10 Scientifically Backed Ways to Get Better Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important things for your mental, physical, and emotional health, yet nearly 70 percent of Americans report struggling with sleep at least once a week. Whoa. Are you in that 70 percent?

 

Thankfully, there is an entire field of research devoted to sleep, and I happen to be a major fan! So today, in celebration of National Sleep Awareness Week, I’m sharing some of my best secrets for getting better sleep. Check out the video below, shot from what might be the most interesting place I’ve ever shot a video, my bed! Time to start getting the shuteye you so desperately deserve.

 

 

1. Protect your bed. Your bed is for two things only. Sleep and sex. Nothing else. Our brains are incredibly smart, and they’re always making connections. If all you do in bed is sleep, then your body recognizes your bed as a cue to start shutting down and prepare for sleep. But if you watch TV, knit, pay bills, and work from your bed, your brain quickly gets confused, wondering if it’s supposed to wind down or rev up. Help your brain out, and keep your bed a sacred space.

 

2. Keep the same bedtime and wake time. Remember when you were a kid, and you had a designated bedtime? Consistency is key for better sleep, so stick to a schedule. Do your best to keep these same bed and wake times on the weekends, especially if you struggle with sleep. If you’re a pretty good sleeper, you can flex an hour or so on the weekends, but do you best to stay consistent.

 

3. Have a bedtime routine. I’ve talked about this at length before. (You can read that post here.) A helpful bedtime routine involves a sequence of steps, repeated every single night just before sleep. Each step in your routine acts as a signal to your brain to wind down and prepare for sleep. (If you’ve ever taken a psychology course, think about Pavlov and his dogs.) When you adopt a bedtime routine, you’re training your brain to prepare for sleep.

 

 

4. Create a worry window or a to do list time. You know that feeling when you’re exhausted, but as soon as you climb into bed you’re suddenly wide awake? Your brain thinks it’s being helpful, reminding you of all the little things you need to do tomorrow. So be proactive and set aside some time to get what’s in your brain out onto paper. Jot down your worries or create a list of stuff to do for the following day. Then, when your brain starts firing, you can remind it that you’ve already got that stuff covered.

 

5. Beware of naps. I used to love naps. So much so that I coined the term “marathon napper” to describe my napping style. I’d swear I was just going to lay down for a few minutes, and then two hours later, I’d groggily come to. Naps often feel great in the moment, but they can wreak total havoc on your sleep, especially when they’re too long or too close to bedtime. If you must nap, keep them brief, less than 30 minutes, and avoid them within 6 hours of bedtime.

 

6. Get screens out of the bedroom. Remember the first point about protecting your bed? That applies to screens too. Netflix has no place in your bedroom! Screens are designed to be stimulating, so naturally, watching them in bed messes with your sleep. And to all of you who say, “But I can’t sleep without my TV on,” let me kindly remind you that at one point in your life, you couldn’t tie your shoe. But with practice, you learned, and getting screens out of the bedroom is no different. If you need the background noise while you’re first falling asleep,  try an audiobook or a sleep story.

 

7. Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bedtime. Both of these substances wake your body up at the physiological level. Why would you try to compete with that?   If you hit that mid-afternoon slump, resist the urge to reach for another cup of coffee, because it can mess with your sleep later. Try stretching, listening to music, drinking water, or going for a quick walk instead.

 

 

8. Exercise. I get it, it’s annoying that exercise is so critical to so much, but it is! Exercise is one of the best regulators for our body, and it has enormous benefits for getting better sleep. Just ten minutes of exercise a day can make a difference, so even if you can’t fit in a lengthy sweat session, challenge yourself to do something small.

 

9. Watch the booze. People often say that a glass or two of wine before bed helps them get better sleep. But that’s not really the full story. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it often disrupts sleep later in the night, as your body starts to process the alcohol. If you’re trying to get better sleep, cut back on your alcohol intake, especially before bed.

 

10. If at first you don’t succeed, get up. If you’ve been in bed for 20 minutes but still can’t sleep, get up. Laying there is only going to stress you out, as you toss and turn trying to figure out why you can’t sleep. Plus, laying in bed wide awake disrupts the bed/rest association we talked about earlier. After you’ve gotten up, do something non-stimulating. Read a book, fold laundry, knit, or do a crossword puzzle. Then, when you’re tired, head back to bed and try again.

 

Sleep is a science, y’all. But it’s not rocket science. It’s pretty simple in theory, though changing habits can take a little bit of hard work. Sleep is important, so it’s worth some diligence and attention if you’re not getting the kind of shut eye you want.

 

Which tips or tips are you going to focus on most this week? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear!

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