There aren’t enough hours in the day. 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 and troubles of the world right now, it’s sleep that inevitably takes a hit.
This shut-eye deprivation, whether self-imposed or spurred by a chronic condition, can have drastic short- and long-term 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 heart disease and weight gain. Experts weigh in on how to sleep better, from striking the right balance between quantity and quality to tips for relaxing and de-stressing.
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 the 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.” Consistency is also key to helping your body fall and stay asleep better, thus you must 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,” says 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 2018 study found that watching a streaming service before bed often results in getting less 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 that emits a blue light, which our brains “read” as sun. As for alternatives, Harris recommends taking a 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. 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 L’Occitane’s lovely Aromachologie Pillow Mist on your pillowcase.
Stay Comfortable and Cool
Anyone that’s sunken into an all-white, cloud-like hotel bed knows there’s no greater treat than cozy, luxurious bedding. “Buy the best quality mattress and highest thread count sheets you can afford and make sure your pillows are comfortable,” says Harris. 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% 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, and just debuted a new Organic Collection with the commitment to becoming carbon neutral by Earth Day 2022. 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.
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. To optimize your sleep, she recommends a well balanced diet of whole foods, as well as incorporating ingredients that naturally foster sleep. Glassman’s 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. 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, 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.