A good night’s sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet.  Good sleep can help you eat less, exercise better and be healthier.  In contrast, research has shown that poor sleep has immediate negative effects on your hormones, exercise performance and brain function.

Over the past few decades, both sleep quality and quantity have declined.  In fact, poor sleep is a regular occurrence for most people.  I need my sleep and if I have a bad night I’m always grumpy the next day and unable to function properly, like in a state of fogginess, how about you?  Here are 15 tips to help you sleep better at night.

1. Increase bright light exposure during the day

Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm.  It affects your brain, body and hormones, helping you stay awake and telling your body when it’s time to sleep.  Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy.  This improves daytime energy, as well as night time sleep quality and duration.

Try getting daily sunlight exposure or, if this is not practical, invest in an artificial bright light device or bulbs,

2. Reduce blue light exposure in the evening

Exposure to light during the day is beneficial but night-time light exposure has the opposite effect.  this is due to its effect on your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into thinking it’s still daytime.  This reduces hormones like melatonin, which help you relax and get deep sleep. Electronic devices like smartphones and computers emit large amounts of blue light.

There are many popular methods you can use to reduce night-time blue light exposure.  These include:

  • Wear glasses that block blue light.
  • Block blue light on your electronic device either via settings or by downloading an app that blocks blue light.
  • Stop watching TV and turn off any bright lights 2 hours before heading to bed.

3. Don’t consume caffeine late in the day

Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for 6-8 hours.  When consumed late in the day, it can stimulate your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night and significantly worsen sleep quality.

4. Reduce irregular or long daytime naps

While short power naps of 30 minutes or less are beneficial and can enhance daytime brain function, longer naps can harm health and sleep quality for some people.

5. Try to sleep and wake at consistent times

Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset.  Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid long term sleep quality, irregular sleep patterns can alter your circadian rhythm and levels of melatonin, which signal your brain to sleep.  If you struggle to get to sleep, try to get in the habit of waking up and going to bed at similar times.  After several weeks, you may not even need an alarm.

6. Consider taking a supplement

Several supplements (make sure to only try them one at a time) can induce relaxation and help you sleep, including:

  • Melatonin: A key sleep hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to relax and head to bed.
  • Ginkgo biloba: A natural herb with many benefits, it may aid sleep, relaxation and stress reduction but the evidence is limited.
  • Glycine: Some studies have shown that taking the amino acid can improve sleep quality.
  • Valerian root: Several studies suggest that valerian can help you fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
  • Magnesium: Can improve relaxation and enhance sleep quality
  • L-theanine: An amino acid which can improve relaxation and sleep.
  • Lavender: Can induce a calming and sedentary effect to improve sleep.

7. Don’t drink alcohol

Having a couple of drinks at night can negatively affect your sleep and hormones.  Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnoea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns.  It also alters night-time melatonin production, which plays a key role in your body’s circadian rhythm.

8. Don’t eat late in the evening

Eating late at night may negatively affect both sleep quality and the natural release of HGH and melatonin.  That said, the quality and type or late night snack may play a role as well.  Studies have found, a high card meal eaten 4 hours before bed helped people fall asleep faster. Other studies have found a low carb diet also improved sleep.

9. Optimise your bedroom environment

Many people believe that the bedroom environment and its setup are key factors in getting a good night’s sleep.  These include temperature (I like to keep the window slightly open all year round), noise, external lights (blackout blinds or heavy lined curtains needed) artificial light (alarm clock) and furniture arrangement.

10. Relaxand clear your mind in the evening

Many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them relax.  Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia.  Other techniques include listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating and deep breathing.  Try out different methods to find what works for you.  My personal favourite to colouring.

11. Take a relaxing bath or shower

A relaxing bath or shower is another popular way to sleep better.  It can help improve overall sleep quality and also help (older adults), fall asleep faster.  An alternative to taking a full bath at night would be to simply bathe your feet in hot water to help you relax and improve sleep.

12. Get a comfortable bed, mattress and pillow

Your bed, mattress and pillow can greatly affect sleep quality and joint or back pain.  Try to buy a high quality bed set up, including a mattress, every 5-8 years.

13. Exercise regularly, but not before bed

Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your sleep and health.  Although daily exercise is key for a good night’s sleep, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems due to the stimulatory effect it has.

14. Don’t drink any liquids before bed

Nocturia is the medical term for excessive urination during the night.  It affects sleep quality and daytime energy.  Drink large amounts of liquids before bed can lead to similar symptoms, though some people are more sensitive than others.

Try not to drink any fluids 1-2 hours before going to bed.  Also make sure you use the bathroom right before going to bed, as this may decrease your chances of waking in the night.

15. Rule out a sleep disorder

An underlying health condition may be the cause of your sleep problems.  One common issue is sleep apnoea, which causes inconsistent and interrupted breathing.  People with this disorder stop breathing repeatedly while sleeping.  This is quite a common condition.

Other common medically diagnosed issues include sleep movement disorders and circadian rhythm sleep/wake disorders, which are common in shift workers.  If you’ve always struggled with sleep, it may be wise to consult your doctor.

The bottom line

Sleep plays a key role in your health.  Studies have linked insufficient sleep to an increased risk of obesity by 89% in children and 55% in adults.  Other studies conclude that getting less than 7-8 hours sleep per night increases your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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