A Guide to Perfect Sleep: 17 Scientifically Backed Tips To Get Better Sleep
1. Sleep in darkness
The science: Melatonin is a chemical produced in the brain’s pineal gland at night time in order to regulate the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. In the evening, the production of melatonin is triggered and continues throughout the rest of the dark nighttime hours that follow. When the sun comes up, its production is suppressed until the next evening when the process can repeat itself. When even a little bit of light is present in your bedroom (such as that from a window, television, or electronic device), melatonin production is partially inhibited and your circadian rhythm is disrupted (Reiter, 1991).
What you can do: Make sure that there are no visible lights in the room where you sleep. Turn off the television, ensure no lights are coming from your phone, and try to use an alarm clock that doesn’t have digital lights. Further, make sure your curtains are closed. For added light suppression, consider adding blackout curtains to your bedroom.
2. Stick to regular bedtime and waketime
The science: Going to sleep earlier than your normal bedtime may result in difficulty falling asleep, while going to sleep much later than normal bedtime may result in more fragmented, shallow sleep (Stepanski & Wyatt, 2003).
What you can do: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day- yes, even on the weekends. On the whole, this will make it easier for you to fall asleep and get better sleep.
3. Limit blue light
The science: Light from our electronic devices is short-wavelength enriched, which means that it has a high concentration of blue light. Blue light adversely affects production of the sleep producing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength. A 2015 study examined the effects of reading on a light-emitting device (such as a cell phone) compared with reading on a printed book. Participants who read on light-emitting devices took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep (the phase in which we dream) and had higher alertness before bedtime. Researchers also found that after an eight-hour sleep episode, those who read on the light-emitting device were sleepier and took longer to wake up (Chang et al., 2015).
What you can do: Put the electronic devices away 2 hours before bed. Instead, try reading a paperback book with dim environmental lighting. Another alternative is to wear blue wavelength-blocking glasses. Researchers have found that people wearing blue wavelength-blocking glasses for 3 hours prior to bedtime experienced a significant improvement in sleep quality and mood (Kimberly & James, 2009).
4. Melatonin supplements
The science: Researchers found that taking low doses of melatonin in the evening made it easier to fall asleep and reach deep sleep. Moreover, there was no “hangover” effect. The subjects who took the low dose melatonin did not feel groggy from it the next morning (Zhdanova et al., 1995).
What you can do: Melatonin is produced in the brain by the pineal gland around 2 hours before bedtime. If you have been experiencing insomnia or need to overcome jet lag, consider taking a 1 to 3 milligrams of a melatonin supplement in order to help readjust your natural sleep/wake cycle. It should not be needed for long term use.
5. Wake up to sunlight
The science: The body’s circadian rhythm is a 24 hour internal clock which controls the natural sleep/wake cycle. It is controlled in the brain by the hypothalamus and is affected by outside factors such as environmental lightness and darkness. Getting sunlight every morning can act to restore the human circadian rhythm (Smith & Trinder, 2005).
What you can do: Getting some fresh sunlight in the morning can help naturally get your body back on track to a regular sleep cycle. If getting sunlight is not an option (as is common in the winter months), consider an at-home light therapy lamp.
6. Vitamin D supplement
The science: There is evidence that suggests that vitamin D deficiency can be associated with sleep disorders (McCarty et al., 2014). Vitamin D receptors are located in parts of the brain typically associated with sleep. When there is not enough vitamin D in the body, the receptors in the brain are not adequately bound and thus do not function as optimally as they should. A study performed in 2017 found that vitamin D supplements made it easier to fall asleep, increased sleep quality, and increased sleep duration in 20-50 year old people with sleep disorders (Majid et al., 2017).
What you can do: The sun is the strongest source for getting vitamin D. Large amounts of vitamin D3 (the body’s usable form of vitamin D) are created in the skin when the body is exposed to the sun’s UVB rays. The amount of vitamin D a person produces can be affected by many factors including ethnicity, sunscreen, time of day, and strength of the sun. Sometimes, it is simply not feasible to get enough sun exposure needed on a daily basis. Consider taking vitamin D3 supplements, especially during winter months when you are less likely to get the sun exposure you need.
7. Limit the time in bed when you are not sleeping
The science: Though it may seem counterintuitive, restricting the time you spend in bed may help you get better sleep. According to Sleep Restriction Theory, limiting time spent in bed will initially create a mild sleep deprivation which will make you more fatigued throughout the day. Studies have shown that this may promote an earlier sleep onset, more effective and deeper sleep, as well as more regularity in the night to night quantity and quality of sleep (Spielman et al., 1987).
What you can do: Keep track of how many hours of actual sleep you get every night. Depending on what time you want to take up, set a strict bedtime that encompasses only the amount of time you have been sleeping. Over time, you might find it easier to fall asleep at bedtime instead of lying wide awake in bed. As your sleep improves, gradually extend the amount of time you are allowed in bed. Read more about sleep restriction here.
8. White noise
The science: A 2001 study found that white noise made it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep (Borkowski et al., 2001). Another study found that white noise made it easier to stay asleep in otherwise distracting environmental noise, such as with the noise of the intensive care unit (ICU) (Stanchina et al., 2005). The science has to do with the fact that white noise tends to “mask” other noises in the environment that might otherwise distract a light sleeper.
What you can do: Use a white noise machine to reap the calming benefits.
9. Warm your body temperature
The science: A study showed that increasing body temperature through taking a warm bath before bedtime led to increased depth of sleep (Horne & Reid, 1985). Getting out of the warm bath and into your cooler bedroom leads your body temperature to drop, which signals your body that it is time to rest. This works by mimicking the natural drop in body temperature that occurs daily in the evening, which is a key component of the body’s circadian rhythm.
What you can do: Wind down from a long day and get better sleep by taking a bath about an hour and a half before going to bed. If you don’t have a bathtub, you could still reap the benefits by taking a 20 minute warm shower.
10. Wear socks to bed
The science: A study published in Nature found that vasodilation in the skin of the hands and feet was the best physiological predictor for the rapid onset of sleep. Keeping the hands and feet warm can rapidly induce vasodilation and thus promote a faster onset of sleep (Kräuchi, 1999).
11. Sleep with a weighted blanket
The science: Studies on insomniac adults have shown that sleeping with a weighted blanket increased the quality of sleep and decrease agitation (Ackerley et al., 2015). The pressure from these weighted blankets produces a calming affect by reducing physiological levels of arousal.
What you can do: Sleep with a weighted blanket. The weight must not be too light or heavy (15-30 lbs is typical for adults), and should be evenly distributed throughout the fabric. Weighted blankets are not recommended for people with respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation problems or for those recovering from surgery. The elderly or ill should seek input from a physician or occupational therapist.
12. Limit alcohol
The science: Before you reach for that nightcap there are a few things you should know. While alcohol has been shown to help you fall asleep faster, once it has been metabolized by your body you might experience more waking during the second half of your night. Further studies have shown that tolerance to alcohols sedative effects develops after 3 nights (Williams & Salamy, 1972).
The science: Studies have shown that moderate and regular physical activity has therapeutic and sleep promoting benefits. The most beneficial effect comes from aerobic endurance training and acute exercise that lasts for more than an hour. On the other hand, be careful not to take things too far. High intensity, exhaustive, long duration exercise may disrupt sleep by decreasing REM sleep and increasing wakefulness (Sherrill et al., 1998).
What you can do: Walking briskly, jogging, climbing stairs, jump roping, dancing and swimming are some examples of aerobic endurance exercises you should incorporate into your daily fitness routine for more restful sleep. An aerobic stepper or jump rope are great options that can be used to get a quick aerobic exercise in if you don’t have enough time to head to the gym.
14. Treat snoring
The science: The National Sleep Foundation’s 2002 poll found that about 37% of American adults snored at least a few nights a week. Snoring adversely effects sleep efficiency and leads to more nighttime wakefulness (Hoffstein et al., 1991). As you sleep, the muscles of your throat relax and the diameter of the throat narrows. When you breath in and out, the passing air causes the walls of the throat to vibrate and leads to the characteristic snoring sound. The narrower the throat, the greater the vibrations and the louder the snoring. Many snorers will recognize that not only is their own sleep hindered, but so is that of their bed partners.
What you can do: Normal aging processes as well as natural anatomical features can lead to snoring. However, obesity (particularly having a lot of fat around the neck) can make it worse. If your snoring is obesity related, consider losing weight. Sleeping on your side rather than on your back may actually improve snoring. Other snorers may actually be suffering from sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing may stop sporadically throughout the night. Loss weight and talk to your doctor about testing for sleep apnea.
15. Skip the naps
The science: Many bodily functions exist to keep the body at a relatively stable equilibrium, known as homeostasis. According to sleep homeostasis, sleep is a compensatory response to the preceding waking episode. Throughout the day, sleep homeostatic pressure builds within you. Once that pressure reaches a certain point (usually around bedtime), it promotes the onset of sleep and the pressure declines. Then the cycle repeats itself the next time you wake up. When you take a nap in the middle of the day, it mimics the decline in sleep pressure that usually happens at night. Without an adequate level of sleep pressure at bedtime, it will be much harder for you to fall asleep (Werth et al., 1996).
What you can do: Avoid taking naps throughout the day, and instead opt for an earlier bedtime.
The science: Lavender has been shown to have sleep benefits. Sniffing lavender essential oil before bed has been shown to increase quality of sleep, reduce anxiety, promote deep sleep (Karadag et al., 2015; Cho et al., 2013; Goel et al., 2005). It has also been shown to decrease the time taken to fall asleep and increase self-satisfaction with sleep (Lee & Lee, 2006).
17. Be mindful
The science: Mindfulness meditation has been shown to significantly reduce insomnia, fatigue, and depression (Black et al., 2015). This works by inducing a relaxation response and relieving stress, which for many people lies at the root of their insomnia.
What you can do: Practice mindfulness. Sit still in a comfortable position and quietly focus on your natural breathing. Become aware of your body as you breath, release any tension, and let any stressful thoughts slowly slip from your mind. Find more tips for meditation and mindfulness here.