We've all had nights where we can't fall asleep. You toss and you turn. You flip your pillow over to the cool side to see if it helps. It doesn't. So, you scroll through your phone for a bit or watch an episode of your favorite binge-worthy show until you (hopefully) doze off.
Even if you are tired, there are some nights when it feels impossible to fall (or stay) asleep. Restless nights can make you feel grumpy, fatigued, or sluggish. As a result, the next morning - and even the rest of the day - can be difficult to manage. Luckily, there are several ways you can practice healthy sleep hygiene to help you get the best night's rest possible.
How to Put Someone to Sleep (including you!)
Sleep is important. It allows your brain and body time to rest and repair blood vessels, balance hormones, and improve immune function. In addition, sleep has been linked to increased learning and problem-solving skills, attention, and creativity.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), most adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. When we don't get enough, we can become irritable, feel depressed, or even become more forgetful. The NIA also notes that older adults who don't get enough sleep are more prone to falls and other accidents.
For all of these reasons and more, it's important to get a good night's rest. You can look to the list below to learn some science-based tips and tricks the NIA recommends for healthy sleep habits.
Create a Sleep Schedule
Do you go to sleep and wake up at around the same time each day? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that people create a sleep schedule to help ensure that they get enough good quality sleep each night.
Never had a sleep schedule before? Don't worry. Is there a time at night when you usually start to notice yourself feeling tired? Do you have a time that you would like to be up in the morning? How many hours of sleep would you ideally like to get?
Use these questions to set up a sleep schedule. Then, do your best to stick to it for at least a couple of weeks. After you've adjusted, check in with yourself. If you notice positive changes, stick with it. If you feel it's not meeting your needs, adjust it until you get it just right.
Follow an Evening Routine
Before bed, allow your mind and body time to unwind. Create a nighttime routine filled with relaxing activities that you enjoy. Start your routine at least 30 minutes before you hope to be asleep.
Sample activities include:
- Color, knit, or try another calming hobby
- Follow an evening yoga flow
- Listen to relaxing music
- Make your bed
- Take a shower
- Try a gua sha facial massage
- Your favorite self-care activity
Everyone's evening routine will look different. You should engage in whatever activities make you feel calm, cozy, and ready for bed.
Cut Down on Screen Time
At night, the act of scrolling is so easy (and tempting). However, research suggests that screen time before bed can have a negative impact on sleep, such as shorter sleep durations and delayed timing of sleep.
Cutting out screentime is challenging, but not impossible. Try silencing your notifications at night to limit disturbances or swap screen time with a different activity that you enjoy. Instead of watching a show, read a book or just listen to music.
Make Your Sleep Space Cozy
Your sleep environment can impact your rest. So create a comfortable and cozy atmosphere that can help you wind down for the night. Explore your five senses. Which textures make you feel relaxed? Which smells make you calm? What room temperature is comfy?
Some ways to make your space cozy are:
- Decorate the space by your bed with relaxing colors or images.
- Fill your room with soft lighting or dim the lights as you get ready for bed.
- If you're sensitive to light or sound, be sure to make adjustments to your space to accommodate these needs.
- Light your favorite scented candles or incense.
- Make your bed each morning.
- Set the temperature in your room to the desired degree.
- Use warm blankets with soft fabrics.
Don't be afraid to make your cozy space your own. Build an environment that supports you and your needs.
Move Your Body
Physical activity can help you release energy and unwind. The NIH recommends that people get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. However, you should get your body moving well before bedtime to give your heart rate and breathing time to return to normal.
Don't think that you need to hit the gym if you don't want to. There are many ways to add some physical activity to your day that might better fit your preferences and schedule, such as:
- Bike around the block, or even to your workspace.
- Do some yardwork or housecleaning.
- Enjoy a yoga flow from the comfort of your home.
- Go for a walk around your neighborhood.
- Play with your pets or kiddos.
- Stretch when you wake up in the morning or when you need a break throughout the day.
- Swap behaviors for healthier ones, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking to the store instead of driving.
- Switch to a standing desk.
Avoid Stressful Topics
Thoughts can keep you up at night. Maybe you had a tough day at work or got into an argument with a loved one. Worry and rumination can make it hard to quiet your mind as you drift off to sleep.
For this reason, it can be helpful to try and avoid stressful topics and situations before bed. For example, if the news, certain movies, or making phone calls are stressful, then try to not engage in these activities before sleep. This isn't always possible, but do your best to set these boundaries.
Eat and Drink to Promote Sleep
According to a 2020 comprehensive review from Nutrients Journal, a person's diet can impact their sleep quality. The review analyzed the findings of 32 research studies and found different types of food that increased total sleep time, improved sleep efficiency, and reduced difficulties falling asleep.
The review noted that foods that contain tryptophan, zinc, B vitamins, polyphenols, and chlorogenic acids help promote sleep. The journal notes that vitamin supplements do provide some health benefits, but that these nutrients have greater effects when they are consumed naturally in food.
Do your best to avoid drinks, such as coffee and tea, that contain caffeine after 4 pm. These can negatively impact sleep when consumed later in the day.
Skip Late-Evening Naps
When you get home from a long day, a nap can be really tempting. You might feel exhausted and turn to sleep as a place of refuge. Unfortunately, this might make it harder for you to fall asleep later in the evening. The NIH recommends that people skip mid- to late-afternoon naps in order to protect sleep quality.
However, sometimes naps are inevitable. If you feel like you could use a nap, don't deny yourself. Just do your best to keep them short.
More Ways to Get a Good Night's Sleep
Even with impeccable sleep hygiene, you still might experience times when it's hard to fall asleep. In these instances, it might be helpful to explore some additional options.
Relaxation techniques and natural remedies can act as sleep aids when you find yourself tossing and turning. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before using an over-the-counter sleeping pill or supplement, as some may interact with allergies or medications.
Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids
Over-the-counter sleep aids include products such as melatonin, Benadryl, or Unisom. Some over-the-counter aids contain antihistamines, which are known to make people feel tired. You can build up a tolerance for these medicines, which makes them less effective over time. They aren't recommended for long-term use, and should only be taken occasionally.
Sleep aids may also cause some side effects, such as grogginess or sickness. In addition, they may interact with certain prescription medications, so contact your healthcare provider before use.
Relaxing Essential Oils
Essential oils are naturally derived from pressing and distilling plants and flowers. These extracts are highly concentrated and maintain the natural smells of the plant they come from. Research has found that essential oils have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
Several studies have found that essential oils can reduce stress, improve symptoms of depression, and decrease insomnia. Calming essential oils include chamomile, geranium, lavender, and peppermint. You can add these calming scents to oil diffusers or find body oils and lotions that have the essential oil blended in.
Essential oils should never be taken orally because they can be toxic, and concentrated versions should never be applied directly to the skin. In addition, they may cause certain side effects, such as drowsiness, skin irritation, or cough.
A good cup of tea may help get you to bed. Research shows that teas can boost immune function, reduce inflammation in the body, and even protect against cancer. Some calming teas you might want to try are rooibos, chamomile, ginger, hibiscus, and oolong.
Some researchers have called for more studies to be done in order to solidify tea's health benefits. In addition, certain teas may have some side effects, including dizziness or allergic reactions, and some have blood thinning properties. Be sure to talk to a healthcare provider before making tea a part of your routine.
Activating pressure points through acupressure has been linked to sleep benefits. Studies show that acupressure can improve sleep quality and reduce psychological distress, and even reduce symptoms of pain, as well as anxiety.
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but it's non-invasive. You can experience the benefits simply by applying pressure with your hands to different parts of the body that are believed to be linked to specific body systems.
Some common acupressure points for relaxation include shenmen (located near the top of the inner ear), neiguan (found at the base of the wrist), and the relaxation point (near the upper ear). To activate these points, apply pressure to the areas for a few seconds at a time.
Massage might help you get ready for bed. Research shows that therapeutic massage can improve self-reported levels of sleep quality and may also help you fall into deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep faster. In addition, it has also been found to help reduce pain symptoms, boost mood, and promote relaxation.
You can massage areas of your body yourself, ask for help from a loved one, or schedule an appointment with a certified massage therapist. You can follow along with free guided massage videos online, or rub areas of your body that feel tense.
Sometimes a good night's rest can take a bit of effort. The more strategies you learn to maintain healthy sleep hygiene, the more ways you will be able to help yourself and your loved ones improve your sleep quality. You might find that some strategies don't work for you, and that's okay. Stick with the ones that do. Over time, you should notice improvements in your sleep, and feel confident that you have techniques you can turn to when sleepless nights arise.