mental well being as a healthy diet and lifestyle.
However, so many of us do not get enough quality sleep.
I don’t think you should necessarily take statistics as gospel – especially as 73.6% of all statistics are made up – but it is estimated that two thirds of all Americans struggle to fall asleep at least once per week.
Either way, getting a good night’s sleep is certainly a problem that is far from uncommon for an awful lot of people you speak to and I’m sure you’ll find this is true in most Western countries these days.
And just to clarify, I am not talking about people with ‘self-inflicted’ sleep deprivation due to staying out late and partying.
I mean those of us who need and want to sleep better each night, but are struggling to do so, depsite their best efforts.
So, what is the best way to get a good night’s sleep?
The good news is that, generally, there are quite a few things you can try to give yourself a better chance of falling asleep quicker and getting better quality sleep and most of them simply require nothing more than a bit of organization and the inclination to adopt a few good habits.
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Why is good sleep important?
“You’re tired? You can sleep when you’re dead (man)!”
Anyone ever said that to you?
Like, hey, I’m such a badass that I don’t need sleep and you shouldn’t either.
Sounds cool, yeah.
But if you want to live your life as the best possible version of you, it’s actually rubbish advice.
Sorry to sound like the boring killjoy here, but it’s fairly well established that your body needs sleep to function properly and research consistently reports that sustained periods of sleep deprivation can set you on a road to poor physical and mental health.
But let’s be real here – research or no research – you know deep down in your own mind that consistently surviving on a few hours’ sleep each night is neither fun, nor good for you in the long term.
Because, apart from feeling cranky during the day, long-term periods of poor sleep can have all kinds of adverse effects on your body. I’m sure you know a lot of these already, but check out some of the long-term effects of sleep deprivation according to numerous studies:
- Lack of concentration and difficulty thinking. Think about that if you’re operating machinery, driving a car or doing a job that requires you to be mentally alert in order to keep yourself or others safe
- Suppressed immune system. A chronic lack of sleep can make you more susceptible to everything from a common cold to more serious and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer
- Sleep deprivation affects the way insulin works in your body and consequently how fast your cells can take up sugar. This can contribute to the onset of diabetes
- A lack of good quality sleep can raise blood pressure and put stress on the heart.
- Consistently poor sleep can affect mental health and increase psychological risks such as depression, anxiety and stress
So there you go. Who wants any of that stuff in their lives?
How much sleep do we actually need?
According to conventional wisdom, the amount of sleep we need to function efficiently during the day is 8 hours.
For those of you who prefer to make decisions based on more than just conventional wisdom, you’ll be pleased to hear that there is actually a whole area of science dedicated to sleep and years of research and study backs this up, with the indicated ‘sweet spot’ being 7-8 hours per night.
Now, of course, that being said, you can probably also find research that indicates getting less than 7 hours sleep each night is not bad for you in the short or long term and you can certainly find numerous well-known examples of famous people, past and present, that are (or were) known to operate perfectly on just a few hours’ sleep each night.
But whatever – you need to decide what feels right for you. Everyone is different and will have different needs based on their age, health and lifestyle, but I think that 7 to 8 hours is an achievable target for most of us.
It’s interesting though, because although modern science indicates that 7-8 hours per night is an optimal amount of sleep, it wasn’t so long ago that we used to sleep in two shifts between dusk and dawn (known as bi-phasic sleep) and it is only since the advent of modern lighting that our sleeping habits changed.
Maybe this is the natural way that humans are meant to sleep and it’s modern society which has conditioned us to sleep in one segment, the same way as it appears to have influenced the way we eat three meals a day?
That’s food for thought and something to sleep on – it’s all up for discussion, but you’re here looking for some practical strategies to get a better night’s sleep, right?
So let’s get to it . . .
How to get a good night’s sleep
To understand how to get a good night’s sleep, you first need to be aware of the factors that are known to interfere with your body’s ability to switch off for a solid night of quality zeds.
But what are they? Is it anxiety? Is it stress? Electrification? Is it the 4G and WiFi we’re surrounded by all the time? Is it blue light from our devices?
The answer is: it could be all, some or none of these things.
Remember that different things affect people in different ways and to different extents.
For example, while some people rarely have a problem falling asleep as soon as they are in a horizontal position, for others, the very action of lying down in bed seems to be a mental prompt to start ruminating over all the day’s little stresses and worries, resulting in poor sleep in terms of both quantity and quality.
Does that sound familiar?
For a small percentage of people though, there maybe underlying health reasons causing problems with sleep, but generally speaking, the likely reasons are due to our lifestyle habits and our environment.
And you can address these quite easily once you have isolated them.
The first area within your control is the actual place where you sleep and for the majority of us, that will be the bedroom!
The bedroom should be clean, comfortable and connected with sleeping (and sex) only.
Don’t eat, work or talk on the phone in bed or make the room itself a ‘multi-purpose’ area, which means, avoid setting up a computer desk in the corner or having your static bike or treadmill in here.
I know that sometimes space can be limited in the place where you live, which can make thigns more difficult, but try to do everything you possibly can to make the bedroom your little sanctuary where you can escape the madness of the world outside.
Remove any other clutter – kids toys, paperwork, anything else that is not associated with sleeping.
The next thing to consider is the temperature. Too hot or too cold will rarely result in a night of quality sleep. A comfortable environment for most people is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).
Make sure there is good air flow and consider using a humidifier/dehumidifier according to the climate in your region.
A quiet environment can help you fall asleep much quicker, but not everyone necessary lives in a quiet neighbourhood. If you experience a lot of noise from outside, consider the use of ear plugs or if you want to try something fancy, you could go for these really cool Bose wireless ear buds.
Make sure that the room is dark when you sleep. If you find that your room is still not dark with the lights out due to streetlights outside, blackout curtains might help.
How about the actual bed you are sleeping on? Is the mattress comfortable? Too hard or too soft?
If you have been sleeping on the same mattress for a long time, it might be that you have become conditioned to what is actually a very poor mattress and you may not realize this until you get to sleep on a good one.
A good mattress will make a world of difference to your sleep quality, so don’t brush this off as insignificant.
Don’t forget the pillow. There are all kinds available for different needs: feather, down, memory foam, buckwheat, to name just a few. They all have advantages and disadvantages and you’ll need to select the one that best meets your own comfort requirements and budget.
Suffice to say though, a bad pillow can lead to neck/back ache and generally poor quality sleep, so as with the mattress, don’t underestimate the importance.
There is a theory that blue light can affect our ability to fall asleep, because it tricks the brain into thinking that it is still daytime, which affects your body’s circadian rhythm that controls your sleep-wake cycle, inhibiting the normal physiological processes that need to occur in preparation for sleep.
So try to reduce blue light exposure close to bedtime. This means no devices or tv, but if you do insist on using them, use the night-time mode if there is one, try an app for your phone/laptop that filters the blue light or get a pair of blue light blocking wear glasses.
I have to say that I personally watch tv right before sleeping and I rarely have any trouble getting to sleep, so don’t take the science as the be-all and end-all. Everyone is different. Experiment yourself and identify or eliminate blue light as a cause.
For a lot of us, the main cause of sleepless nights is stress.
Work deadlines, financial pressures, relationship problems, health concerns and a whole raft of other things going on in your head can prevent you from ‘switching off’ when all you want and need to do is rest and sleep.
Often, completely removing the stress-inducing factor itself is beyond our immediate control, so the best course of action is to address the part we can control: how we deal with it emotionally.
There are some awesome tips here on how to deal with stress and, in particular, stress in the workplace.
Meditation and yoga can be very useful tools to deal with stress and the “side effect” is often a much better night’s sleep.
Related ~ 7 Great Reasons To Do Yoga Every Morning
Getting regular exercise shoudl generally help you sleep, but some say that exercise within 2-4 hours of sleeping can be detrimental. If you’re currently doing your workouts late in the evening and you’re not sleeping well generally, try switching your sessions to early morning, rather than close to bedtime.
Either way, exercise should be included in your daily routine anyway, so get it in there!
Related ~ 7 Of The Best 10-Minute Workouts
Having a pre-bed routine or ritual will prepare your body for sleep in a gradual way.
Studies show that the position you choose to sleep in can affect both how quickly you fall asleep and the quality of the sleep you get. This actually deserves a whole post of its own, so watch this space! Sleep positions can be broken down into three main positions, those being back, side and stomach, and then there are some variations on each of those positions.
Without going into detail here, it is noted that side sleepers tend to get a better night’s sleep. The worst position seems to be sleeping on your front and those who do sleep on their stomach report more restlessness and lower back and neck pain.
If you are sleeping poorly with the current position you choose, try something different and see how that goes.
Developing an evening routine
You can find tips about getting better sleep all over the internet, but the most commonly repeated advice seems to be routine.
First, try to enforce a strict time when you stop working, taking calls, looking at emails and your electronic devices. Unplug and make this a trigger for the start of your winding down, pre-bed phase in the evening.
Use the time to listen to music, talk to your spouse, read to your kids or do whatever it is you do to relax. But the point is, this period in the evening needs to be a signal to your brain that you are getting ready to shut down for the day.
If you don’t already take a warm shower or bath in the evening before bed, it might be worth bringing this into your routine, as it can help you relax.
Going to bed and waking at the same time each day will help cement the routine. That means not ‘sleeping in’ at the weekend, as this will interrupt your body’s sleep-wake rhythm.
There may be occasions when supplements can add value to the other measures you are taking to combat sleepless nights. There are various sleep aids available over-the-counter that may give you a little help in getting a good night’s sleep.
Other useful tips
Stimulants like caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol can affect sleep quality, so try to cut them out in the evening.
Again, these all affect people in different ways.
For example, I know many people that have no problem drinking coffee right before sleeping, but for others, even a small cup of coffee in the afternoon will make it difficult for them to sleep come bedtime. Just experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.
Sugary foods and refined carbohydrates can be a common culprit when it comes to interfering with a good night’s sleep, so try to cut down on these, especially for your evening meal.
If you are somebody who can’t do without a snack before bed, try foods that are known to promote sleep, such as nuts, cheese and warm milk.
What to do if you can’t fall asleep
If you cannot fall asleep after 30 minutes or so, get out of bed, don’t try to force it to happen. The best thing to do is get out of bed and go and do something else.
But whatever you do, do not turn on your electronic devices!
Instead, read or listen to a book, do a puzzle, do some writing, listen to some music or a podcast and then go back to bed when you feel sleep coming on.
If your inability to fall asleep and/or wake up refreshed is persistent, it may be that you have some form of sleep disorder or underlying heath issue, so get checked out by a doctor.
If you can, keep a sleep diary so that you have a record of your sleep over a period of time. This might help to identify any patterns of behaviour that could be causing the issue.
Have you got any tips for better sleep? Let us know in the comments section! In the meantime though, night night and sweet dreams . . .