If you wake up in the morning feeling groggy, then you may not be getting quality sleep.
Tossing and turning at night can take a toll on your life, causing restlessness, weight gain, and even chronic illnesses like heart disease.
If you’re tired of waking up tired, we’ve provided 25 science-backed tips that promote healthy sleep hygiene. Here’s how to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling refreshed.
1. Understand what a good night’s sleep means
You’ve heard this one before. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night is one of the most important things that you can do for your health. Depending on your age, you may need slightly more. For example, teenagers need 8-10 hours and newborns need 14-17 hours.
Here’s how much sleep you should be getting based on your age:
Getting any less than the recommended amount could impair your cognitive function, negatively affect your mental health, and make it harder to lose weight. A lack of sleep could even leave you more susceptible to infection since sleeping enough can boost your immune system.
2. Sleep on your back
If you are standing up or sitting most of the day, your spine and joints can become strained from supporting your weight. The best sleeping position to mitigate joint strain is by lying down on your back because it offers relief from the constant pull of gravity.
Moreover, sleeping on your back opens up the pecs, allowing these muscles to completely relax. If you work at an office job, this can help relieve the toll your body experiences from slouching forward over a desk each day.
3. For certain medical conditions, sleep on your side
Back-sleeping doesn’t work for everyone. If you have a condition like acid reflux, then you might want to consider sleeping on your left side, since it allows the esophageal sphincter muscle to relax. This can help prevent flare-ups during the night, improving your quality of sleep.
You should also sleep on your side if you have back pain that is exacerbated by walking or standing, if you have lumbar stenosis, or if you are pregnant.
4. Set a bedtime and stick to it
Your body operates on an internal clock, called your circadian rhythm, which regulates organ function. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day, even on the weekend, will help your body synchronise this internal clock so that you’ll desire sleep at a certain time each night. This is helpful because it can allow you to fall asleep more easily when bedtime rolls around.
Otherwise, “if your sleep pattern is frequently changing, your body doesn’t know when it’s supposed to be awake or asleep,” says Stephanie Stahl, MD, a Sleep Medicine expert at the Indiana University of Health.
5. Watch what you eat before bedtime
According to the National Sleep Foundation, you should avoid simple carbs like white bread, pasta, and white rice before bed. These foods can reduce your levels of serotonin, a chemical that plays a key role for sleep.
You should also be sure to avoid caffeine and any food or drink that may induce heartburn. As far as the foods you should eat, here are some healthy choices for a late-night snack that won’t disrupt your sleep.
Almonds and walnuts: These kinds of nuts contain melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Eating almonds and walnuts before bed can increase the level of melatonin in your blood, which may help promote restful sleep.
Fruits: Many fruits like raspberries, tart cherries, bananas, pineapples, and oranges also contain melatonin.
Cottage cheese: Cottage cheese contains tryptophan, an amino acid that can increase the production of serotonin. Since a lack of serotonin can contribute to insomnia, having a late-night snack of cottage cheese may help you fall asleep.
6. Avoid alcohol before bed
A nightcap may help you fall asleep faster, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting quality rest. In fact, there are multiple ways that alcohol negatively impacts the quality of your sleep. For example:
- Alcohol suppresses the production of melatonin.
- It reduces the amount of REM sleep that you get. REM sleep is the deepest stage of sleep, so less of it means less quality sleep and more next-day fatigue.
- Alcohol is also diuretic, meaning it will make you urinate more often. So if you have a drink before bed, you’ll likely wake up more often in the night to go to the bathroom, further damaging your sleep quality.
7. Stay cool at night
If your bedroom is too warm, your sleep may suffer. Studies indicate people get the best quality sleep in a room that is around 60 °F to 67 °F. While this may be the best sleeping temperature, it might not be best for your electricity bill. Here are some tips for how to stay cool at night without an air conditioner:
- Use cool bedding and wear light clothes to bed.
- Take a warm shower before bed. Though this may sound counterintuitive, warm showers actually increase blood flow to your hands and feet, which helps your body remove heat more effectively.
- Avoid exercising before bed, since exercise raises your body temperature.
8. Don’t oversleep
If you sleep more than nine hours a day, several days a week, and still feel tired during the day, then it’s possible that you are oversleeping.
In addition to throwing off your sleep schedule, too much sleep could be bad for you because it’s associated with a number of health issues including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.
9. Try short naps
Naps are good for you if they are taken in moderation. Ideally, naps should last 20-30 minutes, which gives your body enough time to relieve the symptoms of fatigue without inducing grogginess. Doze off longer than 30 minutes and your body starts to go into a deep sleep. This can disrupt your circadian rhythm which throws off your sleep schedule and can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
10. Don’t drink too much caffeine
Though many people turn to caffeine to stay awake, too much of it during the day could keep you up at night. That’s because caffeine can stay in your system for up to 9 hours. One study found that 400 mg of caffeine – equivalent to about four 8-ounce cups of coffee – as much as six hours before bed can contribute to poor sleep.
11. Stick to a sleep routine
If you struggle to fall asleep quickly and easily at night, you may try establishing a calming bedtime routine. Two to three hours before bed try the following to destress:
- Take a hot bath
- Drink a cup of caffeine-free tea
- Read a book
Establishing calming routines may help your body feel fully relaxed when you eventually climb into bed.
12. Try a pair of blue light blocking glasses
Blue light glasses work by blocking blue light from screens. Blue light signals to your body that it is daytime, which suppresses the production of melatonin making you feel more alert. However, this is a problem at night when you’re trying to sleep.
If you can’t give up screens before bed, then consider purchasing a pair of blue light glasses. Though these glasses are marketed to prevent eye strain from electronics, they are far better at helping with sleep. They work by reducing the amount of blue light from reaching your eyes and interfering with melatonin production. If you’re going to try these out, experts recommend that you start wearing them two hours before bedtime.
13. Check medication side effects
Certain medications may cause insomnia as a side effect. A few of them are:
- SSRIs: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which are commonly used to treat anxiety and depression.
- Blood-pressure medications: Alpha-blockers and beta-blockers are used to treat high blood pressure. Alpha-blockers may reduce REM sleep, while beta-blockers suppress melatonin.
- Steroids: Steroids, like those used to treat arthritis, can make it difficult to fall asleep, so it’s recommended that people take these medications in the morning.
If you are taking any of these and are worried that they may be affecting your sleep, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of the medication.
14. Take melatonin supplements
Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies produce naturally, but you can also purchase over-the-counter melatonin supplements that can help boost melatonin levels at bedtime. Melatonin plays a role in our internal clock – as bedtime nears your body will ramp up melatonin product making you feel tired and signalling that it is time to relax and go to bed.
Though different doses work for different people, start off by taking 0.5 milligrams per night [if right]. Be sure to take the supplement about two hours before bedtime so it has time to kick in.
15. Meditate in the evening
Meditation is especially helpful for people who have trouble sleeping because of anxiety, but it can benefit anyone who is trying to get a good night’s rest. By meditating, you are tuning into the present moment and focusing on deep breathing and relaxation.
In turn, this can help calm your mind and fall asleep more quickly. In fact, there’s even a specific type of meditation called sleep meditation designed to help you fall asleep more easily. If you’re a novice when it comes to meditation check out our guide for how to meditate for beginners.
16. Exercise regularly
Exercising helps with sleep in several ways. It can regulate your circadian rhythm, enhancing the regularity of your internal clock. It can also improve fitness levels, which can help your body use oxygen more efficiently – a quality that is linked to better quality sleep. Exercise can also reduce the risk of insomnia-causing depression.
But if you like hitting the gym at night, just be sure to stop exercising 2-3 hours before bedtime, since this could interfere with sleep.
17. Have an orgasm
One of the major health benefits of sex is that it helps you get better sleep. Sex releases a surge of hormones, like oxytocin and serotonin, that can help you feel more relaxed and may help you drift off more easily at night. And if you don’t have a partner, you can also get the same benefits from masturbation.
18. Use a white noise machine
White noise is a constant sound, like an air conditioner or static on a tv, that contains all frequencies audible to the human ear. Because of this, it can dull background noise – like from city streets – and help you get more sustained sleep.
You can purchase a white noise machine or you can download a phone app that plays white noise throughout the night.
19. Drink chamomile tea
Drinking a cup of chamomile tea before bed is a natural remedy that may help you get right to sleep. Chamomile contains apigenin, which is a chemical that binds to the GABA receptors in the brain. These are the same receptors that bind to benzodiazepines, which are strong anti-anxiety drugs that may cause sleepiness. This is why chamomile produces a sedative and relaxing effect.
20. Take sleeping pills
If you are still having trouble sleeping, then you should consult with a physician about the possibility of over-the-counter or prescription medication.
Over-the-counter sleep aids like Unisom, ZzzQuil, and Sleepinal contain antihistamines, which are normally used to treat allergies, but they also cause drowsiness as a side effect.
If you have been diagnosed with insomnia, your doctor may prescribe you sleeping pills like Melatonin-receptor agonists, such as Rozerem and Hetlioz. These medicines mimic melatonin and have been proven to help people fall asleep faster.
You may also be prescribed benzodiazepines, like Xanax and Valium, which work by reducing nerve activity and relaxing muscles to promote sleep.
Though sleeping pills are relatively safe, they come with some side effects such as dependency, so be sure to take them exactly as prescribed.
21. Check your mattress
Having an old or sagging mattress can interfere with your sleep and cause you to wake up stiff. Most mattresses have a lifespan of around 8 years, but if you are over 40 you may need to replace it more often to provide better support for your body.
Your mattress may need replacing if there are sagging spots around the middle or edges. Also, if your partner moves and you are jostled, you should consider swapping your mattress out for a new one. And of course, if you keep waking up stiff, look into getting a replacement.
22. Get a proper pillow
If you toss and turn throughout the night, like most people, it’s best to have a pillow that will still support your head and neck as you move around. Usually, a pillow made with memory foam works best.
23. Try breathing exercises
Taking slow and measured breaths can help relax your body before bed. “Relaxation helps to reduce stress hormones, which block melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep,” says Claire Barker RPSGT, CCSH, a clinical sleep specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Centre’s Sleep Program.
For example, you may want to try 4-7-8 breathing, a method where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Learn more about how breathing exercises can help you fall asleep.
24. Get blackout curtains
The darker your bedroom is, the better. If there are bright lights outside of your window or if you live in a city with lots of light pollution, then it might be best to purchase blackout curtains. These curtains are designed with a thick, opaque fabric and reinforced with a lining that is made to block out any light from outside.
25. Schedule a check-up with a sleep specialist
If you’ve tried all these tips and are still having sleep issues, then it’s time to see a doctor because you have a sleeping disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea.
For more information check out our guides on how to treat insomnia and how to treat sleep apnea. For example, one of the most effective ways to treat sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP machine, which helps normalize breathing for those with sleep apnea, leading to a better, more restful sleep.
Am I getting enough sleep?
To check if you’re getting enough sleep, take our short quiz below. This quiz uses the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which measures your tendency to doze off or fall asleep during the day. If you experience daytime sleepiness often, it could be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep.