According to surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of people living in the United States don’t get enough sleep. Americans are also the least happy they’ve ever been, based on a recent U.N. report — they’ve dropped in happiness rankings for the past three years running. It’s difficult to say whether poor sleeping habits and sleepless nights are causally related to unhappiness, but there is very little doubt that when you have trouble sleeping, it negatively affects your overall health and well-being.
Whether you want to fall asleep faster or get higher-quality rest overall, improving your sleep isn’t necessarily difficult. Here are 9 easy things you can do to get better sleep right away:
1. Write Before Bed
The difficulty in getting to sleep for many people lies in an inability to shut off their thoughts. As you wind down, you’re often not only thinking about events of the day, but also on the next day’s challenges. These thoughts aren’t aimless chatter, either — they represent feelings, observations, or intentions that your subconscious has deemed important, and doesn’t want you to forget during the night.
One solution is to write as many of those thoughts down as you can. Whether it’s a journal, a diary, or just a stack of post-it notes, writing down your thoughts and feelings before bed will move them temporarily out of your mind. You’ll often find this makes it easier for you to relax.
2. Make Your Bed
Making your bed might seem like too simple of a chore to carry with it the power to change your sleep quality. Interestingly, however, there is a correlation between making your bed and your quality of sleep.
That’s right: the National Sleep Foundation compiled data from a “Bedroom Poll” and found that people who said they made their beds in the morning also reported better sleep overall.
Why this correlation exists is still a mystery, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploiting it. After all, it only takes a few minutes to make your bed each morning, and chances are that if you’re reading this article, you’re probably lying awake in bed for longer than that every night anyway.
3. Drink More Water
You might think drinking more water would harm your sleep quality by causing you to get up at night and use the bathroom. That can happen, which is why a good hydration practice involves not waiting until bedtime to guzzle water.
If you’re surprised that hydration affects sleep patterns in the first place, you shouldn’t be. Even mild dehydration dries out your mouth and nasal passages, making you more likely to snore or wake up during the night. It can even lead to nocturnal leg cramps.
Whenever possible, drink plenty of fluids (non-caffeinated, if you’re having trouble sleeping) at regular intervals throughout the day. About 90 ounces of fluid a day is appropriate for most women, while most men should be getting closer to 125.
4. Take a Shower Before Bed
During the day, your core body temperature naturally fluctuates in accordance with your circadian rhythm, which, as you may know, controls your sleep-wake cycle.
Body temperature is one of the factors your body relies on to know whether it’s time to sleep or stay awake. A lowered core temperature prompts melatonin release, and the body progressively cools overnight before warming again around “wake-up” time.
This is called thermoregulation, and you can manipulate it with a warm bath or shower. The warm water heats up your body, and when you get out, your skin dries and cools quickly — triggering melatonin and other “sleep cues” in the brain.
5. Take a Night Drive (In Your Imagination)
This is a visualization technique similar to what many therapists recommend to treat stress and anxiety, and one of many such techniques put forth by the National Sleep Foundation.
Think of a drive or ride you take often (your daily commute to work, for example). Now picture yourself getting in your vehicle, pulling out of your parking space, and commencing the trip. Try your best to focus on the road and imagine each stop, turn, curve, and landmark. Chances are, you’ll be asleep before you reach the second mile marker.
6. Quit Coffee
Of all the ideas on this list, you might be most opposed to trying this one. After all, if you’re already groggy and tired in the mornings from not sleeping well, coffee might be the one thing that seems to help you get going.
Unfortunately (especially for those who drink coffee for the taste), the same caffeine that is your best friend in the morning becomes your enemy at night, disrupting your circadian rhythm and promoting an unhealthy cycle of wakefulness.
You might think, “Sure, but I don’t drink caffeine at night.” What you might not know is that the quarter-life of caffeine is a full 12 hours — meaning if you drink a cup of coffee at noon, a quarter of the caffeine from it is still in your system at midnight.
Ditching caffeinated stuff for decaf or hot tea might be difficult in the short run, but it will make it easier to relax and wind down later in the day. If you find that you just can’t give it up, try to drink your caffeine as early as possible in the day to help minimize its late-night effects.
7. Try Dinner for Breakfast
While nutritional science is still in its infancy in many ways, its research has already made waves in demonstrating how what we eat affects us. Potassium, for instance, benefits the body in many ways — including acting as a mild muscle relaxant.
Protein, meanwhile, may be billed as the muscle-building nutrient, but did you know it also aids in sleep? Another key to getting quality rest is making sure the body’s blood sugar level stays regulated — something a good source of light carbohydrates can help immensely with.
Put all that together and what do you get? A prescription for breakfast at dinnertime. A banana for the potassium, some eggs for the protein, and some carbs, like a piece of toast or bowl of oats, will prime your body for a relaxing night of high-quality sleep. (Just leave out the coffee.)
8. Try the ARMY’s 2-Minute Technique
If there’s one organization that absolutely can’t afford groggy employees, it’s the military. To guard against mistakes committed by sleep-deprived soldiers, the U.S. Army trains its members in a technique to fall asleep within 2 minutes. Here’s how it works:
- After getting ready for sleep (teeth brushed, alarm set, etc.), lie down in a comfortable position (you can also do this in your car, in which case just lean your seat back)
- Tighten all the muscles in your face, then let them relax as much as possible
- Let your shoulders and arms relax as well
- Clear your mind for 10 seconds, trying to think of nothing at all
- Picture one of the following: you’re lying in a canoe, in a calm lake with clear blue skies above; or you’re in a velvet hammock, gently swaying in a pitch-black room
If this doesn’t work right away, it may be worth trying again. The best results are reported after several weeks of consistent practice.
9. Get More Exercise
When it comes to packing everything into your schedule, do you prioritize extra sleep or extra exercise? The truth is you need both to maintain your health. The solution might be to focus on exercises that have been documented to actually benefit your sleep quality.
For example, doing 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise after waking up in the morning has been shown to improve sleep quality in adults. According to at least one survey, those who exercise are almost twice as likely as non-exercisers to report getting good sleep each night.
The Bottom Line
While these tips can be highly effective, it’s important to remember that poor sleep can also be caused by underlying medical conditions. That said, in many cases, lifestyle changes have been shown to be more effective than medication at improving sleep in the long term. Either way, it’s a good idea to discuss these kinds of issues with your physician or healthcare provider.
Whatever you decide, trouble sleeping isn’t something you should ignore. Lack of sleep can contribute to a number of serious health problems, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
You spend up to a third of your life asleep, so if you want to improve your quality of life and overall well-being, it stands to reason that your sleep habits are a good place to start!
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