Good sleep is the foundation of health.
If you’ve ever had a sleepless night, you know how it affects the following day: it makes you irritable, tired, and unable to concentrate. Our body and our mind can’t function properly without rest, so suffering from insomnia can be equivalent to not eating enough, or eating poorly.
When I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, I was only able to sleep for about four hours per night; I would also wake up multiple times throughout the night. Needless to say, that took a huge toll on my overall health.
Today I’d like to share ten things you can implement in your life immediately in order to sleep better (and fall asleep faster). Some of these may sound obvious to you, but I encourage you not to skip any of the tips. Sometimes the basic ones are also the most important ones.
Here we go:
1. Improve your mental health
Insomnia — especially chronic insomnia — can make you more stressed, anxious, or depressed. In other words, it can be the cause of mental health problems.
However the reverse is also true: mental health problems can make insomnia worse. So if your sleep isn’t optimal, that’s one more reason to start living a less stressful life, and get help if you need it.
Ideally, if you are dealing with too many stressful situations in your life (because of work, toxic relationships, or a frantic schedule), then your goal should be to eliminate some of those, rather than trying to be a superhero. If a certain environment or lifestyle isn’t for you, I don’t recommend adapting to it: it’s more sensible to simply change it. You can read my thoughts on this here.
Having said that, we all have to deal with tough times, so we have to learn how to cope and keep going. Talking to a therapist, meditating, and moving your body are some examples of practices you can implement in your life to feel more centered.
If you heal or improve your mental health, you will definitely see a positive change in the way you sleep.
2. Have optimal levels of magnesium
According to many studies, most people are magnesium deficient. Magnesium is vital for maintaining normal nervous system function, teeth and bone health, muscle function and, you guessed it, sleep. So you want to make sure that your levels are optimal.
The recommended daily intake for adults is between 300mg and 400mg, but depending on your current situation you may need more, especially if you have been deficient for a long period of time. Foods high in magnesium include:
- Leafy green vegetables, such as kale and spinach
- Nuts, such as almonds and peanuts
- Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds
- Legumes, including kidney beans and lentils
- Seafood, such as salmon and tuna
It can be hard to get the recommended daily intake through diet alone, so you may want to get a supplement as well.
One last thing to keep in mind: many harmful foods, such as caffeine, excessive sugar, and alcohol, can worsen your magnesium deficiency (besides being bad for your sleep in general).
3. Get a massage
Massage feels wonderful and has many health benefits. Most importantly, it increases relaxation, which, in turn, helps you sleep better.
During a massage, stress hormones — such as cortisol and adrenaline — decrease. At the same time, your body releases more serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps you regulate your sleep-wake cycle, your appetite, and even your emotions.
Because the health benefits of massage last for days, one per month is enough to improve your overall level of well being and relaxation. If you have the budget, you may want to get one every week.
If you are ill, or have conditions such as skin disease, you may not be able to get massaged, so ask your therapist in advance.
4. Have dinner well before bedtime
“Well before” means at least two hours. That’s the absolute minimum, so try to stop eating at least three hours before you go to bed.
Digestion lasts a long time, and consumes energy. If your body is busy digesting a meal, you’ll have a hard time falling asleep.
If, because of your schedule, you have to eat something right before you go to bed, then try to have a lighter meal, or a snack, and avoid foods that are difficult to digest, such as dairy.
You want to make sure that your body is in the optimal state to relax, and isn’t “multitasking” (digesting food and falling asleep). While a high-calorie meal can make you feel lethargic, it can cause poor sleep quality, and may give you nightmares.
While eating well before bedtime can be difficult at first, it can easily turn into a habit.
5. Block out noise
If your room is extremely quiet, then you won’t have to worry about this. But chances are that from time to time you’ll have to deal with noisy neighbors, or traffic, or even noises from animals outside your house.
This can significantly reduce your sleep quality, especially if you’re a light sleeper and you tend to wake up whenever you hear anything.
So what do you do? I recommend two possible solutions.
One is wearing earplugs. They are cheap, and can be found in most supermarkets. If the ones you are using irritate your ears, try wearing earplugs made of a different material. You could even get custom ones, modeled on the shape of your ear.
The second solution is listening to white noise (a sound that blocks out almost all frequencies), ideally with a sleep headphone, or earphones.
6. Ensure you have optimal lighting
One of the hormones that regulate your sleep-wake cycle is melatonin, which changes depending on your exposure to light.
During daytime, it’s important to get enough sunlight. Some artificial lights are better than others, but natural light is best, so if you work indoors, try to spend some time outside during your breaks, or before work.
Of course, it’s equally important that you are able to sleep in complete darkness. When it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin, so you feel sleepier. You can try wearing an eye mask as well, but do make sure that you block all lights from outside.
It’s also a good idea to eliminate blue light at least one hour before bed. This includes smartphones, laptops, TV, and LED lighting.
Your phone probably has a function where you can set the screen to display warmer colors: it’s better than blue light, but it still interferes with sleep, so it’s best to just turn off your phone. The screen is too bright anyway, and chatting/watching videos/etc. will keep your brain alert.
7. Don’t force yourself to fall asleep
If you’ve been in bed for a while, but can’t fall asleep, then you may start worrying. You may feel a little nervous, and think that you won’t be able to get your eight hours. Unfortunately, this can turn into a vicious cycle: it will make you even more anxious, and, in turn, it’ll be even harder for you to relax.
If you can’t fall asleep, try to leave your room and do something else. Read a book, clean the house, write in your journal, practice one of your hobbies. Just make sure you’re not staring at a bright screen.
Often, when we lay in bed we keep thinking about the things we went through the same day (especially if it was stressful), or what we’ll do the following day, so subconsciously we keep the mind alert. Doing something else will distract you, and make you more tired.
Sometimes reverse psychology also works: convince yourself that you have to stay awake all night, at all costs, and you may find it easier to doze off.
Insomnia is bad enough — don’t stress over it! It only makes things worse.
8. Don’t take naps
This varies from person to person, but in my experience, taking naps during the day is a terrible idea.
When it’s late, and you go to bed, you want to be as tired as possible. Although a twenty-minute nap will help you feel refreshed, you’ll probably still feel alert at night. This is ideal if you are partying, but not so much if you are trying to fall asleep.
If you have to stay awake until, say, 3am (you may need to catch a flight, work, on Skype call someone on the other side of Earth), then I suggest you wake up later, and have dinner later, rather than taking a nap.
I know people who are able to sleep for over one hour in the afternoon, and are then able to sleep eight more hours at night, but that’s rare, and none of these people suffers from insomnia.
9. Listen to your body
If you are a morning person, go to bed early. If you are a night person, go to bed later. It’s that simple. We are all different, so you need to understand your circadian rhythm and follow it.
Of course, because of your current schedule, you may need to wake up earlier (or go to bed later) than you’d like to. But my point is, if you are a night owl, don’t wake up at five to do morning yoga; if you are an early bird, don’t exercise after a certain hour.
Listen to your body, learn what your optimal sleep pattern is and use it to your advantage — don’t just try to follow a certain pattern because it’s “better”.
You do want to stick to a schedule though, so don’t constantly change your pattern. Some people find it useful to set two alarms: one when you have to wake up, and one when you are supposed to go to bed.
10. Move your body
Again, when it’s time to go to bed, you want to be as tired as possible. This can’t happen if you don’t move your body.
If you can’t exercise, you should at least walk, or have a quick workout at home. If your job is physically demanding, that counts, but if you’re in front of a computer screen for nine hours a day, then you have to find a way to move your body.
If you sit down for long periods of time (at work, or in your free time), take frequent breaks: stand up, stretch your arms, and walk around.
Our body was designed to move: a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy, and makes it a lot harder to fall asleep.
Thank you for reading this article! I have created a short summary of this post. You can download it here for free: