15 Sleep Hygiene Tips For Falling To Sleep Faster (And Better All Round Sleep!)

15 Sleep Hygiene Tips For Falling To Sleep Faster (And Better All Round Sleep!)

Bad sleep habits? Looking for all-round better sleep?

You’re in the right place.

I used to suffer from terrible sleep for a variety of reasons and the better part of a decade spent learning how to sleep like all the other people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a light sleeper and have to be particularly careful with my nighttime habits, but these days I get 8+ hours practically every night if I want to. This article is sharing everything I’ve learned over the years and I’m confident you’ll be able to find a few things in here that will radically improve your sleep. Sneak peek: it’s usually something you’re doing wrong!

Should I do all of these?

In my experience, what works for someone is not necessarily what will work for someone else. For example, I know someone who slept well except when they suffered from anxiety.

Their brain would continually worry which would stop them sleeping then the lack of sleeping would make them worry more, and the cycle would continue. This kind of person is not gonna benefit from blackout curtains as they only will help stop light.

For me, I need every little distraction to be minimized to fall asleep well. That means all amounts of light and sounds need to have no chance of getting to me while I’m falling asleep or my mind will just decide to focus on that – yes, it’s a very annoying trait to have.

So what works for me is the use of earplugs, sleeping masks, blackout curtains and other strategies to eliminate light and sound.

The first necessary step in sleeping better is to work out what is stopping you sleeping. When I was a teenager, I used to occasionally have terrible nights sleep where I’d only drift away around 4am despite needing to be up at 7am for school. The cause? Drinking sugar and caffeine-filled Coke right up to bedtime! Once you recognize what is stopping you sleeping you can do something about it.

No idea where to start? Try a few things. I’ve put this list roughly in order of most important to least important, the first few are big ones in any case. Start with them. Yes, that means getting rid of your snooze button.

Contents

1. NEVER use the snooze button
2. Get up at the same time each day
3. Have a morning routine
4. Avoid blue light in the evening
5. Don’t nap during the day
6. Make your bedroom cool
7. Don’t binge drink
8. Limit caffeine consumption after 1pm
9. Eat fewer carbs
10. Don’t eat close to bedtime
11. Wear earplugs
12. Wear an eye mask
13. Use blackout curtains
14. Meditate
15. Buy a mattress worthy of a king

1. NEVER use the snooze button

My number one sleep hygiene tip that has worked for me throughout life and is echoed by the thoughts of respected scientists and researchers: NEVER use the snooze button.

You may have noticed that your morning self thinks quite differently to you the rest of the time. Your extreme willingess to set your alarm early to get a jumpstart on the day may be disregarded by 5.30am you who is more into the short term satisfaction of getting a brief respite from the pain of waking up.

Hitting the snooze button produces two big problems. The first is that those extra 9 or 18 or 27 minutes do not actually make you any less tired, the body does not sleep well when it’s interrupted every few minutes. If you really needed extra sleep you should have set your alarm for later.

The second problem is that you’re associating the act of waking up with the choice of actually waking up or going back to sleep. This programs your mind to never ‘just wake up’ and always think about whether to hit the snooze button or not, which invariably will be hit more often than it is not.

When you remove the option of snooze in your life then waking up means waking up and in the long-term, becomes a far less painful ordeal.

2. Get up at the same time each day

I’m gonna go ahead and assume you’ve properly absorbed and internalized #1 and that snoozing is completely removed from your realm of existence. Well, what’s the next step? You need to make sure you’re getting up at the same time each day.

Have you ever woken up a few seconds before your alarm has gone off? It’s a common phenomenon that happens to a lot of people – if it’s never happened to you it’s a sign you’ve got some big sleep problems.

If you set your alarm for the same time day in day out, and actually get up at that time, your body will prime itself for that time and prepare you to wake up, this is what causes the occasional wake-up that’s a little early.

The advantage for this is that when you wake up at the same time every day, your body is already ready to get up and escape the grogginess of your morning sleep inertia as soon as possible.

In my experience, getting up at the same time EVERY day was the catalyst to start having mornings that I didn’t hate. A few years later, and I find that the mornings are the most enjoyable parts of my day – if I told that to myself a decade ago I’d laugh at how incredulous it sounded!

On top of this, one of the big problems that can stop you getting to sleep one night is the big lie-in you took the night before!

There are those people who can fall asleep quickly however much sleep they got the previous night, but for the rest of us, staing in til 11am can make it much more difficult to get to sleep at 11pm, after all, you’ve only been awake 12 hours and your body has not had the chance to process its hormones that work on a Circadian rhythm!

That’s why I believe this and the first tip are the absolute keys to improving sleep in most people and make number 1 and 2 in this list.

3. Have a morning routine

It should come as no surprise that many of the great people of our time, CEOs, business leaders, presidents, all have morning routines that they stick to and helps them set the right tone for their day.

A productive morning can contain some meditative practice, a little journalling, some exercise or any number of other beneficial activities that become more and more difficult to do the later in the day it gets (and the more tired you get).

The alternative is to rush your mornings, leaving for work with a creased shirt, messy hair and a half-eaten piece of toast in your hand. Which one sounds preferable?

If you’re wondering where to get started, I wrote a darn long article (5000+ words) covering everything under the sun that you might want to include in a morning routine.

If you’re looking to make a change in this area then you’ve gotta check this article out, there’s a little bit of overlap with a couple of these sleep hygiene tips but that’s because they’re so important. Read it and you’ll understand why.

4. Avoid blue light in the evening

Short, high-energy wavelength light, between approximately 380nm and 500nm, is known as ‘blue light’ and has hazardous effects for your ability to sleep. When the receptors in your eye detect blue light it sends signals to your brain that it is daytime and time to be awake, after all, we naturally would get all of your blue light from the sun.

While it has been useful in ancient times for our bodies to use this to regulate our sleep and wake cycles, we run into big problems in the modern era.

Your smartphone, your tv, your computer will all emit large quantities of blue light and they are not restricted by the rise and set of the sun. The specific use comes from anything that uses LED back-light technology, this is what is used to provide screen brightness on your smartphones, for example.

The danger comes from using it late at night where it can affect our sleep and our circadian rhythm.

Luckily, this is an easy problem to solve without reverting back to the stone age. Most modern devices have ‘blue light filters’ that are either inbuilt or can be installed, for iPhones you can simply turn ‘night shift’ on and for computers you can download a program called ‘Flux’ which will do the same job.

These blue light filters will remove any blue light emitted by your device between certain times, usually sunset and sunrise although you can program them differently. You will notice a big difference when they are on as the screen will turn much more ‘warm’ with yellow, orange and red hues.

It can actually be a bit annoying,
 particularly when watching videos or tv, so my advice is to leave it off until an hour or two before bed. With Flux, it’s simple enough to delay the effect for an hour if you need to. This will help your brain calibrate itself to a normal daily cycle and give you the best chance at falling asleep easily and sleeping well at night.

5. Don’t nap during the day

There is a plethora of evidence that humans are biologically wired to follow a biphasic sleep pattern. That means that we have two sleeping periods, a long sleep over the course of the night and a short nap in the afternoon.

It’s the reason we experience the ‘2.30pm slump’ and would make sense for our ancestors living their lives on the African savannah to rest themselves during the hottest part of the day.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where the vast majority have little opportunity to take a short sleep in the afternoon without the increased risk of unemployment.

For those of us working a 9-5, the main time when we might take a nap would be after work around 6-7pm, this is a BAD IDEA and will stop you getting to sleep that night.

Your body’s hormone levels change with sleep and waking up, so that the longer you are awake the more tired you become and the shorter amount of time you are awake, the less tired you are.

Therefore, taking a nap with only a few hours until you’d like to hit the hay for the night will prevent you from falling to sleep easily.

Is it ok to sleep on a Saturday or a weekend or other day off? The science would indicate that it doesn’t inhibit your sleep in the same way, although from personal experience I’ve found that the less sleep I get in the day the better. This may be one of those things to experiment with.

6. Make your bedroom cool

Have you ever tried to sleep through a heatwave? If you have, you’ll understand how painful the process of falling asleep is when you are too hot. The reason for this is that your body has a hard time creating the Melatonin – your body’s natural sleeping hormone – when your core body temperature is raised above normal levels.

As such, a bedroom that is too hot will be more difficult to sleep in than a cool bedroom. You should be aiming for the following levels (the quote is taken from the above article I linked to)

Ideally, your bedroom should be between 16C and 18C… If temperatures climb over 22C, you’re going to have trouble sleeping… Most people’s sleep will be disrupted when the temperature climbs above 25C.

Now the ideal situation involves having some form of air conditioning where you can preset to the perfect temperature. Less effective methods are opening windows or using a fan.

Bear in mind that you only need the room to be cool as you fall asleep, once you are asleep the difficult goes away somewhat, which is why you can program your room to be cool up to going to sleep but then turn the AC off when your head hits the pillow so you’re not paying for the energy used all night.

7. Don’t binge drink

No doubt you’ve had a night or two in the past where you’ve had way too much alcohol to drink, and it’s likely that when your head hit the pillow you were out before you could even think about regretting that last round of tequila shots. So it’s easy to think that alcohol helps you sleep. Well, it’s actually not that simple.

Firstly, it is true that alcohol helps you fall asleep faster (so long as you don’t have the spins!) and it has been shown that 1 or 2 drinks can aid in sleep duration and quality. This is due to alcohol’s quality as a depressant, which means it reduces central nervous function.

The problems arise from drinking considerable quantities – binge drinking. This study states:

…persons who consume alcohol in excessive amounts suffer from poor sleep quality and patients with alcohol use disorders commonly report insomnia.

Part of this is caused by the “rebound effect” which is when alcohol or any other drug is processed and removed from your system, then the symptoms it was masking suddenly come to the fore.

The alcohol that you drink may help you to get to sleep more easily, but you may wake up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep because its depressive effects are no longer acting on you.

The simple solution is to drink less, and at least accept that when you do have a fun night out, you are willing to take the sacrifice of a less than ideal night’s sleep.

8. Limit caffeine consumption after 1pm

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug, that means that it affects your brain. Your perception, your mood, your consciousness. One of the principal effects of caffeine and one of the most desirable amongst its consumers is its ability to block the adenosine receptors and trick the body into believing it is not tired.

This wonderful effect can be a lifesaver at 8am before an important meeting, but it will be detrimental to any attempts to sleep.

Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, that means that in the space of those 6 hours your body is able to process and dispose of 50% of the drug, leaving 50% in your system. After 12 hours your body has been able to process and dispose of 75% of the drug which still leaves 25% in your system. The truth is… after you drink a coffee it takes a long time before your body has reduced caffeine levels significantly.

Now I’m not advocating for you to abandon caffeine entirely (although that does work), but you should aim to eliminate any consumption after 1pm and ideally after 9am, depending on your waking hours of course. This gives your body more time to get rid of as much caffeine as possible so that it isn’t affecting your sleep when it comes time for bed.

You must also be mindful of innocent sounding products that contain small amounts of caffeine. Coffee is the one everyone knows, but tea, chocolate, energy drinks, Mountain Dew and all types of Coke also contain caffeine in quantities enough to cause you sleeping issues, particularly if you consume them late at night. As I mentioned above, I would’ve saved myself many sleepless nights if I’d put down the Coca-Cola with my evening meal.

9. Eat fewer carbs

Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source. Eat a hamburger and your body will find its primary fuel in the carbohydrates of the bread in the bun, this will spike your blood sugar and give you a temporary rush.

As such, common sense would indicate that eating these energy-filled macronutrients might have some negative effects on the body’s attempts to fall asleep.

So this tip that comes largely from anecdotal experience but for me, eating fewer carbs and particularly nearer bedtime has resulted in much better sleep on the whole and much easier waking up in the morning.

These days I follow a Ketogenic diet which is extremely low carbs, less than 20-30g per day which basically eliminates all sugars and starches from the diet. I’ve noticed amazing benefits to my general mood and mental acuity and part of that is feeling better about sleep.

I never get the morning grogginess that seems to last for hours these days, usually, after 10-15 minutes, I’m ready to attack the day.

As I said, this is mostly my experience so if it sounds intriguing then I suggest you do your own research. There’s lot of great websites out there these days that will outline the basics and I really recommend the book ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ if you’re interested in the science of it.

10. Don’t eat close to bedtime

It’s a common thought in our Western society that we have a small bite for breakfast, something bigger for lunch then the big meal of the day in the evening. Well, if you’re struggling to sleep in the evenings you may want to reconsider getting your energy in different quantities throughout the day.

Guess what? Filling your body up with fuel right before hitting the hay for the night is a BAD IDEA. If you struggle to sleep then you should aim to leave as long as possible between your final meal of the day and your bedtime, 3 to 4 hours as a minimum.

In addition, make that last meal low on carbohydrates and definitely do not have any caffeine-containing drink with your meal.

An alternative is to have a smaller evening meal and fill up at breakfast and lunch, the times when an increase in energy would be more desirable. At the same time, you don’t want to overdo it and get that post-big meal grogginess. It’s a fine balance, fuelling the human body!

11. Wear earplugs

I’m incredibly sensitive to sound when trying to fall asleep, I often bemoan it as one of the worst genetic traits I could’ve inherited (my mom is the same) as it has plagued me my entire life when trying to sleep in different places.

Whether it’s not being able to sleep because I can hear snoring comes through the walls from my flatmate or whether I have to remove a ticking clock and put it outside because it’s driving me mad, I don’t deal well with sound.

I actually avoided earplugs for years because I assumed they were all ineffective. I remember trying cheap foam earplugs that didn’t block any sound out and I also remember investing in some expensive ones that seemed to just dampen the sound – I assume they were meant for music technicians or something like that.

Recently, I discovered some earplugs that work absolutely brilliantly. They’re made of memory foam and give an NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of 32 – that’s 32 decibels.

These things reduce sound so much that I rarely have the same problems I used to (although they don’t completely eliminate sound, unfortunately) and I wear them pretty much every night. The best thing? They are pretty cheap! I wrote a little review on them here so you can check out what they are.

12. Use blackout curtains

The best nights of sleep I ever got were when I stayed at an apartment that had the thickest, wall-to-wall blackout curtains you’d ever seen. Close those bad boys and it was pitch black, no light at all to trouble you while you sleep which is useful as I’ve read that up to 30% of our sleep problems are caused by light.

In fact, if you get good curtains like this you will be shocked when you open them up in the morning as to the massive difference between your dark bedroom and the outside world! It’s like night and day, if you’ll excuse the pun…

13. Wear an eyemask

If blackout curtains aren’t an option then your second best choice is to use an eye mask (or a sleeping mask). These are just as effective at blocking out light but mean you have to wear the mask around your head which is not the most comfortable.

Do make sure you are getting one that fully protects from the light, a common issue with eye masks is that they leave gaps where the nose is to let some light in. Another issue is comfort, you really need one that you can wear all night long. I can vouch for the ones I talk about here, in my review on them.

These things also come in invaluable for daytime napping and flights or train journeys when you don’t get any control over the ambient light.

14. Meditate

When I was studying in Oxford I couldn’t make sense of my life at all. A good friend said, “Why not try Vipassana meditation?” It’s about letting go of all the different fantasies that fill up our minds. It transformed my life.

This was a quote from Yuval Noah Harari, one of my favorite authors who wrote Sapiens and Homo Deus among other things. He’s not the first prominent figure to espouse the many benefits of meditation, and here I’m going to try to make a case for it as a sleeping aid.

Meditation can take many forms, but the general goal is of emptying one’s mind. For beginners, this is an intensely difficult prospect and is the reason why many give up early on, but pushing through that difficult early phase can reap dividends.

Try this exercise: Look away from the computer screen and into empty space and then wait for the next thought that comes along – you should be spending all your mental energy on simply waiting for the next thought that pops into your head…. Done that? Good.

It’s likely that for 5-15 seconds you will not have thought anything, then your mind may have drifted a little which resulted in your first thought. Meditation is very similar.

Once you have trained yourself to clear your mind you can then use it to fall asleep. Personally, when I lay down for the night my first aim is to clear my mind for as long as possible.

It’s never easy, I’m often having to release the thoughts that come into my head to get back into that ‘meditative’ headspace, but within a few minutes I notice the early signs of nodding off – slowed thoughts, little ‘jolts’, entering a more dreamlike state.

If I don’t get these signs or I can’t stop my mind from racing, I know that my body is not ready for sleep yet.

15. Buy a mattress worthy of a king

Always spend more on things that separate you from the ground.

There are times when being frugal is the wisest choice, one example being a watch, where you can pay outrageous sums of money for zero extra utility. Then there is the example where you should definitely spend money, such as parachutes.

One class of items where you should always make smart investments is things that separate you from the ground, including shoes, mattresses, sofas, and tires. These are all things that you will use regularly and will cause you great distress should they fail or be uncomfortable.

A mattress is a particularly interesting example. Your bed is where you spend 8 hours of each 24 hour day, that works out to a 1/3rd of your life spent there! On top of this, the quality of your sleep is something that permeates every aspect of your day-to-day life.

Don’t get a good night’s sleep?
 Don’t expect to be productive or happy the next day. Choosing the right mattress is not always easy which is why I’m working on a comprehensive buyer’ guide to help you guys out. Coming soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>