We all know that fuzzy feeling we get after a bad night’s sleep. Not getting enough rest leaves us tired, irritable, and less able to cope with the stresses of our daily lives. But sleep is important for more than just our mood. It can also have serious consequences for our physical and mental health.
Regularly going without enough sleep has been linked to a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. Because sleep plays a role in regulating insulin and appetite, not getting enough can lead to an increased risk of weight-gain and obesity. Sleep is also important for our brains, helping to combat depression and anxiety, and leading to better memory and cognitive function.
If sleep is so important to our health and wellbeing, it is clear that getting enough should be a priority. However, in challenging times, you might find it hard to switch off your racing thoughts and settle down for a good night’s sleep. That’s why we’ve pulled together this list of 10 ways you can improve your chances of getting your eight hours.
1. Eat the right foods
The hormone melatonin has an important role to play in healthy sleep. Produced by our pineal glands, this hormone is released at night and has been shown to regulate our circadian rhythms, improve sleep quality, and help us sleep for longer.
Melatonin also occurs naturally in some foods, so eating these foods in the early evening might help us to settle for sleep more easily. Foods that are high in melatonin include:
- Tart cherries
- Nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, or pistachios
- Goji berries
And, of course, you should avoid food and drink that contain caffeine in the evenings. Switch your cup of black tea for a caffeine-free herbal one instead and keep chocolate and energy drinks for earlier in the day too.
2. Stay away from screens
When so much of our lives involve screens, this is much easier said than done. But learning to develop some limits around screen use in the evenings is thought to improve our sleep.
Screens emit blue light, which can disrupt our natural sleep cycles, causing us to miss out on much-needed rest. has been shown looking at patients with insomnia, for example, have found that blocking blue light in the evenings can improve sleep. And, of course, the endless stimulation of scrolling on our phones or watching fast-paced TV shows isn’t conducive to slowing and calming our thoughts ready for rest.
If you can, avoid using screens for at least a couple of hours before bedtime. Banning screens from the bedroom is a good first step – if you rely on your phone as an alarm, consider purchasing an alarm clock instead so that you can leave your phone in a different room while you sleep.
For some, the thought of unplugging for most of the evening is too much to take. If this is you, consider investing in some blue-light blocking glasses that will at least help to mitigate the effects of a long day in front of screens.
These ones from ANRRI are comfortable and have an unobtrusive style that works for both men and women. Most reviewers agree that they work to relieve eyestrain and block some blue light too. Different styles are available from the same brand.
3. Develop a wind-down routine
According to the NHS, developing a gentle evening routine can help our bodies and minds transition from our busy waking lives and slow down ready for rest. What this looks like will vary from person to person, but creating a buffer between bedtime and the rest of your day should help you get the sleep you need. Some ideas to try include:
- A warm bath
- A foot-rub or massage
- A gentle yoga routine
- Reading a book
- Listening to calming music
4. Go to bed on time
As well as having a relaxing evening routine, a regular bedtime is important to get us used to falling asleep at a certain time of day. Since we need around 8 hours of sleep a night, we also need to be going to bed early enough to get those hours in. If you are an early riser, that might mean bedtime has to move earlier too.
If you struggle to tear yourself away in the evenings to get to bed at a decent hour, try setting an alarm for when it is time to start your wind-down routine. If you have the Apple iPhone or Apple Watch, you can set your Sleep Schedule in the Health app to monitor your sleep, set reminders, show sleep results and set a wind down manage sleep in the Apple Watch app
5. Try mindfulness
The stress hormone, cortisol, is associated with having a more disturbed night. To get your stress levels down, mindfulness might be a good option – some studies have found that it can reduce cortisol levels. Meditation and mindful yoga are two options to try before bedtime.
6. Get the temperature right
Whatever your preferences for room temperature the rest of the time, when we sleep we need a surprisingly cold room. Between 15-19 degrees Celsius is the right temperature for most people. You might need to experiment a little to find the temperature that works best for you but being too hot or too cold is guaranteed to disturb your night. Set the heat or air conditioner’s thermostat temperature to a level that suits you for the evening. You can also set a timer for when the heating or cooling goes off if you feel that you wake up too hot or cold.
7. Use light to your advantage
How sensitive you are to light is down to the individual. For some people, even the tiniest bit of light can disturb your sleep. Address any sources of light that might keep you awake by putting up blackout blinds and consider an eye-mask if it is still too bright for you.
You can also use light cues to tell your body when it is time to fall asleep. Studies have found that our exposure to light at different times of day affects our circadian rhythms. By dimming the lights a little while before you plan to go to sleep, you can tell your body that it is time to start winding down. You can even get special lights that will mimic the sunrise and sunset.
This light from Lumie, for example, has sunset setting that dims the light gradually when it is time to fall asleep. It has a sunrise setting too, which is great for anyone who finds it difficult to wake up on dark mornings.
8 Use calming sounds
If you are someone that needs absolute silence in order to sleep, then this one isn’t for you. But for many of us, calming sounds can be helpful in relaxing our minds and letting us sleep well.
A study on soothing music and sleep, for example, found that people slept better and for longer when they listened to quiet, gentle music at bedtime. As well as music, you could opt for soothing nature sounds, meditation guides, or even just white noise.
Sleep sound machines may be a good choice when you are trying to keep your bedroom a phone-free zone. We like this one from Douni – it has a number of different sound options and the design is grown-up and minimal enough to suit any bedroom décor.
Using certain essential oils has been found to have a relaxing and sedative effect on the human brain. So, if you are struggling to sleep at night, a few drops of oil in your evening bath, rubbed onto your skin in a massage oil, or used in a reed diffuser might help you to rest. Essential oils that have been found to be good for reducing stress and promoting sleep include:
- Roman chamomile
- Ylang ylang
When choosing essential oils, make sure you go for good quality. Because the industry is unregulated, there are a lot of cheap synthetic oils out there that won’t give you the benefits. Buy your oils from a reputable brand and check the labelling – it should list the Latin and common name of the plant used to make the oils, any warnings for use, and may also list the country of origin.
10. Comfortable bed
It might seem obvious but trying to get a good night’s sleep is hard when you don’t have a comfortable bed. It is worth investing in a good quality mattress, the right amount of pillows, and a duvet that keeps you at the right temperature.
Good bedding isn’t just important for a good night’s sleep – having the right mattress can help to prevent mechanical issues such as back and joint pain.
If your budget won’t stretch to a new mattress right now, a mattress topper might help make your bed more comfortable. Choose good sheets, pillowcases, and duvet covers too so that your bed is a welcoming haven that allows you to get the rest you need.
We hope we’ve inspired you to make your sleep a priority and to create some good habits that will help you get a better night. These 10 tips should give you some ideas for how to set up a relaxing sleep space, build a relaxing evening routine, and hopefully get the sleep you need.