Learn / How to Sleep Better: Tips for Restful Nights and Energized Mornings

How to Sleep Better: Tips for Restful Nights and Energized Mornings

Sarah Shawaker
 June 3rd, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Adequate sleep supports mental health, physical health, and life quality.
  • Exercise, a nutritious diet, and relaxation techniques promote good sleep.
  • Therapy and medication can help sleep struggles such as insomnia.

Sleep is a fundamental aspect of human life. It affects us physically and mentally, impacting growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health1. Good sleep can help these systems work properly. 

Sleep deficiency is linked to chronic health problems2, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. It’s also linked to a higher chance of injury in individuals of all ages3 because the body heals during sleep. 

A common myth is that people can adapt to little sleep without negative repercussions. Research shows that getting enough quality sleep at the proper times is vital for mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. Follow these tips to maximize your quality sleep.

Assessing Your Sleep Environment

As you embark on your restful journey, you can note your current sleep setup. Notice how much light comes into your room, what temperature feels most comfortable, if any noises are present throughout the night, and how many hours of sleep you average. 

Optimizing Your Bedroom for Sleep

Creating a sleep-friendly environment is essential for improving sleep quality and overall health. Some aspects to consider include:

Choosing the Right Mattress and Pillows

Selecting the right bedding can support good sleep posture and comfort. Visit a mattress store to see if you prefer a firmer or softer bed. Mattresses can be made of memory foam, innerspring, latex, or a hybrid of materials. Explain your sleep patterns to a store associate for help choosing.

Choosing pillows can be similar to choosing a mattress—some prefer firmer ones for extra neck support, while others need softer, thinner pillows. The right height and firmness align your head and neck with your spine. Side sleepers usually need a thicker, firmer pillow; back sleepers may prefer a medium thickness and firmness; stomach sleepers need a soft, low pillow.

Establishing a Sleep-Conducive Lifestyle

No matter your job and lifestyle, you can always prioritize sleep. Implementing sleep-positive habits can greatly improve all aspects of your life.

Regular Sleep Schedules

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, to regulate your body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. This natural, internal process regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. Consistent sleep schedules can decrease mental and physical health risks9.

Daylight has the biggest influence on circadian rhythm10, but food intake, stress, physical activity, social environment, and temperature also affect it—this is why it’s vital to adjust your sleep environment to fit your sleep needs.

Diet and Sleep

Food is fuel for your body—physically and mentally. Healthy, well-rounded diets that include all food groups and minimize processed foods can promote sleep. Specifically, fruits, fatty fish, dairy, fiber-rich foods like beans and oatmeal, and certain protein sources with tryptophan, like turkey, are linked to good rest11. These foods have certain vitamins and nutrients that help regulate sleep and melatonin production. If you have dietary restrictions, you might find it beneficial to take vitamins such as magnesium, vitamin D, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids to support your sleep.

You’ll want to avoid saturated fats and refined carbohydrates close to bedtime, which are in most processed foods. Alcohol also disrupts your REM sleep cycles throughout the night, diminishing your quality of sleep.

Exercise and Sleep

Exercising can help you fall asleep faster and improve your sleep quality12. Physical activity increases the production of melatonin, a hormone that impacts sleep-wake cycles and reduces stress. This can help you feel more tired and fall asleep faster. 

Your physical activity doesn’t need to be intense to have the intended effect. Even 30 minutes of moderate daily activity can help you sleep longer and deeper. Choosing exercise you enjoy is the key to maintaining a routine and having positive sleep effects. Practices like yoga provide physical exercise and incorporate mindfulness, which can further improve sleep by lowering stress and promoting relaxation13.

Exercise releases endorphins, which keep your brain awake and energized, so physical activity should be done at least 2 hours prior to sleeping14. Going to bed after letting your core temperature cool down after exercise is also easier. 

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Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques for Better Sleep

Mindfulness focuses on breathing and bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. Several practices can cultivate mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These techniques reduce stress and rumination, improve memory and focus15, and enhance rest13.

Meditation and Breathing Exercises

You can practice several mindfulness techniques as you wind down for bed. A core mindfulness element is using breath to guide your energy. Deepening and controlling your breath can help lower stress16 and help you relax for sleep. Try box breathing—this calming exercise allows you to stay mindfully present in your body.

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As you mindfully breathe, you can practice meditation. Some people find it useful to use guided meditations from videos or apps such as Headspace. You may visualize inhaling positive feelings and exhaling unhealthy thoughts. If your mind wanders, that’s okay, just come back to the present moment. 

You can also do a mindful body scan. Sitting in a comfortable position with eyes closed, begin to pay attention to your head, then your shoulders, then your arms down to the tips of your fingers. As you scan down your entire body, you’ll mindfully release any tension, preparing you for a relaxing sleep. 

Reducing Screen Time Before Bed

Blue light from phones, laptops, and tablets can greatly reduce sleep quality7. This light wavelength inhibits melatonin production, disrupting your sleep cycle. If you’re using any of these devices right before bed, you may find falling and staying asleep harder.

Try to minimize your blue light exposure before bed by doing other relaxing activities, such as reading a book, gentle yoga, and journaling. Many devices have settings that reduce blue light exposure in the evening hours. Apps are also available to adjust your screen’s color temperature based on the time of day.

Managing Stress for Better Sleep

Factors such as work and relationships can keep you up at night; however, using stress management skills can help you navigate these stressors.

One way to ease stress is by creating a time management system that works for you. You can begin effectively managing your responsibilities by taking inventory of where you invest your time and energy. List your priorities and how much of your time each receives. Can and should something change to put more energy into something else? Be honest with yourself and see what you can change for the better. 

Set up your schedule in advance using a physical or virtual calendar to block off time for your responsibilities. Get granular with this—instead of blocking off 2 hours for “errands,” put “45 minutes: haircut; 30 minutes: pick up office supplies; 45 minutes: pick up groceries.”

Writing can be therapeutic17, so journaling is a great outlet to work through stress. You may reflect on your day, goals, desires, or beliefs, whatever helps you unwind. You could answer prompts such as:

  1. Write about three things you were grateful for today. How did they impact your mood?
  2. List your accomplishments today, no matter how small. How do you feel about what you achieved?
  3. Reflect on any insights you gained today. How can these influence your future actions?
  4. Explore any strong emotions you felt today. What triggered these feelings, and how did you respond?
  5. What stressed you out today, and how did you manage it? Are there strategies you could improve on or try next time?

Navigating Sleep Challenges

For some, sleep can become a more significant issue. Research found that anywhere from 10%-60% of adults have some form of insomnia12, a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Other sleep issues can also interfere with getting quality sleep, affecting physical and mental health. Fortunately, there are options for you to recover. 

Dealing with Insomnia

Insomnia can be treated through various methods, and people often find success through a combination of evidence-based and holistic approaches. Helpful lifestyle changes include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, exercising, and eating wholesome foods with nutrients like tryptophan and magnesium. However, sometimes healing requires more intensive methods.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) is the most effective non-pharmacological treatment for chronic insomnia18. You’ll work to change sleep habits and scheduling factors, as well as misconceptions about sleep and insomnia that exacerbate sleep difficulties. You may practice sleep restriction therapy, where you only lie in bed when asleep or very close to it, rather than lying in bed until you feel sleepy. 

Medically prescribed medications can help with more intense insomnia19. Your clinician may recommend benzodiazepine, melatonin, or orexin receptor agonists to provide more consistent sleep. Other medications, such as antidepressants with drowsy side effects, can also help with insomnia.

Addressing Other Sleep Disorders

Sleep apnea affects oxygen intake20 by stopping and starting breathing throughout the night. This can cause poor sleep quality and affect focus and mood throughout the day. Restless legs syndrome causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs21 and an irresistible urge to move them, which can also cause sleep disruptions.

If you have sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or other sleep disorders, seek professional help if the sleep issues persist, cause significant distress, or impact your daily activities. Professional treatment can help if lifestyle changes and home remedies do not improve your symptoms.

You and your doctor will walk through your symptoms to create the most effective treatment plan for your needs. You can ask questions such as:

  1. What do you believe is the underlying cause of my sleep issues? Do I need additional therapy to work through these underlying causes?
  2. What are the benefits and side effects of my treatment options? Are there lifestyle changes I need to make to accommodate these side effects?
  3. How soon can I expect to see a positive change in my sleep?
  4. Should I see a sleep specialist?

Supplements and Sleep Aids

Using sleep supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids can be tempting for those struggling with sleep issues, but it’s important to approach these solutions with caution. Your body has a system to regulate sleep, so adjusting this process could negatively impact it.

Sleep supplements and OTC sleep aids are found in many pharmacies and convenience stores, making them accessible. Sleep aids include antihistamines and natural supplements such as melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium, offering various options based on individual needs. They are generally effective in the short term, making them useful in a pinch. 

There is a risk of becoming dependent on sleep aids22, especially with frequent use. Additionally, side effects of these sleep aids can negatively impact the following day, contributing to daytime drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, dry mouth, and cognitive impairment.

In general, use caution when trying sleep supplements and OTC sleep aids. While they can be beneficial in managing short-term or occasional sleep problems, they are not typically recommended for long-term use. It’s crucial to address the root causes of sleep disruption and consult healthcare professionals to manage any issues safely.

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