"How can I improve my sleep?" is one of the most common questions we hear at Ergoflex. Regular good sleep has a transformative effect on your health and day-to-day life, so it's always a good idea to try and achieve it.
Here are fifty super-simple ways to improve your nightly sleep, whether you're looking for a solution to a sleep problem, general sleep advice or lifestyle tips that could help boost your sleep quality. From advice on how to sleep with anxiety to turning your bedroom into a relaxing sleep sanctuary, these easy tips might just make the difference between a sleepless night and an effortless trip to the land of nod.
Exercise, even in its mildest forms, is a good way to follow a healthy lifestyle into which good sleep will seamlessly fit. By expending energy and being active at the right times of the day you’re giving your body the opportunity to get to bedtime feeling prepared for sleep.
2. Consider Sleep Phases
During a night of undisturbed sleep, the body experiences five different phases of sleep at various points. These start with light dozing (Stage 1) through to deep sleep (Stage 4) and REM sleep (Stage 5) before starting over again, and alternating through different stages throughout the night. Each full cycle through the stages can take around 100 minutes. So, it’s completely normal to experience a very light sleep phase where you’re feeling partially awake in the middle of the night. It’s not a sign of poor sleep quality, and it’s important to avoid worrying about it or allowing the mind to click into wakefulness.
3. Breathe Easy
Deep breathing exercises are a quick and easy way to settle down into a relaxed state and prepare for sleep. Simply taking in some deep breaths and slowly exhaling over a few minutes can be enough to calm the mind and regulate heart rate.
4. Avoid Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills and aids can provide a quick fix to sleep problems, but in most cases shouldn’t be used for any sustained length of time. By regularly using sleep aids you’re conditioning your body to rely on artificial triggers for sleep, which in turn risks a reliance on them as well as harming the chances of successfully overcoming the initial issue.
5. Take an Alternative Approach
Low-impact exercises that focus on both physical and mental aspects are almost tailormade for good sleep, as they help condition both the body and mind. Yoga and Pilates are perhaps the two most popular and accessible forms of such alternative exercise, and with a little dedication can become part of a healthy lifestyle in which good sleep comes naturally.
6. Nap Wisely
A well-timed nap can provide a much-needed boost of energy to take on the rest of the day, but it’s a tricky thing to get right and could have severe detrimental effects on your overall sleep quality if you don’t. By napping in the early afternoon – around 2pm when the body experiences its natural energy ‘slump’ – and keeping the nap to around 20 minutes to prevent falling into deeper sleep phases, you’ll get the benefits of a quick sleep without impacting on your nightly sleep quality.
7. Shower Before Bed
The body undergoes a temperature change before and during sleep, with a cooling down signalling the onset of sleep. An evening shower can help with this process, as the body adjusts after being under warm water in the steamy bathroom environment. By timing the shower around an hour before going to bed you’re effectively triggering the body into the optimum pre-sleep state.
8. Try Aromatherapy
Some essential oils have powerful calming effects, making them a good choice for sleep-friendly evening routine. They’re an easily accessible and can be used in a variety of simple ways, including putting them in a bath, diffuser sticks or even a small number of drops on a pillow. Lavender, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang are some of the essential oils known for their stress-relieving effects. As with all botanicals it’s important to be aware of potential allergic reactions.
9. Time Your Workouts
While an active lifestyle is of course good for your overall health, it’s vital to schedule your workouts so that they don’t impact on your sleep. Always give your body time to recover to its natural resting state before going to bed, and avoid late evening workouts that create over-exertion during the time you should be winding down.
10. Know When to Get Help
For all the sleep advice and best practice available, it’s a fact that sleep is an incredibly complex and variable process. As such, there are a number of sleep disorders that require medical diagnosis and intervention. From widely-understood issues such as sleep apnoea to the more mysterious sub-set of conditions known as ‘parasomnias’, some sleep issues need very specific treatments as they’re linked to other health problems. If you feel that you’re suffering from such a condition it’s important to get professional help at the earliest opportunity.
11. Lose Weight
Carrying excess weight can create sleep problems, not least in relation to obstructive sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder that is linked to a number of serious medical conditions. Good sleep is a natural foundation for a healthy lifestyle, and the two can go hand-in-hand. Starting with exercise and diet changes, an improvement in sleep quality can occur naturally. By getting regular good sleep you’re far more likely to stick to a healthy diet and avoid the pitfalls that can make losing weight particularly difficult.
12. Busy Mind? Write a List
One of the most common barriers to falling asleep is a racing mind in which thoughts, ideas and worries can seem to run wild. This is totally normal and likely a result of the distractions of the day suddenly disappearing while the mind is still decidedly active. If this is a regular problem then it’s a good idea to get those thoughts out of your head and on paper, in the form of a list. Even just the practice of noting down whatever you’re thinking about can help ‘unload’ your mind. Remember the list isn’t going anywhere, and you’re better equipped to tackle it during the day when your mind is suitably rested.
13. Let Go of FOMO
While the endless flow of information and entertainment from social media has its time and place, that time really shouldn’t be when you’re trying to go to sleep. Forget that fear of missing out and check out for the night. You’ll be able to catch up on your feeds in the morning and your body will thank you for it.
14.Create a Clear Work/Life Balance
The active mind required in the work environment is very different to the relaxed mind that’s preparing for a good night’s sleep, but it’s not always easy to switch between the two. This can be particularly difficult for those working from home. Being stricter with work-related behaviour (such as checking emails) in the home can be the start of creating a better work/life balance that results in a more rested mind.
15. Try Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice that has gained in popularity over recent years, as more of us try to combat busy lives. In short, mindfulness is the concept of being mentally present. One of the many benefits of being present in the moment is avoiding overbearing thoughts of the past or the future… which is to say the things that tend to pop into the mind and prevent sleep just at the wrong time. The thoughts can (and will) of course come into your head, but mindfulness allows for them to be waved on without creating undue stress – making it the perfect sleep-friendly skill to deal with an active nocturnal mind.
16. Reserve the Bed for Sleep
Try to avoid doing non-sleep activities on or in bed, such as watching TV, using a laptop/tablet or phone for significant periods. As well as delaying the onset of sleep, this can subtly condition the mind into associating the bed with active stimulation, energising into wakefulness. By reserving the bed (and if at all possible the bedroom itself) for just sleep you’re automatically putting the mind into a relaxed state.
17. Cut Out the Noise
Noise isn’t good for sleep, whether it’s a loud neighbour, the barely-discernible hum of an electronic device, or anything in between. Solving noise pollution of course depends upon what’s causing the noise, and it’s not always possible to cut it off at the source. However, a simple set of foam earplugs can often be the answer – a cheap, lo-fi noise prevention method that might be the difference between a long, exhausting and frustrating night and blissfully undisturbed sleep.
18. Keep Your Cool
The body goes through various complex processes during sleep, including shifts in temperature. While thermoregulation is something that the body does naturally, it’s important to have the right room temperature to avoid disrupting sleep. A slightly cool 60 to 67 Degrees Fahrenheit is said to be optimum for good sleep. Anything significantly cooler or warmer is likely to trigger your body into reacting, causing restlessness.
19. Aim for a Blackout
Light is a powerful trigger for energising the body, so by making your bedroom as dark as possible you’re giving yourself the best chance of good sleep. Invest in some blackout blinds/curtains, or if that’s not possible then a simple eye-mask will offer a reasonable alternative.
20. Create a Sleep Haven
When it comes to improving sleep quality the psychological effects of a bedroom that encourages relaxation cannot be underestimated. So as much as reasonably possible try to remove anything that doesn’t relate to sleep. If your bedroom is unmistakably focused on sleep then it’ll have an immediate and powerfully calming effect when you’re in it.
21. Clear the Clutter
A messy bedroom doesn’t encourage the restfulness required for good sleep. A tidy bedroom provides a distraction-free, inherently calming environment where the mind is free to relax into sleep.
22. You Snooze You Lose
Hitting the snooze button on your alarm might feel like the most tempting thing in the world when you’re just not ready to get out of bed, but those snatched minutes of extra sleep can come at a price. Even if it takes mere seconds to fall back to sleep, your body will likely be roused out of a sleep phase that just isn’t designed to wake up from when the alarm goes off again. You’re simply extending that feeling of lethargy into the day.
23. Consider Colours
The dominant colours in a bedroom can play a subtle but powerful role in determining how you feel. There are various colour theories when it comes to interior design, but simply considering ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ colours is a good starting point. Reds and yellows for instance, in the warm part of the colour palette, can create a sense of energy and vibrancy, while ‘cooler’ blues and greens give off an altogether more relaxed atmosphere – making them more appropriate for the bedroom.
24. Respect Sleep
Regular good sleep is vital to a healthy and happy lifestyle, so it’s something that should be respected and worked on. Gone are the days when existing on a mere handful of hours sleep each night was a badge of honour. If you’re treating sleep as something to be avoided then you’re risking your health, and by respecting sleep and you’re doing the best for your body and mind.
25. Screen-Free Winding Down
The type of light emitted by TVs, smartphones, tablets and computers is an effective replication of daylight, which creates a powerful response in the human body. By exposing yourself to bright screens in the late evening you’re priming your body to be alert and energised, which is of course the exact opposite of what you need at bedtime. By reducing screen time in those hours you’ll fall asleep quicker once you’re in bed, which will in turn promote a more natural sleep throughout the night.
26. Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
The body’s circadian rhythm, sometimes called the sleep/wake cycle, relates to energy fluctuations over a 24-hour period. By following a regular schedule of going to bed and waking up around the same time you’re helping to keep this in sync, and reducing the chances of creating a sleep disrupting change.
27. Listen to Music
Leisure activities don’t come much more relaxing than listening to music. Of course what will be most effective is a highly personal choice, but well-chosen classical and ambient are popular genres for creating a sedate, calming vibe.
28. Write a Sleep Diary
Writing some notes on the basic details of your sleep can be a surprisingly helpful process in working towards better sleep. Things like the time you went to bed, how long (approximately) it took you to fall asleep, how you feel you slept, the time you woke up and what you had to eat the night before can all reveal subtle yet important details. Writing a sleep diary is often required when undergoing a sleep study, and can help identify any underlying problems.
29. Get your Morning Routine Right
A morning routine based on positive activity – getting out of bed promptly after waking up, eating a healthy breakfast, getting outside in good time – sets your body and mind up for the day in the right way, and can help determine how you’ll act all the way up to bedtime. Appetite, energy levels and motivation will all benefit from a good morning routine – which will in turn help your sleep quality.
30. Use Some Positive Sleep Tech
Technology isn’t always the enemy of good sleep, and some devices and apps deliver sleep-friendly results. From sleep-tracking on smartphones and wearables, to white noise machines and sleep phase smart alarm apps, you can improve your sleep hygiene with the right technology.
31. Read a Book
When it comes to relaxing pre-sleep activities it’s hard to beat reading. Be sure to use a light that is strong enough to avoid eye-strain but not so bright as to wake your body up. Also steer clear of any particularly pulse-racing literary genres.
32. Get Outside During the Day
Daily exposure to natural light is important in regulating the body’s circadian rhythm and expending energy at the right times of the day. At bedtime, the result will be a naturally wound-down body that’s ready for sleep.
33. Eat Right
Diet and sleep are inextricably linked, with the appetite largely controlled by when the body requires energy. A bad night’s sleep can put the body into something of an emergency state in which quick energy is demanded. This can lead to both poor food choices – high fat junk foods – and disrupted meal times. The sudden energy hit provided by such foods is always followed by an equally sudden slump, and the cycle begins again. This can lead to a whole host of issues, but when it comes specifically to sleep it usually results in the body being completely unprepared for bedtime… leading to a bad night and the cycle beginning again. In contrast, a good night’s sleep gives the body the energy required to start the day, stick to regular mealtimes and avoid the cravings for foods that will upset the process.
34. Don’t Eat Late
Always leave enough time for your evening meal to properly digest before going to bed, and try to avoid any particularly heavy or intense (ie; spicy) foods that may take a little longer to settle.
35. Try Some Sleep-friendly Superfoods
Lots of foods that contain sleep-friendly ingredients, which can help to settle the body and mind in the run-up to bedtime. Cherries, blueberries, almonds and kale are just some of the foods that can improve sleep quality, thanks to various contents like potassium, tryptophan and magnesium helping the body produce sleep-inducing hormones.
36. Eat a Sleep-Friendly Breakfast
Everyone’s heard the old saying “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, well, it turns out it’s not only true but it’s also linked to your overall sleep quality. By eating a healthy breakfast that sets you up for the day, you’re more likely to stick to regular mealtimes and avoid the high-energy between-meal snacking that produce the spikes and slumps that can harm your sleep when it comes to bedtime.
37. Try Herbal Teas
Herbal teas can have highly effective botanical properties, with some varieties decidedly sleep-friendly. Chamomile, lavender and valerian root teas are just some of the known relaxants that can provide the perfect early evening wind-down.
38. Ditch Excessive Caffeine
Drinks that contain particularly excessive amounts of caffeine (energy drinks, large high-street coffees) can impact on sleep even if they’re consumed during the day. The energy spike from ingesting such amounts of caffeine is powerful, and will generally result in a sudden slump that requires further high-energy consumption to recover from. This can disrupt mealtimes and general diet in much the same way as junk food.
39. Avoid Excess Alcohol
The link between alcohol and sleep is widely misunderstood. While excessive alcohol consumption can often result in the rapid onset of tiredness, it doesn’t promote anything like good sleep. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means you’ll need the toilet more regularly than unusual, breaking sleep. The sleep that you do achieve will be light and fitful, preventing the body from going through the natural phases that make up a good night’s sleep. Think about the feeling of a hangover and subsequent exhaustion – does that resemble waking up after a rejuvenating night of deep sleep?
40. Drink Right
Be conscious of what you’re drinking in the evening, as well as how much of it you drink. It goes without saying that a large drink, even one that may be relatively sleep-friendly, will likely prevent sleep.
41. Beware Stealth-Caffeine
Caffeine is the known enemy of sleep, but it’s rarely discussed out of the context of coffee. However, lots of food and drink contain high levels of caffeine, including black tea (aka English Breakfast Tea) and chocolate. Consuming caffeine in these forms, often unknowingly, is no different to drinking coffee in terms of the way it will slow the onset of sleep.
42. Change Your Sheets Regularly
The feeling of getting into bed with freshly washed sheets is one of life’s little pleasures, helping create a sense of comfort that positively encourages relaxation. However, we found back in 2013, in a survey that made headlines around the world, that a lot of us aren’t exactly prioritising cleanliness in the bed. The most shocking finding we uncovered was that 55% of single men aged between 18-25 washed their bed sheets on average every 3.1 months. Putting basic hygiene worries aside, by keeping used bed sheets on for such extended periods of time increases the likelihood of bed bugs and dust mites inhabiting the space.
43. Check Your Mattress
Your mattress is one of the most important factors in determining how well you’ll sleep, so be sure to know when it’s time to change it. From waking up with aches and pains, to physically feeling inconsistent parts of the surface (such as permanent dents and indentations), there are lots of ways you can tell when your mattress has given up the ghost. As soon as you start noticing these issues it’s time to change, or your health could suffer as a result of continuously poor sleep.
44. Know Your Sleeping Position
Everyone has a preferred sleeping position, and it’s beneficial to get into it as soon as you’re in bed. This reduces the chances of restlessness during the onset of sleep, and falling into the early stage of sleep in a position that you won’t be able to stay in for a significant length of time. The ‘best’ sleeping position is the one that works for you, and if you’re finding that for any reason you’re not able to get into it – for instance an uncomfortable or poorly-sized mattress, a disturbing partner or a physical condition – then you need to make a change to accommodate it.
45. Change Your Bedding with the Season
Since temperature plays a key role in determining sleep quality it makes sense to change your bedding periodically throughout the year. Typically a spring/summer and autumn/winter duvet will suffice, and help avoid extreme temperatures disturbing sleep.
46. Pick the Right Pillow
The importance of pillows is often overlooked when it comes to bedding items. A poor pillow can undo even the best preparation for a good night’s sleep, and can result in unpleasant aches and pains. Pillows are a hugely personal choice, but with so much depending on them it’s well worth finding one that works for you.
47. Be Tough on Pets
Pets can have a powerfully calming effect, so it’s no surprise that some of us allow them to stay in the bedroom (or even the bed) overnight. There are various arguments for and against this, but the bottom line should always be your own sleep quality. If your cat or dog is commanding too much space or disturbing your sleep in any way then it’s time to banish them from the bed.
48. Think About Your Partner
Having a noisy or restless partner is a common complaint, but it can have a diverse number of reasons behind it. If you’ve got a particularly restless partner it’s a win-win to educate them in the ways of good sleep hygiene; they’ll get better quality sleep and you will too. Sometimes the mattress is to blame, with even the slightest movement producing creaking sounds or a ‘roll-together’ sensation. If this is the case then it’s time to invest in a new, better quality mattress. If your partner regularly snores then it could be a sign that they’re suffering from sleep apnoea, and they should be medically assessed to prevent further health issues.
49. Choose the Perfect PJs
What you wear to bed can make the difference between a great night’s sleep and a restless one. It’s of course a very personal preference and it’s up to you to find what works best, but if you’re finding that your nightwear is even slightly hindering your sleep then it’s time to change.
50. Get Up
If you find yourself ‘trying’ and failing to go to sleep for a long time then it’s sometimes beneficial to actually get up and out of bed for a short time. Although this sounds paradoxical, by staying wide awake in bed you’re subtly conditioning your mind to associate the space with wakefulness. This unpleasant situation lends itself to the mind wandering and remaining active. For all of its mysteries, one thing that’s known about sleep is that it can’t be forced. However, by removing yourself from the bedroom and doing something relaxing, such as reading, you’re giving yourself a chance to reset and try again when you’re ready.