Even the healthiest people struggle with sleep at some point in their lives. Between stress, anxiety, long workdays, and an endless stream of technology keeping us connected 24/7, it’s no surprise that so many of us are dealing with sleepless nights. Sleep is essential for our overall well-being: not getting enough sleep can lead to a host of problems, including irritability, difficulty concentrating, and increased risk of disease. Luckily there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself get a better night’s rest more often. From common sense strategies like cutting back on caffeine and alcohol to more unusual techniques like keeping a hunger journal or taking up meditation, here are nine ways to help you sleep better tonight.
Go to bed at the same time every night
We’ve all heard it a million times: going to bed at the same time every night will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. While it might sound like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how many people don’t actually stick to this seemingly simple rule of sleep hygiene. If you go to bed at different times each night, it can throw off your circadian rhythm and make it much harder to fall asleep at your usual bedtime. If you’re struggling to get to sleep, try going to bed at the same time every night for at least a week to see if it makes a difference. And make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night — generally, that means seven to nine hours per night for most adults.
Keep your bedroom as dark as possible
Your bedroom should be a place of rest and relaxation — it’s where you go to escape the hustle and bustle of the outside world and recharge your batteries. Unfortunately, most bedrooms are anything but a place of relaxation: they’re jam-packed with electronics and buzzing with artificial light. If you’re spending enough time in bed to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep every night, you’re probably spending most of it in a brightly lit room. And that’s a recipe for poor sleep: sleep scientists have found that sleeping in a brightly lit room can disrupt your sleep cycle, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. When you’re shopping for new bedroom furniture, look for pieces that can provide adequate light control. You can also blackout your windows with curtains or heavy shades to keep your room nice and dark. If you’re not able to fully blackout your windows, try using a sleep mask to block out excess light.
Don’t eat before bed
While it may be tempting to eat your way to better sleep, eating before bed can actually do more harm than good. Sugary and starchy foods, in particular, can cause your blood sugar to spike, making it harder to fall asleep — and making you feel hungrier when your blood sugar drops again a few hours later. And while you’re sleeping, your digestive system is in “slow motion” mode, meaning it takes much longer to digest food than it does when you’re awake. This can lead to issues like heartburn, indigestion, and waking up with a tummy ache. It’s best to avoid eating anything other than maybe half a piece of whole wheat toast before bed. And if you’re prone to heartburn or indigestion, try avoiding high-fiber foods or foods high in fat as well.
Regular exercise is one of the easiest ways to help you sleep better at night. Not only does exercise help you fall asleep faster, it also reduces anxiety and improves your sleep quality once you’re in bed. Most sleep studies have found that moderate intensity, aerobic exercise is best for improving sleep quality: anything too intense can actually increase your stress levels and make it harder to fall asleep. If you can, try to fit in a 30-45 minute workout at least a few times a week. If you don’t have time to hit the gym, even a short walk outside or a few minutes of yoga at home can make a big difference when it comes to sleep.
Don’t skimp on your mattress
Your mattress is the single most important piece of furniture in your house. If you’re not sleeping well, it’s probably because you’re not sleeping on the right mattress. While there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” mattress, most of us are sleeping on mattresses that are way too firm for our individual sleeping needs. A lot of modern mattresses have a firmness level of around 8 on a 1-10 scale: sleeping on something that firm can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. When shopping for a new mattress, the best thing you can do is try it out in person. If you’re working with a limited budget, try to find a store that offers a sleep trial: you’ll get to sleep on the mattress at home for 30 or 60 days and return it if you don’t like it. If you can, don’t skimp on price — a mattress is something that you’ll sleep on every night for the rest of your life. It’s worth investing in a high-quality mattress that will help you sleep better as a result.
Turn off your screens an hour before bedtime
Blue light from your phone, laptop, and other screens has been shown to affect your circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Screen time also increases your risk of developing insomnia by making it harder to take a break from the endless stream of information and distractions. If you want to sleep better at night, turn off the screens an hour before bedtime. If you need to work late into the night, try using a blue light filter to block excess blue light from your devices. If you can’t avoid using your phone before bed, try setting a sleep timer. Most phones allow you to set a sleep timer, which is a great way to avoid getting sucked into the endless scroll. The sleep timer will turn off your screen after a certain amount of time so you don’t need to worry about getting up to turn it off.
Try a sleep supplement
If you’re struggling with sleep, there are plenty of natural sleep aids available over the counter (OTC) that can help you get a better night’s rest. Herbs like valerian and chamomile have long been used for sleep, as have essential oils like lavender and lemon balm. If you’re OTC sleep aids don’t work for you, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription sleep aid. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label, since sleep aids can have serious side effects if you don’t use them correctly. Additionally, adding supplements like NAC to your daily nutritional intake will significantly boost your immune system and brain health in order to regulate your bodily functions and assist in getting you to sleep easier and more consistantly.
Get help from nature — and maybe a pet or two
A walk in the woods can do wonders for your sleep — and your health in general. Researchers have found that spending time in nature can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and even lower your blood pressure. If you have access to a nearby park, even just sitting there and listening to the sounds of nature can be enough to help you sleep better at night. You can also try sleeping with sound therapy, wearing a sleep mask and earplugs, placing plants in your bedroom, or keeping a journal to help you fall asleep. And if you’re not lucky enough to have a backyard or park nearby, you can also try listening to nature sounds online or on an app. If you don’t want to listen to nature sounds, try keeping a pet in your room. Pets emit a positive energy that can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Sleep is essential for our health and well-being — but it turns out it’s not just important for our bodies. Sleep has many psychological benefits, too. Getting enough sleep can help you improve your mood and lower your anxiety, reduce your stress levels, and improve your decision-making skills. While sleep is important for everyone, there are certain groups that need even more sleep than