In order to have both good physical and mental health, the effect of having good-quality sleep cannot be underestimated. In fact, a good night’s sleep is just as important as taking regular exercise and having a healthy diet.
It’s not uncommon to have bad sleep quality. As habits have changed over the past few decades, both sleep quality and quantity have declined steadily.
Research shows that having poor quality sleep can have immediate negative effects on your hormone levels, brain function and general performance. It can also cause you to gain weight and increase your risk of developing serious illnesses.
So, if you want to improve your health or lose weight, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to sleep better at night – all with the backing of science.
1. Improve your sleeping environment
Your bedroom environment (temperature, noise, lighting, furniture…) is key to getting a good night’s sleep.
Numerous studies show improved sleep quality when noise and light is diminished. Therefore, to create an optimal bedroom environment, try to cut out or reduce external noise, light and other artificial lights (such as from an alarm clock). Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, relaxing, clean and enjoyable place.
Body and bedroom temperature is also important. Most people prefer to sleep in a room that is around 70°F (20°C) but it’s important to test different temperatures to find out which is most comfortable for you.
Bed quality can also affect sleep, with studies showing that a new mattress can help to reduce back pain, shoulder pain and back stiffness – improving sleep quality as a result.
New bedding can have a similar effect. It’s recommended that you upgrade your bedding (including mattress) at least every five to eight years.
If you haven’t replaced your mattress or bedding for a number of years, this can be a very quick fix – albeit an expensive one.
2. Don’t have caffeine late in the day
Though caffeine has numerous benefits (enhanced focus, energy and sports performance), when consumed late in the day, caffeine stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night.
Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for up to six to eight hours. Therefore, drinking large amounts of coffee after 3 or 4pm is not recommended – it’s better to get a decaf.
3. Cut out long or irregular naps
Short power naps can beneficial, but long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep because it confuses your internal clock.
Sometimes you can end up feeling sleepier after taking a nap, especially if it is for longer than 30 minutes or at a time that you’re not used to.
However, if you’re used to taking regular daytime naps, you’re unlikely to experience poor sleep quality or disrupted sleep at night.
4. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time
Your circadian rhythms are aligned with the sunrise and sunset so being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid long-term sleep quality.
One study noted that participants who had irregular sleeping patterns or who went to bed late on the weekend reported having poorer sleep quality.
Try to get used to waking up and going to bed at broadly similar times. After a couple of weeks, you might not even have to set an alarm.
5. Increase bright light exposure during the day
Your so-called circadian rhythm is your body’s natural time-keeping clock. It affects your brain, body and hormones and controls when your body thinks it’s time to sleep.
Getting plenty of natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, improving daytime energy levels, as well as sleep quality and duration.
It’s advisable to try getting daily sunlight exposure or, if this isn’t possible or practical, invest in an artificial bright light device or bulbs.
6. Reduce exposure to blue light
While exposure to light during the day is beneficial, this isn’t the case at nighttime as it tricks your brain into thinking it’s still day. This reduces the output of hormones such as melatonin, which help you relax and get deep sleep.
Blue light is the worst. This is the type of light that electronic devices such as smartphones and computer screens emit in large amounts. However, you can restrict your exposure by wearing glasses that block blue light, downloading an app which blocks blue light on your laptop or computer or simply by stopping watching TV and turning off any bright lights two hours before going to bed.
7. Don’t eat late at night
Depending on what you eat, eating late in the evening may negatively affect both the natural release of HGH and melatonin, and sleep quality.
When we eat late, the muscles that process our food have to keep working when they should be resting. This can delay your ability to fall asleep and can prevent you from reaching the deep, restful stage of sleep you need to feel refreshed the following day.
8. Clear your mind
Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality. This is why many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them to relax.
Strategies include listening to relaxing music, getting a massage, reading a book, meditating and deep breathing.
Try out lots of different methods and find what works best for you.
9. Take a relaxing bath or shower
Having a relaxing bath or shower is another popular way to sleep better.
One study showed that taking a hot bath 90 minutes before bed improved sleep quality but if you don’t want to or don’t have time for a bath, simply bathing your feet in hot water can also help.
10. Avoid drinking alcohol
Drinking alcohol at night can negatively affect your sleep. It is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns.
It has also been shown to alter nighttime melatonin production and decrease the natural nighttime elevations in human growth hormone (HGH).
11. Take a melatonin supplement
Melatonin supplements are a very popular type of sleep aid. Melatonin is a vital sleep hormone; it tells your brain when it’s time to relax.
In some countries you need a prescription for it but in others melatonin is widely available in pharmacies or online.
The recommended dose is around 1 to 5 mg around half an hour to an hour before going to bed. However, as melatonin may alter brain chemistry, it’s advised to consult a healthcare provider before use.
Other supplements may also be useful. These include ginkgo biloba, glycine, valerian root, magnesium, L-theanine or lavender. However, make sure to try these supplements only one at a time.
12. Rule out a sleep disorder
It’s important to consider whether an underlying health condition could be the cause of your sleeping problems.
One common problem is sleep apnea, which causes people to stop breathing repeatedly while sleeping. Other common issues include sleep movement disorders and circadian rhythm sleep/wake disorders, which are common in shift workers.
If you have always had issues sleeping, consult your doctor.
13. Exercise regularly – but not too soon before sleeping
As ever, exercise is one of the best ways to improve your health. It can improve all aspects of sleep.
However, performing it too late in the day may have adverse effects. This is due to exercise’s stimulatory effect, increasing alertness. Therefore, it may be best to exercise during daylight hours.
14. Don’t drink too many liquids before bed
Drinking large amounts of liquids before bed can lead to excessive urination during the night.
Although hydration is vital for your health, you should try to reduce your fluid intake in the late evening (one to two hours before going to bed).
You should also try to go to the bathroom right before going to bed, as this may decrease your chances of waking in the night.