A lot of us can sleep. We drop off when we’re ready for bed, it may take us some time to sleep but we can still ‘sleep’. But there’s a difference between simply sleeping and getting proper deep sleep where upon awaking we feel energised and ready for our day. Whether you get a good nights sleep or not is usually a matter of quality over quantity.
In this article I’m going to show you how you can get a good nights sleep, which means being able to sleep right through the night whilst reaching the optimal levels of deep sleep (I also touch upon how to fall asleep fast right at the end). Knowing how to achieve deep sleep and getting a good nights sleep every night will dramatically change the quality of your life. It will affect how effective and efficient you are day to day as well as your overall mood and how much energy you have.
The Key to Good Sleep: Body Temperature & Light Exposure
At the bottom of the article is a quick fire list of things you can do to help achieve good sleep, but in order for you to understand why certain components on the list work, it’s important to first understand two basic facets that have the most effect on how well you sleep.
- The first is the degree to which your body temperature is able to peak and fall
- The second is your daily exposure to light
How much your body temperature fluctuates throughout the day has a big impact on your ability to reach deep sleep (yes, you read that right during the day not night!). The basic idea behind this premise is that when your body temperature rises you feel more awake whilst when it lowers you feel more tired.
In addition, the degree to which your body hits a high body temperature during the day determines how low a temperature your body can reach at night.
So why does this matter?
Simply put, your body temperature should be low for optimum sleep. If your body temperature stays constant throughout the day your ability to hit deep lows is inhibited. In the graph above you can see that naturally, your body temperature should be lower during the night. To ensure your body temperature can reach a low temperature at night, we need to do things that can raise it naturally during the day. This is why body temperature is important.
Light Exposure & Melatonin
Here we need to understand what Melatonin is as knowing how to regulate it can help you reach deep sleep.
Melatonin is the sleep hormone that we produce when it becomes dark that is responsible for making us feel tired and ready to go to sleep for the night. As you can guess we want high levels of melatonin at night so we can feel tired, and we want low levels of melatonin during the day so we feel awake. We can help regulate our melatonin levels by tweaking how much light we get as well as when we get it.
By combining these two elements together we can see that in order to get a good nights sleep you need to:
- Raise your body temperature during the day, so you are able to hit lower temperatures during the night, which is optimal for quality sleep.
- Get lots of exposure to light during the day so that your melatonin production doesn’t start until it’s dark and you are ready for bed.
- We can also add this fact; that we want to eliminate any other factors that may keep us awake or wake us up at night.
With this in mind, we can begin to generate some ideas on what you need to do in order to get a good nights sleep.
Tips to Get a Good Nights Sleep & Fall Asleep Fast
We’ve been through the science behind the body and why certain things such as light exposure and body temperature can effect your sleep, so we can move on to some quick fire tips on how to improve your sleep quality based on what we already know.
1. Cut Out any Unwanted Noise
An obvious one here. If you are sleeping in a noisy area consider getting ear plugs to block out any noise that may be keeping you up. If that isn’t a realistic option consider downloading a white noise app which can mask over any distracting noises with something more soothing and relaxing such as waves on the beach or rainfall.
2. Only Use Your Bed for Sleeping
Use your bed only for sleeping or being with your partner. If you are using it for other things such as watching tv, playing games, working or looking at your mobile then you begin to train your mind to associate your bed with things other than sleep.
You need to train your brain to associate your bed with sleeping only. Over time you’ll find that as soon as you get into your bed you’ll feel sleepy.
3. Make Sure you’re Comfortable
There’s no rule to what a comfortable bed is, it’s up to you to find our your preference. Hard mattress or a soft mattress? Thick or thin duvet? For example I found when I switched from using a feather pillow to a sponge pillow my sleep quality improved drastically.
Find what works for you and be willing to experiment.
4. Ensure Optimal Breathing
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If you aren’t breathing properly during sleep it can disrupt your ability for a good nights sleep. Proper breathing during sleep means breathing through your nose, things like nasal congestion, being overweight, smoking and allergies can stop this from happening.
Some of these issues require more than a quick fix but using nasal strips can help. They help by opening up your nasal passage so more air can flow through. Not only that but breathing through your nose rather than your mouth can reduce your chance of sickness.
5. Don’t Exercise Too Close to Bedtime
As discussed you want to keep your body temperature low before you go to sleep so any strenuous exercise should be avoided up to three hours before bed. Furthermore Not intense activity can stimulate your brain, muscles and heart to such a degree that it makes falling asleep much more difficult.
6. Develop a Routine
Developing a consistent routine ensures that your body can regulate the amount of light exposure you get as well as help stabilise your body temperature cycle. This means getting a certain amount of light everyday and possibly adding exercise to your daily schedule.
Developing a sleep schedule also helps set your internal clock so you feel tired at a certain time every day. Without a regular sleep pattern it’s harder for your body to know when it’s supposed to be tired.
7. Don’t Lie in on your Days Off
Adjusting your sleep schedule on weekends by sleeping much later into the day limits your sunlight exposure and wakefulness which inhibits your ability to achieve deep sleep. In addition, it messes up with any sleep schedule you may have set up.
8. Cut Out Stimulants Early
Limit caffeine to one or two cups a day. Your last cup should be no later than 2pm as it takes the average person 5-8 hours for the caffeine effect to wear off.
9. Use a Torch or Flashlight
If you do have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom then use a torch or flashlight to limit the amount of light exposure. By turning on a bright light it may cause you to enter wakefulness making it difficult to get back to sleep.
10. Don’t drink Alcohol Before Bed
Some people report that alcohol helps them sleep however that may be true but it’s the quality of sleep that’s affected. I for one have never had a good nights sleep after having alcohol late at night. The problem with drinking alcohol late is it has side effects such as causing you to be dehydrated (more on this later) and the sugar can keep you up as it’s released in the blood stream.
If you must drink then keep it to two drinks or less and have your last drink at least 1.5 hours before you’re going to sleep.
11. Stop Clock Watching
Looking at your clock repeatedly during the night won’t help you go to sleep. It’ll only add worry as you say to yourself ‘I’ve only got 3 hours before I have to wake up’ then as each hour goes by you panic more.
12. Dim the Lights Before Bed
Before you are getting ready to go to bed, begin to dim the lights or switch to a lamp so the lighting is not as intense. This will kick in the production of melatonin signalling to your body that you are ready for bed. I usually switch to low lighting at least an hour before I plan on sleeping.
13. Start Exercising Daily
Engaging in exercise is a great way to get our bodies to hit high temperatures during the day which means you can hit lower body temperatures at night thus improving your sleep quality. In other words, daily exercise really does help you sleep better at night. In fact, some of the most recent studies on insomnia reveal that lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle is a frequent trait amongst insomniacs.
If you aren’t exercising already try to get in 20-30 minutes of exercise during the day. This could be as simple as getting out and going for a walk.
14. Stop Using Electronic Screens Just Before Bed
Using electronic devices too close to bed time is not a good thing. Our computer, tv, mobile and tablet screens emit a type of blue light that can inhibit melatonin production. Whilst not using an electronic device may seem like an alien concept to you, if you have to use one there are a couple ways of stopping these lights entering our eyes towards our bed time.
If you are using an Apple mobile device, Apple has come up with an option called night shift where you can set the screen to change to a less intense light at set hours. For Mac users there is also an app called f.lux which does the same thing for your desktop screen.
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If you want to go one step further you can buy indoor sunglasses that are made to block blue light. You can pick these up a cheap pair on Amazon.
15. Lower the Room Temperature
Too cold or too hot can interrupt your sleep cycle. Generally, a low temperature produces a better sleep. Most people sleep best in a cool environment between 65 – 70 degrees. If you are too hot consider thinner bedding, air conditioning or a fan. Be careful not to make it too cold however!
16. Remove Distraction
Consider turning off your phone, tablets, laptops and electronics at night. You’ll notice your mind calming as it isn’t racing thinking about the latest news, e-mails or social media status updates. For some, this will seem hard to do at first as we’re addicted to searching out novelty but over time if you resist, you’ll notice your ability to sleep better does improve.
17. Calm Your Mind
Write down everything you need to do the next day before you sleep. This can help put your mind at ease and stop your mind racing thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow. Along similar lines avoid mind racing activities just before bed. Sometimes it isn’t best to watch an exciting movie before bed but instead to do something that is more peaceful, such as engaging in leisurely reading, a hot shower or some light stretching.
18. Get a SAD Lamp or Lightbox
Consider purchasing a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamp or light box to increase your light exposure during the day. This inhibits you from feeling tired at the wrong times of the day by inhibiting Melatonin production too early.
These boxes mimic natural daylight and can be used indoors. I personally use one of these and has worked wonders for me. Living in the UK during the winter can be quite bleak. It doesn’t get bright until later in the morning and it gets dark early leaving little opportunity to get any decent exposure to light. By using a SAD lamp I can turn on the lamp as soon as I get up exposing me to more sunlight than I normally would get.
19. Work Near a Window
If you spend a lot of time indoors try to make sure that it’s next to a window if possible. If this isn’t possible consider getting yourself a light box.
20. Drink Plenty of Water During the Day
Hydration is important because when we sleep our body still needs to execute certain processes that use up energy. When we are dehydrated these processes cannot run at their optimal level which can inhibit deep sleep. In this particular case, dehydration prevents our body from adjusting to its temperature properly. You want to be aiming to drink at least 2 litres a day of water.
21. But Don’t Drink Too Much Water Before Bed!
However do not drink too much before you go to bed as you will keep waking up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. What I like to do is to drink a lot of water up to around 2 hours before I am going to bed then drastically reduce how much I am drinking from that point. I may have a water flask and take tiny sips, but that’s the most I will drink.
For men, if you aren’t drinking a lot and still keep having to go to the bathroom then this could be pointing to some type of prostate issue in which case you should go to see a doctor. For a quick solution be sure to research Saw Palmetto which is a vitamin known for promoting a healthy prostate and reducing urinary frequency.
22. Eat Easily Digestible Foods
Digesting food requires energy and blood flow which means it gets directed away from the brain. Less blood flow to the brain in the night results in poor sleep quality.To improve our sleep quality we want to put less demand on our digestive system while we sleep so that more resources can be allocated towards making sure all the processes required to achieve a restful sleep are executed properly.
Foods that are taxing on our digestive system include saturated fats, sugar, simple carbohydrates.
23. Avoid Big Meals Close to Bed Time
For the same reasons as above, you don’t want to eat a big meal too close to your bedtime. Try to eat your last meal a couple hours before you sleep. If it’s a big meal then ideally you want to eat it at least 4 hours before bed.
24. Open Your Curtains or Blinds Early
As soon as you are ready to get up and start your day open up your curtains and allow some light into your room. This sounds small but can make a big difference.
25. Reduce Sunglasses Use
Wearing sunglasses can block 20-90% of the sunlight that enters your eyes making your body produce melatonin much earlier than you want. To prevent damage to your eyes in direct sunlight, yes, you want to wear them, but if you’re someone who wears it to look cool even in cloudy days you may want to think about nor wearing them unless necessary.
26. Consider Dropping Sleeping Pills & Supplements
Should you be using sleeping supplements that help you sleep? There’s no doubt that they can help however they can produce unwanted side effects such as blurred vision, daytime drowsiness and frequent urination. They can also force lower brainwaves which can lead to low quality sleep. Rather than taking them it would be best to be patient and develop good sleeping habits through natural means, some of which are mentioned in this article.
27. Make Your Room as Dark as Possible at Night
Turn off or cover any electronics which emit light on their digital displays. That little light that stays on when you put your tv on standby can create considerably light at night inhibiting an optimal sleeping environment.
Furthermore, if you have a digital clock with a constant lit up screen, consider moving to an analogue clock.
What are the Fastest Ways to Fall Asleep?
In the video above an experiment was undertaken to experiment which methods worked in helping to fall asleep fast.
4-7-8 Breathing Exercise to Fall Asleep Fast
There’s a lot of people who are reporting that the 4-7-8 breathing trick works wonders for helping them fall asleep quickly. The 4-7-8 breathing trick is simple:
- You simply breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold that breath for 7 seconds
- Then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.
It’s effective because the set process seems to slow down the heart rate and have a relaxing effect on the brain. If you can’t sleep it may well be worth a try.
The method was discovered from Dr Andrew Weil, so who better to get advice how to do it than him? Watch his instructions in the video above.
So that is the list. Be sure to gradually implement some of these tips into your sleeping routine. In no time you’ll be able to reach a higher quality of sleep as well as sleeping right through the night. In addition to these tips, you’ll want to ensure that you are getting the optimal amount of sleep every night.