Sleep Meditation and 29 Other Ways to Get Better Rest
Do you toss and turn at bedtime, wake often in the night or get up feeling tired in the morning? Studies show that not getting enough sleep or having poor quality sleep can increase your risk of developing health conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Poor sleep is also strongly linked to depression and can also affect social skills and emotional intelligence.
Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have a huge social impact as well. More than a third of American adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. In the U.S., drowsiness is a factor in about 20 percent of automobile crashes, and poor sleep costs the American economy roughly $10 billion annually in lost productivity, health costs and property and environmental damage.
However, there are things you can do to improve your ability to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer during the night. These include establishing a regular routine before bed, consuming certain food and drinks that induce sleep, following some easy health and exercise tips, and finding ways to set up your bedroom to optimize sleep.
From sleep meditation to muscle relaxation exercises, here’s our list of the 30 best things you can do before bed to ensure you get a restful night’s sleep.
30. Make Getting Good Sleep a Priority
Sleep often suffers as a trade-off with other activities, such as spending time with family or friends, work or study. What many people don’t realize is that good sleep is as important to health as eating well or exercising. Many immune system functions and body repair processes happen at night while you’re sleeping.
Most adults need at least seven to eight hours of restful sleep a night because good sleep is essential for good health. Sleeping long enough and deeply enough optimizes productivity, concentration, athletic performance and immune function, which is why one of the best things you can do for your health is to make your sleep a top priority.
29. Eat More Fiber
A recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that people who consume more fiber in their diets experience deeper sleep cycles. Even a single day with lower fiber intake caused people to have lighter sleep. "Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality,” said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, the study’s principal investigator, in Science Daily.
The study also found that subjects fell asleep faster when they ate meals prepared by a professional nutritionist that were lower in saturated fat and higher in protein than they normally ate. People who ate more sugar also had lighter sleep patterns and more incidents of waking.
28. Use a Sleep Meditation or Affirmation
Many people have trouble falling asleep because of anxiety, and worrying about not being able to sleep just makes things worse. Try using a sleep meditation or affirmation that calms your mind and gives you a positive focus just before you go to bed. Studies show this actually helps you to sleep better.
Sit quietly and repeat a calming statement, such as “I am calm and relaxed and becoming sleepy” or a similar sentence. This will help focus your mind on the intention of getting ready to fall asleep.
27. Try Sleep Yoga
While practicing yoga makes your body stronger and more flexible, some yoga postures can actually help you sleep better by relaxing your mind and body. Classic relaxation poses like Child’s Pose, Corpse Pose, Supine Spinal Twist or an inverted posture, such as Legs Up the Wall Pose, help to relieve stress, increase circulation and relax both your mind and muscles.
You can use a yoga app or follow an online class or video to develop a routine, or put together your own favorites to practice every night before sleeping.
26. Consider Taking an Herbal or Natural Supplement
There are a number of natural supplements that can promote calm and relaxation, making it easier to fall asleep. These include:
- Ginkgo Biloba: can help improve sleep quality and reduce nighttime awakenings
- Valerian Root: can help reduce insomnia and promote more restful sleep
- Glycine: an amino acid that has been shown in studies to help improve sleep quality
- Magnesium: an essential mineral that is vital for human health, with low levels leading to inflammation and physical stress in the body and resulting in disrupted sleep
- L-theanine: an amino acid found naturally in green tea that has a soothing effect on the body
25. Consider Taking a Melatonin Supplement
The body uses melatonin to signal our internal body clocks to start preparing for sleep. Our bodies naturally start to produce this hormone in the evening as it gets dark outside. Melatonin causes your body temperature and blood pressure to drop, and you respond physically by feeling calmer and sleepy.
Factors such as stress, smoking, shift work, ageing and not getting enough natural light during the day can all lower the body’s melanin levels. People who don’t have enough may find that taking a melatonin supplement helps regulate their inner clocks and allows them to fall asleep more easily. Travelers often use melatonin as a way to minimize the disruptive effects of jet lag until their bodies can reset to local time.
24. Try the Progressive Muscle Relaxation Routine (aka the Military Method)
If you're having trouble falling asleep, try the Progressive Muscle Relaxation Routine or a shortened version, known as the Military Method. Anxiety and stress cause muscles to be tense and tight. In the Progressive Muscle Relaxation Routine, you tighten and loosen all the major muscle groups in the body, one at a time, in coordination with your breath. You can’t feel anxious or stressed when your muscles are relaxed.
Use an audio recording that gives the correct order until you remember it. The Military Method is a shorter version developed during World War II to help battle-fatigued pilots fall asleep quickly.
23. Use an Essential Oil Sleep Blend
Essential oils are derived from plant leaves or flowers and have been used since ancient times for their healing and relaxing properties. Some of the most popular oils used to induce sleep are lavender, chamomile, neroli and bergamot. You can add essential oils to a bath, vaporise in a burner or rub directly on your skin.
Most essential oil brands make blends specifically for sleeping or relaxing. Smells can impact your emotional memory: When you smell an oil such as lavender, that you’ve used to relax or soothe anxiety in the past, you will associate it with relaxation, which will help induce a calmer state.
22. Keep Clocks Out Of Sight
The best rule for clocks in your bedroom is to keep them out of sight. Make sure you can’t see the time when you’re dropping off to sleep or if you wake up in the night. According to sleep specialist Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, if you wake up at any time during the night, make sure you don’t look at a clock.
Checking the time can create stress and worry in your mind, which will likely stop you from falling back to sleep. She recommends using an alarm to wake you up, but putting it where you can’t actually see it.
21. Don’t Share a Bed With Your Dog
A study by the Mayo Clinic found that sleeping with dogs in a bedroom can potentially affect sleep. Over half of dog owners in the study allowed pets to sleep with or near them, and 20 percent of participants said that their pets were disruptive during the night.
However, this disruption seems to be limited to dogs who share a bed with their humans, not necessarily a bedroom. “We found that many people actually find comfort and a sense of security from sleeping with their pets,” said Lois Krahn, M.D., a Mayo Clinic sleep specialist.
Just make sure your dog has their own bed.
20. Have a Bedtime Snack
If you get the late-night munchies, try snacking on foods that will actually help you sleep better. Popcorn triggers production of tryptophan in the body, an amino acid that helps your body feel sleepy. Nuts, such as almonds, walnuts or pistachios, are a natural source of melatonin, the hormone that helps the body to fall asleep, and are loaded with healthy omega-3 fats and magnesium, both of which improve sleep quality.
Having some nut butter on toast is an easy way to get both carbs and nuts together. Other good snacks include cottage cheese and crackers, which provide tryptophan and carbs, or yogurt and bananas, which provide tryptophan and magnesium.
19. Drink Relaxing Tea or Warm Milk Before Bedtime
A hot cup of herbal tea can help you relax and get ready for sleep. Some perennial favorites include chamomile, peppermint and passionflower. One study showed that adults who drank chamomile tea fell asleep faster than those who didn’t. The antioxidants in passionflower tea have a calming effect and help to reduce anxiety, improving sleep quality.
A glass of warm milk is also an age-old remedy for sleeplessness. This is because milk contains tryptophan, which the body converts into melatonin that helps promote sleep. Both dairy and non-dairy milks are good sources. Goiji berry and tart cherry juice are also excellent for inducing sleep, as they’re good sources of melatonin.
18. Take a Warm Bath or Shower Before Bedtime
You will also sleep better and fall asleep faster if you take a hot bath or shower before bed. Studies show that hot or warm water raises body temperature and improves sleep quality, especially for older people. Participants reported that they fell asleep more easily and rested better through the night, with less waking or movement during sleep.
If you don’t have time for a complete wash, just putting your feet in hot water may be enough. One study showed that washing feet with hot water was enough to help people relax and wake fewer times in the night.
17. Avoid Certain Foods Before Bedtime
While some foods can help you to get to sleep, some foods will keep you awake or cause you to wake up in the night. Fried foods, such as fried chicken, take a long time to digest and may give you indigestion if you try to lie down soon after eating them.
High-fat foods, such as cookies or pizza, will also disrupt your sleep. Spicy foods often cause indigestion, as can tomato-based pasta sauces. High-salt foods, including smoked meats, can dehydrate you and make you wake up thirsty in the middle of the night.
16. Don’t Take Long Naps During the Day
Some people who regularly take short power naps during the day report that a brief rest makes them feel more alert and better able to perform. Even brief rests of just 10 minutes can have this effect. However, many people nap for unhealthy reasons, such as a sleep disorder, poor quality nighttime sleep or because they are shift workers.
Studies find that napping for less than 30 minutes, ideally around 20 minutes, can be beneficial, but spending more than 30 minutes asleep during the day can actually lead to health problems and trouble sleeping at night.
15. Go to Bed and Get Up at Regular Times
Our bodies contain an internal clock, called our circadian rhythm. This natural cycle is attuned to the sun rising and setting, and helps us get sleepy at night and be alert in the morning. Studies show that having irregular sleeping times can interfere with our circadian rhythms and hormone levels, which leads to trouble falling asleep at night, poor quality sleep and daytime sleepiness.
Students who had irregular bedtimes were found to have lower achievements in school, more attention problems, and a greater number of injuries and emotional upsets than students with consistent sleep patterns.
14. Don’t Drink Liquids Before Bedtime
Waking up to urinate in the night, especially more than once, leads to poor quality sleep and daytime fatigue. A good rule is not to drink any liquid roughly one to two hours before bedtime. This includes any herbal teas or juice you drink to help you get to sleep.
This gives your body a chance to get rid of any excess before you go to sleep so a full bladder won’t wake you up in the night. Another way to prevent nocturia, or nighttime peeing, is to use the toilet just before going to bed.
13. Don’t Eat Meals Late or Just Before Bed
Eating a large meal before bed causes your metabolism and digestion to slow down, resulting in weight gain. Other issues caused by substantial amounts of food before bedtime include acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion. The best time to eat your last meal (not including light snacks) is about three to four hours before you go to sleep, which gives your stomach enough time to properly digest food.
However, it’s also not a good idea to go to bed hungry, as this can lead to late-night snacking and lower energy levels. If you need to eat, have a light snack of the previously mentioned foods that help induce sleep.
12. Make Sure to Get Enough Light Exposure During the Day
While light at night can disrupt sleep, getting enough light during the day is critical. Light, especially natural sunlight, helps to keep your natural internal clock functioning efficiently. This clock is what tells your body it's time to sleep or wake and controls your energy levels over the course of the day. If your circadian rhythm is disrupted, you’ll have poor quality sleep at night.
Try to get at least 30 to 45 minutes of sun exposure in the mornings. If you go for a walk in the mornings, you’ll get both light and exercise, even if the sky is cloudy. If you can’t get daily doses of sunlight, try using a lightbox that mimics sunlight.
11. Exercise Regularly
Daily exercise has a strong positive effect on sleep. A regular workout routine of moderate physical intensity improves both how long and how well you rest at night. One study showed that participants who engaged in low-impact aerobics and brisk walking fell asleep faster and slept longer after they took part in the study.
Another study, which focused on people with severe insomnia, found that exercise helped them increase their sleep time by 18 percent and cut the time they needed to fall asleep at night by half. However, exercising shortly before bed can increase alertness and produce stimulating hormones such as adrenaline, which may interfere with getting to sleep.
10. Keep Beds for Sex and Sleep
Many people engage in a range of activities in bed, such as eating, working, watching TV, reading or looking at screens. However, your bed should ideally be kept for just two activities: having sex and sleeping. Otherwise, your brain will come to associate bed with more stimulating activities, such as working or watching TV, and you may find it hard to get to sleep.
It’s important to keep firm boundaries in your mind. Making sure you avoid all activities that aren’t related to sex or sleep means that when you go to bed, your brain is only expecting those two things to happen.
9. Make Sure Your Bed Is Comfortable
Another important factor that influences how well you sleep is your bed. Is the mattress supportive? Are the pillows and bedding comfortable? According to the sleep research site, Sleep Like the Dead, mattresses range in lifespan from five to eight years, depending on type and quality. Bedding lasts even less time.
Ideally, you should buy new sheets every three to five years and get new pillows every one to two years. If you and your sleep partner have different temperature needs at night, you might want to consider getting a special double-weighted blanket or comforter.
8. Make Sure Your Sleeping Environment Is Comfortable
Your sleeping environment plays an important role in your ability to get good quality rest. Factors such as noise, temperature and light all affect sleep patterns, quality and duration. Ideally, you want a quiet, cool room without outside light or noise intruding.
Studies show that people who were subjected to noise and heat while they slept had more disturbed and shorter sleep than those who weren’t. Temperature may be even more important for sleep than noise. A too-warm room may cause you to wake up more often during the night. Reducing lighting, either from internal or external sources, also resulted in better quality sleep.
7. Avoid Alcohol in the Evening
Alcohol has a negative effect on the body in terms of sleep quality and duration. While you may initially feel more relaxed after having a drink, alcohol causes an increased tendency to snore and can trigger sleep apnea in chronic snorers. Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous form of snoring in which a person stops breathing for a short time, causing blood oxygen levels to drop.
Alcohol also disrupts production of melatonin, the hormone that your body produces in the evening to make you sleepy and ready for bed, and human growth hormone, which helps regulate the body’s internal clock.
6. Avoid Nicotine Near Bedtime
Nicotine, whether from cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipe smoking, dipping or vaping, has a stimulating effect on the body and a negative impact on sleep. People who consume nicotine in any form have a higher risk of developing sleep-disrupted breathing, such as snoring and sleep apnea.
Apart from other health issues caused by nicotine, studies show that using nicotine close to bedtime results in shorter sleeping time and poor quality sleep, as people wake more often in the night.
5. Don’t Have Caffeinated Drinks Late in the Day
A good rule of thumb is to not drink any caffeinated beverages for up to six hours before going to bed, so generally not after 3 or 4 p.m. in the afternoon. While coffee or black tea is a good stimulant to get you going in the morning, it will have the same effect in the evening and can keep you awake and restless.
Caffeine raises your blood pressure and heart rate and can cause anxiety. So keep away from sodas, black tea and coffee in the afternoon or evening, and switch to an herbal tea or juice that will relax you and help you sleep.
4. If You Can’t Fall Asleep, Don’t Stay in Bed
If you can’t fall asleep, or if you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep after about 20 to 30 minutes, don’t stay in bed, or you may start focusing on not being able to sleep. Your bed should be linked in your mind to sleep, so get up and listen to some relaxing music, read, do some deep breathing or meditate for about half an hour.
Don’t look at a screen, including TV, as this will make you more alert. After about 30 minutes, you should start to feel drowsy and can head back to bed.
3. Avoid Blue Light at Least Two Hours Before Sleeping
While it’s important to get enough bright light during the day, it’s also important to limit evening and night-time exposure to light to avoid disrupting sleep. TVs and digital devices produce a lot of light in the blue spectrum, often called blue light. This type of light is very stimulating to the human brain and disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm.
A good way to minimize this disruption is to stop watching TV or using any screens two hours before bedtime. If you have to use a screen close to bedtime, try using special tinted glasses that filter out blue light or an app that blocks blue light on your smartphone, tablet or computer.
2. Develop a Relaxing Routine Before Sleeping
Now that we’ve given you plenty of ways to help with sleep, it’s important to create a routine that works for you. If you develop a regular routine for relaxing before going to bed, studies show this will help you fall asleep faster and have better quality rest because you’re training your body and mind to be in the habit of relaxing and preparing to fall asleep more easily.
Calming activities that many people use just before bedtime include listening to relaxing music, doing meditation, doing breathing exercises, reading a book, having a hot bath or shower, using sleep affirmations or simply doing a simple visualization practice.
1. Check for Possible Health Issues
If you have tried a number of things on your own to improve your sleep quality or help you fall asleep faster, and you’re still having trouble, make sure there isn’t an underlying health issue that might be causing your sleep issues.
Get a medical checkup and share your concerns with your doctor. He or she may want to do further testing. You might also want to get a referral to a sleep specialist, who can perform more testing or use monitoring equipment to track your sleep quality and duration. One study estimated that 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men have sleep-disordered breathing issues.