Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in your quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good “sleep hygiene.”Try to keep the following sleep practices on a consistent basis:
When it comes to sleep, it’s not just quantity that matters—it’s quality. How you feel during your waking hours hinges greatly on how well you sleep. Similarly, the cure for daytime fatigue and sleep difficulties can often be found in your daily routine. Your sleep schedule, bedtime habits, and day-to-day lifestyle choices can make an enormous difference to the quality of your nightly rest. The following tips will help you optimize your sleep so you can be productive, mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.
How to sleep better tip 1: Support your body’s natural rhythms
Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for achieving good sleep. If you keep a regular sleep schedule—going to bed and getting up at the same time each day—you will feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times. This holds true even if you alter your sleep schedule by only an hour or two. Consistency is vitally important.
- Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Start by setting a realistic bedtime that will work with your lifestyle. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime.
- Avoid sleeping in—even on weekends or nights you’ve stayed up late. It can be tempting to sleep in on weekends, but even a couple hour difference in wake time disrupts your internal clock. The more your weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the jetlag-like symptoms you’ll experience. If you need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. This strategy allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm, which often backfires in insomnia and throws you off for days.
- Be smart about napping. As mentioned above, napping is a good way to recharge and make up for lost sleep hours. But if you tend to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, napping can make things worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating naps altogether or limiting them to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
- Fight after-dinner drowsiness. If you find yourself getting sleepy way before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating to avoid falling asleep, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day. If you give in to the drowsiness, you may wake up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.
How to sleep better tip 2: Control your exposure to light
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark—making you sleepy—and less when it’s light—making you more alert. However, many aspects of modern life can alter your body’s natural production of melatonin and shift your circadian rhythm.
Spending long days in an office away from natural light, for example, can impact your daytime wakefulness and make your brain sleepy. While bright lights at night—especially from exposure to energy-efficient LED lights and TV and computer screens—can make your body think that it’s time to wake up. Here’s what you can do to keep your hormones and sleep-wake cycle on track
During the day:
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning. The closer to the time you get up, the better. Have your coffee outside, for example, or eat breakfast by a sunny window. Skip the sunglasses! The light on your face will help you wake up and feel more alert.
- Spend more time outside during daylight. Try to take your work breaks outside in sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
- Let as much natural light into your home or workspace as possible. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and try to move your desk closer to the window.
- If necessary, use a light therapy box. A light therapy box simulates sunshine and can be especially useful during short winter days when there’s limited daylight.
- Avoid bright screens within 2 hours of your bedtime. All nighttime light can interfere with sleep and your body’s rhythms, but the blue light emitted by electronics is especially disruptive. This includes the screen on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. You can minimize the impact by using devices with smaller screens, turning the brightness down, or using light-altering software such as f.lux that adjusts the color of your display.
- Say no to late-night television. Many people use the television to wind down at the end of the day, but this can backfire. Not only does the light suppress melatonin, but many programs are stimulating rather than relaxing. Try listening to music or audio books instead. If your favorite TV show is on late at night, record it for viewing earlier in the day.
- Be smart about nighttime reading. Not all e-readers are created equal. Devices that are backlit, such as the Kindle Fire or the iPad, are more disruptive than those that are illuminated from the front, such as the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook GlowLight. Other smart options include e-ink readers that don’t have their own light source and good old-fashioned books.
- When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is dark. The darker it is, the better you’ll sleep. Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask to cover your eyes. Also consider covering up or moving any electronics that emit light. Even the red numbers on a digital clock can disrupt sleep.
- Keep the lights down if you get up during the night. If you need to get up during the night, avoid turning on the lights if possible. If you need some light to move around safely, try installing a dim nightlight in the hall or bathroom or using a small flashlight. This will make it easier for you to fall back to sleep.
How to sleep better tip 3: Get regular exercise
Studies show that regular exercisers sleep better and feel less sleepy during the day. Regular exercise also improves the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea and increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep.
The more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits. But even light exercise—such as walking for just 10 minutes a day—improves sleep quality.
Just keep in mind that exercise is not a quick fix. It can take several months of regular activity before you experience the full sleep-promoting effects. So be patient. Focus on building an exercise habit that sticks. Better sleep will follow.
For a better sleep, time your exercise right
Exercise speeds up your metabolism, elevates body temperature, and stimulates activating hormones such as cortisol. This isn’t a problem if you’re exercising in the morning or afternoon, but too close to bed and it can interfere with sleep.
Try to finish moderate to vigorous workouts at least 3 hours before your bedtime. If you’re still experiencing sleep difficulties, move your workouts even earlier. For some people, it can take up to 6 hours for the body to fully cool down after exercise to a temperature conducive to sleep.
Don’t feel glued to the couch, though. Relaxing, low-impact exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
How to sleep better tip 4: Be smart about what you eat and drink
Your daytime eating habits play a role in how well you sleep. It’s particularly important to watch what you put in your body in the hours leading up to your bedtime.
- Cut down on caffeine. You might be surprised to know that caffeine can cause sleep problems up to ten to twelve hours after drinking it! Consider eliminating caffeine after lunch or cutting back your overall intake.
- Stay away from big meals at night. Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up. Also be cautious when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. While a nightcap may help you relax and fall asleep faster, it interferes with your sleep cycle once you’re out. To optimize the quality of your sleep, stay away from alcohol in the hours leading up to your bedtime.
- Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening. Drinking lots of water, juice, tea, or other fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics, only make things worse.
Nighttime snacks help you sleep
For some people, a light snack before bed can help promote sleep. When you pair tryptophan-containing foods with carbohydrates, it may help calm the brain and allow you to sleep better. For others, eating before bed can lead to indigestion and make sleeping more difficult. Experiment with your food habits to determine your optimum evening meals and snacks.
If you need a bedtime snack, try:
- Half a turkey sandwich
- A small bowl of whole-grain, low-sugar cereal
- Granola with milk or yogurt
- A banana
How to sleep better tip 5: Wind down and clear your head
Do you find yourself unable to sleep or waking up night after night? Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well. When you wake up or can’t get to sleep, take note of what seems to be the recurring theme. That will help you figure out what you need to do to get your stress and anger under control during the day.
If you can’t stop yourself from worrying, especially about things outside your control, you need to learn how to manage your thoughts. For example, you can learn to evaluate your worries to see if they’re truly realistic and replace irrational fears with more productive thoughts. Even counting sheep is more productive than worrying at bedtime.
If the stress of managing work, family, or school is keeping you awake, you may need help with stress management. By learning how to manage your time effectively, handle stress in a productive way, and maintain a calm, positive outlook, you’ll be able to sleep better at night.
Relaxation techniques for better sleep
Relaxation is beneficial for everyone, but especially for those struggling with sleep. Practicing relaxation techniques before bed is a great way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep. Some simple relaxation techniques include:
- Deep breathing. Close your eyes, and try taking deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.
- Visualizing a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you. Concentrate on how relaxed this place or activity makes you feel.
Bedtime rituals to help you relax
Create a “toolbox” of relaxing bedtime rituals to help you unwind before sleep. For example:
- Read a book or magazine by a soft light
- Take a warm bath
- Listen to soft music
- Do some easy stretches
- Wind down with a favorite hobby
- Listen to books on tape
- Make simple preparations for the next day
- Dim the lights in the hours leading up to bed
How to sleep better tip 6: Improve your sleep environment
If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed, you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and let go of the day’s stresses.
Keep your room dark, cool, and quiet
- Keep noise down. If you can’t avoid or eliminate noise from barking dogs, loud neighbors, city traffic, or other people in your household, try masking it with a fan, recordings of soothing sounds, or white noise. You can buy a special sound machine or generate your own white noise by setting your radio between stations. Earplugs may also help.
- Keep your room cool. The temperature of your bedroom also affects sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F or 18° C) with adequate ventilation. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable. You should have enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. If you often wake up with a sore back or an aching neck, you may need to invest in a new mattress or a try a different pillow. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam or egg crate toppers, and pillows that provide more or less support.
Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex
If you associate your bed with events like work or errands, it will be harder to wind down at night. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. That way, when you go to bed, your body gets a powerful cue: it’s time to either nod off or be romantic.
How to sleep better tip 7: Ways to get back to sleep
It’s normal to wake briefly during the night. In fact, a good sleeper won’t even remember it. But if you’re waking up during the night and having trouble falling back asleep, the following tips may help.
- Stay out of your head. The key to getting back to sleep is continuing to cue your body for sleep, so remain in bed in a relaxed position. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over the fact that you’re awake or your inability to fall asleep again, because that very stress and anxiety encourages your body to stay awake. A good way to stay out of your head is to focus on the feelings and sensations in your body or to practice breathing exercises. Take a breath in, then breathe out slowly while saying or thinking the word, “Ahhh.” Take another breath and repeat.
- Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. If you find it hard to fall back asleep, try a relaxation technique such as visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Remind yourself that although they’re not a replacement for sleep, rest and relaxation still help rejuvenate your body.
- Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim so as not to cue your body clock that it’s time to wake up. Also avoid screens of any kind—computers, TV, cell phones, iPads—as the type of light they emit is stimulating to the brain. A light snack or herbal tea might help relax you, but be careful not to eat so much that your body begins to expect a meal at that time of the day.
- Postpone worrying and brainstorming. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when you are fresh and it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a brainstorm or great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive and creative after a good night’s rest.
The insomnia cure
Do you struggle for hours to get to sleep, no matter how tired you are? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for hours, anxiously watching the clock? You don’t have to put up with insomnia. Here’s what you can do to put a stop to sleepless nights.
Still having trouble sleeping?
If, despite your best efforts at self-help, you are still troubled by any of the following symptoms, you may have a sleep disorder that requires additional treatment:
- Persistent daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Loud snoring accompanied by pauses in breathing
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Frequent morning headaches
- Crawling sensations in your legs or arms at night
- Inability to move while falling asleep or waking up
- Physically acting out dreams during sleep
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times
How to sleep better checklist
Use this checklist to track your progress using these self-help tips to improve your sleep. Try comparing how well you sleep on days when you make lots of ticks on the checklist to those when you make few or none. How to Sleep Better Checklist
More help for sleep
- How Much Sleep Do You Need? – Sleep Cycles & Stages, Lack of Sleep, and How to Get the Hours You Need
- How to Sleep Well As You Age – Tips for Overcoming Insomnia and Sleeping Better Over 50
- Can’t Sleep? – Causes, Cures, and Treatments for Insomnia
- How to Stop Snoring – Cures, Remedies, and Tips For You and Your Partner
- Sleep Disorders and Sleeping Problems – Symptoms, Treatment & Help for Common Sleep Disorders
- Sleeping Pills and Natural Sleep Aids – What’s Best for You? What You Need to Know About Sleep Aids and Sleeping Pills
- Not Sleeping Well? – There May Be a Medical Cause
- Reset Your Brain for Better Sleep – How Your Body Clock Affects Sleep
Resources and references
Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep – Explore simple tips for making the sleep of your dreams a nightly reality. (Healthy Sleep, Harvard Medical School)
Healthy Sleep Tips – A variety of sleep tips including bedtime snacks, exercise, room temperature, noise, and light control. (National Sleep Foundation)
Adopt Good Sleep Habits – Learn how improving your sleep environment and sticking to a regular schedule can improve the quality of your sleep. (Get Sleep, Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine)
Sleep Hygiene: Helpful Hints to Help You Sleep – More tips for getting better sleep. (University of Maryland Medical Center)
The Sleep Environment – Learn about the dos and don’ts of the sleep environment and get tips for making your bedroom more sleep-friendly. (National Sleep Foundation)
Inside your bedroom – use your senses – Your bedroom is your sanctuary from the stresses of the day. Use your senses to create the best environment for sleep (National Sleep Foundation)
Lifestyle habits and sleep
5 Foods that Help You Sleep: Eat right, sleep better – Food relates directly to serotonin, a key hormone that—along with Vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid—helps promote healthy sleep. (Cleveland Clinic)
Foods That Help You Sleep – Guide to foods and bedtime snacks that can help you sleep. Also learn about foods that keep you awake.