42 Ways To Get Better Sleep
And Why Good Rest Matters FAR More Than You Think
Have you ever heard someone brag about how they don’t sleep?
Or maybe you really wish you could get more sleep, but just can’t?
Some people who view themselves as high performers like to glorify how little sleep they get. Little do they realize the true cost of sleep deprivation, willful or otherwise.
And those who desperately want more sleep usually don’t do everything they can to get it because they have no idea how important it really is.
Before I describe the 42 ways I’ve found to get better sleep, I’d like to first impress upon you just how important sleep is. It will shock you.
Sleep is perhaps the most important factor of all in your health, as it directly impacts nearly every aspect of it.
In a 2007 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation1, 42% of Americans maintained that getting enough sleep is more important to their health and well-being, or at least equally as important, as diet and exercise.
And those who reported not getting enough sleep said they were on average 49% more likely to find themselves unable to engage in exercise, and leisure activities, work well and efficiently, eat healthily, and have sex.
The poll also found that sleep-deprived people were also significantly more likely to abuse caffeine and alcohol, become obese, have problems with their romantic relationships, as well as develop problems with snoring and sleep apnea.
And that’s not even close to the worst of it!
Over time, sleep deprivation has absolutely devastating effects on your body and mind. Here are just some of those effects:
1) It slows your reaction time. Multiple studies2 on athletes and military members have conclusively shown that sleep deprivation can slow your ability to respond by as much as 6.7% when you are driving, which is equivalent to driving drunk. Reaction time can obviously make the difference between life and death, especially when driving. It is estimated that hundreds of
deaths and thousands of injuries per year are caused by sleep-deprived drivers.3 Driving around tired, like driving around drunk, is stupid. But a lot of people do it anyway.
2) It not only makes you less competent, but it also makes you less aware of how much less competent you become. A 2004 study by Dr. Timothy Roehrs published in the journal Sleep4 showed that sleep-deprived workers were not only less capable of completing tasks, but they were also much less capable of judging how long it would take them to do so, or whether or not they would even be able to successfully complete those tasks at all. Delirious people should therefore not be trusted.
3) It greatly increases your likelihood of developing coronary artery calcification, leading to heart disease and stroke.5 According to the World Health Organization, more people die prematurely due to heart disease and stroke than any other reason.6 Do you really want to die sooner?
4) It reduces the effectiveness of your immune system.7 One study showed that sleep-deprived individuals are three times as likely to contract a cold.8 Do you want to get sick more often?
5) People with sleep issues are far more likely to be depressed. About three-quarters of depressed patients have insomnia symptoms and 97% of them report difficulty sleeping.9 But is depression an emotion, or a state of mind? I call it a lifestyle.
6) It makes your face look bad. A 2013 study found that sleep deprivation makes your skin pale, causes you to develop wrinkles more quickly, and causes your mouth to droop.10 So unless you want to look like a grumpy cat in your Facebook selfies, you had better get some rest.
7) It causes you to become forgetful. According to a paper published in 201311, there is substantial evidence to support that long-term memory formation is actually a direct function of sleep and becomes severely impaired in those who are chronically sleep deprived. People who suffer from this effect tend to stay up all night trying to remember if they have amnesia or insomnia.
8) It increases the likelihood of premature death. In a British study, researchers found that those who cut their sleep from seven to five hours or fewer per night nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes.12 So if you insist on depriving yourself of sleep, be sure your will is in order and you have a cost-effective burial plot secured. It’s the last thing you need.
So in summary, sleep issues are NOT just minor inconveniences.
To be blunt, compromised sleep can in fact turn you into a stupid, overweight, forgetful, incompetent, haggard-looking, depressed person who is not only twice as likely to die prematurely, but is also more likely to kill someone else accidentally.
If that doesn’t make you want to do everything you can to get the best sleep you can get, I don’t know what else to tell you. Divine justice has a way of humiliating people who just can’t put 2 and 2 together.
The good news is that there are many ways to improve your sleep. Some of them may work better than others. But if you have sleep issues, you should try them all, because until you’ve tried all of them, you can’t know which ones will work best for you.
1) Make getting at least 7 hours of sleep a non-negotiable in your life. The average amount of sleep required by the average person is at least 5 minutes more. Some people need far more than that. Children 6-13 years old may need as much as 12 hours of sleep just to function normally. While you need less sleep as you get older and some individuals can get away with as little as 5 hours of sleep per night, anything less than 7 hours is likely to put you even more at risk than you normally would be. It’s like resisting a rest.
2) Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. A 2018 study by Duke University Medical Center showed that irregular sleepers experienced more sleepiness during the day and were less active, even if they got the same amount of sleep as regular sleepers.13 Irregular sleep patterns are therefore to be avoided like the plague.
3) Synchronize your sleep patterns with the natural day and night cycles. The body is geared to sleep when it is dark and wake up when the sun rises. Daytime sleep is never as high quality as nighttime sleep. Being a night owl sure is a hoot though, so in some cases, it could be worth it.
4) Get a better mattress. A high-quality mattress that combines great support and comfort can not only make falling asleep easier, but it can also keep your spine and neck aligned better throughout the night, reducing the likelihood of developing back and neck problems. It can make the difference between waking up well-rested and happy versus tossing and turning all night only to wake up sleep deprived and in pain. Also, mattresses do in fact wear out and need to be replaced regularly. They only have a useful lifespan of about 5-15 years, depending on the materials they are made of. Using a mattress for longer than that will result in waking up with neck pain, back pain, stiffness, and aches and can also increase allergy and asthma symptoms if you have those conditions. Quality mattresses may seem expensive, but waiting too long to get a new one can result in major health problems. If you can get a better night’s sleep in a hotel room than you can at home, the time has come to replace your mattress and the longer you wait, the worse it will get. Can’t decide if a particular mattress is the right one for you? My advice: sleep on it. CLICK HERE to get my guide to buying the best mattress for your needs and budget.
5) Get a better pillow. Having the right kind of pillow can make a huge difference in the quality of your sleep for very little money. Some people need fluffier pillows, while others prefer flatter ones. Pillows have a limited lifespan as well. They should be replaced every 1-2 years. Beyond that, they lose their loft and get soiled with dirt, oil and sweat, and dust mites, putting you at greater risk of waking up with a neck ache, headache, or a fit of sneezing. Old pillows also don’t work very well for hitting other people in pillow fights. CLICK HERE to get 40% off the best down alternative pillow I’ve found that has just the right amount of loft.
6) Work harder. While you don’t want to overdo it and drive yourself into the ground, if you’re not tired by the end of the day, it could simply be that you’re not doing enough. Put more hours into the challenging work activities that really move the needle and get you results. Mental exhaustion often leads to better sleep, which in turn improves performance the next day. If you need more quality work, try participating in a sleep study at a clinic. I hear it’s a dream job.
7) Exercise more. Physical exhaustion is one of the best ways to guarantee a good night’s sleep. Try and get at least one hour’s worth of vigorous exercise per day, but try not to exercise within 3 hours of bedtime because it can make falling asleep significantly harder. And remember that tossing and turning in bed does not count as an exercise routine.
8) Take a sleep supplement or herbal sleep enhancer. Many people find that certain supplements and herbs are of great help in getting better sleep. Try melatonin, ginkgo biloba, valerian root, mugwort, glycine and lavender. Some people experience rapid and profound changes to their sleep the first night they begin using them.
9) Hypnotize yourself. Before going to bed, grab an antique pocket watch, swing it in front of your face, and say to yourself, “I’m getting sleepy. Very, very sleepy…” Repeat that phrase and breathe slowly and deeply. Seriously though, there are many self-hypnosis audio programs available in the iPhone App Store and Google Play store that work like magic for some people. If you have a smartphone, you should try downloading a self-hypnosis app for sleep and listening to it every night with headphones when bedtime rolls around.
10) Use a brainwave entrainment or binaural beats technology. This one takes a bit of Googling to really understand, but the essence of it is that it’s possible to train your brain to fall asleep better with certain patterns of sound and light. This might sound like it’s out of a science-fiction movie, but it’s actually a hard science that has decades of research behind it. Check it out.
11) Listen to a guided meditation. This might sound a bit new-age, but it can really work if you find the right meditation. Search YouTube for some great ones that are free to listen to.
12) Stop using your blue-light filter. Until quite recently, it was believed that exposing yourself to blue light from your screen or phone before bed tricked your brain into thinking that it was daytime. Therefore, blue light filters were invented to allow you to use your phone and the computer before bed without exposing yourself to blue light. But a new study14 shows that overly warm, yellow light can actually have the opposite effect because it tricks your brain into believing it is sunrise or sunset. Just goes to show you how even scientists can get it wrong.
13) Limit your screen time and don’t use your phone, tablet, or computer two hours before bed. Whatever studies you decide to believe about blue light filters and whatever apps and meditations you may try, there is also the problem that overusing devices with screens can lead to higher stress levels and reduced ability to focus, which can interfere with sleep. A recent article in The Guardian15 explains how these devices can even create a dopamine-addiction feedback loop in your brain, which causes you to perpetually seek external stimulation. If there is one thing that interferes with sleep the most, it is external stimulation. So if you’re having trouble falling asleep because your mind is racing, it could well be that you’ve become an unwitting screen addict. And screen addiction is frighteningly common. Recent studies show that the average American spends over 4 hours a day on their smartphone. Ironically, one of the best ways to tell if you are using your phone too much is to install an app that tracks how much time per day you spend on your phone. Try it. You’ll be amazed and disturbed by what you discover. If you find out that you spend too much time on your phone or computer, it’s time to
put the kibosh on the digi-crack. Just turn it off, put it in “do not disturb” mode, or learn to control your hands. Don’t be one of those annoying glowing rectangle worshippers.
14) Spend at least 15 minutes every morning in direct sunlight. People in general spend far too much time inside these days, especially in the winter. But getting direct sunlight early in the day helps your body calibrate its circadian rhythms and helps your brain produce melatonin more easily at night, which helps you fall asleep easier.
15) Don’t drink caffeine after 3 pm. While coffee and tea can be useful tools to help you wake up in the morning, they can interfere with your ability to fall asleep if you consume them too late in the day. This goes for chocolate, too! Personally, I don’t take in caffeine after noon for the same reason. I don’t like feeling cracked out with the jitters when I’m trying to relax.
16) Avoid drinking alcohol before bed. Although some people like to have a nightcap, claiming that it helps them fall asleep easier, the truth is that having alcohol in your system can significantly reduce the quality of your sleep. You might pass out more readily, but you won’t sleep as deeply and if you drink too much, you may very well wake up with a hangover. Avoiding drinking alcohol at any time is best, but if you must drink, limit your consumption to 4 drinks a day and 14 per week if you are a man and 3 drinks a day and 7 per week if you are a woman. Any more than that will endanger your health in many more ways than just depriving you of sleep. Try to finish drinking your alcohol before 6 pm, and definitely don’t drink alcohol in bed!
17) Darken your house one hour before bed. Your brain responds to light cues that tell it when it’s time to rest. Electricity makes it easy for us to keep our houses and apartments bright except when we’re trying to sleep. The problem with that is that it gives the brain little to no time to prepare. The natural light of the sun gradually fades out before dark. Instead, begin dimming and turning off lights an hour or two before you go to bed.
18) Get blackout curtains or shades. Unnatural outside light coming into your house from street lamps and cars can make it harder for you to fall asleep and can wake you up in the middle of the night. Thicker ones block out light more effectively. The only trouble with this approach is that even though blackout curtains can make falling asleep easier and help you sleep more deeply, they can also make waking up more difficult.
19) Remove LED lights from your bedroom. It seems like nearly every electronic device manufactured these days has LED lights on them, from your clock radio to your phone and laptop charger. These little LED lights in your bedroom can interfere with sleep. You want the room as dark as possible, so replace your clock radio with one that does not emit light and cover up or remove the other LED lights. Electrical tape can be a good solution for covering up lights on devices that need to stay in your bedroom.
20) Keep your bedroom between 64 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The body doesn’t just respond to light cues, but also responds to temperature cues to induce sleep. In a natural environment, the night is colder. You don’t want to be so cold that you can’t fall asleep, but if your bedroom is too warm, you may find sleeping more difficult. You’re better off with a cool room and warm bedding than you are with a warm room.
21) Make lunch your biggest meal of the day, and don’t eat anything after 7 pm. Your metabolism follows the natural day and night cycles. It is most able to digest food when it is brightest out. Heavy, late-night dinners can be satisfying, but they can also cause digestive issues and interfere with sleep. The body is essentially unable to digest food late at night, so anything you eat past 7 pm will essentially just rot in your gut and give you gas. Farting every 5 minutes certainly won’t make falling asleep any easier for you (or your significant other).
22) Take a hot bath before bed. Hot water can work wonders for relaxing your body. A bath is far better than a shower for this purpose because you can lie down. Make sure you stay in the bath
long enough to get the full benefit. At least half an hour should be enough time to relax you significantly.
23) See a sleep professional. Sleep disorders like snoring, sleep apnea, and clinical insomnia collectively affect over 1/3 of the American population. One in four Americans develop insomnia every year, and 25% of those who develop it do not recover from it quickly.16 If you’re having trouble sleeping, a sleep specialist may be able to help you figure out why, and may be able to prescribe therapy or medication to help you.
24) Try to keep daytime naps to 20 min or less. Longer naps can disrupt the sleep cycle, making it significantly harder to fall asleep at night. If you go a night without enough sleep, allow for a nap but use a timer to wake you up after 20 minutes so you don’t overdo it. You know you’re getting old when “happy hour” is nap time.
25) Get yourself diagnosed with trauma-related disorders. A surprising number of people suffer from trauma-related disorders like PTSD. It is estimated by the American Psychiatric Association17 that 1 out of 11 Americans will be diagnosed with one of these disorders in their lifetimes. Whether the original cause was abuse, stress, grief, or something else, these disorders can cause you to perpetually have intense, disturbing thoughts that not only short circuit your brain and get you on the defensive when there are no actual threats, but also can cause you to have recurring nightmares that end in you waking up in the middle of the night. The good news is that PTSD can be effectively treated and cured, but only if you deal with it. Don’t traumatize yourself and your loved ones further by letting your unhealed trauma retraumatize you.
26) Experiment with your sleeping posture. People have different preferences when it comes to sleeping posture. Once you’ve trained yourself to fall asleep in one position, it can be difficult to fall asleep in any other position, even if sleeping in that position isn’t good for you. The problem is that some sleeping positions can lead to developing discomfort in the middle of the night, which can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. The ideal sleeping position will be different for each person, but if you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, try committing to a different position for a few weeks to see if it helps. This approach can take some patience as any major change can make falling asleep more difficult at first, but once your body and mind have gotten used to it, your sleep can improve drastically. Just don’t try to sleep standing up.
27) Use several pillows. One pillow isn’t always enough. Some people put a pillow between their legs or under their knees to relieve back pain. Others find clutching a pillow like a teddy bear to be useful. Some people I know can’t sleep without a whole litter of pillows. Whatever works.
28) Don’t drink liquids less than 2 hours before bed. This can be a hard one for many people, but it does reduce the likelihood that you will wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. If you must drink liquids before bed, limit yourself to half a glass so your bladder has an easier time holding it. And definitely avoid the nighttime Red Bull and vodka cocktails unless your plan is to jump on the bed all night to loud, banging techno music.
29) Use a waterproof mattress protector to minimize mites, dust, and mold. A dirty or infected mattress can cause you to wake yourself up coughing or sneezing on a regular basis when you’re not sick. If this is happening, you need a new mattress. But when you get your new mattress, you need to make sure it doesn’t start happening again. A waterproof mattress cover is the best way to do this.
30) If you can’t fall asleep after trying for an hour, get out of bed. While this may interfere with your regular sleep patterns, there is no point in lying in bed when you’re not tired. The key is to do something that’s not going to overstimulate or stress you out. Some light reading (but not on
a device with a screen) and relaxing music can give you just stimulation to engage you without triggering a brain response that will keep you up all night. Avoid watching horror movies.
31) Use a fan to normalize the noise level and conceal sudden noises. Some people like to use a white noise machine for this purpose. This can be particularly helpful if you have tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears) or if your significant other snores or farts a lot.
32) Quit smoking tobacco. Research has shown that the regular use of nicotine can severely interfere with getting quality sleep.18 Nicotine is, after all, a highly addictive stimulant. If you smoke before bed, it can cause your heart rate to go up and induce irregular breathing, which can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. But if you’re addicted to nicotine and don’t smoke before bed, your body may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms in the middle of the night, waking you up. Either way, good sleep will be harder for you to get if you’re a smoker. And whatever you do, don’t smoke in bed! You might accidentally light your pillow on fire.
33) Make sure your pets aren’t compromising your ability to sleep. While some cats and dogs sleep like rocks and don’t disturb their owners in the middle of the night, others can really interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Dogs in particular can be a major sleep disruptor if they tend to bark a lot at night. Cats tend to be quieter, but can still disrupt your sleep if you haven’t figured out the best sleeping arrangement with them. Worst comes to worst, you can always try giving your pets sleeping pills. Ask your vet about it.
34) Don’t work in your bed or bedroom. Your brain associates certain places you hang out as well as certain postures with certain activities. While it can be quite comfortable to work in bed, it’s not good for your productivity or your sleep because you’re confusing your brain’s association with the bed. If you work in your bedroom, your mind will begin to believe that it is a workplace instead of a place to relax, making it harder to sleep there. But because you also sleep in your bedroom, you’ll get tired while you’re working and get tempted to sleep in the middle of the day. Just don’t do it. If you work from home, designate a separate work area and a sleeping area and don’t work in the sleeping area or vice versa. But if you work in a mattress store, good luck with this one!
35) Do a brain dump before bed. If you have a busy lifestyle, it is all too easy for your mind to become overloaded with so many worries that relaxing becomes difficult. But problems can be compounded by the very act of worrying, to the point where relaxing becomes impossible. Unfortunately, worrying makes us feel like we are in control, so it can be hard to stop worrying. Just like the smartphone, it can become an addiction. It gives you the illusion of control without giving you any actual control. Once you’re in deep enough, you can even become worried that if you stop worrying, you’ll forget about something important. This can put your brain in another feedback loop where all you’re doing is cycling through thinking about different problems in a desperate effort not to forget about any of them, yet doing nothing to solve them. And this is where a pen and some paper can really help you out. Stop worrying and start writing. Write all your worries down. The question is whether each worry is justified and research the subject if necessary. If a worry isn’t justified, forget about it. If it is, then think of or research some possible solutions and write them down. Once you’ve tamed your imagination and aren’t letting it drive you crazy, it will be much easier for you to just relax and take the appropriate actions at the appropriate times.
36) Plan tomorrow in advance, before you go to sleep. It can be a lot harder to go to sleep if you’re uncertain or scared about what tomorrow will look like. Before you go to bed (but before you get too tired to think), write down your appointments and time commitments on a pen and paper planner. To-do lists are not enough. It’s better to plan not only what you will do, but when
you will do it. A pen and paper planner is superior to your phone or computer because you’ll be less likely to forget or miss something. Use alarms on your phone to remind you of key meetings and deadlines. And if you have issues sticking to your own plans, try using reverse psychology on yourself. Plan to do the opposite of what you should do each and every hour. If you do it right, you’ll end up doing exactly the right thing at the right time.
37) Use an Oura Ring to track your sleep patterns so you can identify your sleep problems with greater accuracy. This is a piece of technological jewelry you wear on your finger that monitors and records your body temperature, pulse rate, and body movements to determine when you are asleep, awake, active, and inactive throughout the day. The insights you can get from using it can help you understand how regular your sleep patterns are, how much sleep you are actually getting, how much exercise you are getting, and other factors that will help you know with a high degree of accuracy what adjustments you need to make.
38) Do some breathing exercises. One of the best ways to induce sleep is to take deeper, more regular, longer, and more conscious breaths. If you aren’t paying any attention to your breath, it can easily become quick, shallow, and irregular. Low-quality breaths will deprive your brain of oxygen and prevent you from relaxing. It’s easy to get caught up in unhealthy breath patterns when your mind is racing. But it is easier to control your mind by controlling your breath than the other way around. Just don’t get too into it or you might hyperventilate and pass out.
39) Start a regular meditation practice. This is different than listening to a guided meditation program on your headphones while you are lying down in bed. It’s more about learning how to actively eliminate your own restlessness by staying still and just watching your mind without reacting to your thoughts or engaging with them. It is best done sitting on the floor or in a chair. Each day, set a timer for at least 5 minutes, then close your eyes, sit there, and don’t move or fidget. Breathe. Just observe your thoughts and don’t do anything. If you haven’t done it before, you’ll probably be surprised at how hard it can be to keep yourself still and not lose yourself in your thoughts. But you also be surprised at how much better you’ll feel afterward. Meditation is not woo-woo. Scientific studies have actually shown19 that regular meditation reduces stress, controls anxiety, promotes emotional health, enhances self-awareness, lengthens attention span, reduces age-related memory loss, makes you kinder towards yourself and others, helps you fight addictions, improves sleep, helps reduce your physical pain, and can even decrease blood pressure. Unfortunately, it can’t make you coffee in the morning.
40) Get an aromatherapy kit or scented candle set. Certain smells can have a profoundly relaxing effect on the body and mind. The effects vary from person to person, but you may be surprised at how effectively the right scents can pull the tension and worry right out of you, especially if your significant other isn’t fond of bathing. CLICK HERE for 40% off aromatherapy kits and scented candle sets.
41) Use earplugs. If you find yourself trying to sleep in a noisy environment like a car or an airplane, earplugs can drastically cut down the amount of stimulation going to your brain, making it easier both to fall asleep and to stay asleep. I always travel with at least a couple of sets of earplugs. They’re especially useful when you have to sleep in the same room with someone else who snores.
42) Use an eye mask. If you find yourself trying to sleep in the daytime or you’ve got too much light coming into your bedroom at night, a cheap and easy solution is to use an eye mask. Keep one on your nightstand and another in your travel bag so you’ve always got one handy when you need it. It also helps when you need to deny the existence of the world.
And there you have it – an arsenal of solutions that you can use to solve your sleep problems!
Just remember that knowing all these solutions won’t help you unless you actually begin implementing them. If you really want to absolutely maximize your sleep to get the greatest possible health benefits, don’t rest until you’ve tried them all!
Take an inventory of your bedroom and your habits and ask yourself if you’re doing everything you can to maximize your chances of getting a good rest. If you aren’t, it’s time to give yourself a swift kick in the butt and up your sleep game with some new tools and routines.
I’ve put together a customizable, low-cost series of sleep-enhancing products that will take the guesswork out of the equation. To check them out, CLICK HERE.
Keep working on it, and eventually sleep will come naturally to you. Eventually, you’ll get so good at it, that you’ll be able to do it with your eyes closed.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this guide. I sure had fun writing it. We’d truly live in a better world if everyone got better sleep, and that can start tonight.
But life can sure be a struggle. In life, your dreams may not come true. But if you don’t get enough sleep, one of your nightmares certainly will!