How to Sleep Better: 33 Expert Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Person sleeping, perhaps dreaming against a starlit sky

Millions of us are desperately searching for how to sleep better.  Is that you too?  

When you hit the pillow, does your mind race?  Maybe you feel anxious, worrying about things you haven’t done, or about money or your kids ….. and sleep slips ever further away.  

Or do you wake up in the night?.  Then you can’t nod off again. You toss and turn and sort of doze.  In the morning, you just feel drained.  

Have you read all those articles about how sleep deprivation (yeh, that’s what they call not getting enough shuteye) may lead to cardiovascular diseasecontribute to depression, increase your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes and cause you to make lethal errors in doing things like driving your car?

Scary, isn’t it?   

My sleep problems started after I got a tropical bug. Now I’m always looking for good advice from the experts. 

So I thought I’d pull out some nuggets of sleepers’ gold to help you get a good night’s sleep.  Here are 33 tips, mostly from experts, with a couple just from me.

Finding your way round

I’m walking you through your day from morning to night,  looking at expert tips on ways you can improve your chances of a good night’s sleep.  Then when we’ve successfully got through the night, there’s a quick peek on what to do about serious sleep problems that require expert help.  If you want to hop around, you’ll find the table of contents above.

If you’d find a pdf easier to read or to refer to, then click here, fill in the form and I’ll wing it to you straight away.

CLICK HERE FOR YOUR PDF COPY OF HOW TO SLEEP BETTER: 33 TIPS!

But first, why do we need to sleep in the first place?

Why Do We Sleep? And Why Can’t We Do Without It?

Our bodies are beautifully adapted to live in this world of night and day. We are diurnal creatures.  

That means that, during the day, we’re generally wide awake, doing things.  We make jokes. (Well I make terrible ones! And if you like a dose of humour to leaven the learning, read Dr Chris Winter’s book The Sleep Solution.)  

Ok – we do other things: work (probably too hard), look after our children, see friends (go on dates?), wash, drive, exercise, learn new things and generally live our lives.    

At night, we need to get over all that activity. We rest our muscles and brains and give them a chance to repair the damage we’ve done to them. 

 Our liver gets on with its job of detoxifying us of harmful substances, breaking down fat, storing glycogen and metabolising hormones. (Maybe that date at the fancy restaurant wasn’t such a good idea.)

Our brain sorts out the activities of the day and stores the memories for later use.  It cleans up all the wastes it has produced during our active day.

So it’s not just that it feels great to curl up in bed, nice and warm.  All these nocturnal activities keep us healthy and well.  Our bodies automatically perform a daily miracle of balancing our internal chemistry.  That’s what sleep is for.

Sleep Better to the Tick of Your Circadian Clocks

How do our bodies know when it’s time to go to sleep?  

Did you know that every cell in our body has a little circadian clock that helps us to regulate all our systems?   The scientists who discovered that won the Nobel Prize. That’s what a big deal it was for understanding how to get a better night’s sleep.  

Functional medicine expert, Dr Mark Hyman says your biological clocks trigger cyclic pulses of healing, including signaling through melatonin that it’s time for bed and switching on the hormones to repair the wear and tear.  Then when daylight strikes, they switch off the melatonin so that you wake up, ready for the activities of a new day.

If you’re out of sync with your internal clocks, (eg by carrying on working when your clocks tell you it’s time for rest)  you set off a domino effect that runs through your body, depriving you of good quality sleep and potentially causing you serious health problems.  It’s a real problem for shift workers.

Taking account of the effect of your circadian rhythm prevents sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep do so many harmful things to your system. Dr Mark Hyman again

When you are sleep deprived, your cortisol rises – and so do all its harmful effects, including brain damage and dementia, weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, depression, osteoporosis, depressed immunity, and more”.

Sleep deprivation can be a form of torture.  And it’s one that far too many of us experience on a daily basis. 

Now that we’ve seen that we really can’t do without it, let’s dive into how we can sleep better.  

A Better Night’s Sleep Starts in the Morning

In times gone by, we went to bed shortly after dark and woke up when the dawn brought daylight.  It was an obvious routine, imposed by nature and our bodies still like it.  

So here’s our first tip on how to sleep better. 

TIP 1 We are creatures of routine

Oprah Winfrey’s sleep doctor, Dr Michael Breus says, get yourself into a routine and STICK WITH IT.  Maybe not practical for some – shift workers for example.  Try going to sleep at around the same time each night. (Preferably NOT at 3 AM!!)  

The routine of waking up at the same time every day is an essential part of a good night's sleep

It’s even more important to wake up at around the same time each day.

Awake and Raring to Go?

So you’ve woken up; hopefully at the time you set yourself.  What’s the best thing to do next?  

TIP 2    Look forward to a morning treat

I found a great tip from Eric Knopf when he wrote about his sleep problems.  He thinks it’s more fun to wake up to a treat.  He says it makes you want to get up straight away.

A cup of coffee in the morning can be a real treat to look forward to and rouse you from sleep inertia.

His treat is setting his coffee maker the night before and enjoying the aroma of coffee, all ready for him to drink.

What’s a treat that gets you bouncing out of bed? A plate of blueberries?

TIP 3    How to get your day going well and give yourself extra bonuses

Linda Geddes recommends going outside as soon as you can after you get up.    

She suggests you drink your morning cup of coffee out in the fresh air.  The light outside is always brighter than indoors and will banish any groggy morning feelings.   Yes, even if the weather is bad. 

Even walking in bad weather still provides lots of light to wake you up and you'll sleep better that evening.

(My husband and I went for a quick walk in the rain this morning, then came back to a nice breakfast and coffee.)

And going outside gives you two bonuses for free: it tops up your Vitamin D levels and ensures that your melatonin kicks in harder in the evening for a better night’s sleep tonight!  

When Coffee doesn’t Get You through the Morning

Do you feel brain fogged and lethargic as the morning goes on?  That nasty sleep deprivation is catching up on you. 

There are two quick fixes:  naps and exercise. 

TIP 4    After lunch, it’s siesta time!

A quick siesta or nap can assist you to stay alert for the rest of the day. 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

  • Best time for a nap is directly after lunch. Your temperature naturally drops at around this time, which helps you nod off quickly. (This physiological reaction explains cultures that enjoy siestas.) 
  • Some people wake up feeling worse after a nap because of the feeling of grogginess called sleep inertia.  Experiment with how long you need to feel refreshed. It can be anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes.
Napping in the office is good for boosting afternoon performance as long as it isn't for too long.  Best done in a quiet place.

(Might be good to find a quiet place to sleep if you’re going to take a nap in the office. You wouldn’t want to disturb your colleagues by compelling them to play pranks on you!)

Big advantage for over 65 year olds according to a Chinese study:  a 1 hour nap after lunch improved cognitive functions more than no naps, short naps or naps of longer than 90 minutes. 

Warning: if you have difficulties sleeping at night, the advice is NEVER nap during the day, as it could exacerbate your sleep problems come the evening.   

TIP 5    How to make the afternoon fizz with a nappuccino

Drink coffee before a nap and wake up refreshed.  It stops you sleeping too long and disrupting your night's sleep.

Here’s a fun tip!  

Daniel Pink says: before you settle in for your afternoon snooze, drink a cup of coffee.  The caffeine kicks in some 20 minutes later, just in time for you to wake up feeling refreshed without feeling groggy. 

TIP 6    A quick refresher  

Squeeze in a lunchtime walk or a quick run around the block.  Even walking up and down stairs will help!  It should have the following effects:

  • If you exercise outside, you’ll benefit from the daylight acting on your circadian clocks to increase your arousal – that means make you more awake.  
  • You’ll breathe more deeply and the increase your blood flow and blood pressure. 
  • The increased blood flow will deliver more oxygen to your brain, which will help you keep more alert.

So if you can’t get a nap or you’re worried about the effect of a nap on your sleep at night, exercise can help you settle down for a hard afternoon’s work.  

(This applies to you even if you’re retired!  Use it or lose it! ) 

Afternoon into Evening: the Right Habits for a Better Night’s Sleep

As the afternoon wears on to evening, it’s a good time to fit in the things that result in you sleeping more deeply and for longer.

TIP 7    Keep moving during the day for better sleep at night

Exercising instead of a nap isn’t the only time for exercise.  As Dr Michael Breus says, regular exercise is essential for a great sleep routine. 

Synchronised swimming improves your brain, and regular exercise ensures better sleep at night

Do something new and fun and you’ll benefit even more. How about Tai Chi or synchronised swimming?

If you’re normally a couch potato, then think about how you can keep yourself moving regularly during the day.  Get up every 45 minutes and take a little break. Walk around, stretch, do a few squats, go and look at your garden.  You’ll sleep all the better for it. 

Warning:  Too much exercise late in the evening can leave you plain exhausted and unable to sleep. (It’s because overtraining is a stress on your body and makes you produce more cortisol).  So don’t do too much and don’t do it too close to bedtime or you’ll find it more sleep-disrupting than sleep enhancing.

TIP 8    Eat the right things at the right time.

Take the advice of David Klose from sleepjunkie.org:  make sure you’re eating a varied diet so that you’re not short of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs.  For example, many people are deficient in Vitamin D, especially in winter, and this has been associated with high likelihood of sleep disorders.

At the vending machine for the wrong kind of food because working late means poor quality sleep and weight gain

Remember that if you’re sleep-deprived and working late, your body will tell you to find some carbs from the vending machine!

Not much of a compensation for lack of sleep AND you end up gaining weight!

Be sure to eat a proper meal by latest 8pm.  You’ll be less likely to reach for a Mars bar and you’ll sleep better if your digestive system has dealt with dinner, allowing your liver to get going with its nightly clean-up of your system.  

TIP 9    Are you a caffeine junkie?

Advice has always been to cut back on caffeine well before going to sleep.  For many years, I went to bed with a nice cup of tea and generally I went out like a light.  Alas, I stopped when I started having sleep problems.   

Christine E Spadola, an assistant professor in Florida Atlantic University’s Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, is the lead author of a recent study on the effects of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol on sleep patterns.  She and the other researchers concluded that consumption of caffeine within 4 hours of bedtime did NOT cause sleep disruption. 

There is a caveat though: previous studies show mixed results and some found associations between caffeine and sleep disturbance.  Christine warns that it may be a function of individual variations in caffeine sensitivity and tolerance.  The clear message is to listen to your body.

Reading before sleep quietens the mind and helps your sleep quality.  Some people are kept awake by caffeine.

As for me, I’m reinstating my bedtime cup of tea!

(And coffee really can be quite good for you if you drink it at the right time!)

TIP 10   Does a night cap really help you sleep better?

The classic image of a nightcap is a strong dose of something alcoholic.  Whilst alcohol is great at sending you off to sleep, alas, Christine’s findings show that drinking within 4 hours of bedtime causes poorer quality sleep.  The good news is that it doesn’t affect waking up in the night or overall duration.  So if you want to sleep more efficiently (ie sleep better), limit the alcohol before bedtime! 

TIP 11  Cut out the ciggies

Older man enjoying a night cap and cigar, but will his sleep quality will be poorer.

Nicotine use within 4 hours of bedtime has a much greater effect on sleep, says Christine.  You’ll wake up more during the night and won’t get such good quality sleep.  If you’re an insomniac as well,  you’ll sleep less overall (by approximately 42 minutes). 

So, cut the nicotine well in advance of bedtime.

Let’s Welcome the Darkness 

Remember that one of the tips for waking up is to expose yourself to daylight?  Well, when night falls, we need to do the opposite and cut down our exposure to light, particularly blue light, which stops you producing melatonin, the hormone that signals to you that it’s time for sleep.

Linda Geddes joined up with researchers at the University of Surrey and they found that cutting down on artificial light helped people get to sleep earlier and more quickly.  

Cathy Goldstein, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center, says that our bodies associate blue light with daytime, so being exposed to it when you’re trying to go to bed 

pushes our internal clock later so that it’s harder to fall asleep and harder to wake up in the morning”.  

TIP 12  Turn off the lights

For better sleep, turn the lights down low.  Use candles like Linda!  

Candles provide less light than light bulbs and much less blue light which keeps you awake.

Warning: Take care to use them safely, keep them away from children and make sure they are completely out before your final lights out.

If you don’t want to use candles, then avoid very bright artificial light.  Invest in some soft, warm-toned side lights with dimmers that filter out the melatonin-blocking blue light.  It’ll make for a more cosy, relaxing ambience too.

Now, my husband likes to watch TV before he goes to bed.  (Personally, I don’t know how he does it, but he nods off like a baby.)  

TIP 13  Turn off the TV

For a less disturbed night,  Cathy Goldstein recommends turning off the TV well before you go to bed (or, as in my case, remove yourself from the room where the telly is.)  

If that’s not for you, then try putting a blue filter over the TV so that you block out the arousing blue light. (You can get them on Amazon.)  Don’t have a TV in your bedroom! 

TIP 14 What about phones, tablets and laptops?

Some say turn off your screens an hour or more before you go plan to go to sleep.

Man in bed kept awake by blue light from his computer.  Blue light stops your melatonin production and shifts your circadian rhythm.

Many of them have built-in programmes that automatically filter the blue light after dark, so try those. But leave your devices downstairs when you go to bed and turn off the internet.

TIP 15 Screens and reading – do you need glasses?

Yeh, giving up reading on my kindle app in bed is a really hard one!  A great trick is to wear blue light blocking glasses.

Bono with his wraparound glasses - like blue light filtering glasses, which help you sleep better.

It might feel silly, but in his book, The Sleep Solution, Dr Chris Winter says wearing the glasses will make you feel like Bono!  And it’s better than having to give up using your computer 4 hours before you go to sleep!

TIP 16 Instead of all that blue light, try seeing red

If you need a night light for getting up in the night, you could try a dim red bulb.  (We use them on our boat so that we don’t destroy our night vision when we’re under way.)  

With less light stimulus, you’ll fall back asleep faster. It might save you from falling over the rug in the dark too.

TIP 17 Block out the street lights

Street light shining through the window  contain blue light which disturbs your sleep

If you live in a city, it can be hard to cut down the artificial light of street lights and buildings.  Try using good blinds and curtains. 

Maybe put an extra blanket over your drapes to keep out the light.  If all else fails, wear one of those eye masks, like the ones they give you on aeroplanes.

Create Your Perfect Environment for Sleep

Sleep hygiene: no, it isn’t just having a shower before you go to bed. It means creating the right environment for you to snuggle down and sleep like a baby.

TIP 18 Why your mum was right about keeping your bedroom tidy

When your mother told you to tidy up your room, she was doing you a favour.  

Decluttering your bedroom leads to better quality sleep

Pamela Thacher, associate professor of psychology, and Alexis Reinheimer, both from St Lawrence University concluded from their study that those with cluttered bedrooms did not sleep well, were more likely to suffer hoarding disorders and suffer from anxiety, depression and stress. 

So keep your bedroom tidy and clean and reap the benefits.

TIP 19 Find the comfiest mattress

Make sure you have a comfortable mattress.  Sleep coach McKenzie Hyde says if you wake up with aches and pains, consider whether they are caused by a worn out or an unsupportive mattress.  Mattresses get a lot of use, so change yours before it starts causing you problems.

TIP 20 How to avoid getting neck ache

Big fat pillows are great for leaning against if you read in bed, but put them on one side when you settle down to sleep.  

Tuck.com gives you the lowdown on how to choose the best pillow to support you, whatever way you sleep.  

As they say, choose a pillow that nicely fits the gap under your neck without pushing your head out of line with your spine.  Misalignment means you could end up with neck ache in the morning.  

It’s best to buy new pillows fairly regularly.  Consider changing them after 18 months or so.

Correct sleeping positions to prevent pain disturbing your sleep
pillow selection infographic

TIP 21 Time for the cover up

Meg Riley of sleepjunkie.org has lots of advice on the right bedding. Make sure that your covers won’t make you too hot or wake you up because you’re not warm enough.  You’ll probably need to change the weight of your covers as the seasons change with warmer layers in the winter and perhaps just a sheet to cover you in the summer.  It depends on where you live.  

Some people like the weight and feeling of being tucked in with blankets. I’ve seen lots of praise for weighted blankets from insomniacs. I prefer a light duvet myself. Experiment with different weights and fabrics to find out what makes you most comfortable.

TIP 22        Get rid of unwelcome bed companions (no, not your partner!)

A bit more ‘sleep’ hygiene.  This part involves sheet hygiene.

Change your sheets regularly each week says www.sleepadvisor.org. You also need to wash your bed covers and mattress toppers regularly too.  Another trick is to vacuum your mattress every now and then, as well. (And don’t forget to clean under the bed.)

You’ll be less likely to suffer from allergic reactions to the dust and the mites that love eating up all the dead skin that you shed every night. 

The Best Time For Your Bedtime?

Probably as the evening draws on, you’re already thinking about going to bed.  What time is best? 

It depends on those little clocks again.  We are all born with genes that regulate our circadian clocks and many of us have genes that mean we prefer to get up early and go to bed early: those are the larks 

Owls are people whose genes make them more active at night than in the morning.

But if you think getting up at 5.30 am is the pits, then you’ve probably got the genes of an owl. You’re likely to want to go to bed late and get up later for the rest of your life.   (I’m one of them!)

You may be able to persuade yourself to get up earlier, (eg if you have a long commute to your job), by getting into a routine.  It becomes a matter of habit and needs must.  But you might sleep better if you change your job or move house.

TIP 23 Know your chronotype for a better night’s sleep

Dr Mark Breus has identified 4 chronotypes, (Dolphins, Bears, Lions and Wolves) and says that the timing and amount of sleep you need is related to your own particular chronotype.  

He is not the only one.  Other sleep scientists have divided them into as many as 6 different chronotypes.  

Work out your chronotype, and use the information to test the best ways for you to get a better night’s sleep.

Slowing Down to Sleep

Get yourself into a slowing down routine before you get into bed.  Do something quiet and relaxing.   Want some ideas?

TIP 24  The quiet routine that leads to a health restoring night

Ethan Green, a long-time insomniac who writes on better ways to sleep, recommends a quiet routine to help you drop off.  

Here’s a few ideas I’ve found that people use as their relaxing, go-to-sleep routine.

  • Read a book.  It’s my  favourite switch off, not only before bed but also if I wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep.  A quick half an hour and then I’m ready for sleep again.
  • Write a journal and pour out the frustrations of the day.  Or write a to-do list.   It stops you worrying about tomorrow and makes your life easier in the morning – you know what you need to do. Try gratitude journaling about the good things that happened that day.  It puts you into a good mood for sleeping.  
  • Give your partner (if you’ve got one) a cuddle.  Sex is a great way to fall asleep!  
  • Make a warm drink, camomile tea or something milky.  
  • Indulge in a warm bath – I love them.  It warms you up, so your body closes down to make you cooler.  Being warm coupled with cooling off makes it easier to drop off.
  • Meditate to quiet your mind.  I listen to sleep meditations and go out like a light.
  • Dot Zacharias (founder of www.sleepability.be, sleep coach to many well-known companies and Yoga Nidra teacher) recommends Yoga Nidra as a way to get back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night (and if you click the link, she offers a free Yoga Nidra meditation).  Dot says:

“Yoga nidra helped me enormously, when I had my own sleeping problems. It helped me to get back to sleep more quickly at night, recover from a bad night with an effective guided “power nap” during the day and also helped to train my body and mind to fall asleep with ease again”.

Find what works for you and turn it into your routine.  

Nearly Ready to Turn off those (dimmed) Lights

There are lots of tips and tricks for making sure that you’ll have a good night once you’re actually ready to get into bed.  Here are a few to make it even more blissful.

TIP 25 What’s the best thing to wear in bed?

Now, this could be a leading question! 

But sticking to the more mundane, sleeping naked is probably regarded as healthiest because it allows the air to circulate over your skin and keeps you cool. 

Good to wear socks in bed, keeps extremities warm and makes you fall asleep faster

But it depends upon the season. Getting cold can wake you up. Socks come highly recommended, as warm extremities make it easier for you to slide into slumber.

If you’re going to wear something in bed, Tuck.com recommends you choose natural fabrics such as cotton or wool rather than synthetic fabrics, which, for example, don’t absorb sweat and can leave you feeling clammy.

TIP 26 Keep the noise down – or make your own white noise

I’m sure we’ve all experienced noisy neighbours from time to time.  (I remember when our neighbours went out one night leaving their radio on crazy loud – it was awful!)

When I commuted into London and our train seemed to graze against the walls of people’s bedrooms, I used to wonder how the occupants slept through the clanking noise. 

If you can’t block out the noise, try earplugs.  It’s cheaper than double glazing or moving house.

Dr Chris Winter favours white noise machines.  If you want to try it out before investing in one – try running a dehumidifier or an electric fan, even a vacuum cleaner!  It might be enough to do the trick.

TIP 27  Is the temperature optimal for your good night’s sleep?

Your body starts to cool down after dark – another signal for the production of melatonin to help you nod off.  Now it’s nice if it’s warm when you get undressed, but it’s better to sleep in a cooler temperature.  Amelia Willson writing on www.tuck.com recommends a temperature of 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, 15 to 19 degrees Celsius.   

So turn down the temperature in your bedroom: you’ll fall asleep faster, get better quality sleep, both in the deep sleep stage and in REM sleep.  You’ll be less likely to suffer from insomnia.

That Moment of Sliding into Bed

So you finally get to that wonderful moment when you slide between the sheets and settle back against the pillows.

Bliss!

TIP 28 To read in bed or not to read 

I like to read in bed, but in his book, The Sleep Solution, Chris Winter says in no 9 of his 10 commandments of better sleep:

Use the bed for sleep and sex only. If thou are (sic) in bed not sleeping or procreating, leave”.

Maybe snuggle up with the book on the sofa instead (and get into bed when you wake up at 3 am?).  (Maybe this one isn’t much of a tip!)

But at last, you’re ready to snuggle down.  

The Stages of Sleep through the Night

So we’re all tucked up with our sleep drive coming up to maximum.  We’ve got to the point we’ve been working towards all day.  But what actually happens to us as we slip into unconsciousness?

Snooze Button’s Neil Hedley interviewed Fitbit’s Dr Connor Heneghan from Fitbit.  Dr Connor explained the two types of sleep – Non-REM and REM. 

Non-REM sleep is divided into 3 stages

  • Stage 1 –   when you’re drifting off.  If you’re woken up, you’d probably say you weren’t asleep, so it’s the very lightest stage of sleep.
  • Stage 2 – you move into deeper sleep and your brain waves start changing into spindles and K complexes.  Their function seems to be to consolidate learning and memories and to keep the brain calm if there are external stimuli, so that you don’t wake up.
  • Stage 3 – the deepest sleep where your brain waves give off delta waves. Most repair takes place during this stage and it’s when we produce growth hormone.  In this stage, your temperature and blood pressure drops. You get most deep sleep at the beginning of the night.

When you come back out of deep sleep, you move into REM sleep, so-called because you experience rapid eye movements. 

REM sleep is when we dream most actively.  It occurs approximately 90 minutes after the first stage and then after each successive sleep cycle, getting longer each time.  

Here’s Philippe Kahn’s illustration of a typical sleep pattern cycle versus an ideal one.

Infographic showing an ideal sleep pattern vs a typical one

Alas, for the older amongst us, our ability to get into deep sleep declines as we age.  Which means we have to pay more attention to getting a good night’s sleep.

Dreaming Hasn’t Changed Since Before Shakespeare’s Time

As Dr Breus points out here, there is still no definitive answer as to why we dream. Progress is being made: see, for example, this University of Swansea study.  Theories suggest that dreaming is a way of organising and consolidating information into our memories whilst ditching the irrelevant stuff.  They also help to make sense of the events of our day and to process emotions.  

TIP 29 Your dreams as a window on your creativity and health

On the positive side, dreams can help you solve problems and trigger your creativity.  Many geniuses have attested to the value of dreams in their breakthroughs.

On the other hand, nightmares could be caused by stress or could be a predictor of more serious health problems, such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological problems.  Take notice and get checked out.

Your dreams give you insight to creativity and health. Try a sleep journal to help you find patterns and improve your sleep quality.

Either way, it’s worth taking note.  Kelly Bulkeley recommends jotting down those dreams (if you ‘catch’ them) to see if you can find patterns.

What’s the Average Amount of Shuteye?

One sleep cycle takes approximately 90 minutes to cycle through the three stages of Non-REM sleep and back up again, ending with a short stage of REM sleep.  As the night goes on, the REM sleep lengthens and the deep sleep of stage 3 shortens.  

A typical night’s sleep consists of about 5-6 full sleep cycles. During the first 2-3 cycles, you spend most of the time in a deep NREM sleep. In the final 2-3 cycles, you will spend more time in REM sleep and stage one light sleep.

Whilst the most common length of sleep ought to be around 7.5 hours, i.e. 90 minutes x 5 cycles of sleep, the National Sleep Foundation has issued downloadable guidance based on a consensus of a number of sleep scientists.  They say you need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours. 

No longer than that!  Unless you need extra sleep because of illness or you’re still a child or adolescent, excessive sleep can be as bad as being sleep deprived!  According to a study in Neurology, it brings a higher risk of stroke and other diseases.

TIP 30  If you’re not average: how long do YOU need to sleep?

Many sleep scientists, including Dr Chris Winter and  Dr Mark Breus, say that we’re all DIFFERENT in what we need.  Dr Breus regularly sleeps 6.5 hours. I need 7.5 to 8 hours. You might need 9 hours. 

You can test out what amounts of sleep you need to find what suits you best.  Start with say 7 hours (or less if you think you sleep less than that).  Make sure you go to sleep (or try to) at the same time each night and set your alarm for the same time each morning.  Keep a record of how you feel on that amount of sleep every day for a week.  The next week, try 15 minutes longer. 

 Increase the amount in each successive week until you feel that you’ve reached the amount that makes you feel best.  Or decrease it if you consistently wake up before the alarm!

So are you feeling on track to a good night’s sleep? Or do you feel you’re not getting anywhere? What then?

What to Do if You’ve Tried Everything to Sleep Better

If you’ve tried all the tips and tricks to sleep better, now’s the time to start thinking about getting help. The first step is going to your general practitioner. It’s a good idea to prepare for such a visit. And one of the ways to do that is to keep a record of how you’re sleeping and what is going wrong.

How can you do that?  Here are some ideas for you to consider.

TIP 31 Sleep Trackers: Work out your sleep quality and duration 

The University of Michigan has been investigating how fitness wearables might be able to help us with better sleep.  They recognised that they don’t match up to a proper analysis in a sleep laboratory.  But can they help you?  They investigated how an Apple Watch could be used to match their results and found that they could.  

Whilst the consumer trackers do not yet match a sleep laboratory, Ethan Green still thinks that they are useful as they can give you a certain amount of information. Even if the data is not as accurate, you can see longer-term trends in your sleep.  Plus they give other data on your health too.

Here’s one survey of some sleep trackers for you to consider and here’s another about sleep apps you can download. Remember, they have their limitations and they are nowhere near as accurate as the information that you get from a sleep laboratory.  And here’s more from Philippe Kahn on the differences between the uses of a tracker and a sleep laboratory.

TIP 32 Sleep Journals: Still the gold standard?

If technology isn’t for you, keep a sleep journal, noting when you sleep well and when you don’t.  Note down how each part of the day went for you.  

Illustration of a sleep diary to note down patterns which may help you improve your sleep quality

You’ll find it useful for picking up patterns and a record will help you tell your doctor or sleep expert what you’ve tried, even if the results aren’t very objective.

When You’ve Got Real Problems: Go to the Experts

It’s time to seek help from experts when you find that your daytime and/or night time symptoms related to sleep (e.g. fatigue, insomnia, inability to fall asleep or wake up, continual waking up in the night, excessive sleeping) are adversely affecting your life.

It may mean spending time in a sleep laboratory, which doesn’t look the most comfortable of ways to spend your nights.

Sleep apnoea CPAP treatment

But if you end up with the right treatment, like the man in the photo, and a good night’s sleep every night for the rest of your life – what a difference it may make.

Not an exhaustive list of problems, but here is a list of some potentially serious problems that are best dealt with by a sleep expert.

  • Snoring and sleep apnoea:  Not everyone who snores has sleep apnoea, but about half of those who snore do have it.  Sleep apnoea is when you stop breathing whilst sleeping, so that you wake up, often gasping for air or choking.  Analysis in a sleep laboratory confirms the diagnosis and treatment can prevent serious future health problems.
  • Failure of REM sleep paralysis – ie you act out your dreams – again, a potentially serious problem.
  • Narcolepsy – where you are excessively sleepy at any time of day, and Cataplexy – where you suffer from muscle weakness when experiencing certain emotions.  To find out what it’s like to suffer from these try this link: julieflygare.com
  • Depression and anxiety – everybody gets it occasionally,  but it is often associated with poor sleep patterns.  Serious depression and anxiety need specialist medical treatment quite separately from treatment for sleep disorders.  But better sleep helps!
  • Continual brain fog and daytime sleepiness.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Insomnia – this can be a real scourge and some people are genetically disposed to it. 

Warning

Nothing in this article is medical advice.  Always check with your doctor if you have sleep problems.

The Bliss of Knowing How to Sleep Better

You’ve yearned to know how to sleep better.  You are not alone, most of us suffer from some kind of sleep problem, even if only occasionally.

Imagine that you’ve spent some time working on a good night’s sleep. Imagine how much better you feel.  No more tossing and turning.  You’ve got more energy.  You’re not so irritable or as anxious as you were.   Your doctor told you your blood pressure had come down.

The brain fog has vanished in the sunshine of clear thinking.  And you know how to get over it if you find your concentration falling off.  

Jumping with energy after a good night's sleep

It’s GREAT that you feel so full of energy these days.

Yeh, it took you a while, experimenting with how you could sleep better.  Well, we’re all different, aren’t we?  But the reward is a better night’s sleep, every night.

All it takes to start is a bit of action.  So why not try one of the tips today, and another tomorrow?  Perhaps start with tracking your sleep, maybe on your phone or keeping a sleep journal. 

Yes, you may need help from the experts. If so, go for it! It might just save your life.  And if every night is a better night’s sleep, it could transform your waking hours into that longer happier life of your dreams.

23 thoughts on “How to Sleep Better: 33 Expert Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep”

    1. Ooh – you were quick off the mark! I haven’t finished all the links yet! Thanks for such a speedy response! Coffee – yes! (Although I prefer tea.) Top Gun – errrr. I have chirping birds. (Just started that when I started using a sleep app. My husband said to me – isn’t it funny how the birds always start up at exactly the same time each morning. To be fair to him, we are surrounded by birds in cages on the balconies of our neighbours – and they do a lot of chirping first thing in the morning.)

  1. This is AWESOME, Rosemary! I love all the “wake up ideas” – you don’t hear about those very often. I’m going to start adding in a morning treat and fresh air to help get me out of bed 🙂

  2. Hi Rosemary,
    What an excellent article, thanks for all those great tips which I will share with family members.

    It seems to be a family issue for us. The only person I know in my family who sleeps well is my Dad.

    For instance, my son rang me up at 1am just last night to discuss something in the business that was going round in his head. He knew I’d be wide awake and more receptive to chatting then than in the morning (although he did turn then up on the doorstep at 6:45am – ouch!)

    My ‘hours’ are definitely odd. People tell me to go to bed early, but if I do that, I just lay awake fuming, so I follow the advice you mentioned and stay up – err, yes 3am wouldn’t be unusual. (The clue is in my signature.)

    The only thing guaranteed to put me to sleep is the TV – until I go to bed and then I’m wide awake again.
    I’ll certainly try some of your tips though, thanks very much.

    Joy Healey – Blogging After Dark

    1. Ah – Blogging After Dark. Great name! I know exactly what you mean about lying there. Might as well be productive. Doesn’t the blue light from watching TV keep you awake? I have to say, I’m not very good at putting away my computer because I read trashy novels on it as a switch off. So I get a blast of the blue. Must try harder!

      I’m working at training though and it has helped – I’m mostly sleeping through the night now, so I try to stick to the routine, which really seems to help. And yes, 6.45 am is rather early even for a dearly loved son! My alarm time (birds cheeping softly only) is 7.40am.

      Wishing you lots of good quality sleep for 2020. Rosemary

  3. Great article, that diagram of the circadian rhythms is so interesting, although the teenagers in my house are clearly on a different clock altogether!

  4. Hi Rosemary,
    Wonderful, in depth post! I love sleeping at night because I actually look forward to my dreams! Crazy or not they are a mystery. Recently there’s been news that too much sleep can be unhealthy. So who knows.. everything in moderation, right?

    1. Thanks Lesly! Dreams are wonderful, aren’t they? An unexplored frontier. And yes, latest research shows that unless you have a particular need for more sleep (eg you’re ill), too much sleep can be bad for you. We’re designed to run around in the day.

  5. Hi Rosemary,
    Great in-depth article. Lots of information on the subject.
    I liked the idea of having your first coffee in the morning outside. I will try that.
    My husband’s remark – Ya it’s -20 below right now, go ahead. Gee!
    No trouble sleeping, I have my own bedroom that is dark, and cool with a mattress I like.
    A sleep diary sounds like a good idea just to see how long to sleep is best.
    Very interesting post.

    1. Thanks Kathryn for those kind words.

      Love your husband’s comment! I used to live in Moscow and I loved the morning walk to the office through the park when it was minus 20! He’s excused if he sleeps ok!

      I’ve worked out that I need 7 hours and about 20 minutes and then I wake up. It’s a useful exercise to find out what you really need. I’m really glad that you don’t have trouble sleeping – so many people do. It sounds like you’ve got the perfect environment, dark, cool and comfy. Sleep well tonight!

  6. The night is beautiful on it’s own because it was created to be so. That’s actually my believe.
    Having a great sleep, starts from the day on how one is able to conquer his or her day’s activities successfully and also by taking cool bath .

    1. I so agree that a good night’s sleep starts with what you do during the day. Cool bath is an interesting one – do you live in a hot climate? More Northern people prefer a warm bath for getting off to sleep. When I’ve lived in hot countries, I have found it difficult to get to sleep and so sometimes I’ve had a cool shower. So hot or cold might vary according to where you’re travelling or living.

  7. Awesome article! Very informative and yes! I agree with setting a routine. It is hard to sleep better when we do a lot of things during the day. I prefer warm baths though and a glass of warm milk before going to bed.

  8. Great article! So much information, yet easily digestible! Just that article itself was refreshing (ha.) It’s great to actually hear some nice words about caffeine instead of scare-mongering. That graphic on pillows alone could also save somebody a lot of suffering. As someone who is likely chronically depriving myself, it makes me want to go catch up – it’s like a friend I’m neglecting. I can see myself coming back to this several more times in the future. Thanks for putting it together.

    1. Thank you Jonathan. I started on this when I was ill and couldn’t sleep from the pain. I realised how insidious sleep deprivation can be and so researched ways to stay asleep. The regular bed time plus regular get up time was a real help for me. It’s easy to forget the lessons though.

  9. I added a new method/technique for sleeping at night… I have a “Light” show. Lights of blues and greens alternate on my ceiling all night. It’s like sleeping under the starts for me. A canopy of blue lights.. and I look forward to my dreams whatever they may be ….

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