Well, we’ve put together this very well researched and comprehensive list of tips and tricks to sleep more efficiently. And it may be just what you need.
The Importance of REM and Deep Sleep
Okay, so you want to improve your sleep and make sure you are getting all the REM and deep sleep you need to feel your best. Great! But, how do you know where you really need to improve and how do you know if the lifestyle tweaks you make are working?
There are some pretty interesting devices out there that can help you get more technical with your sleep improvements.
- DREEM 2
The DREEM 2, a new and improved version of the original DREEM, is a headband that reads your brainwaves while you sleep and determines how much time you are spending in each sleep stage using EEG.
The company even had a research study conducted comparing DREEM’s EEG signal and sleep staging algorithms to traditional polysomnography (PSG) sleep studies and the results were pretty impressive.2 For more information on DREEM, check out our review here.
- Oura Ring
If you aren’t too keen on sleeping with something on your head, the Oura ring might be a better fit for you.
Since this device is worn on your finger, it won’t be reading your brainwaves. Instead, the Oura ring is able to track your sleep though your movements, pulse, and temperature. All of these fluctuate throughout the different stages in your sleep cycle, so it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
The Oura ring has also gone through some pretty rigorous testing.3 For more on the Oura ring, check out our review here.
Now, let’s talk about what you can do today to improve your sleep and feel like a new person…
You stay in REM longer and longer with each cycle throughout the night, so you’re in your longest cycle of REM at the end of your 7-9 hour sleep. If you force yourself to wake up too early, you are more likely to cut into the middle of a long cycle of REM and feel groggy in the morning. If you stick to a regular schedule, you’ll wake up more naturally, at the proper end of a sleep cycle.
2. Get more exercise –but not too late.
Many studies have shown that getting exercise can make you sleep better overall and fall asleep faster at night.
However, it’s also important to make sure you aren’t trying to exercise right before you crawl into bed at night. This may have the opposite effect. Exercising temporarily increases the level of endorphins in your body and raises your core temperature.4 This is quite beneficial during the day, but not when you’re trying to sleep.
3. Avoid caffeine in the evening.
Everyone loves their cup of coffee or tea in the morning, and don’t worry, we aren’t going to say you can’t have that. However, caffeine does increase adrenaline in your body and block sleep producing hormones.
Research has shown that caffeine can also reduce restorative deep sleep and the effect gets worse as you age.5 So, it’s best to keep consumption to early in the morning giving it plenty of time to get out of your system.
4. Eat at the right time.
Food can be a double edged sword when it comes to sleep. You don’t want to eat right before bed, since lying down can make food and digestive juices press up against the bottom of your esophagus, which can cause heartburn and indigestion.
On the other hand, if you go to bed on an empty stomach, low blood sugar and hunger can keep you awake at night.6 It’s best to eat a few hours before you go to bed, but do make sure to eat.
5. Don’t drink and sleep.
Like caffeine, alcohol can have some deleterious effects on your sleep. You might think it’s helpful because most people will fall asleep faster after having a few drinks, and it’s true, they do.
However, you’re also more likely to wake up frequently later in the night and less likely to get quality REM sleep.7 A sleep inducing chemical, called adenosine, increases at first, making you drowsy, but then it quickly goes away, making it difficult to continue sleeping well. This effect gets worse the more you drink.
6. Meditate to relax.
Meditation is well known to promote deep relaxation and can be a great way to slow down your busy mind and get in the mood for sleep.
This can be done in a variety of ways. You may want to try out different methods at first to see what works best for you. Popular methods include guided meditations, music, or by simply focusing your mind on your breathing.
7. Create the ultimate sleep-inducing atmosphere.
Dim lighting, a comfy, cozy bed, white noise, the just right temperature –all of these things can contribute to an atmosphere that makes you want to dive head first into a pile of blankets and stay there for a solid 8 hours.
Making your bedroom a place that feels sleepy, can really improve how quickly you fall asleep and keeping it at the right temperature can help you stay asleep.
The optimal temperature for sleeping is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit and the room should be dark and quiet in order to get the best sleep.
8. Get exposure to sunlight during the day.
This one may seem unrelated to your sleep, but research has shown that getting exposure to sunlight during the day can help keep us alert during the day time and increase the quality of sleep at night.8
Our circadian clocks are influenced by our environment and especially by light. Your body takes sunlight as a signal that it is daytime and that you should feel awake. The opposite occurs when it gets dark.
So, emphasizing to our bodies that it is daytime by exposing ourselves to the sun can really help kick our circadian clocks into gear. Try taking a walk in the sunlight first thing in the morning to get a kick start to the day.
9. Reduce blue light at night.
While getting that blue light during the day is important, reducing it at night is equally important. Blue light reduces melatonin production, a chemical our bodies produce to make us feel tired at night.9 Unfortunately, most people have a hard time putting away their phones and computers in the evening and these devices emit light in the blue part of the spectrum pretty strongly, therefore halting our natural circadian rhythms.
But don’t fret; you can get away with looking at your devices in the evening if you get creative. Blue blocker glasses and blue blocking software are available to reduce the amount of blue light you’re exposed too – and they’re worth looking into if you want to optimize your sleep.
10. Long daytime naps are a bad idea.
This one may not be surprising, but long naps can disrupt your normal sleep cycle and make it difficult to fall asleep at night. Making things even worse, daytime naps over thirty minutes long have been shown by research to be associated with long term adverse health effects and the habit of taking long naps was associated with higher morbidity and mortality.10
The same study, however, did show that short naps under thirty minutes can increase productivity and improve performance. The key here seems to be that magic thirty minute mark. Although, the goal should be to improve your sleep at night so that you don’t need or want to take naps during the day.
11. If you can’t sleep, take melatonin.
As mentioned earlier, melatonin is a chemical our bodies naturally produce to help regulate our circadian clock. When it gets darks, a healthy pineal gland will be signaled to produce melatonin.11
However, if you don’t feel tired when it gets dark or you suffer from insomnia, a melatonin supplement might be helpful.
Melatonin is a popular over the counter sleep aid and has been shown by several studies to help people fall asleep faster and even improve sleep efficiency, meaning you won’t wake up as often in the middle of the night.12
12. Get more magnesium.
Magnesium is crucial to our overall health and is an often overlooked nutrient. While severe magnesium deficiency is uncommon, many people are not getting as much as they need and their intake can be affected by certain medications, like antacids.13 Magnesium can have a calming effect on the mind and it plays a role in regulating GABA, a neurotransmitter that that helps us get the deep restorative sleep we need.14
Either getting more magnesium in your diet, or taking a supplement can help you get better sleep. Foods like nuts, whole grains, avocados, bananas, and tofu are rich in magnesium and can help you get to sleep faster at night.
13. Take a hot bath.
Hot baths or even showers can promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. This happens because the warm water increases our blood flow, first bringing heat to the surface from the core of our bodies. We then lose that heat to our environment more easily, actually reducing our temperature. And it turns out, our temperature drops when we sleep, so this reduction in temperature makes us feel sleepy. In fact, according to research, taking a warm bath one or two hours before sleep can reduce any tossing and turning and can help you fall asleep 36% faster.15
14. Get checked out.
If you are regularly having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may want to take a trip to the doctor. Many people don’t take symptoms involving sleep very seriously, but there are several serious diseases that can cause insomnia. Some possible underlying disorders include Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, and gastrointestinal reflux disease.16 Getting these problems under control should be a priority to keep your overall health on track and get the best sleep you can get.
15. Keep the fluid intake to a minimum.
We all know that familiar feeling of needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, but not wanting to leave the warm, cozy bed. Waking up to urinate in the middle of the night is referred to as nocturia and it can seriously interrupt an otherwise great night of sleep.
In order to avoid nocturia, it’s best to reduce fluid intake (especially caffeine and alcohol, but you already know that part) a few hours before going to bed.17 If you’re still experiencing nocturia, see a doctor.
16. Listen to some soothing pink noise.
Most people are familiar with white noise, but pink noise, which is more intense at lower frequencies, can also be beneficial.18 Pink noise can be something like rustling leaves or steady rain that many people find calming or even mesmerizing.
Research has shown that pink noise can actually improve your deep sleep by increasing slow wave activity in the electrical signals of your brain.19 Even the DREEM headband has taken advantage of pink noise and implemented it into their regimen for improving sleep.
17. Try some lavender aromatherapy.
Lavender has a reputation for being soothing and calming. It turns out that there’s science to back up that reputation too.
A study was done exposing people to lavender oil before a sleep study and the results showed increased deep sleep and reports of higher vigor in the morning by participants.20 So, incorporating some lavender scents into your bedroom routine may just help you feel great in the morning.
18. Avoid cruciferous vegetables, red meat, and cured meats and cheeses before bed.
You already know not to eat too much before bed, but there are a couple of specific foods to avoid in particular. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are nutritionally great for you, but they tend to give people some digestive issues which may keep you from falling asleep. The same goes for red meat. These foods can take awhile for your stomach to break down, so it’s best to eat them a little earlier in the day.
Cured meats and cheeses contain high levels of a chemical called tyramine, which increases norephinephrine. Norephinephrine is a brain stimulant and can keep you up later if you ingest it too late.21 If you have to eat before bed, it’s best to eat something that can increase melatonin production or something high in magnesium.
A smart snack might be a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit, or some poultry.
19. Invest in a better mattress.
If you can’t get comfortable on your bed, you really are going to have a hard time getting good quality sleep. A poor quality mattress can result in a bad back, sore muscles, and waking up multiple times per night. These problems only get worse as you get older.
So, if it’s in your budget, a new mattress really might be the best gift you can give yourself. If you usually sleep on your back or stomach, a firmer mattress might provide the best support for you. If you’re a side sleeper, you might want to get something softer, like a pillow-top, so that there’s not too much pressure on your shoulders and hips.
If you can’t get a new mattress, even a good mattress topper is likely to boost your sleep quality.
20. Keep work and entertainment out of the bedroom.
It’s important to create a mental association with sleep and your bedroom. If you don’t think of your bed solely as a place to sleep, then you may find yourself feeling tired in one room and wide awake when you lie down in bed.
Chronic insomnia is the unfortunate result of a poor association between sleep and your bed.22 In order to fix this problem, make sure to keep work and entertain in another part of your home and if you aren’t tired yet, do something to make yourself tired before going to your bed.
21. Stay motivated.
The most important part of keeping your sleep on track is wanting to keep it on track.
It can be easy to fall into bad habits like erratic schedules, eating too late, or drinking alcohol late in the evening. Remind yourself that you can be happier, healthier, and live longer if you follow these simple rules.
You will thank yourself when you are feeling sharp and full of energy and vitality all day long.
If you’ve made it through this very comprehensive list, congratulations, you are now well equipped to feeling your absolute best.
And remember, there is no better time than right now to start implementing these simple tips and tricks into your lifestyle, because it’s about more than getting good sleep. It’s about feeling great when you’re awake.