We spend a third of our lives doing it so you’d think we’d be pretty good at it, but for some people, sleep doesn’t come easy. And given that it’s one of the pillars of foundational wellness, there’s no underestimating the importance of a good night’s rest. From giving your body the chance to repair on a cellular level, to giving you the energy you’ll need to make it through the day ahead, sleep is key to your good health.
Whether you’re not sleeping well due to stress, your schedule, or another factor, prioritizing sleep is a key component of optimum wellness. And whether you struggle with nightly insomnia or just the occasional sleepless night, there are several things you can do to get a better night’s sleep, starting tonight.
One of the easiest ways to get a better night sleep is to evaluate your habits around sleep hygiene — which is a term experts in the field use to refer to things such as going to bed at the same time every night, removing sources of light from your bedroom, limiting caffeine intake, and keeping noises to a minimum.
Blackout blinds or a sleep pillow offer a quick and easy way to make help block out any light that could send mixed signals to your body that it’s time to sleep, and avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m. can also help you sleep better at night.
Having a calming pre-sleep routine is another excellent way to help yourself sleep better, starting tonight — and it's free! Much like having a routine for babies can help them to have a better night’s rest, so too can adults benefit from having an evening routine as a means of unwinding from the excitement of the day.
Shutting your phone off by a certain time is a great way to kick off your evening relaxation routine. Continue with other relaxing activities such as washing your face, making lunch and laying out your clothes for the following day, reading for 15 minutes in bed, and meditating, before finally calling it lights out.
Several studies have shown that a regular meditation practice can help to improve sleep quality and quantity for people who struggle with getting enough shut eye. Even after their first session, many people find they are more relaxed and better able to fall asleep.
If you’re new to meditation, there are a number of free apps available that can help you get started, as well as guided practice videos on YouTube. Many instructors and studios even offer free or low-cost sessions via their social media channels.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves gently tensing and then relaxing various parts of the body in progression from either the toes up or the head down, and offers another easy technique for those looking to get a better sleep tonight.
Like meditation, you can find many free or low-cost options online to help you begin and cultivate your practise, but the general rule of thumbs is that you hold the tension for half as long as the relaxation. This allows the brain and the body to make the connection of what relaxation should feel like. A good place to begin is about 5-10 seconds of tension and 10-20 seconds of relaxation. Don’t forget to breathe the entire time! You can also use PMR throughout the day any time you notice increased tension in your body.
Another meditative technique that can help you get to sleep is visualization. Rather than letting your mind focus on your anxious feelings or that neverending to-do list, visualization helps you to focus on calming and restful images that can help make it easier to fall asleep.
The more detailed you can make the visualization in your mind’s eye, the more helpful it will be.
Start by thinking of a place you’ve been before where you felt deeply relaxed and peaceful. Many people find that scenes near water or in nature are particularly relaxing, but you can think of any calming experience that’s personal to you. Begin to notice as many sensory details as you can, including the time of day, the season, the weather, the sounds. Feel the warmth of sun on your skin or the cool breeze on your neck. Who is with you? Imagine them in as much clarity as possible. Continue building and visualizing this peaceful scene for several minutes, until you’re ready to fall asleep.
Sunshine — particularly the vitamin D it creates in our bodies when we’re exposed to it — may play an important role in regulating hormones and sleep patterns. Sun exposure also produces melanin, which helps the body make melatonin — a hormone produced in the pituitary gland, which helps induce sleep.
People who do not get enough sun exposure on a daily basis may want to consider supplementing with vitamin D or melatonin to improve their sleep, but always consult your doctor first to determine what is right for your specific situation.
Some people might find they have trouble sleeping if they aren’t actually tired come bedtime. One way to ensure that your body is sufficiently tired enough for the rest it needs is to get in some regular movement. Research shows that exercise can not only help you fall asleep more quickly, it also helps improve sleep quality. A daily 30-minute exercise session — even just a walk — is a great option for nearly everyone.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that exercise can be stimulating for some people, so try to avoid exercising for at least a couple of hours before you plan on hitting the hay.
People with low magnesium levels often experience difficulties sleeping, as magnesium helps regulate neurotransmitters and calms the nervous system in preparation for sleep. It also works in combination with melatonin to regulate your internal clock and sleep-wake cycles. Stats from the World Health Organization estimate that as much as 75% of the U.S. adult population does not meet the daily recommended intake of 420 mg of magnesium.
Research published in the journal Nutrients shows that people who supplemented with dietary magnesium had improved symptoms of insomnia. You can increase your levels of magnesium by eating a healthy, varied diet with plenty of green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, or using a dietary supplement like Nurture by Metagenics Magnesium Glycinate