Considering sleep came into the evolutionary picture some 700 million years ago, you’d think we’d be better at it by now. But many of us aren’t—so what better day than Word Sleep Day to adopt some new habits.
Countless things (caffeine, stress, smartphones) can get in the way of a good night’s rest. Meanwhile, many elaborate lifestyle changes promise to counteract barriers to a good night’s sleep. Making some of these radical changes can be tough, though. Changing your diet or doing a one-hour bedtime meditation might help you sleep, but they also might not be realistic for you.
Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your sleep. Today is World Sleep Day, so it’s a perfect time to try something new.
We’ve put together 12 easy ways to improve your sleep. Even if you start with just one of them, it’s a great first step to a better night’s rest.
Slow Down on Caffeine
Avoiding caffeine all day just isn’t practical for everyone. However, it should come as no surprise that if you drink caffeine throughout the day and night, it makes it harder to fall asleep.
To get the caffeine boost you need without disrupting your sleep, start avoiding caffeine about four hours before you plan to go to sleep. While completely cutting out caffeine might lead to even better sleep, this tactic is much more approachable, and still effective.
The four hours before bed suggestion, by the way, is just a starting point. The rate at which you process the stimulating compound is largely genetic. Some people have to stop drinking coffee by noon to get to bed at a reasonable time and other people can slug back espresso with their dinner dessert and fall asleep effortlessly. Listen to your body and move your last cup of the day back until it doesn’t interfere with your sleep.
Sober Up Before Bed
Alcohol can also disrupt sleep. This is a bit paradoxical because slamming a bunch of shots of hard liquor is a great way to feel sleepy immediately and even fall asleep very quickly. But even though drinking before bedtime makes you fall asleep faster, your sleep will get disrupted later as your body processes the alcohol.
If you plan to drink even just a small amount, try to stop several hours before bed just like we recommended above with caffeine. This gives your body time to process the alcohol so it won’t mess with your sleep quality.
Unwind with a Book
It’s a good idea to end your day with something fun and relaxing whenever you can. Many people catch up on their social media or watch TV before bed. However, since the light from laptops and phones can disrupt your sleep, a book is a much better choice.
Reading isn’t much different from other pre-bedtime entertainment choices. Just like watching a show or reading a social media feed, it allows you to forget about your own problems and escape into a different world for a while. However, because a book doesn’t emit any artificial light, you’ll sleep much better afterward.
If you do want to use your ebook reader, your best bet is to read it like a regular book. Turn off the backlight on your Kindle or other dedicated reader and use adequate but soft warm light to read it—like like a regular book. You especially want to avoid reading on a tablet which has a much brighter screen. A study done in 2014 by Harvard researchers found that using an iPad as an ebook reader increased the amount of time it took study participants to fall asleep.
Change the Room Temperature
Everyone feels most comfortable at slightly different temperatures. If your sleep hasn’t been great lately, you might want to experiment with the temperature a bit.
Try making your room warmer or colder before bedtime. Your ideal sleep temperature might be a lot different from someone else’s. Once you know that, though, this is an easy way to get better sleep.
Take a Hot Bath or Shower
You can also use temperature to your advantage by taking a hot bath or shower before bed. Plus, if you shower at night, you can sleep a bit longer in the morning!
Try to take your hot bath or shower about an hour and a half before bedtime for the best results. The hot water will stimulate your body’s core temperature in a way that lets it know it’s time to sleep.
Plus, it’s just a deeply relaxing ritual to implement.
Distract Yourself from Insomnia
If you can’t fall asleep, get up and do something rather than lying there and cursing your insomnia. Otherwise, you’ll start to associate insomnia-related stress with your bedroom, which can make it even harder to fall asleep in the future.
Try to kill some time with relaxing activities until you actually feel tired. You could meditate, try out a chill yoga sequence, or read some more.
The idea is to distract yourself from stressing out about still being awake, without doing anything that’s going to wake you up even more. When you do get back to bed, you’ll see it as a good place to be, not a dreadful insomnia prison.
Restrict the Use of Your Bed
If you live in a small space, it’s easy to let your bed become a multipurpose location. For example, you might study, work, or even eat in your bed. If you’re having trouble sleeping, though, consider giving up those habits.
Buy a desk, a couch, or whatever else you might need to avoid using your bed as a place to do anything other than sleep. Then, don’t go to bed until you actually feel tired and ready to sleep.
Your body should then start to associate getting into bed with actually going to sleep.
Eat a Bedtime Snack
This change should be easy to make! Eat a small snack (not a big meal) before bed.
Going to bed hungry definitely doesn’t help you sleep, but neither does eating a substantial meal beforehand.
A bedtime snack is a healthy medium. It will ensure hunger doesn’t keep you awake. As we mentioned above, though, just try not to eat your snack in your bed.
Redecorate Your Bedroom
If you like decorating, you can have fun and improve your sleep by redoing your bedroom.
As you redecorate, make it your goal to create a restful space. For example, you might add some curtains that block out light, or add a new piece of furniture so you can store clutter out of sight.
Add whatever you need to feel more comfortable at night, whether it’s a fan, a light dimmer switch, or simply a new color scheme.
Sometimes, just rearranging the furniture is enough to make a room feel more peaceful.
Keep a Journal
Is worrying about tomorrow what’s keeping you up at night? Keeping a simple journal or day planner next to your bed might help.
Instead of stressing or mentally plotting your day tomorrow, write things down to take them off your mind.
You can jot down a to-do list, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting something. Or, you can write down the things you’re stressed about to “release” them from your mind for the night.
Get More Natural Light
Our bodies are attuned to the rhythms of day and night thanks to millions of years of evolution. Darkness helps put us to sleep. However, without the contrast of natural light, our body rhythms can get messed up.
To get your natural sleep rhythm back on track, try to get more natural light during the day. You can do this by making some simple changes, like working near a window or taking a walk at lunchtime.
If you can’t get more actual sunlight, pick up a sunlight-mimicking lamp and use it for a few hours each day.
Try Melatonin Supplements
When it comes to sleep aids, you can’t go wrong with melatonin. Melatonin is your body’s naturally-produced sleep hormone. If you take it as a supplement, it can help you fall asleep without any of the negative side effects you might get from other sleep aids.
Melatonin works well even at low doses, and it has no withdrawal symptoms. Start with the smallest dose possible; if that doesn’t work, add more each subsequent night.
Although melatonin is very safe, as with any supplement, you should still check with your doctor before you start taking it.
While the occasional sleepless night is normal, chronic insomnia is not. Your doctor can help you rule out underlying causes that are keeping you up at night. In the meantime, though, any one of these tips might help you fall asleep faster and wake up more refreshed. There’s no need to create a fancy, elaborate bedtime routine—just try these easy steps until you find what works for you.
Want more sleep-enhancing tips? Check out these relaxing breathing exercises.