How to sleep better by making a few simple changes to your daily routine

Practical advice on how to sleep better, with tips and tricks from sleep experts

Woman lying down relaxed in bed with arms raised after learning how to sleep better
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Want to learn how to sleep better? You're not the only one. While we know the importance of sleep for a healthy body and mind, keeping your sleep schedule consistent enough to clock up enough good hours can be difficult. 

It's recommended that every adult aims for at least 8 hours of sleep a night. While how much sleep we need depends on personal lifestyle factors, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that sleep quality and duration in the US population have gradually declined in recent years. Now, it's thought that about 32% of people struggle to get at least six hours of sleep at night.  

But it is possible to learn how to sleep better, improve your sleep quality, and wake up feeling a little more refreshed. From the best guided sleep meditations to quick fixes for those looking to learn how to fall asleep fast, this is how sleep experts suggest we change our routines tonight.

How to sleep better

1. Make sure your bedroom is dark enough

Most of us will struggle to sleep if we're exposed to any kind of light, regardless of whether it's natural light from the sun filtering through a window or artificial light. As research from the University of Surrey explains, this is because light suppresses the production of melatonin (aka the 'sleep hormone') as part of the body's natural signal to wake up. 

The study also shows that along with a lower quality of sleep overall, a lack of melatonin will cause issues for your body's temperature regulation system, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. If you find you're too hot when you're trying to sleep at night, the light in your bedroom could be a part of the problem. 

"I'd suggest blocking out light with black-out blinds, which you can install behind the curtains in your bedroom, or investing in a good sleep mask to cover your eyes," says psychologist Hope Bastine, a sleep consultant. "This will help you maintain a good temperature for sleep as well, but you should also look at lowering your bedroom's temperature as well. 65 degrees [Fahrenheit] or lower is best as it mimics the body's hibernation state and helps us maintain a calmer state of mind.

Woman lying in bed with covers over her, facing away from the camera, with curtains open and sunlight coming in

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2. Improve your sleep environment

Comfort really is key when it comes to learning how to sleep better, so ensure the space you're sleeping in is as comfortable as possible. For starters, make sure your bedding isn't wearing thin by changing your pillows every one to two years. 

While mattresses and duvets have a longer life span - you'll only need to change these when they become uncomfortable or start to fall apart - pillows aren't as hard-wearing. Low-quality pillows are also often the primary reason why many of us feel uncomfortable when we're trying to get to sleep at night, results from a study by James Cook University suggest. Researchers found a clear link between participants with poor pillow comfort and poor sleep quality, with feather pillows reportedly causing the most issues. 

Finding a pillow that works well for your sleep style and firmness preference among the best pillows will help you sleep better, says neurobiologist Dr Verena Senn, as it'll support your head and neck in a neutral position during the night. "If you don't have this, it can lead to stress on the cervical vertebral structures, which are the seven vertebrae that make up your neck." 

If you already struggle with discomfort in this area, it's always best to consult your doctor for advice and specifically look for the best pillows for neck pain

3. Put down all technology

When you say yes to one more episode of your favorite Netflix show or pick up your phone late at night, you’re affecting your sleep quality, says Dr Senn, who is also the sleep expert at Emma Mattresses. “Social interactions and watching stimulating TV programs keep your brain busy when it's really craving to relax. Take some time away from bright screens to settle your mind.” 

As well as being distracting, the blue light of a mobile phone, TV, or laptop can interfere with your melatonin production just as other sources of light do. “Modern light sources like phone screens contain a high level of blue light that disrupts melatonin production and throws off our natural circadian rhythms, keeping us awake," reveals Bastine, who is also the resident sleep expert at Simba. 

Our circadian rhythm (i.e. the body's internal clock) needs external signals from the environment to know whether it’s time to be awake or asleep, research from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology explains. Blue light, as well as being a factor in technological light, is also present in sunlight rays and normally helps us to stay awake and alert throughout the day. But when we are exposed to lots of it in the evening, it can confuse the internal clock and trick our body into thinking we should be awake. 

Instead of reaching for your phone to unwind, Dr Senn suggests listening to a playlist of white, brown, or pink noise, or reading a book. "Choose a physical copy over an e-reader to avoid any potential problems here. You could also listen to music, a relaxing podcast, or have a bath an hour before bed." 

4. Try meditation

Tossing and turning in the middle of the night? Start your bedtime routine with some meditation or some manifestation before sleep, suggests Bastine. "Meditation calms the body and the mind as it kickstarts the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's rest and digest functions," she explains. "When this happens, a specific type of rest called restorative sleep occurs as our sympathetic [aka flight or fight] system's function is no longer the more prominent one." 

In turn, as a study by Srinakharinwirot University in Thailand shows, we also produce lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone linked to the fight or flight response, after meditation so it also helps us deal with stress, which in turn improves our chances of better sleep. 

Meditation doesn't have to be a lengthy process - it can help you fall asleep in three minutes and be as simple as settling down with one of the best meditation apps. Peer-reviewed research by the meditation app Calm found that over 85% of participants who meditated for just 10 minutes before trying to doze off reported better and longer sleep. 

If you want to give it a try, opt for a sleep guided meditation or a yoga nidra breathing exercise, both of which focus specifically on stimulating the body's parasympathetic nervous system. For the same reasons, bedtime yoga has been proven to help those who struggle to fall asleep at night.

Woman sitting on her living room floor, stretching out, looking at laptop on the floor and about to try meditation for sleep

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5. Try brown noise

If meditation isn't for you, there is something else you can try. Brown noise for sleep is a rumbling sound that falls a couple of frequencies lower than white and pink noise. It's a common soundscape among the best podcasts to fall asleep to as it's a deep sound many people find comforting and one that often comes in the form of gentle thunderstorms, water in rapids, or the sound of the seashore. 

While it's not a method scientifically proven as of yet, brown noise could help to successfully drown out other noises that may be causing anxiety before bed - such as street noise or the rain. "It's entirely possible that an individual has a neuro-association with a specific sound which provokes anxiety," explains Dr Olivia Arezzolo, a psychologist specializing in sleep. "Playing a different sound, such as brown noise in the form of a thunderstorm soundscape will help the individual to sleep better."

6. Avoid drinking alcohol before you sleep

Many people who give up alcohol for good say their sleep quality drastically improves and if you've ever had a bad night's sleep after one too many during the evening, you'll know why. 

"Alcohol is a sedative, which may make you think that it would be beneficial for sleep, but actually this works against us," explains Dr Senn. "Those who have been drinking often fall asleep a lot quicker than those who haven't, meaning they slip into a deep sleep very quickly. As the night goes on, this causes an imbalance between two other important types of sleep, slow-wave and REM, with more slow-wave and less REM sleep."

She adds, "It can be why we struggle to remember events after a night out sometimes too as REM sleep is very important for memory consolidation."

Studies show that even a small amount of alcohol can prevent you from sleeping well, so it's best avoided where possible. The research from Tampere University of Technology found that women who drank less than one serving of alcohol per day experienced a decline in sleep quality by just over 9%, while those who had one or more experienced a decline of almost 25% overnight. Further research backs this up, with a study by Pennslyvania State University establishing a link between higher alcohol consumption, short sleep duration, and chances of snoring.

Instead, try ending your day with a tipple designed to lull you to sleep - like one of the many alternatives to alcohol or a natural sleep aid, like tart cherry juice.

7. Take a sleep supplement

While supplements won't be the cure-all for those looking to learn how to sleep better, if they are used right, they can help us to relax before bed. The most popular supplements for sleep include: 

  • Melatonin
  • Valerian root
  • Magnesium
  • Chamomile 
  • Passionflower 
  • Marjoram 

But there are so many out there and they can come in a range of forms, including pills, capsules, oils, and teas. CBD supplements for sleep have also become especially popular in recent years, due to the legalization of cannabidiol (CBD) and research from the University of Colorado on the extract's ability to target common causes of insomnia such as anxiety, stress, and pain.

Always consult your doctor before taking any sleep supplements, as they may not be suitable if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking any other medication.  

Woman pouring cup of sleep tea from a teapot at a restaurant

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8. Experiment with sleep aids

Sleep supplements are among the best sleep aids but they're by no means the end of the story. If sleep supplements aren’t for you, there are alternatives you can incorporate into your bedtime routine to reduce stress and help you relax. 

Many other sleep aids, including sunrise alarm clocks and the best weighted blankets, are designed to improve your sleep environment by conquering some of the most common difficulties we face when learning how to sleep better. The most useful aid for you will be different for someone else though, so determine the biggest problem and then figure out a solution.

This could be something as simple as wearing thicker socks. A study by Seoul National University found that wearing socks to bed helped participants not only fall asleep faster but also stay asleep for longer. Other popular sleep aids include pillows specially designed to alleviate pressure on the neck as noted, sleep masks to block out light, and calming sprays to spritz onto your pillow at night. 

9. Cut down on your caffeine intake

If you're feeling tired when you wake up early, your first instinct may be to reach for caffeine to get going and then throughout the day to stay motivated. But too much caffeine can impact our ability to nod off that night, creating a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and caffeine.

"Caffeine increases vigilance and mental performance but the most common side effect of caffeine is blocking processes in the brain that allow the body to sense tiredness, making it harder to fall asleep," explains Dr Senn.

To combat the effects and learn how to sleep better, she suggests, "Aim to drink no more than two or three caffeinated beverages per day and switch to herbal or decaf alternatives after midday. If you can't resist a warm drink in the evening or after dinner at a restaurant, try a sleep tea instead."

10. Exercise and stay active daily

Exercising too close to bedtime could disrupt your ability to sleep but longstanding research suggests that exercise a couple of hours before bedtime is one of the biggest contributors to a good night's sleep - particularly for those who struggle with insomnia. 

Research from Universidade Federal de São Paulo even suggests that working out before bed actually promotes better sleep than many popular types of sleep medication. They also found that those who exercised fell asleep in half the time of those who didn’t and wakefulness throughout the night in the group decreased by 30%, with total sleep time up by almost 20%.

That being said, the type of exercise you do is important. Dr Meadows says, "It's best to avoid HIIT workouts too late at night. Instead, opt for slow and restorative practices like yoga or LISS cardio later in the evening to kickstart the body's rest and digest systems. And even then, you should still leave at least two hours between your session and going to sleep, to allow your core body temperature to cool."

11. Write in a journal every day

Stress from the day can build up and keep us awake at night so it's important to try and dissolve this before you go to sleep. "As we get older, we have more mental and physical baggage so our thinking mind can sometimes keep us awake at night," Dr Guy Meadows explains. “The organic compound adenosine, which helps us to naturally fall asleep, isn’t as present as we grow older so we're more likely to be wide awake and worry about work or personal stresses.”

While there are many ways to learn how to reduce stress, journaling is one of the more successful ones to employ just before bed as it helps you develop an awareness of where the stress comes from, cutting it off at the source. "Labeling what type of stress it is-work, relationship, or something else is a great way of telling your brain that you know the stress exists, but it's something you're not able to deal with right now," he says. 

Ciara McGinley

Ciara McGinley is a meditation practitioner and health journalist. She qualified as a meditation teacher with the British School of Meditation in 2020 and is the founder of Finding Quiet, a series of classes, workshops and retreats that combine meditation practices and mindfulness techniques to make mindful living realistic in an always-switched-on modern world. She is all about bettering that mind-body connection but believes wellness looks different to everyone.

Ciara is also the former Health Channel Editor at woman&home and has covered all things health and wellbeing for years, from fitness to sleep to relationships.