Anyone who's ever stared up at the ceiling for hours, counted sheep or woken up feeling like they'd been nine rounds in the ring knows that getting a good night's sleep isn't as easy as it should be. After all, sleep is something that all humans want and need, so why are quality zzz's so hard to come by?
Fortunately, many of the contributing factors of poor sleep are easy enough to control once you know what to look for.
While some people balk at the prospect of changing their nighttime habits, there's no denying that the benefits of a good night's sleep are hugely important. Quality sleep helps both the metabolism and immune system operate at their best, plus, it keeps memory and learning skills sharp. Coupled with the fact that nobody likes a cranky-pants, it's easy to see why consistently good sleep is something everyone should strive for.
When and what you eat and drink make more of an impact on sleep than most people realize. Instead of eating a late evening dinner, opt for an earlier meal, followed by a light, healthy snack an hour or two before turning in.
Meals full of rich, spicy or heavy foods are known causes of indigestion and heartburn, and will certainly have the average person reaching for the medicine cabinet in the midnight hours. Refined carbohydrates (like white bread and pasta), as well as sugar-rich foods consumed during the day, can also seriously disrupt the cycles of deep sleep you really need, so steer clear of those as much as possible.
Call it a nightcap all you want, that doesn't mean that an adult beverage will do anything to help you get a good night's sleep. Although drinking might help you “pass out" quickly, it'll wreak havoc on your sleep cycle for the long haul overnight, encouraging wakefulness.
Also, depending on how sensitive you are to caffeine, avoid the stimulant in the hours leading up to bedtime. While you're at it, limit water and other beverages in the evening hours unless you enjoy frequent bathroom visits. Instead, try to hydrate as much as possible in the morning and afternoon hours.
You can trick your body's circadian rhythms into action by taking a warm bath or shower about an hour or hour and a half before bed. The warm water will raise your body temperature, which will then drop right around nighty-night time. Since the body temperature has to lower to kick off sleep you'll already be well on your way.
Not so fast thermostat cheapskates! Cranking the temp of your bedroom up too high in the summer to avoid a big bill can cost you in sleep quality. For the best night's sleep possible, set the thermostat somewhere between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing so helps the body temperature decrease to get the sleep process started. As the night wears on the lower ambient temperature helps to prevent restlessness.
White noise by any source is an effective way to drown out disruptive background sounds (like your noisy neighbors) and keep sleep on track. Some people swear by an old-school box fan or ceiling fan at high speed, but others opt for more modern white noise sources, like phone apps.
Whatever your method, any consistent, non-disturbing sound source is likely to improve your quality sleep potential and drown out any sudden sounds that would otherwise wake you up.
When's the last time you replaced your pillow? If you can't remember, you're probably past due for a new one. Most pillows should be replaced every 18 months or so, which seems way too frequent, but isn't that bad considering how much use they get.
An old or broken down pillow (or one that doesn't match your sleep style) can significantly impact the quality of sleep you get, not to mention how good you feel in the morning. The options can be overwhelming, however, so it's often confusing to know which are the best pillows for a good night's sleep.
Consider consulting a sleep doctor, who can make a suggestion based on your habits and preferences, or try them out at a store. Dr. Michael Breus, a.k.a. “The Sleep Doctor," swears by the EverPillow.
Sleep trackers are a data fiend's dream, but obsessing over the information can actually cause a person to (ironically) lose sleep. Plus, at best, sleep tracker data is still only a best guess by the device related to periods of inactivity, not actual sleep. The only truly on-point data is limited to that gleaned from medical sleep studies.
Light from all types of electronic screens suppresses the production of melatonin. Since the hormone lets your body know it's night-night time, it's simply unrealistic to think that you can binge Netflix or TikTok right before bed without any type of sleep quality kickback.
Instead, read a book, call a loved one to catch up, write in a journal or meditate to set the right mental and physical state for sleep.
Meditation is designed to help people live calmer, less stressful lives, so why not apply the same concept to sleep? There's plenty of meditation music for a good night's sleep out there, so play around until you strike the right chord for your needs.
Try streaming music station Calm Radio for a curated list of hundreds of snooze-worthy tunes, or try out this Spotify playlist of the 10 allegedly most relaxing songs ever, which was used in a marketing study that looked at the quality of the participants' sleep.
Humans are creatures of habit, and our bodies respond better to predictable routines. As tempting as it is to stay up all night and sleep the day away on the weekend, you really shouldn't. By keeping a similar sleep schedule day in and day out your body will know what to expect, when to start producing melatonin and when to wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day. So, go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day and reap the well-rested benefits.
It's fine to have the occasional drink before bed or stay up late for a special occasion, just don't do it too often if you want to enjoy the best sleep quality possible. By making a few key changes to your habits you can hopefully enjoy a more rested and enriched day-to-day life. And more people will probably like you because you'll be in a better mood. That's always a good thing.