Getting sufficient, restorative, and deep sleep every night is vital to your health and overall well-being. While conditions such as back and neck pain, sciatica, and other sources of pain may keep you from falling asleep, not gaining enough sleep can likewise cause or exacerbate these problems.1
As a general rule, a minimum of 7 hours of sleep is required each night for optimal health.1 Read on to learn unique and effective insights into gaining a healthy sleep routine and how to fall asleep and stay asleep for longer.
1. Exercise during the day
Some research has found that exercising anytime during the day can help promote a good night’s sleep, and others observed that exercising an hour and a half before bedtime was associated with better sleep outcomes.2 A process of trial and error may help you figure out the best time to exercise.
If you have back pain or other medical issues that make it difficult to exercise, find another way, such as water therapy, to get your heart rate up. The water in the pool supports your joints and provides gentle resistance, making it possible for you to get a good amount of workout with lesser or no pain. You could also try regular or brisk walking for 5 to 10 minutes.3
Exercising to the point of elevating your heart rate has the added benefit of producing more of your body's own feel-good hormones: endorphins.
2. Avoid caffeine late in the day
Caffeine can significantly lower your body’s ability to fall asleep. Caffeine can last in your body for up to 10 hours after consumption, some people storing higher concentrations than others. Every individual's body is different—while some may get less or light sleep with even little traces of caffeine, others may not be affected by large concentrations.4
While you may not be able to give up your coffee during the day, consider staying away from beverages containing caffeine at least 5 to 6 hours before your bedtime. This time period allows your body to develop enough melatonin (your sleep hormone) without being obstructed by the effects of caffeine.4
3. Have an early dinner
The best time to have your dinner is 2 to 3 hours before going to bed.5 When you have a late dinner, you are at a higher risk of developing gastroesophageal reflux syndrome, which can cause disturbed sleep.5,6 Eating late also prevents your body from warming up, which is important to initiate your sleep cycle. Several body functions, such as insulin and glucose metabolism are also disrupted when you have a late evening meal.5
4. Take a warm bath prior to but not immediately before bedtime
Warming your body through showers or baths an hour or two before bedtime may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Our body functions in a way where initially a higher body temperature (especially in the arms and feet) allows the sleep cycle to kick in, and 2 hours into the sleep phase, the body’s core temperature drops. This process of temperature regulation is important to stay asleep—it is during this time that the body’s sleep hormone, melatonin circulates in higher concentrations.7
5. Try a natural sleep enhancer
Certain herbs or fruit extracts have biologic effects that may promote longer sleep without altering the body’s natural metabolism. Effective options are described below.
- Valerian herbal supplement. Valerian is an herb and is made from the root of a perennial flower. It is classified as a dietary supplement and available over the counter. Valerian may be effective in helping you stay asleep longer, allowing a deeper and more restful night's sleep.8,9
- Tart cherry extract. Cherries contain melatonin, which allows your body to regulate its sleep cycle and lets you sleep longer. Cherries also contain tryptophan, a substance that reduces the time needed to fall asleep, letting you sleep faster.10 Cherry extracts are commonly available in grocery stores; you can consume them in the form of supplements or as juice.
6. Go to bed at the same time every night
This rule may seem more suitable for children, but even adults need to prepare themselves for sleep at a specific time every night. Sleeping at the same time strengthens your sleep routine and is helpful in achieving good quality sleep. Even a 2-hour shift in your routine bedtime without making up for the missed hours in the morning can decrease your mental and physical functioning during the day.13,14
7. Read a printed book and keep your electronic devices away
Reading from light-emitting electronic devices, such as phones and tablets can disturb your sleep rhythm. The effects include falling asleep later, a decrease in the quality of sleep, feeling sleepier in the morning, and a lower rate of alertness after waking.15
If you like to read before sleeping, read from a printed book in reflected light.15
8. Make sure your mattress is comfortable
The type of mattress that you use can impact the quality of your sleep. 16,17 If you shift positions often, wake up several times, and/or wake up with shoulder or back pain, your mattress may be to blame. If your mattress sags—meaning that you can see a compression in some part of the mattress, it will almost always create sleep discomfort and can worsen back problems.
A mattress with ergonomic standards and the right level of firmness may help promote better sleep, typically by providing an even surface and reducing body aches and pains.16,17 A medium-firm mattress may provide adequate body support to enhance your sleep quality.17
9. Cool your bedroom and use cozy bedding
Optimal room temperature and comfortable bedding can be effective in getting you to fall asleep.7 To cool your room—use a fan, open the window, or turn up your AC.
Use these tips to make yourself comfortable:
- A combination of a cold bedroom, heavy blankets or comforters, and several pillows may be soothing, as nestling in under the covers can have a cocooning feeling that nurtures sleep.18
- Wear bed socks to keep your feet warm, which can help you sleep faster and longer.19
- Use pillows to support your lower back and hips and maintain the natural curve of your spine.
Using white noise may help cancel out the background sounds, which means that you won't be woken up with every little thump that the house makes. You can use a fan, buy a white noise machine, or download an app that will provide several white noise options like the sound of rain, wind, and more.
10. Replace worries with positive thoughts
Often times, worries, negative emotions, and thoughts related to stressful events may keep you from falling asleep. Instead of trying to suppress the negative feelings, cultivating positive emotions through mindfulness may help you fall asleep sooner and attain good sleep.20
Mindfulness includes techniques to divert your mind to positive thoughts through focus and meditation.
11. Soak in the sunlight during the day
Exposure to sunlight can affect your sleep time, quality, and duration. Getting outdoors during the day when the light intensity is higher is more beneficial than lower-intensity evening sunlight.21 It is also important to not spend too much time outdoors during noon or when the UV rays are high, which may cause sunburns.
Aim to spend a few minutes in the morning and late afternoon, which can help your internal body clock to get ready for sleep in the evening.
Everyone is different, so figuring out what works best for you may take some trial and error. Try several of these tips to help yourself get better sleep. If you work a night-shift job, these tips can still help you get adequate sleep during the day. If your sleep problems worsen over time or do not improve with these tips, there may be a medical cause, such as sleep apnea or periodic limb movement disorder, which requires a doctor’s evaluation and treatment.