To sleep better is to live better.
Sleep is the foundation on which the other two pillars of a healthy long life—exercise and diet—are based on.
Not only that. Without proper sleep hygiene you won’t be able to perform well in none of all the other areas of life.
So not just diet and exercise, but also productivity, social relationships, focus, concentration, sports, memory, learning skills, and so on.
Well, this doesn’t (and shouldn’t) seem surprising at all.
I think it’s pretty common to see other people—or maybe ourselves—that, because of not having slept well, the following day feel lazy, groggy, and short-tempered.
If you want to improve your life and achieve your goals, sleeping well should be at the top of your list of “success habits”. Non-negotiable.
But First, How Much Sleep Do I Need For My Age?
Our sleep needs vary from age to age.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, these are the recommended hours of sleep for different age groups:
- Birth – 3 months: 14 to 17 hours
- 4 – 11 months: 12 to 15 hours
- 1 – 2 years: 11 to 14 hours
- 3 – 5 years: 10 to 13 hours
- 6 – 13 years: 9 to 11 hours
- 14 – 17 years: 8 to 10 hours
- 18 – 64 years: 7 to 9 hours
- Over 65: 7 to 8 hours
Every individual is different, so if you do well with 7 hours of sleep a night, there’s absolutely no need for you to force yourself to get the famous 8 hours of sleep.
All clear? Good.
Now let’s see 9 practical tips to sleep better at night.
(Note: Although the following tips do have scientific reasons behind them, they are normal good sleep hygiene tips. If you suffer from actual sleep disorders, the smartest thing you can do is to visit a doctor and/or consult a sleep specialist.)
1. Respect Your Circadian Rhythm
Our body has an internal 24-hour biological clock—the circadian rhythm—which regulates our ideal time to sleep and to wake up.
If you want to sleep better, you need to act accordingly.
Here are the two best ways to keep your circadian rhythm in check.
Stick to Regular Sleep and Wake Times
By going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day (this means weekends as well), you allow your internal clock to better regulate itself.
This way, you will much more easily fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. After a few weeks, you won’t even need an alarm clock.
But if you constantly sleep and rise at different times, all you’re doing is messing with your circadian rhythm.
This will easily lead to difficulties with falling asleep and with waking up, as well as feeling sleepy at unexpected hours of the day.
Get Enough Sunlight Exposure
One of the signals that influence our circadian rhythm the most is light.
It tells our brain when it’s best to be awake and when it’s best to be asleep.
By getting enough natural light (say, at least 1 hour) during the day, you will give your biological clock a better understanding of when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime.
So try to expose yourself to sunlight during the day, especially in the morning.
This will also help with better timing the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone that naturally increases when the sun starts setting down.
2. To Sleep Better at Night, Don’t Nap In The Afternoon
Or don’t nap at all.
It’s true that naps can be beneficial, but if you nap for too long (more than 20-30 minutes) or too late in the day (for example after 2-3 pm), you’re going to disrupt your circadian rhythm, causing higher difficulty with falling asleep at night.
Also, every person is different. For some people even a short nap of 10 minutes can have negative effects on their overall sleep quality.
If you want (or need) to take a nap, make sure you don’t do it late and, most importantly, don’t sleep in.
3. Run, Jump, Lift Weights! (But Not Too Close To Z Time)
You’ve probably heard this thousands of times, but you should exercise regularly.
Exercising is great, awesome, incredible, and… not recommended before bed.
Because regular exercise helps you get better sleep, yes, but it also boosts adrenaline and it increases your body temperature.
If you do your workout too close to bedtime, the increased adrenaline and body temperature will make it harder to fall asleep.
Try to exercise during the day, or at least 2-3 hours before getting your nightly Z’s.
4. Have Dinner At 5 pm
Think about it.
You have dinner at 5 pm.
Then, after a few hours, you go to sleep at 8 pm.
The following morning, you wake up at 3 or 4 am.
This way, you will have a lot of quiet morning hours to work on your goals, when all other people are still asleep (unless they live on the other side of the world).
I mean, that’s some serious productivity right there!
Ok, jokes aside, in order to sleep better you should definitely make sure you don’t have dinner too late.
Give yourself enough time before going to bed.
Also, avoid large meals that not only take longer to digest, but might also cause stomach ache.
In short: have dinner 2-3 hours before bedtime, and try not to eat 3 pizzas all by yourself.
5. Say NO to Nicotine, Caffeine, and Alcohol
What you put into your body will greatly influence the quality of your sleep.
Three things you should avoid are nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol.
Nicotine: Aside from all the reasons why you should never smoke, nicotine is a stimulant that not only makes it harder to fall asleep, but can also fragment a smoker’s sleep.
Caffeine: I have previously analyzed why you should stop or at least reduce the amount of caffeine you consume.
In short, caffeine, like nicotine, is a stimulant that interferes with the quality of your sleep.
Also, caffeine can take as long as 14 hours (!) to be completely removed from our body, so if you just can’t give up on drinking your usual cup of coffee, at least try to drink it only in the early morning.
Alcohol should be avoided, as well.
But My Uncle Says that Alcohol Makes Him Sleep Better!
Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster and it even offers sounder sleep.
Is it true? HELL NAH.
Alcohol is a sedative drug, and what it really does is literally sedating many parts of our brain.
It starts with the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that helps control and restrain our behavior. This explains why people tend to be more “sociable” after a few drinks.
But after that, alcohol proceeds to sedate other parts of the brain, causing you to have a lower and lower desire and ability to stay awake.
Then alcohol puts you to sleep, right? No.
It’s more accurate to say—like Matthew Walker wrote in his book, Why We Sleep—that alcohol “sedates you out of wakefulness”.
Now, since alcohol does not induce natural sleep, and definitely does not make you sleep better, how does it disrupt your sleep?
- Alcohol destroys your sleep patterns by making you wake up frequently, usually for going to the bathroom, although one might not notice because they forget about it after they wake up.
This messes up with your circadian rhythm pretty badly.
- Alcohol suppresses your dreams, literally. By consuming alcohol in the late afternoon/evening, you will block REM sleep—the stage of sleep during which we dream—and deprive yourself of essential dream sleep.
6. Take a Hot Bath to Sleep Better (not in the bathtub)
A hot bath before sleep will make you fall asleep faster and better.
Why is that? Normally, you would guess that it’s because it makes you relax, and it’s in part true.
But the main scientific reason involves, again, our circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm doesn’t just regulate sleep and wake time, but our preferred time for eating and drinking, our moods and emotions, and our core body temperature, as well.
At night, at your usual sleep time, your body temperature will start to get lower, because we sleep better when it’s a little cold instead of when it’s hot.
So not just light, but a drop in temperature is also a signal for melatonin to rise at night.
That’s why a hot bath is useful for getting better sleep, because it causes our blood to circulate towards the hands and feet to let our body temperature “evaporate” and decrease.
But don’t take a hot bath or shower just before sleeping.
Researchers suggest that the ideal time for a warm bath is around 90 minutes before bedtime.
7. Go Back to Prehistory (Only When Close To Sleep Time)
A long, long time ago, humans regulated their sleep and wake time based on daylight. When it was dark, they slept, when it was bright, they awoke.
Then, humans started inventing more and more ways to have light even when the sun was already down.
Fast forward in time, we now all have home lighting and electronics that emit a “special” light called blue light, which is extremely harmful on our best friend the circadian rhythm.
Blue light tricks our brain. It tells our brain that “It’s still daytime, so stay awake.”
This causes a huge decrease in the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.
Now, remember how you should make sure to expose yourself to bright light during the day?
Well, during the night you should instead reduce your exposure to blue light emitted by smartphones, tablets, and computers at least 1 hour prior to bedtime (not that staring at screens all the time during the day is a healthy thing to do).
Go back to prehistory. Turn off your smartphone, tablet, computer, TV. Avoid exposure to bright light.
Engage in relaxing activities that don’t require too much effort and, most importantly, can be done without an electronic device, like reading a book.
8. Turn Your Bedroom Into An Exclusive Place
All the advice about light, temperature, and electronics are true for your bedroom as well.
Your room should be completely dark, cool (around 18° C/65° F), and gadget-free.
If you use your smartphone as an alarm clock, keep it far from your bed, and turn it off. Most smartphones nowadays will automatically turn on at the time your first alarm is set to start ringing.
Or even better, keep your phone in another room, and use a real, simple, minimalist alarm clock.
Also, make sure there’s not noise and it’s quiet and your bed is comfortable.
To sleep better, you need to turn your bedroom into an exclusive place.
The only two things you do in bed should be:
- You know what I mean.
For the same reason, if you have trouble falling asleep after 20 minutes, then you should just get up.
You don’t want your brain to start thinking that it’s normal to spend so much time on bed turning and tossing around, not falling asleep, and feeling anxious.
Just go do something relaxing and then, when you feel sleepy again, get back to bed.
What the…? Did you just suggest me to be a procrastinator?
Yes, I did. But this is only valid when it’s sleep time.
I know of so many people that lose their sleep over thoughts and problems. It’s almost like they enjoy it and do it on purpose.
Do you also have trouble falling asleep, worrying about everything you can think about?
Like things you should have done today, things you have to do the next day, things you could have said to a certain someone, what sandwich to eat tomorrow, etc.?
Then let me ask you a question: what do you think you can achieve by thinking about something non-stop and losing sleep because of it?
If you really think about it, you will get to the conclusion that actually no, worrying about the problems in your life instead of sleeping is completely useless.
But I can’t help it! Do you think I WANT to lose sleep? If I didn’t have all these problems, maybe I could sleep better, like all other people that live a good life with nothing to worry about…
I know. Life can be hard. There are always new problems and things that can potentially keep us awake at night.
But listen, have you ever solved a problem or achieved a goal by just thinking and brooding about it without actually taking any action?
Then why would you sacrifice your sleep—which influences health, productivity, happiness, energy, learning ability, etc.—worrying about this and that?
A much better solution is to just procrastinate everything to the next day. Go get a good sleep and wake up refreshed and ready to rock.
Here’s a simple thing you can do to help you with that.
Write Things Down and Clear Your Mind
Before going to bed, give yourself 10-20 minutes to write:
- things you have done today
- what you didn’t do well today (+ how you can do better next time)
- tasks you need to work on tomorrow
- thoughts and/or worries
That’s it, really. Nothing fancy.
Just the simple act of writing will help you transfer your thoughts from your mind to paper.
Now decide not to think about it again until the next day. You will then take a look at what you have written the night before.
BONUS TIP: Don’t Lose Sleep Over Sleep
Take sleep seriously, but not too seriously.
I’m saying this because I happen to know that many of my fellow humans tend to be really harsh on themselves when they fail at something.
This kind of behavior is usually a result of either someone else expecting too much from us or ourselves expecting too much from us.
You might have felt extremely disappointed at yourself on days when you wasted hours and hours doing nothing, for example. Or maybe it was when you tried a new diet but couldn’t resist eating that yummy chocolate bar. But getting angry at yourself didn’t make things better, right?
What I’m trying to say is: while all previous 9 tips for sleeping are useful, you should not beat yourself up if you can’t follow them correctly right away.
At first, you will inevitably fall back to your old bad habits, like watching your smartphone until late in the night, or thinking too much in bed, etc.
But that’s totally ok.
Just try to change little by little, by implementing one thing at a time, and you will be able to get good sleep consistently.
Just don’t lose sleep over sleep.
To Sleep Better Is To Live Better
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
— Ernest Hemingway
I once admired all those insanely rich and successful people that would often narrate how, in order to get to where they are, they used to or still work an insane amount of hours, usually until late in the night, often sleeping less than 6 or even 5 hours a night.
I thought that, if I wanted to become successful and live a great life, I would have to do the same.
But at some point, I realized something:
- Sleeping less than 7 hours a night is anything but good. Sleep deprivation has really bad consequences.
- Not every successful business leader sleeps so little.
Some might have a special gene that allows them to function well with 4 hours of sleep, but that’s extremely rare, and those who try to sleep less than they actually need… well, they feel the consequences of sleep deprivation.
- Sleeping well is pretty damn important.
I know I told you not to take sleep too seriously, but you do have to give it the importance it deserves,
Sleep is the most important habit ever, and it influences all areas of life.
If you don’t sleep well, you won’t be productive, energetic, disciplined.
You won’t be able to focus, to perform well in your sport, to learn new skills and information effectively.
But you can do the opposite of all that. You can prioritize sleep and reap all the benefits.
If there’s ONE thing that you can do to positively influence your health, your well-being, your happiness, your everything, and really, really help you on your journey towards your biggest goals, that’s sleep.
Because to sleep better is to live better.
[BONUS: Hey there! Sleep is probably the most important habit of all, but there are other really powerful habits you should develop. Fill the form below and download the free PDF containing the 14 best daily habits that will definitely improve your life by A LOT.]