Sleep became the new superpower in our technology fueled and always on the run world. The inability to get quality shuteye on a regular basis is linked to weight gain, cancer, diabetes, heart issues and overall increased mortality. Even in the short term lack of sleep makes us dumber, unfit, unhappy and moody.
Despite common beliefs that coffee is a fix for a sleepless night and a glass of wine helping with insomnia, there is no substitute for sufficient quality sleep. In this post, we will list solutions that can help to fall asleep faster and stay asleep without being disturbed by external factors like noise, light or raised temperature.
We will also look at tools that can calm down your body and mind to prepare you for a good night’s sleep. When used in combination these can help with the prevention of short and long-term negative consequences caused by the lack of sleep.
We, humans, spend a quarter of our lives sleeping however this foundational requirement is often neglected. A quality mattress helps to stay comfortable in bed and reduces back pain when sleeping as found in this research. Generally speaking, a medium firm mattress is recommended as it was found that firm and foam mattresses are often associated with increased back pain.
These little comfort helpers come in many shapes and forms. Pillows can help keep your neck at the right level and prevent strains. The firmness of the pillow that works best is dependent on your sleeping position. Choose a soft pillow if you are a back and stomach sleeper and medium firmness if you like me prefer to sleep on your side. When it comes to material the world is your oyster. You can either go old school with dawn and feathers or try new and cheaper latex or memory foam pillow.
Magnesium has many benefits for the human body which include relaxation and tension relief. This element is responsible for regulating the GABA transmitter that is involved in sleep function and has been proven to help with the speed of falling asleep and duration. Magnesium pillow spray is a novel way can restore magnesium levels through skin absorption. Some brands also contain natural scents like lavender combining calming effect of aroma therapy.
Walking barefoot has many benefits and is not just massaging the pressure points. It also acts as and natural antioxidant and can help with body recovery. This makes sense as our bodies developed with constant contact with the earth. In modern society, we wear shoes most of the time unless we live on a remote pacific island. Grounding sheets work by connecting your body to Earth using a neutral connector in a power socked and lowering the positive charge of your body. While this sounds novel it is proven to help body recovery and can help with feeling rested after a good night’s sleep.
Our awake and sleeping cycles are affected by exposure to light. Even small light exposure disrupts melatonin production and keeps you awake or affects sleep quality. A simple solution to this is to make sure that there is no outside light coming through your bedroom windows. Blackout films are a perfect solution especially if you are a renter. They are inexpensive and can be applied and removed effortlessly.
Curtains or drapes have the advantage of blocking light only when you need it. Most drapers require a simple mounting hook and rod installation. While they may not be suitable for rented apartments it is a worthy investment in your sleep hygiene. They also come in different materials and colours and can improve the look of your apartment on top of being a functional solution for sleep improvement.
7. Limit the Use of Electronic Devices
Light exposure plays a central role in controlling your natural 24-hour hour sleep and wake cycle also known as the circadian rhythm. Because our bodies evolved without iPads and TVs they are not able to distinguish between sunlight and blue light-emitting screens. Limiting the use of devices for 30 min 1-2 hours prior to bedtime will improve the quality of sleep as was found in this research.
8. Morning Sun Exposure
Sunlight is the best alarm clock that exists. Early sun exposure helps your body to anchor the circadian rhythm (your wake/sleep cycle). This can also help to reduce the sleep disruption caused by electronic devices at night by creating a contrast between the brightness of the sun and the screens of your devices.
9. Light Box
Early and daily light exposure may be limited if you live in a place with low levels of light during winter. Using a light box helps not only with seasonal affective disorder but also with setting your awake and sleep times similar to sunlight.
10. Eye Mask
An eye mask is a simple solution if you are not able to control how much light you get in your bedroom. It can also be useful while travelling or if you want to sleep in or have a nap during the day. There are many mask options available on the market however make sure you select one with an adjustable strap and nose bridge band to block all the light. Some eye masks also include headphones that can play soothing sounds to help you with falling asleep.
11. Ear Plugs
Useful for travel or in a noisy environment these little helpers can reduce ambient noise to suitable for sleeping levels. Most simple but nevertheless effective earplugs are made out of foam and are rated for 33dB. There are also more sophisticated designs that will cater for your unique ear anatomy and electronic earplugs that work by drowning out environmental noise.
12. Portable Air Conditioning
The optimal temperature for humans is between 15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius or 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. While I am blessed with living in Australia the average temperature in summer is far from ideal – 23°C (73°F) with an occasional 40C (104F) hot day. The portable air conditioner is a convenient way to cool down a room when you need it without spending a fortune. While they are louder than split or duct systems they can also function to your advantage as a white noise machine.
Another option for achieving optimal body temperature is a cooling mat. It is a pad filled with tubes with circulating water that is placed under bedsheets. This can be as effective as an air conditioner in cooling your body and helping with falling asleep faster, getting quality sleep and muscle recovery.
A weighted blanket weighs between 5-30 pounds and is used as s form of pressure therapy. It gives a sensation of a hug or being held when used. This helps with reducing anxiety and increasing sleep quality among other benefits as found in this research.
A white noise machine is a sound generator that creates background noise to help you with falling asleep. White noise is a sound with a frequency from 20 to 20,000Kz that includes an even distribution of high and low frequencies. Examples of white noise are heavy rain, fan or air conditioner sounds, wind or background noise on a spaceship. Numerous studies have proven white noise to be effective not only as a sleep aid but also with productivity, ADHD symptoms reduction and even calming crying babies.
A pink noise machine is a variation of a sound machine that produces sounds in the same frequency range of 20 to 20,000Kz with a focus on lower frequencies. In nature, this sounds like heavy waves hitting the shore or heartbeats. Pink noise works well at masking environmental sounds and amplifies slow brain waves which can help with a night of deeper sleep. Pink noise can also be helpful if you suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears) which can be distracting when trying to fall asleep.
Also called mind machines these devices can be used for different purposes from relaxation to productivity. Combining binaural pulse sounds with flashing coloured light then can induce brain waves associated with a particular state of mind. They come with a set of programs that includes deep sleep induction. Use them as part of your evening routine in preparation for bedtime.
8 hours in bed does not equate to quality sleep and this is where sleep tracking devices can help. They monitor your sleeping cycles by detecting body movements and measuring heart rate to find how well you sleep. They come in many forms – bed mats, wearable devices, smart pillows and mobile phone apps. Finding the right devices can be tricky as the accuracy, convenience and budget vary. Some can be as accurate as clinically used devices and provide guidance on how to improve your sleep score.
Sunlight signals our bodies that it’s time to rise and shine. This is due to the blue light that is in the spectrum of light emitted by the sun. Unfortunately, blue light is also emitted from laptops, mobile and TV screens. This is one of the reasons for not using these devices before going to bed or having them in your bedroom. Blue light-blocking glasses filter blue light that triggers your body into staying awake. They are usually tinted with yellow, pink or red colour with a special coating.
20. Blue Light Free Globes
Most household lights are also a source of blue light. The obvious solution is to replace globes or add night lights in the areas where you spend time in the evening with globes that are blue light free. As with blue light-blocking glasses, these light bulbs are usually amber or red in colour and are sold in specialised online shops.
21. Blue Ligh Reduction Apps
New generation mobile phones come with a night mode colour scheme adjustment however your laptop is unlikely to have one. There are free apps that can adjust colour temperature and reduce blue light when the sun goes down. I use F.lux for MacOS which also has a version compatible with Windows. Feeling relaxed is a prerequisite for restorative sleep. I cannot imagine someone jumping to bed fired up or stressed and immediately departing to the land of dreams. When you counted all the sheep but still can’t fall asleep these items will help with stress management and unwinding.
22. LED Candles
These are a convenient way to provide night light in bathrooms and bedrooms without waking you up when you need to get up in the middle of the night. These candles use low-power LED lights and can last for weeks with a couple of batteries. Use LED candles with a built-in automatic timer so they only switch on at night when you need them.
There are several apps on the market that use either narrated stories or music combined with the sound of nature to help you relax and fall asleep. They are quite effective however I suggest trying a couple before making a purchase. Most require a subscription and update their catalogue with new recordings.
Meditation practice does not require special tools however it is easy to lose track of time if you are not using a timer. For beginners or someone who prefers working with a virtual teacher guided meditation is a convenient way to learn this ancient practice of self-discovery. I personally use the insight timer app which has both of these features. It also has a large catalogue of recorded sessions any meditation style imaginable.
You may not know but streaming apps like Spotify are not only great for music and podcasts. They also offer hypnotic sessions on many topics from self-esteem to wealth building. Hypnotic recordings can be used for helping with falling asleep quickly. Search for Steve G Jones and you will find many titles on this subject.
Candles have a calming effect, especially when combined with certain scents. The scents that relax you are a personal preference but generally speaking floral like jasmine or lavender work best. Choosing a known brand and testing what works for you without negative side effects is the way to go.
One of the oldest forms of aroma therapy incense sticks was burnt at sacred places and used for meditation. They can also have a calming effect and help you to wind down after a long day.
Another popular form of aromatherapy is using scented oils with a diffuser. Similar to candles the scents have a relaxing effect and can be used as a part of your evening routine. Most even basic diffusers have a built-in timer that will switch the device off automatically so you do not need to worry about anything rather than relaxing sleep.
29. Hot Bath or Shower
Reducing your body’s core temperature helps with falling asleep quickly. By having a hot shower or a bath the blood goes to the extremities i.e. your legs and arms cooling down your core.
30. Bath Bombs or Freezers
Bath bombs are essentially effervescent ball that contains essential oils, moisturiser and a colour. Then added to the hot bath they gradually dissolve allowing the content to be absorbed by your skin. This adds to the relaxation effect of the bath.
Magnesium Sulfate power also known as Epsom salts is used to release muscle tension, relieve tiredness and relax the body. Epsom salts are added to the hot water bath and often come scented with added aroma therapy.
32. Avoid Alcohol Prior To Bed
The night cup was thought to be a solution for good sleep but it is far from the truth. While having a glass of wine before sleep makes you think that you fall asleep faster it actually affects the quality of your sleep. To prevent this without compromising your social life or enjoying a drink or two avoid alcohol 4 hours before hitting the sack.
Supplements should be considered complementary to a balanced sleep routine and environment. Please consult a medical professional before using any supplements to stay safe.
A major component of cannabis plants cannabinoid oils has calming and body relaxation effects without psychoactive effects. CBD oils can also help with alleviating pain symptoms, inflammation, and anxiety and keep you comfortable in bed. While previously CBD oil was only available with a prescription it is now available in online shops as a natural remedy.
L-theanine is an amino acid that is extracted from green tea and has calming and sedative effects. It is theorised that it is responsible for a calm coolness of Buddhist monks that drink a lot of green tea throughout the day. L-theanine can be used for focus and concentration but it is equally effective as a night supplement when you need to relax before bed.
A well-known natural remedy valerian root has been used in teas and as a herbal supplement to calm the nerves in many cultures. It is usually taken in the evening to help with easing into sleep.
I hope this list gave you ideas on how to improve the quality of your sleep by optimising your environment, reducing stress and relaxing your mind and body. Sleeping pills and supplements do not replace a good night of healthy sleep. Please consult your doctor if you have persistent sleep issues that need medical attention.