To put it bluntly: We’re exhausted. There aren’t enough hours in the day and we’re constantly thinking about how to sleep better. And whether social media has taken a hypnotizing hold on your attention before bed, or you’re just having trouble dozing off amid the enormous stress of a never-ending to-do list and the troubles of the world right now, it’s sleep that inevitably takes a hit.
Poor sleep, whether self-imposed or spurred by a chronic condition, can have drastic short- and long-term side effects on your emotional well-being and body health. In fact, an irregular sleep pattern has been linked to everything from poor work performance and relationship problems (it’s a real libido killer), to serious health conditions such as heart disease and weight gain.
So how does one actually ensure they are getting a good night’s sleep? That’s where the experts come in. Below, they weigh in on how to sleep better, from striking the right balance between quantity and quality to tips for relaxing and de-stressing before getting a good night’s rest.
Make Sleep a Priority
The first tip for how to sleep better? Get enough of it. To ensure your brain can cycle through all the necessary sleep stages, seven or eight hours is ideal for most people. “The brain needs active REM sleep for memory consolidation and mood regulation,” explains Dr. Shelby Harris, a behavioral sleep-medicine specialist. “It also needs non-REM sleep, with the deepest stages helping to repair muscle damage and regrow cells. If you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, you are depriving yourself of the variety and quantity of sleep stages that your brain craves.”
Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Consistency is also key to good sleep habits—it will help your body fall and stay asleep better. Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, board-certified pediatrician and certified sleep specialist, explains that keeping a consistent sleep schedule trains your circadian rhythm which results in you being able to fall asleep and wake easier. “Keeping your routine consistent effectively trains your brain to start releasing and alerting factors at the same time each morning. [It also alerts] sleep cues such as melatonin at the same time each night. This makes the process of falling asleep easier and more efficient for you, leading to better sleep overall,” says Holliday-Bell.
Thus, a good bedtime routine requires that you stick to a strict schedule seven days a week (in that you can’t repay your weekday sleep debt by sleeping in on the weekend). “In many cases, Sunday-night insomnia is due to shifting your sleep schedule on Friday and Saturday,” adds Harris. “You simply haven’t been awake enough hours that day to be sleepy enough to go to bed at night.”
Wind Down the Right Way
In other words, not by bingeing on Netflix. A recent study found that watching a streaming service before bed often results in a lack of sleep and a greater struggle falling asleep due to their addictive nature. But it’s not just Bridgerton that’s to blame. One to two hours before bed, you should go analog by avoiding any screen (smartphones, laptops, iPads, etc.) that emits a blue light, which our brains “read” as sun. As for alternative relaxation techniques, Harris recommends taking half an hour to an hour to relax or encourage mindfulness with activities such as reading (away from your bed, which is only for “sleep and sex,” she says), meditating, listening to music, or light stretching. Holliday-Bell even recommends following a “4-7-8 breathing technique” that consists of deep breathing in for four seconds, holding it for seven, and releasing it for eight. Doing this, she says, helps trigger a relaxation response that will reduce anxiety, decrease stress, and lower blood pressure.
And to further stimulate the senses, you can use lavender, which has been shown to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, to aromatically induce sleep. Try taking a warm bath with Lovewild’s muscle-soothing Lavender Bath Salts or misting This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray on your pillowcase.
Stay Comfortable and Cool
Anyone who’s sunken into an all-white, cloud-like hotel bed knows there’s no greater treat than cozy, luxurious bedding. Other than just feeling luxe, having a cozy sleep environment greatly helps improve your sleep routine. “Buy the best quality mattress and highest thread count sheets you can afford and make sure your pillows are comfortable,” says Harris.
As the creator of a sleep series on Alo Moves, Holliday-Bell likes to encourage clients to focus on the five senses when creating a space that’s conducive to the best sleep. To promote relaxation and calmness, she agrees with Harris that finding a comfortable mattress and bedding are key factors to consider. “You want to find a mattress and pillow that are suitable to your desired sleeping position and body type. The goal is to provide support while also keeping your spine neutral alignment.”
While it’s always going to be an investment, rising direct-to-consumer brands have not only revolutionized the way consumers buy sleep accessories, but also made prices more affordable and offerings more sustainable. Take for example green bed-in-box brand Avocado, which offers 100 percent organic certified natural mattresses and pillows made in California. There’s also Parachute, which delivers the kind of crisp, yet ultra-soft sheets you’d find at a fancy boutique hotel.
Another important part of the equation is staying cool, Harris says. Do so by being mindful of room temperature, but also opting for layers of linens in breathable fabrics, such as cotton, that you can strip away as needed.
You’ll also want to consider room temperature. Dr. Holliday-Bell says it’s best to keep it between 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit for best sleeping conditions. “Your body temperature has to drop by 1 or 2 degrees to facilitate the transition to and maintenance of sleep,” she explains. “Keeping it on the cooler side helps.”
Adjust the Light
Holliday-Bell says that light exposure is the strongest factor in influencing your circadian rhythm. “[Light] tells you to be awake and alert, so you want to make sure you’re controlling for any ambient light that might enter your room and affect your sleep,” she says. She recommends using blackout shades and curtains or using a blackout sleep mask to keep bright light out for your most optimal sleep. She also recommends getting rid of physical clutter so that your mind isn’t ruminating on things that are undone, which can interfere with falling and staying asleep.
Recalibrate Your Diet and Exercise
“What you eat affects how you sleep, and how you sleep affects how you eat,” explains Keri Glassman, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutritious Life. Holliday-Bell adds that you should keep dinner three to four hours before your bedtime; if you eat a large meal too close to bedtime, she explains that it can cause your digestive system to be too active and can make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Eating too soon to bedtime can also increase the risk of heartburn and indigestion, which she says can also impact your sleep quality. So save those big meals for earlier in the day or at an appropriate dinner time.
Glassman recommends a well-balanced diet of whole foods, as well as incorporating ingredients that naturally foster sleep. Her top picks include melatonin-boosting bananas, which contain heartbeat-normalizing potassium and cortisol-reducing magnesium, and cherries as they’re a good source of tryptophan, a precursor of sleep-regulating serotonin, and loaded with anthocyanins, an antioxidant that lowers inflammation. Holliday-Bell adds that a small bedtime snack about an hour before bed can actually be beneficial to getting better sleep; you just need to keep the snack small and lightweight. “Consume a snack rich in protein and complex carbohydrates like a cup of Greek yogurt topped with berries and nuts,” she says. “The protein helps to keep you satiated throughout the night so that you’re not waking due to hunger pangs and the complex carbs help to stabilize your blood sugar so that you’re not waking due to drops in blood sugar at night.”
Glassman also encourages her sleep-deprived patients to incorporate a chamomile-laced herbal tea, like Sakara’s Sleep Tea, into their night routine as it aids digestion and calms the nervous system. Finally, physical activity such as regular exercise is a proven insomnia reducer, and one should aim to get at least 20 minutes of cardio approximately four to six hours before bedtime, says Harris.
When to See a Doctor
If you’ve tried all the above and are still facing major sleep problems, it may be a sign of a more serious condition. Holliday-Bell says that chronic insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up earlier than intended three times a week over the span of at least three months. She recommends seeking medical attention from your doctor or any other certified healthcare provider in case you have a sleeping disorder that needs treatment.
“There are many other sleep disorders that people are not aware of or more subtle symptoms of the above disorders that may make it more difficult to recognize,” she says. “Because of this, I always recommend seeking attention if you are not getting the quantity or quality of sleep you need to feel rested and refreshed throughout the day, despite your best efforts to do so.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.