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3 Tips to Improve Your Sleep Every Night

It’s 3:30 in the morning on one of those nights.

Your eyelids are frozen in the “open” position as if held in place. Your room is awash in the shadowy, faintly indigo hues of the night sky. You can’t find enough cool air where you want it, nor enough warmth where you want it. The pillows that usually do it for you may as well be a stack of wood planks. You toss and turn aimlessly, shuffling nowhere closer to the comfort or sweet rest you crave. You wait and wait, but seemingly nothing you do brings you any closer to cathartic sleep.

Chances are you’ve been through at least one or more of those types of nights, and if you have, you’re far from alone: Experts estimate that upward of 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disturbance and deprivation disorders, as do 150 million people in other developed nations worldwide. Sleep can be an understandably frustrating and burdensome thing to miss out on: It plays a very important role in stabilizing both our mental and physical health (and subsequently, quality of life), and missing out on it can destabilize our health in extremely volatile and tumultuous ways. At their worst, sleep disorders can greatly exacerbate the risk of certain terminal cancers, suicidal ideation, motor vehicle accidents, and heart disease, among other issues.

Plopping your head down on a pillow for a full seven to eight hours – as recommended by the Sleep Research Society for optimal health – can be much easier said than done. After all, for better or worse, life throws many external stressors our way that we may often have little to no control over, and while sleep disturbances certainly amplify the risk of worsening physical or mental health issues, those issues may be the preexisting thing causing the very sleep disturbance to begin with.

For one, anxiety and sleep issues often begin to compound in an ugly feedback loop, and if you suffer from chronic pain or migraines, comfort can be a very difficult thing to come by (perhaps you’re among the 1 in 4 chronic pain patients whose condition keeps them up at night). Even so, there are a variety of simple strategies and sleeping tips you can use to improve your sleeping habits. Internal or external, consciously or unconsciously done, the following tactics will go a long way toward improving your sleeping habits. So what can you do, if anything at all? Keep reading to learn more.

You may want to read: How Does the Sleep Cycle Determine Sleep Quality?

1. Kill the Hues (Especially the Blues)

man on his phone in the dark

All mature adults’ sleeping patterns hinge on an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm, regulating feelings of wakefulness and sleepiness and when you should feel either one. The regulation of this rhythm can be affected by all manner of external factors, including light, darkness, diet (more on that later), medications, health issues, and abrupt time zone changes. That last one is a little rarer unless you have a rather travel-heavy job, though it can be dealt with via an advanced schedule change. Overall, the first is one of the most important influences behind our circadian sleep rhythms, and one which could, therefore, be the leading disruptor of those rhythms.

The following sleep tips may simply sound like common sense, but light is an easy thing to take for granted. Day in and day out, our modern lives are constantly inundated with a wide array of light sources, especially from computer monitors, televisions, and smartphone screens. This screen-specific “blue” light is the most pernicious to our sleep rhythms, shown to suppress the secretion of melatonin hormone (which promotes fatigue) for upward of three hours or more. Other studies have shown that environmental artificial light pollution in general, especially in tandem with environmental noise, can also be damaging to sleep quality.

To reinforce your brain’s sleepy associations and mitigate any circadian confusion, try to maximize bright sunlight exposure in the morning and minimize light exposure at night. Turn all devices off at bedtime and leave them in a separate room, if possible. If you need some ritualistic activity before or during bedtime, consider calming, lightly stimulating alternatives; yoga and meditation are excellently sublime ways to remediate anxiety, as are reading and journaling. The same goes for noise: If you need some background sound, ensure that it is light, peaceful, and not too alerting. We suggest opting for white noise or binaural soundscapes.

2. Move to the (Circadian) Rhythm

Research has shown that exercising for around 30 minutes per day can improve sleep quality. Like sleep, exercise can also be an excellent natural promoter of mental well-being.

couple running together outisde

Interestingly, the same aforementioned study also revealed a notable reduction in leg cramps (68%) and difficulty concentrating while tired (45%) during bedtime thanks to exercise. There is a mixed consensus on working out before bed: Some argue that it can promote restlessness, while others argue that it doesn’t (in most cases) make much of a difference for sleep quality one way or another. In any case, try to go for more passive, relaxed routines before bedtime that are proven to help sleep, such as a yoga nidra routine or deep-breathing exercises.

3. Eat (and Drink) Wisely

In general, eating anything right before bed, especially in large quantities, has been shown to be a recipe for weight gain and acid reflux. The consensus on beverages before bed is a little more mixed: Some studies suggest that a modest glass of milk or water before bed may help you nod off more easily, but you’ll want to avoid excess alcohol or caffeine, no matter what. Though the former can promote tiredness and help you fall asleep faster, it ultimately degrades overall sleep quality, especially the deep REM sleep that is most rejuvenating.

The latter activates adenosine wakefulness hormones, useful in the morning during a busy workday but not so much when you’re trying to nod off and catch some zzz’s. If you must have some hydration or sustenance before bedtime, ideally settle on a glass of water, moderate meals, or healthier alternatives at the very least, such as seltzer water instead of caffeinated sodas, soothing chamomile tea instead of coffee, or fruits and nuts instead of nachos and pretzels.

You may want to read: Best Sleep Cycle Apps

Ask for Help (and Ye Shall Receive)

If you notice anything that could be symptomatic of a larger sleeping disorder, do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for a consultation from your general health care provider, who can provide you with professional, personalized sleeping tips catered to your needs. You are not alone: Over 50 million Americans suffer from one (or more) of more than 80 sleeping disorders. Dealing with sleeping disorders can be an arduous, uphill battle, but it’s not an impossible task.

If you believe your sleeping problems are rooted in a more psychological cause or could be worsening the symptoms of any psychological struggles you’re dealing with, consider seeking one of the many mental health resources that are readily available, whether you choose to use a therapist, the Crisis Text Line (741-741), or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).