Most of my teenage years were spent struggling to getting any sleep at all never mind good sleep. As a young adult I now enjoy the best sleep of my life and gone are the days of sitting up at 3am panicking about all the things I have to do. I spent many years trying every solution under the sun, which means you don’t have to. Your physical and mental health is hugely impacted by your sleep, not to mention the quality of your waking life. I have comprised the ultimate guide to sleeping which will go over a few key changes to ensure your sleep stays on track as well as 20 steps to getting sleepy and actually sleeping.
Key Habit Changes
Stop Sleeping the Same Hours at Different Times
A massive focus is drawn toward how many hours we sleep. You may currently strive to get those 7-8 hours but the most important thing is actually how regular your sleep cycle is. When you go to bed and wake up matters. Waking up and going to sleep at different times every day actually throws your body’s rhythm off and causes sleep problems, even though you’re getting 8 hours a day. Your body follows a Circadian Rhythm, which basically entails that the body is programmed to react to light rhythms, temperature and food. It sounds complex but at it’s most basic the rhythm at which we sleep and wake up affects our sleep, wakefulness and a whole plethora of complex stuff in our bodies. So it’s important that you keep your rhythm regular; waking up when the suns out and going to bed when its darker at the same time every day will have you feeling the most rested but actually regulate your sleep.
1) Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day
This regulates the body’s internal clock giving you good quality sleep.
2) Don’t nap for more than 20 minutes
If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep then napping makes things worse. If you must nap, always set an alarm so you can’t snooze for too long.
3) Stop Lying In on Weekends
If you are truly struggling with your sleep then having a lie in on weekends will throw off your body’s clock and disrupt your progress.
4) Expose Yourself to Daylight
The body is trained to decrease melatonin and wake you up when exposed to sunlight, so don’t sit in a bat cave all day, open those curtains and let the light in.
Remember the Circadian Rhythm thing we were talking about? Well one of the complex things exposure to light can effect within your body is melatonin. Your brain will put out more melatonin when it’s dark – to make you sleepy and less when it’s light – to make you more alert. So there is actual science to why you should be waking up with the sun. Of course there are many aspects in how we currently live our lives that can alter this, like indoor lighting and bright screens.
1) Expose yourself to sunlight in the morning
As soon as you wake up exposing yourself to Sunlight will decrease melatonin, regulate your sleep cycle and make you more alert. So open the curtains when you wake up, eat your breakfast by a window or sit outside. The light literally wakes you up.
2) Let as much natural light in during the day
Keep all the curtains and blinds open during the day, have your desk in a space where natural light can hit it.
3) Get outside more
Take any excuse you can to make whatever you want to do an outdoor activity. Sit outdoors at the bar or restaurant, take your work breaks outside and swap out your late night strolls for day light strolls.
4) Look into a a light therapy box
If you really struggle during the short winter days look into getting a light therapy box to stimulate sunshine for longer and keep you awake.
2) Avoid artificial lights
2 hours before bed avoid the lights emitted by your phone, tablet, pc or any screen as this disrupts your sleep. The body can be tricked by artificial light into decreasing melatonin production that is responsible for making us sleepy. Especially avoid backlit devices.
2) Use Flux
Install Flux on your desktop or laptop. It dimms and yellows the light as the day gets darker so that your screen is more gentle on your eyes, which is great for sleep, headaches and eyestrain.
3) Let less light in
Make your home and the space you’ll be in, in the hours before bed dark. Block light from windows with blackout or heavy curtains, try wearing a sleep mask when you go to bed. Cover up electronics or chargers that emit light.
4) Keep the light off when you get up
If you get up in the middle of the night to pee do not, I repeat do not turn the lights on. Blaring a bright light will make you instantly more alert and may make getting back to sleep a struggle. Navigate in the dark or use the torch on your phone or an actual torch to navigate your way to the bathroom.
Food & Drink
What you put into your body can massively impact how well you sleep, how tired you are and when you wake up.
Caffeine can cause sleep problems up to 12 hours after drinking it. So reduce your caffeine intake and do not take anywhere near your bed time.
Another stimulant that can disrupt your sleep. Don’t smoke close to bed time, or ideally don’t smoke at all.
Who ever came up with the term night cap damned a lot of people. Alcohol actually interferes with your sleep cycle whilst your asleep.
Avoid big meals at night. Make your tea time earlier in the evening and avoid eating two hours before bed.
4) Sugar & Refined Carbs
Sugary foods and an excess of refined carbs such as white, bread or pasta can trigger wakefulness at night and pull you out of your sleep.
10 Ways to Get Sleepy
1. Dim the Lights
Exposure to bright light will decrease melatonin and wake you up, so dim the lights and make the darkest most relaxing space to wind down in.
2. Take a Bubble Bath
In the hours leading up to going to sleep take a nice relaxing bubble bath. Many studies have shown bathing before bed aids sleep so long as you give yourself time to cool off before hitting the hay.
3. Keep the Noise Down
We (generally) associate night time with silence, so train your brain to link this together with relaxing for bed. Avoid loud music and turn the volume down in the hours before bed.
4. Keep Your Room Cool
When we’re too cold or hot it can make it hard to get to sleep or even disturb you whilst sleeping. The optimum temperature for sleep is around 15 °C – 18 °C, so try to keep your room cool.
5. Use Lavender Fragrance
Multiple studies have been done showing lavenders positive effects on insomnia, anxiety and sleep. Spritzing lavender fragrance near your pillow, lighting a lavender candles, having lavender in your bedroom or using it in your bath can be great ways to relax and distress before bed.
6. Eat Lunch Earlier
Going to bed on a full stomach can disrupt the sleep and going to bed on an an empty stomach can make it hard to actually sleep, so have your lunch in the evening and try not to snack too heavily before bed
7. Read a book
Reading or listening to an audio book is a great way to relax, take your mind of worries and make you sleepy. A study showed that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68%. Just make sure you don’t pick up an overly exciting book that keeps you page turning til 2am.
8. Listen to Relaxing Sounds
Asmr is an amazing tool to relax your mind and body in preperation for sleep. You can also listen to white noise or rain to help relax for bed time.
Exercising regularly can lead to better quality sleep. Just make sure you don’t break a sweat before bed, this will raise your temperature and disrupt your sleep. It’s best to exercise more than 3 hours before you sleep.
10. Stop Working
Focusing on work stimulates your brain. Working all the way up to bed time and focusing on what you need to get done can cause uneeded stress. Give yourself a cut off time to actually relax at least 1-2 hours before bed.
10 Ways to Actually Sleep
1. Get a new mattress or pillows
Your bed should be a place you can’t wait to sink into. If you wake up with a sore neck and sore back then revise your pillow set up and if your mattress is uncomfortable invest in a new one.
2. Only use your bed for sleeping and sex
The 10 steps you may have taken to get sleepy should all have been done outside of your bedroom. Your bedroom should be reserved for sex and sleep. That way your brain will associate it with sleep and actually become sleepier by just getting into bed.
3. Focus on relaxing not sleeping
Your goal when getting to sleep couldn’t’t be to pressure yourself into sleeping. Care more about your well-being and focus on being relaxed. You don’t have to sleep to relax, you have to relax to sleep.
4. Write down your worries to deal with tomorrow
If you feel anxious or worry about things you should get done, write it down or make a note in your phone and leave it for the next day. Leave a note pad and pen beside your bed so you can relieve any worries or great ideas off your chest.
5. Get up after 15 minutes
If you cannot sleep do not pressure yourself, get up and go back to the 10 steps of getting sleepy. Do something that relaxes you and avoid screens and bright lights whilst doing it.
6. Progressively stretch
Whilst in bed start all the way from your facial muscles down to your thighs, knees, calves, feet and toes becoming aware of all the tension you hold in your body, stretching it out and letting it go.
To focus your brain away from any troubling thoughts try visualization. This is similar to counting sheep. Some effective methods are to visualize a giant blackboard and write down from 100, erasing the number slowly each time.
8. Listen to Relaxing Sounds
My favorite way to get to sleep is to put earphones in and listen to ASMR. White noise, rain sounds and guided meditation videos are also great to help you drift off.
9. Wear Socks
Whether you shun it or not, cold feet can actually keep you awake. Even in the watmer months I’ve noticed wearing socks and removing the duvet to keep me cool makes for much more restfull sleep than wearing the duvet but poking out bare feet to keep me cool. Your feet and hands impact your core body temperature so as the night goes on and gets cooler, cold feet can lower your entire body temperature waking you up.
10. Have a Bed Time Routine
Your body will recognize routines and associate them with sleep. Create a routine like getting into pyjamas, washing your face and brushing your teeth before you hit the hay.