Life doesn’t feel more special than after you’ve had a full and refreshing night’s sleep. It’s like the brightness just gets turned up. You’re much more confident, optimistic, funny – and of our troubles seem to be things we are much more ready to tackle.
So why is it so hard to sleep well? Often, we get so caught up in what we want to do, we forget what’s important. In this case, that’s sleep.
In short, try to make sure you’re prepared for bed (good routine, sleeping conditions, and at the right time). Then keep yourself positive by reading, listening to a book/story, or thinking about things you can be grateful for.
Let’s get into it. Follow these sleep-friendly tips and look forward to one of your best days tomorrow thanks to a full night’s rest.
1. Plan Out Your Perfect Timings
What we have before us is a new goal – to get a great night’s sleep today so you can be a badass tomorrow. Just like with any goal, we need a plan.
Let’s make this simple and start at the end.. what time do you need to get up tomorrow? Not only to get ready for whatever you’re doing, but with some spare time, too. Being able to go through your morning routine while relaxed does wonders for starting the day on the right foot. So, when’s the alarm clock going off?
Now take that time, and remove 8 hours for sleeping, and one more hour on top of that. For example if you aim to get up at 7am, you’re looking at a time of 10pm.
Why 9 hours? Because it’s not about when you want to sleep, it’s about when you need to start winding down. I can’t understate the importance of this – especially in our modern lives. Our bodies need time to wind down – we are surrounded by gadgets, bright lighting, and exciting entertainment systems. If you’ve just watched Tom Cruise skydive out of a helicopter on a big bright screen, how is your mind meant to know it’s expected to be asleep in 30 minutes?
The key is a proper sleeping routine, which I’ll cover at the end of the list. For now, though – let’s cover things to consider now that we have our ‘wind-down’ time set.
2. Tweak Your Sleeping Conditions
In terms of your environment there are three super-important things that you need for a good night’s rest:
Each of these is just as important as the other.
Ever tried to sleep in a quiet pitch black room, when it’s roasting hot? It’s impossible.
Trying to sleep without any these three things is a nightmare – but we have to make the best of what we’ve got. Here’s some quick tips:
- Quietness. Obviously if you’re stuck in the middle of a city, this one isn’t going to be easy. (Thankfully, I’ve written a whole guide for that!) To summarize, great ear plugs are your best friend (don’t even think about those cheap foam ones – get wax or silicone and you will kick yourself at how much better they are). If you need some distraction, some miniature bluetooth headphones and an audiobook with a calm narrator can work wonders. Finally if your ears just don’t like things in them, consider a white noise generator to mask out all those spiky sounds with calming, constant ones.
- Darkness. A good eye mask is the saviour of the day here. Don’t be afraid of looking like you’re out of a 70’s movie – these really work and are surprisingly comfortable. If bright lights are shining through your window, find a good (not a chinese knock-off) eye mask and enjoy total darkness. If you want to really get a handle on things – there’s no replacement for black out blinds or curtains.
- Coolness. If you’re stuck in summer without an A/C, this is one of the hardest of the three to fix. But there are solutions. Quiet fans (or sleeping near noisy ones), breatheable bedding (including mattresses), or finally caving and picking up an air conditioner can all solve that heat problem.
If you’re just looking for some tips before you go to sleep, there’s obviously only so much you can do right now. However, just by being aware of how important these 3 things are, you might be able to spot a quick change you can make to help you sleep better.
3. Catch Some Rays
Not to get all biological on you, but we need to discuss melatonin. Basically, melatonin is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy. You get a nice big burst of it released around 10pm – which is when your body expects to be sleeping. The time changes based on your clock and sleeping pattern.
The most important thing for melatonin to work properly is that you get sunlight. Which is a surprisingly tricky thing in modern living. If you go from a brightly lit home, to an office and back, without ever really seeing the sun – how is your body meant to know that it’s time to sleep? It gets confused, and so does your melatonin release. Constantly find yourself really awake late at night? This might be why.
Thankfully, it’s a simple fix. Just get some sunlight! Preferably in the morning, but any time of the day will work. By getting at least 15-30 minutes of sunlight, it will really help your body calibrate its day/night cycle. If you’re out in the sun early in the morning, you’ll find that you’ll have a much easier time falling asleep later in the evening because you ‘know’ it’s been daytime for so long.
Melatonin can also be supplemented by over the counter pills which can help, but shouldn’t be relied upon.
Finally, make sure not to use any bright screens in your wind-down time. The blue light from laptops, TV’s, and other screens can give off a ‘daytime’ signal to our eyes. Turn off the brightness, and turn on any ‘night modes’ you have to help get rid of the blue light.
4. Avoid Naps
Naps can be amazing – in fact I’d recommend that everyone try to fit a quick 30 minute snooze in during their normal routines. Not only are they regret for letting tension fade away and recovering some concentration, but they’re great to help memory too (by ‘freeing up’ short term memory thanks to transferring some to your long term). However, if you’re looking to guarantee a great sleep tonight, I’d avoid any kind of slumber until it’s night-time, your evening routine’s done, and you’re ready to zonk out for 8+ hours.
I don’t know about you – but I find that when people don’t exercise we can all get a little crazy! Having too much nervous energy, being unable to focus, and generally having quick spurts of excitement are often the result of having overflowing energy stores.
Make sure you’ll be able to sleep properly by at least using your body for 20 minutes to half an hour. Even if it’s just a walk outside listening to an audiobook, it’ll mean your body can allow itself to properly relax later.
Do you ever find that sometimes a comfortable seat is the greatest thing on earth, but othertimes you don’t even notice? I swear that’s down to whether we’ve done just a bit of exercise in the last day.
A great bonus is when you exercise outdoors – because you’ll be nailing #3 on this list (catching some sunlight) at the same time! If working out outside isn’t your thing, consider a gym membership or even an exercise bike (ride gently while you watch a favourite TV show, push hard in the commercial breaks/intros!)
6. Eat Lightly (Before Bed)
Food is fuel, and putting a ton of fuel into the fire right before sleeping will leave it burning too hot!
As tempting as they are heavy late-night treats or desserts need to be avoided to guarantee that amazing sleep. If it’s less than an hour before you hit the hay, skip the candy and get something lighter. A glass of milk, a yogurt, or even a small number or biscuits/fruit will do you much better. Personally, I’ll often cave for a slice of toast with peanut butter or honey – its enough to be satisfying but not enough to stop sleep.
7. Be Really, Really Careful With Caffeine/Alcohol/Nicotine
It’s easy to forget that coffee, wine, and cigarettes are actually drugs! Not that they’re on the same level as smoking something funky before bed, but they do have a effect on our brains – especially when it comes the effects on our sleep.
I’ll try to give you a quick run-down of what’s going on:
- Nicotine – if you’re a smoker, here’s another reason to add to the ‘why you should quit list’! Nicotine is, of course, a very addictive substance. If a regular smoker goes without it, they often find themselves wanting a cigarette more than say, wanting a meal. In that same sense, this is how smoking screws with your sleep. Because after you’ve been sleeping for 4-5 hours, your body’s craving for nicotine starts to become so great that it pulls you out of a deep sleep. It’s like trying to sleep while really hungry – you will never get that deep sleep because your cravings will be pulling you to wake up and satisfy them.
- Caffeine – next up is caffeine, which is much more generally understood but not always appreciated. One thing I’ve really learned is that caffeine has a half-life of around 6 hours. That means it takes 6 hours for your body to ‘deal with’ just half of the caffeine; so if you have a coffee at 4pm, at 10pm there’s still half a cup of coffee in your system! And even if you’ve got a great tolerance, it’s still making your brain run quicker and preventing your sleepiness from kicking in properly. If you need a pick-me-up anytime after lunch, try sticking to tea or just a half-cup of coffee. It can make a huge difference.
- Alcohol – ‘having a nightcap’ hasn’t become a thing for no reason; it is true that alcohol can help you relax and get to sleep. However, that’s about the only benefit! Alcohol also reduces the quality of your sleep by quite a lot, because your brain can’t properly repair itself. Go out drinking and only catch 6 hours sleep? Well that’s more like 4 hours of normal sleep due to the lack of quality. The reason is that alcohol seriously surpresses your ability to enjoy REM sleep – the time where your brain is developing, clearing itself out, and generally freshening you up and dusting you off. The amount and intensity, according to sleep scientist Matthew Walker in his book ‘Why We Sleep‘, of REM sleep is seriously reduced after a few alcoholic drinks. If it’s been a while since you’ve woken up feeling refreshed, this might be a key.
In general, with anything that affects your brain, it’s important to keep an eye out just how much this might be affecting your ability to get a full night’s rest!
8. Make Sure You’re Comfortable
What you go to sleep on matters. Whether that’s just putting on a fresh set of sheets to climb into, or making sure that you’ve got a great mattress or pillows to sleep on, it’s important to make sure that you’re comfortable.
I’ll be looking into exactly what kind of mattress and pillows are best in the future, but in general you should figure out just how soft you like things. Do you want a pillow that practically swallows your head, or something that provides a bit of resistance? Pillows are easy things to change and have a huge effect on how you sleep. Mattresses are a bigger deal, but if it’s been years and years since you last changed yours, maybe think about just how comfortable/uncomfortable yours is nowadays!
9. Stock Up Your Arsenal
Ever had one of those long days where you just can’t wait to lie in bed? Getting ready properly, maybe reading some of your book for about 2 minutes, before drifting off to sleep? Well, that’s often a mental thing.
And we can re-create it. Ever noticed how if you prepare for something, you look forward to doing it? If you get new exercise clothes, you look forward to exercising – get new baking equipment, and can’t wait to make that dream dessert? Well, sleeping works the same. Getting some super comfortable pajamas, an exciting new book, or even a new pillow can make going to bed something you look forward to.
When it’s something you look forward to, it’s much easier to get to bed early and spend more time savoring your time in bed, and less time worrying about the troubles of today/tomorrow.
10. Enjoy A Relaxing Bite/Drink
While having a full-on meal isn’t a good idea before bed, something that will help relax you can make all the difference in the world. There’s plenty of options out there – from a glass of milk to relaxing camomile tea, there’s so many things that can help you drift off to a great slumber. Especially when paired with a relaxing light and a great book.
If you want something you can (probably) use right now, I found this great combination thanks to Tim Ferriss – which is apparently an ‘ancient healing combination’. Simply take a mug of hot water, add 1 tablespoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Now it’s not the best smelling drink in the world, but I seriously never sleep deeper than after I’ve had one of these before bed. I know it sounds weird, but try it!
11. Use Tools To Your Advantage!
Do you have trouble actually getting to sleep? Find yourself always stuck lying in bed, thinking about life and not able to properly relax? There’s a few tips and tricks I can share to help get you past that.
First, consider some form of distraction to help soothe your mind. Prevent it from going haywire about the scary stuff. Obviously books are a great option – but there’s others too. Listening to a good audiobook with your eyes closed in bed is an unbelieably effective way of helping you drift off.
Books not your thing? How about a podcast, or even a guided sleep meditation by an app like Headspace. Something gentle that your mind can focus on. Anything to help avoid going down one of those 1am rabbit-holes about that thing you said one time in high school.
12. Be Grateful.
Gratefulness is a wonderful thing which almost no-one does. It’s often believed to be the secret to happiness. And it’s one of the simplest things in the world – just appreciating the things you have to be happy about.
When you lie in bed, try to count through all the lovely things that happened today. Now, this might be hard at first – but that’s because you’re taking it too seriously. Anything can work. If something awesome happened at work, that’s great, but isn’t it equally great that you’ve got your health? That you’ve got arms? Imagine life without arms! They’re pretty helpful things, and definitely something worth being grateful for. The fact you’re in bed and under the covers counts, too!
If you want something to focus on, try using the alphabet for gratefulness. A for ‘Animals with fur’, B for ‘Brother’, C for ‘Cuddles’ – just whatever comes to mind. (Personally I’ve never made it past about M!).
13. Find Your Own Slumber Routine
The most important thing you can do for getting to sleep is to have a routine. Since our brain doesn’t understand “it’s 11pm, time to sleep!”, we need to tell it in a different way. And this is through a routine.
By going through the same relaxing tasks at the end of each day, you are telling your body that it’s time to rest. It understands that when you brush your teeth, wear pajamas, start reading a book and sipping on a warm tea, that it’s time to kick-back and sleep.
Try to figure out what things you can do which would relax you at night, hopefully with some suggestions from this list! Don’t forget to figure out your timings from the first note on this list.
14. Don’t Just Lay There!
If all of the above fails, and you find yourself laying in bed awake – then don’t just lay there! By staying there awake, it becomes so, so easy to end up in rabbit holes of thoughts.
Instead, get up out of bed. Make sure that you make the bed so it looks nice for when you come back. Then go and do something relaxing, in low light – anything you want as long as it isn’t involving a digital screen (that will wake you up). It will only take 5-10minutes before you’re feeling super tired again, at which point you can gratefully climb into bed and feel sleepy again.
What to do if you don’t get enough sleep.
Even if you do all of the above suggestions – there’s no guarantee that sleep will come perfectly for you. It can be a tricky thing, especially if you’re not used to it. So there’s a few things I want to suggest bearing in mind to help you get through the next day:
- Don’t worry, but do prioritise. A tired day is not the end of the world, and if you have a big occasion (job interview, exam, family event) then you’ll probably still be fine. Excitement and some adrenaline will get you through it. However, it’s important not to ask too much of yourself. With tiredness comes a lack of willpower, so try to save on effort when you can. Only do the important stuff, and prioritise getting a good rest over smaller commitments.
- Take naps! Naps can be great in relieving the sleep pressure you feel. Not only that, but they also help your brain stay on top of things and reduce the amount of fatigue you’re feeling. For reasons too much to get into right now, it’s best to take naps sooner rather than later. For example if you have a dinner with the in-laws at 7pm, it would be better to nap at 11am and not 4pm. I’ll write a post on why in the future on this website – search for ‘nap timings’.
- Keep with your schedule. If you don’t succeed then try, try again! The best way to guarantee a good night’s sleep is through it being a regular schedule. Keep doing your best to stick your routine and include the tips I outlined above. This is especially true on weekends. So many of us stay up late and get up late at the weekends. That makes it almost impossible for your body to get used to a schedule, and so it can’t help you get to sleep like clockwork. Try to limit the time changes by only an hour or so and suddenly Mondays won’t be nearly as bad.
I hope all this has helped! Sleep is one of the beneficial, healthy, refreshing things you can do to make sure you’re at your best throughout the day. Just by reading this I know it’s something important to you, so I do hope this guide has helped and that you have an amazing rest tonight.