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34 Proven Hacks For Better Sleep Tonight
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34 Proven Hacks For Better Sleep Tonight

by Chris DavisMarch 19, 2015
Time to stop counting sheep.

We hear it time and time again: the average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation can diminish our productivity, memory, judgment, and concentration. It can take a toll on our mood and our relationships. And perhaps most startling is the fact that suboptimal sleep can have a negative affect on our health, increasing the risk of anxiety, depression, premature aging, hypertension, and even cancer.

But despite the drawbacks that come with a lack of shuteye, 40% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep, with 14% getting 5 hours or less.

Of course, getting quality sleep is easier said than done. Many of us have kids waking up in the middle of the night, demanding jobs, financial responsibilities, medical conditions, and other stressors.

There are, however, some tips that we can take advantage of to get more rest. For starters, here are 34 proven hacks for better sleep tonight.

1. Clean Sheets

Clean Sheets Sleep Hack for getting more sleep. Parents spreading bed sheet over son in bedroom.

It should come as no surprise that clean sheets play a big part in the quality of our sleep. After all, dirty sheets contain dust mites, dead skin cells, oils, sweat, bodily fluids, and possibly even food crumbs (if you eat in bed).

All of that filth is not only uncomfortable, but also unhealthy. In fact, it could exacerbate a number of health problems including asthma, rhinitis, eczema, and staph infections.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Bedroom Poll, 78% of respondents who slept on sheets with a fresh scent were more excited to go to bed, and 73% believe they slept better.

It’s generally recommended that you wash your sheets at least every other week, although weekly is ideal. And if you happen to prefer your breakfast in bed, it might be beneficial to wash your bedding every three days.

2. Adjust The Thermostat

Hand turning dial on thermostat.

While many of us set our thermostats to a level that feels comfortable, most experts agree that we sleep best in a cool room — between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

In one study, researchers found that when insomniacs wore cooling caps to bed, they were able to fall asleep — and stay asleep — as fast as adults without insomnia.

Don’t start breaking out the ice packs, though. It’s important that we’re cool enough for our metabolism to slow down, but not so cold that our bodies begin to shiver.

Finding the most favorable temperature will take a bit of trial and error. It can vary according to personal preference, body heat from your partner, what you wear to bed, and where your bedroom is located (i.e. hot or cold spot).

In addition to the perfect temperature, you should also aim for humidity levels of around 45%. Low humidity levels can irritate your throat, eyes, nose, and skin, while high humidity fuels the growth of mold, bacteria, and dust mites.

3. Go Barefoot

Woman's sockless feet hanging over bed.

While adjusting the thermostat can help induce sleep, sometimes all our body temperature really needs is a bit of fine-tuning. If that’s the case, rather than cooling your entire home, try experimenting with the warmth of your feet.

In addition to lacking hair on the bottom, feet contain specialized blood vessels that constrict and dilate in order to regulate body heat. Putting socks on when you’re too cold, or taking them off — and even keeping your feet outside of the covers — when you’re too hot, could be all you need to fall into a deep slumber.

4. Get Into Sunlight

Sun in the blue sky.

The worst thing you can do after waking up is languish in bed for another hour. Take 5 minutes to relax if needed, and then get your day going. Get into the sunlight as soon as possible, whether it’s opening the blinds, taking out the trash, grabbing yesterday’s mail, or even eating your breakfast outside (weather permitting).

Not only will the immediate sunlight help regulate your biological clock, but studies have shown that those who are exposed to more natural light throughout the day are more likely to sleep better at night.

5. Decorate Your Bedroom

Paint color samples on a wall.

Color psychology is a real concept that’s used in marketing, art, and interior design. Indeed, decorating and/or painting your bedroom with calming colors could help to slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.

According to a study conducted by Travelodge, participants who slept in a blue room got the best night’s sleep, averaging 7 hours and 52 minutes of sleep per night. That’s because people largely perceive blue as soothing, with visions of a clear sky, clean water, or a fresh breeze.

In general, muted cool colors are most sedative (e.g. Sleepy Blue), while bright warm colors tend to be stimulating. How you feel about certain colors, however, are largely dependent on culture and personal experiences. Therefore, don’t be afraid to opt for an olive color if green has a more positive meaning to you.

6. Stop Clock-Watching

Man staring at the time on his phone while in bed.

It’s quite difficult — impossible, actually — to fall asleep when you’ve got your eyes glued to the alarm clock. Not only does sleep require that you close your eyes (for most of us, anyway), but staring at the clock will eventually bring on anxiety — a major factor in sleep-onset insomnia. Focus, instead, on clearing your mind completely.

7. Get Out Of Bed

Woman sitting up in bed, suffering from insomnia.

If you find yourself growing frustrated with the thought of not being able to fall asleep, go ahead and get out of bed. Most experts recommend getting up after about 20 minutes of being awake.

The secret, though, is to make sure you’re using your mental clock to estimate how long you’ve been awake. As previously mentioned, looking at your phone every 5 minutes or attempting to keep track of time is counterproductive.

8. Do Something Mildy Entertaining

Girl reading a book late at night.

Before going to bed (or once you’ve committed to getting up in the middle of the night), do something that’s relaxing and/or repetitive. Activities such as reading fiction, listening to soft music, or knitting are all good choices that will contribute to the goal of becoming drowsy.

9. Turn On White Noise

Bedroom ceiling fan rotating in use.

While we sleep, our brains continue to process sound. Unfortunately, for those who live in the city, have large families, or noisy neighbors, these sounds can disrupt our sleep.

However, it’s not so much the noise itself that wakes us up, but rather the fluctuations of the noise around us. In other words, by neutralizing the difference between background noise and other jarring sounds, what we hear will be less likely to disturb us. And that is exactly what white noise is intended to do.

A sound machine, a ceiling fan, or even some air purifiers could all work to create a masking effect, blocking out commotion from our environment.

10. Exercise Regularly

Woman exercising and jogging in the street.

Need sleep? Get exercise. At least that’s what the science seems to be telling us.

One study analyzed over 3,000 adults in an effort to examine the association between physical activity and sleep. The research concluded that when participants got at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week, they experienced a 65% improvement in sleep quality.

But that doesn’t mean we should expect to sleep like the dead after a single workout, or even after an entire week of working out. Other studies suggest that most of the sleep benefits from physical activity appear after 16 weeks of regular exercise.

11. Take A Hot Bath

Woman taking a warm bubble bath.

We’ve already established that we sleep better after our bodies have cooled, so it might seem illogical to recommend a hot bath before bed. However, the rapid cool-down period that occurs after getting out of the bathtub is what relaxes us.

12. Power Down

Light bulbs being turned off in the dark.

Ahh, the inconvenience of first world problems — artificial light, that is. It’s well known that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, and therefore, our circadian rhythms. But experts now believe that blue light, specifically, is the most damaging to our sleep cycle.

Sadly, it’s our electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs that are the primary sources of blue light after the sun goes down. A Harvard study found that just eight lux — about twice the brightness of a night light — could be cause for concern.

Therefore, insomniacs should strongly consider powering down well before bed. Dim the lights, and turn off the television, phones, and computers.

If unplugging your electronics seems a bit extreme, try using an app (e.g. Twilight) that filters out blue light emitted from your device’s screen.

13. Take Time Out

Couple meditating in the bedroom.

Set aside 20 to 40 minutes every day to get away from the daily grind. Use this time to meditate, pray, or contemplate your worries.

If there’s something in your life that’s causing anxiety, this is your opportunity to address it and come up with a plan to rectify the situation.

By organizing our thoughts ahead of time, we’re less likely to mull over our feelings the moment our head hits the pillow.

14. Splurge

Pillows on an antique luxury bed.

Many of us are quick to spend thousands of dollars on new cars, clothes, and electronics. Yet, when it comes to our bed — where we spend one-third of our life — we often reject spending more money than necessary.

If you consider the benefits of quality sleep, $50+ for a pillow is actually a paltry sum to pay — especially since a pillow can last upwards of 10 years with the right protector.

Look for ways to save money elsewhere, and then splurge on a mattress, pillows, comforters, and sheets.

Bear in mind, the posture in which you sleep will largely determine the type of mattress and pillow you should be sleeping on. And when doing your research, make sure you’re looking at unbiased reviews for sleep products.

15. Set A Bedtime Alarm

An analog retro alarm clock on wooden table.

The trick to maintaining healthy sleep habits is developing a routine and sticking to it.

Don’t wait until you’re ready to pass out before getting ready for bed. Fighting exhaustion — even if only for a few moments — could lead to a second wind, causing you to stay up well past your normal bedtime.

Instead, complete your pre-sleep activities (e.g. bath, brushing your teeth) an hour or two ahead of time. This is especially important if you have disorders such as anxiety and OCD.

Set two alarms: one for starting your routine, and another for getting into bed. And be sure to maintain your sleep-wake cycles on the weekends as well.

If at all possible, it’s best to get to bed by 10 p.m., since most people’s circadian rhythm is at its lowest point between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Some experts even claim that every hour of sleep within this period is worth two hours outside of it. Although that assertion is likely exaggerated, there’s no doubt that sleep is more efficient during these times.

16. Avoid Heavy Meals

Woman pulling fried chicken out of fridge while in her pajamas.

Large meals immediately before bed can speed up your metabolism at a time when you want it to slow down. Additionally, it can make you feel uncomfortable, and it can trigger heartburn, particularly if you have GERD.

Eat dinner early, and then have a small snack at least 30 minutes before bed. Preferably, the snack should have a good balance of protein, carbs, and fats that will not only keep you satiated, but also work to deliver tryptophan — an amino acid that causes sleepiness — to your brain. Cereal with milk, cheese and crackers, or peanut butter on toast are all solid choices.

17. Limit Liquids

Drinking water is poured into a glass.

Drinking large amounts of liquid can take hours before it passes to your bladder. The last thing you want is to wake up multiple times throughout the night to urinate. Hydrate your body 2-3 hours before bedtime, and then limit yourself to a few sips before climbing into bed.

18. Participate In A Sleep Study

Doctor preparing patient for a sleep study.

Chronic sleep disorders aren’t just inconvenient, sometimes they’re downright dangerous. Conditions such as sleep apnea, excessive snoring, bed-wetting, sleepwalking, and shift work sleep disorder should all be evaluated by your doctor. A simple sleep study could help to find and eliminate whatever’s causing your problem.

19. Be Productive

Group of people working together in an office.

Being productive throughout the day means having less to worry about at night. Not only will checking things off your to-do list help to clear your mind, but it’ll also give you a sense of accomplishment, allowing you to relax without feeling guilty.

Ironically, the extra sleep you get from your increased productivity, will in turn, make you even more productive.

20. Time Your Caffeine Intake

Tired man having his morning coffee before work.

Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you eliminate coffee from your daily routine. But we are recommending that you drink it before noon.

Caffeine has an approximate half-life of about 6 hours. In other words, if you were to consume 200mg of caffeine at 6 p.m., you’d still have 100mg in your system at midnight. Needless to say, that’s an undesirable situation when you’re trying to get to sleep.

21. Eliminate Smoking/Alcohol

Glass of whiskey with a smoking cigar.

You already know that smoking and too much alcohol is harmful to your health. But as it turns out, they also happen to be disruptive to your sleeping habits.

Nicotine has been found to affect your body’s biological clock, thereby having a negative impact on both sleep duration and sleep quality.

And alcohol doesn’t appear to be any more promising. Studies have shown that although alcohol may allow healthy adults to fall asleep faster, REM sleep — the restorative stage of shuteye — is reduced.

22. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Insomnia

Psychologist writing notes while communicating with patient.

If you’re unable to correct your sleeping habits by yourself, you might want to consider cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I involves working with a sleep therapist to recognize, monitor, and change any behaviors and beliefs that are causing you to lose sleep at night.

Not intrigued? Well, you might be surprised to find out that CBT-I has an 80% to 90% success rate for insomniacs.

23. Write In A Notebook

Man writing notes in a notebook.

Although being productive throughout the day, and taking some time out to relax — as mentioned earlier — can help prevent forgetfulness, there always seems to be that one thing that we missed.

Rather than letting buried emails, delayed phone calls, or unfinished housework irritate us, write down all of your thoughts in a notebook that’s placed on a nightstand. Arranging your mental activity on paper will allow you to clear your mind and get some sleep.

24. Aromatherapy

Lavender oils and sea salts.

Many Americans associate aromatherapy with the beauty industry. And some see it as just a bunch of hocus-pocus. But while researchers still aren’t sure why aromatherapy appears to have a positive impact on health, many of them agree that it does indeed have its benefits.

Is it our smell receptors — which are sending chemical messages to our brain — that are responsible for aromatherapy’s perks? Or is it the experiences and emotions that correlate with the scents?

Your guess is as good as ours.

What we do know is that studies have shown that oils such as lavender and vanilla can decrease anxiety and increase deep, restful sleep. And that’s all that really matters when we’re trying to force ourselves into hibernation.

25. Time Your Sleep

Man turning off his iPhone alarm clock.

Ever wonder why you sometimes wake up feeling great, fall back asleep for 30 minutes, and then wake up again feeling groggy and grumpy? The answer lies in your sleep cycle — consisting of the four stages of sleep — which lasts about 90 minutes.

If you want to wake up feeling refreshed, try setting your alarm to go off at the end of a 90-minute cycle (or use an app). If you’re getting to sleep at 10 p.m., for example, plan to wake up at 5:30 a.m.

26. Supplement

Bottles with dietary supplement pills.

Whereas therapy is the preferred method for long-term insomnia sufferers, supplements are often a good choice for short-term relief from things such as jet lag or temporary stress.

Valerian, melatonin, and chamomile tea are among some of the more popular supplements used. If those fail, talk to your doctor to see if prescription sleeping pills might be an option.

27. Eat Healthy

A salad, apple, and measuring tape on a table.

You’ve heard this one a million times before, but since few of us actually heed the advice, we’ll say it again: eat healthy!

A balanced diet can affect your health — and therefore, your sleep — in a variety of ways, including reducing inflammation and calming your nervous system.

We’re not ones to jump on the fad diets that come and go every few years, so we’ll keep it simple. Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t skip meals, and don’t splurge.
  • Eat six small meals throughout the day, rather than three large ones.
  • Cut back on empty calories — foods high in fats and added sugars, containing little to no nutrients.
  • Don’t do anything extreme (e.g. eliminate entire food groups, fasting, detox diets, drinking massive amounts of water) without first consulting with a doctor and/or a nutritionist.
  • Make sure you’re getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals, preferably from whole foods.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid highly processed foods.

28. Power Naps

Woman napping on the couch.

More than 85% of mammalian species sleep for short periods throughout the day. And although humans are monophasic sleepers — sleeping just once a day — some scientists believe that modern society has forced us into this unnatural sleep pattern.

In fact, there are now plenty of studies showing that naps improve our mood, reasoning, memoryreaction times, stress levels, and heart health. These benefits not only help us get through the day, they also help us get to sleep at night.

There is one caveat, however. Naps should be limited to 20-30 minutes to prevent the onset of sleep inertia, and they should be taken before 3 p.m. so they don’t interfere with our regular bedtime.

Want to maximize the benefits of a power nap? Try a napucinno (a.k.a coffee nap, or caffeine nap), in which you drink your coffee immediately before taking your nap. Yes, we’re serious.

29. Relaxation Techniques

Woman massaging her own neck.

Believe it or not, sometimes the only thing getting in the way of a deep sleep is muscle tension.

If you find yourself tense or just stressed in general, try to focus on getting your body to relax. Make sure your clothes aren’t too tight, practice breathing techniques, and experiment with progressive muscle relaxation.

For some, yoga and/or sex before bed could also achieve the same results — although, for others, these activities could prove to be too exhilarating.

30. Window Treatments

Girl opening the curtains in the morning.

While sleeping from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. sounds good in theory, the truth is, most of us don’t. If you typically don’t wake up until later in the morning, it’s probably a good idea to invest in quality window treatments that block out most — if not all — sunlight.

This is especially important if you work nights and sleep during the day, or if you live in the city with a lot of light pollution.

It’s worth noting that it’s also your skin — not just your eyes — that regulate sleep when exposed to sunlight. Therefore, sleep masks aren’t quite as effective as blackout curtains.

31. Wake Up Right

Rooster perched upon a farm fence.

If you grimace every time you hear a sound similar to your alarm clock, then it’s probably time to change your morning experience. Waking up should become a pleasant affair instead of a dreadful ordeal.

First, rather than using a jarring alarm to shock you into consciousness, try waking up to your favorite music, or use dawn simulation. Additionally, make an effort to knock out chores the night before (e.g. lay out your clothes for the day, prepare a pre-made breakfast). And if you have a programmable thermostat, make sure you’re waking up at a comfortable temperature.

32. Reserve The Bed

Passionate couple kissing in bed.

Your bed should be used for sleep and sex; nothing more. Working, playing on your mobile devices, or watching television while lying in bed is a bad idea. You want your body to associate the bed with sleeping, and that’s hopeless if you’re doing everything in your bedroom except actually sleeping.

33. Control Your Dreams And Nightmares

 

A handmade dream catcher hanging on a wooden fence.

Nightmares can be just as disruptive to our sleep as the external factors, particularly if they’re recurring. Occasionally, nightmares are simply caused by a new medication or supplement, and can be eliminated after the new element is removed. But chronic nightmares can also be much more complicated; related to things such as PTSD, alcohol abuse, or sleep disorders themselves. In some cases, imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) can be useful. Otherwise, professional help is usually recommended.

There’s also a phenomenon known as a lucid dream — that some believe can be learned — in which a person is aware of the fact that they are dreaming, and in some cases, able to actually control the dream or wake themselves up on command.

34. Acceptance

Insomniac lying awake in bed.

Accept the fact that you won’t always be able to get those coveted eight hours of shuteye. As Allen Saunders once said, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

Don’t judge or sabotage yourself with catastrophic thinking. Who knows, you might actually be doing yourself a favor by getting less sleep.