We all know how awful it feels to be dragging ourselves through the day when we are sleep deprived. In this post, I’ll be exploring 20 tips for better sleep. My sincere wish is that you’ll try to implement some of the ideas, experience a noticeable improvement in your sleep, and feel great during the day as a result.
Tip 1: Try to Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
Many sleep experts say that the key to good quality sleep is a regular sleep schedule. This means going to sleep and waking up at approximately the same time every day. According to the ‘Sleep Doctor’ Michael Breus, consistent waking time is even more important than the time we go to bed.
Try to stick to it even at weekends, days off work, or if you work from home. This may seem rather restrictive, but I can tell you from my own experience that you will be doing a great favour to yourself. Your body will get used to the regular sleep-wake patterns and reward you with feeling really good during the day.
Tip 2: At Least 15 Minutes of Sunlight in the Morning
Exposure to the natural light in the morning will help you sleep better at night. Sunlight increases your levels of serotonin, a hormone associated with feeling happy, awake and focused. An interesting fact is that by the evening, this very same hormone, serotonin, is synthesized into melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates our sleep.
Getting exposed to daylight as early as possible contributes to good quality sleep. Try to get out in the morning even on cloudy or rainy days, because your body will still benefit from natural light, even if it’s not a sunny day. (I’m sure dog owners know about this alreday!)
Tip 3: Exercise
Regular exercise during the day is the best way to make you tired naturally and ensures quality sleep. Vigorous exercise is ideal in the morning.
Research has been made about the impact of exercise on our sleep quality. It involved three groups of people – the first exercised in the morning, the second at 1pm, and the third at 7pm. The group that experienced the best quality sleep was the one that exercised in the morning.
So, if you can, try to slot an exercise routine into your morning, or afternoon as a second choice. If you want to exercise before bedtime, gentle exercises like yoga, qi-gong or tai-chi will relax you and prepare you for rest without overstimulating your body.
Your exercise routine doesn’t need to be long. I do a five-minute routine, based on Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine, which sets all the important energy flows in motion and jump-starts your whole system. (You can watch a video of the Daily Energy Routine towards the end of this post, under Tip 18.)
I love this routine for several reasons: It’s an instant mood improver, it gives you energy straight away, and it also strengthens your immunity in the long term. So if you want to prevent colds, practice this routine every day. You don’t have to do the whole routine in one go; parts of it can be done even when you’re walking, going up the stairs, or taking a shower.
I also do a short set of yoga asanas, which you can check in my article on chronic back pain, under Point 4. I also use a rebounder, which gets my heart pumping in a few seconds of jumping.
Find the style of exercise that suits you the best. Any kind of physical activity can improve the quality of our sleep, and not only that; by exercising in the morning, you are doing a huge favour to yourself on many levels. You’ll notice that your mood is better, your thinking clearer, you have more mental and emotional resilience, and you can concentrate for longer periods of time.
Tip 4: Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises can help you with falling asleep and improve the quality of your sleep. Oxygenating your body lowers your stress levels, which in turn strengthens your immune system and makes you feel good.
The following method, presented by Dr Andrew Weill, M.D., has been proven to help people with various sleeping disorders, such as difficulty falling asleep, interrupted sleep, shallow sleep, or insomnia.
The method is called ‘The 4-7-8 Technique’ and it’s based on yogic practice of breath control known as pranayama. Prana is a Sanskrit word for life force, and ayama for expansion, extending, restraint, control, or stopping. The whole word pranayma translates as ‘regulation of the breath’, or ‘control of life force’.
Dr Andrew Weil describes the 4-7-8 exercise as a ‘natural tranquiliser for the nervous system’.
Practising this method will decrease your tension and allow your body to relax, thus improving your sleep. Some people fall asleep in just a minute while doing this technique.
How to Do the 4-7-8 Technique:
- Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth.
- Let all air out first by exhaling.
- Inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Exhale forcefully through your mouth for a count of eight, making a ‘whoosh’ sound.
- Repeat this cycle four times.
In this video, Dr Weill explains and demonstrates the 4-7-8 technique.
How Often Should You Practice the 4-7-8 Technique?
For the exercise to be effective, you should practice it at least twice a day.
You can do it more often than that if you want, but never more than four breath cycles at a time. If you practice it regularly for at least a month, then you can increase the number of cycles to eight (but no more than that).
You can do the whole cycle more slowly than Dr. Weill presents it, depending on how long you can hold your breath. Ideally, your breaths should be slower than in Dr. Weill’s demonstration, but don’t force it if you are a beginner. You will manage to lengthen your breath through regular practice. The important thing is that you are comfortable when you breathe and when you hold your breath.
According to Dr. Weill, after practicing this exercise for 4 -6 weeks, you can start using this exercise for multiple purposes:
- When you’re getting tense and feel you may overreact
- When you experience cravings (nicotine, sugar, etc.)
- When you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep
Changes in Your Physiology
After 2 or 3 months or regular practice you will start experiencing significant changes in your physiology:
- Your sleep will improve
- Your heart rate and blood pressure will slow down
- Your digestion will improve
- Your blood circulation will increase (so if you’ve suffere from cold hands, they may start to feel warm due to improved circulation)
- You’ll be much less susceptible to anxiety
According to Dr. Weill, the 4-7-8 Technique is the most effective anti-anxiety technique. He has successfully taught it to patients with severe forms of panic disorder.
As a reward of practicing this regularly, you may start experiencing a pleasant altered state of consciousness during the exercise. The results may not come instantly, but if you are diligent and practice it daily at least twice a day, you will experience noticeable results. It is the consistency that produces dramatic changes.
Even though it only takes 1 – 2 minutes twice a day, doing this regularly over the period of weeks or months changes involuntary nervous function and through that the physiology of the body.
Many diseases are rooted in the unbalanced functioning of the involuntary nervous system. By imposing rhythms of the breath on the voluntary system, these rhythms are slowly induced to the involuntary system – so over time we are able to change the function – or modify the activity – of the involuntary nervous system, and massively improve our health as a result.
I recommend trying the 4-7-8 technique right now following Dr Weill’s video, and then again in bed tonight.
Tip 5: Take Cold Showers
I’m sure some of you will refuse to even think about getting into cold water. However, cold water has been successfully used for hundreds of years to bring down fevers or as first aid for burns. Athletes often use cold showers or ice baths to speed up recovery after physical exercise. In the past, cold therapies were also used to calm patients with manic-depressive psychoses.
Here are a few examples of what exposure to cold can do for you:
- Reset the nervous system
- Decrease inflammation
- Reduce swelling
- Soothe sore muscles
- Speed up metabolism
- Improve your ability to focus
- Strengthen your immunity
- And, last but not least, improve the quality of your sleep!
Taking cold showers has been a game changer for me. I’ve got inspired by two amazing people: The ‘brain coach’ Jim Kwik, who has a cold shower as a part of is daily routine, and ‘The Iceman’ Wim Hof.
I am taking cold showers twice a day – after getting up and before going to sleep. Both times of the day have their specific advantages for exposing my body to cold.
In the morning it is a great way to wake up; while I’m taking the shower, I do intensive breathing, and several exercises from The Daily Energy Routine by Donna Eden (e.g. thumping my thymus to strengthen my immunity).
Cooling your body down promotes good sleep, so it is beneficial to have a cold shower in the evening as well, without stimulating the body with exercise.
If you have never taken cold showers before, and the idea just seems unbearable, start with a warm shower and finish with cold water. Deep, long breaths will help you feel less cold. You’ll soon start experiencing the fresh, liberating feeling that cold water brings, and feel fantastic afterwards! (You can tick it off as a first major achievement of your day!)
Water can cleanse more than just the surface. It is capable of cleansing your etheric energy field and flushing a good amount of negative energy from your body, which is, of course, another bonus for better sleep. (I recommend a beautiful book The Hidden Messages in Water by M. Emoto, which explores how molecules of water can react to energy, including your thoughts, words, feelings, and intentions.)
Tip 6 – Stop Caffeine by 2pm
Caffeine takes a long time to process. We are all different in terms of our ability to metabolise, but in general, caffeine can stay in your system for up to 10 hours. Therefore, be mindful of the time of the day you drink coffee or other drinks containing caffeine.
Personally, if I have a coffee at 1pm, I have difficulty falling asleep at 11pm. So, if I have a coffee, I prefer to have as early as possible – by midday at the latest.
Tip 7 – Stop Alcohol At Least 3 Hours Before Sleep
Alcohol can take several hours to metabolise. For example, a large glass of wine can take approximately three hours to break down, and a pint of lager between 2 to three hours. So it is a good idea to think of your sleep time and be aware of the time plan the time when you drink.
Tip 8: Avoid Sugary Foods and Refined Carbohydrates
We should be mindful of consuming sugar and refined carbs in general, but especially close to our bedtime. This includes biscuits, pasta, white bread, cakes, chocolate – anything containing sugar or processed carbohydrates.
When I was touring with bands, I often needed to stay awake at night (especially in countries like Spain or Italy) because we would often get on stage well after midnight. I ate a lot of sugary food and drinks to help me stay awake during the gig, and when I finally got to bed a few hours later, my heart would be racing and I would barely get any sleep.
However, you don’t have to go to bed on an empty stomach. In fact, it is not recommended. Feeling ravenous won’t do our sleep any good. You can have a light snack to feel cosy inside. I sometimes have a small bowl of oatmeal porridge, white yogurt, or a glass of warm milk.
Tip 9: Don’t Sleep With You Phone on (And Near You)
This might initially be very hard for many of us. But if we take our health seriously, we should stop the excuse that we need to keep your phone on – often near our head – because of the alarm clock. One tends to wonder, how did people manage to wake themselves up before the advent of smartphones?
Mobiles and laptops not only stimulate the brain when we use them; they also emit blue light which sends your brain constant signals to stay active – a guaranteed way to insomnia. Even if you have your device further from your bed, if it stays on while you sleep, it will communicate with your body and stimulate it by radiation and blue light.
I personally keep my iPhone switched off and outside the bedroom. I use either a traditional alarm clock or my ‘ancient’ Nokia phone, which, to my delight, I can switch off completely and it will still come to life at the time I’ve set the alarm for. No iPhone or Android smartphones can do this amazing feat. You have to keep them on. I often wonder, how is it possible that our modern day super-smart phones are not capable of this simple function?
I hope the time when we see the link between the over exposure to man-made electromagnetic fields and our health and mental wellbeing will come soon. You can read more in my article Is Wifi Dangerous to Health?
Tip 10: Don’t Check Your Email or Social Media Last Thing Before Going to Bed
It goes without saying that you should not use your laptop, iPad or iPhone in your bed, unless you want to toss and turn wide awake most of the night. But even if your devices are located outside your sleep temple, make sure you don’t glare into their bright screens just before going to sleep.
From my own experience, checking email, Messenger, WhatsApp, and all the other social media notifications or feeds is one of the most stimulating things which can well prevent me from falling asleep. A lot of things you see on social media can also stir negative emotions, which will affect your sleep.
Whenever I switch my mobile before going to sleep, I try to resist looking at all the notifications on the screen. Sometimes I even disable my social media notifications altogether – at least when it’s getting late and I know that I should be winding down.
This leads to the next tip:
Tip 11: Make Sure You Are Relaxed Before Going to Bed
To ensure you’ll have a good quality sleep, aim to go to bed relaxed. You could spend 20 minutes relaxing on the sofa reading a book, writing a diary – planner, listening to an audiobook, or going for a short relaxing walk. It is also nice to have little atmosphere enhancers prior to your bedtime, such as lighting a candle or switching on an essential oil diffuser.
Tip 12: Neither Relax nor Work in Your Bed During the Day
With the exception of the delights of love, your bed should be treated as a place for sleep only. Watching TV, or using your electronic devices, should not be done in your bed. It’s much better to train your brain to associate the bed with restoring your body, rather than mentally stimulating pursuits, otherwise you’ll find the natural act of going to sleep an onerous task.
Tip 13 – Don’t Keep Your Bedroom Too Warm
The idea of a warm bedroom might seem cosy, yet if we keep our sleep space fresh and cool, we’ll help our body get into a naturally hibernating mode much more easily. Ideally, we should have a window open at least a bit, to allow fresh air in, and stale air out. If the weather’s particularly cold, a hot water bottle by your feet can do wonders.
In the past, due to my dislike of being cold and my fear of catching a cold as a result, I used to sleep in several layers, which included a tracksuit and socks! No wonder I usually ended up feeling cold. Then I heard that the natural body temperature actually heats the space under the duvet much more effectively. I ditched all those North Pole expedition layers and never felt cold again.