15 Tips for Better Sleep
1. Block blue light!
Get a blue light filter for your computer screen (and your phone screen), use “blue light blocking” glasses, or don’t look at screens for at least half an hour before going to bed.[2–5] f.lux blocks blue light on computers. Twilight blocks blue light on Android. redshift is similar to f.lux but allows you to set the time you want to sleep, rather than rely on geolocation.
2. Stick to a sleep schedule
Have a consistent sleep schedule (go to sleep and wake up at the same times consistently). Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, also talks about this in his book: “Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. As creatures of habit, people have a hard time adjusting to changes in sleep patterns. Sleeping later on weekends won’t fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week and will make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning. Set an alarm for bedtime. Often we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up but fail to do so for when it’s time to go to sleep. If there is only one piece of advice you remember... this should be it.”
3. Make a bedtime routine
Have a bedtime routine that relaxes you and tells your body it’s time to sleep. For some, this can be taking a hot shower and reading a story until you fall asleep, and particularly stories that are easy to read and not too thrilling. For one of the authors, this sometimes this means reading delightful children’s stories.
4. Limit your caffeine
Stick to only having caffeine in the morning. Or, if you’re really sensitive to caffeine, try substituting it with herbal tea.
5. Avoid alcohol before bed
Avoid having a lot of alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep and hinders learning.
6. Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)
The American College of Physicians recommends Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) as the first-line treatment for insomnia. If you have insomnia, this could be a good place to start.
7. Try mindfulness and relaxtion practices
There’s evidence that mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, and relaxation techniques can be helpful for treating insomnia.
8. Dim the lights
Dim the lights when you start getting ready for bed (can use fairy lights or some other light source with an illuminance of 180 lux or less) and make sure the room is dark when you go to sleep. Blackout curtains can help with this. Some people wear blue blocking glasses before bed - Consumer Reports found that the affordable Uvex Skyper glasses block almost all blue light.
9. Cool the room
Keep the room cool before going to bed; have it at about 19-21°C.
10. Take a hot shower just before bed
Take a hot shower before going to bed, as it will reduce your body core temperature, which will help you sleep.[11,12] (Anecdotally, hot showers before bed cause a friend of one of the authors to fall asleep very quickly.)
11. Expose yourself to natural light every day
Exercise and expose yourself to natural light every day. Morning light when you first wake up will help you sleep better at night. A good amount of morning sunlight is 10 minutes on a sunny day, 20 minutes on a cloudy day, and 30-60 minutes on very overcast days. If you live where there is no light consider using a SAD lamp or a device like the luminette.
12. No bedtime snacks!
No food at least 1 hour before bedtime.
13. Try a magnesium supplement
There is limited evidence regarding supplements for sleep. Magnesium is common in the diet, and there’s some evidence it can improve sleep quality (anecdotally, I know one person it helped immensely), so it might make sense to start with 150mg magnesium threonate before bed. For more info on sleep supplements, see here and here.
14. Choose CBT-I over sleeping pills
Prescription pills like Ambien and Lunesta cause sedation and not real sleep. There’s evidence they increase risk of death. If you have insomnia, remember that CBT-I is the recommended first-line treatment, not pills.
15. Exercise regularly
Exercising regularly can increase time asleep and improve sleep quality by increasing time spent in deep sleep. Interestingly, it doesn’t tend to be the case that sleep is improved the night after exercise, but the average sleep quality is improved over a longer period of time. So if you’re tracking how your sleep improves after exercising you would need to track over several days, and not just the day after you exercise, to see an effect. Avoid exercising right before bed as your elevated body temperature can prevent you from falling asleep.
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About the Authors
Before working on MentNav, Emily earned graduate degrees in neuroscience and linguistics. While studying neuroscience in the Netherlands, she learned a lot about the neuroscience of sleep! These lessons were particularly important to her as someone who had just moved to northern Europe from the Deep South of the US, where daylight hours are very different. It was hard to adjust to long dark winter hours and long bright summer hours at first, but many of the tips in this article helped her to eventually achieve a regular sleeping pattern.
Max Pietsch is a software engineer who currently works at Google. The pursuit of good sleep, and difficulty getting it, has led him to experiment with lots of ways of getting a good night's sleep over the years. Hot showers and stretching before bed, more light in the morning and less in the evening, and Zone 2 cardio have helped him the most so far!