We all know the groggy, grumpy feelings that follow a night of tossing and turning. The effects of poor-quality sleep affect more than just our daytime alertness and mood. Research has shown that lack of a good night's sleep contributes to reduced immune function, increased inflammation, and a heightened risk of a variety of physical disorders.
Moreover, a consistent lack of sleep has been linked to a heightened risk of psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and some neurodegenerative conditions. Understanding how to get a better night's sleep naturally is important for our overall health and daily performance.
Problems with sleep can be caused by a variety of factors.
These issues are commonly recurrent, meaning that it's important to find ways to resolve problems over the long term. It can be tempting to reach for some over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals if you have trouble sleeping. However, these interventions don't yield a 'natural' form of sleep, meaning that we can't reap all of the associated benefits.
Importantly, these medications often come with a myriad of negative side effects. Considering this, it's sensible to investigate how to create better sleep patterns for a natural good night's rest.
Sleep issues can be heightened when stressed or under altered physiological conditions, such as during pregnancy.
Struggling to obtain sleep can be a source of anxiety for many of us. Luckily, sleep scientists have discovered some helpful and natural techniques that can get us back on track for a solid 8 hours of night-time rest.
Throughout this article, we'll explore some of the science-backed tips and tricks which promote naturally better sleep.
13 Tips To Fall Asleep Faster, and Enjiy A Good Night's Sleep
Create a stable rhythm
Our bodies have natural sleep-wake cycles, or circadian rhythms, which are driven by a variety of internal and external cues. Your body's circadian rhythm cues are biological factors such as neurochemicals and naturally occurring hormone which act to increase or reduce alertness dependent on the time of day.
These rhythms are subject to natural biological variation and will differ between individuals. However, external factors have a huge contribution to these rhythms too.
One powerful way to improve sleep quality is by getting in sync with these rhythms. By keeping a regular sleep schedule, we can entrain ourselves to sleep for a stable number of hours during specific times.
When setting regular sleep and wake times, you should listen to the natural cues and signals from your body's internal clock.
Research has shown that individuals can have slightly altered circadian clocks. These clocks can be 'later' or 'earlier', akin to the 'night owl' and 'early bird'. You can naturally assess your natural rhythms by keeping a journal of how sleepy and awake you feel during certain times of the day and evening.
It might also be helpful to document your productivity levels throughout the day. Together, these should give an indication of where your circadian rhythm or 'chronotype' lies on the spectrum of the early bird to the night owl. For optimal sleep, try to set sleep-wake times which are in keeping with these chronotypes where possible.
Over time, with a stable sleep-wake cycle, you'll find yourself awakening without an alarm. This is a positive sign that you're sleeping for enough hours and in a suitable pattern for your chronotype.
It's important to stick to a schedule, even on weekends!
Waking up at the same time every day is probably the most important part of this rhythm. It's understandable that weekday and weekend schedules differ. However, if you miss out on some sleep during a weekend night, having a short daytime nap is better than sleeping in. This enables you to pay off some of the 'sleep debt' accrued by going to bed late without compromising the stability of your sleep-wake cycle. If you chose to nap, try to take these no later than mid-afternoon and nap for a maximum of 30 minutes.
Check out our article on the best sleep patterns for your health.
Implement a good sleep hygiene routine
Sleep hygiene refers to a set of habits and practices which help in obtaining optimal sleep. These practices are designed to improve our evening routines. Sleep hygiene habits don't necessarily mean an entire evening routine overhaul. Instead, these can be small and easily implementable changes that fit with your pre-existing routine, lifestyle, and preferences.
Sleep hygiene practices include:
- Limiting blue light exposure from smartphones and other devices in the evening
- Reducing exposure to harsh light in the evening
- Taking a warm bath in the evening
- Engaging in relaxing activities such as reading, gentle yoga or meditation before bed
- Setting a cooler bedroom temperature (18°C is optimal for most people)
- Ensuring darkness and comfort within the bedroom
If you'd like to learn more about good sleep hygiene, check out our dedicated blog post here
Harness the power of light
Some of the external cues that influence our circadian rhythms come from natural light exposure. Melatonin is one of the key players in our sleep-wake cycles. Increased melatonin drives feelings of sleepiness and the production of this hormone is driven by exposure to light. Melatonin production occurs when it's dark and is inhibited by light. This is why exposure to blue light or other unnatural light during the evening hours can make it difficult to fall asleep.
Here are some science-backed tricks which harness the power of natural light to keep your circadian clock in sync:
During the day:
- Exposure yourself to bright sunlight first thing in the morning. This type of light exposure will help to boost alertness and keep your sleep-wake cycle in sync. Early morning light is also more heavily composed of blue light frequencies. This gives early morning light an extra awakening boost.
- Spend more time outside during the day. Take regular walks, exercise, or eat outdoors. Exercising throughout the day has also been linked with better sleep. Outdoor exercise may provide a powerful trick for naturally better sleep.
- If you live in a region with poor weather or darker days, consider a light therapy box. These lightboxes can simulate sunshine and can be helpful in mimicking the awakening effects.
- Avoid all screens 1-2 hours before bed. This includes phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs. These blue-light emitting devices are incredibly disruptive to melatonin production and have a huge impact on sleep quality. If you must use a device, consider installing a light-altering software to filter out some of the blue light spectra. Consider switching away from your backlit kindle or tablet when it comes to bedtime reading, and reach for paperbacks instead.
- Keep lighting low throughout the home during evening hours to foster melatonin production. If you wake up during the night, don't switch on bright lights.
- Aim to sleep in complete darkness. Consider blackout curtains if you live in a city with bright street-lamps or outdoor interference.
Healthy sleeping positions
Sleeping position can be particularly important for some people when trying to achieve good quality sleep. This advice may differ between individuals, and it is worth experimenting with what's best for you.
It's well-known that sleeping on your back can cause disruption to the airways. This can result in snoring, disrupted breathing, and, in some cases, sleep apnea. Instead, trying sleeping on your side and experiment with pillow height and position.
"Sleep position is especially important during pregnancy."
The best medical advice suggests that the safest sleeping position during pregnancy is on your left or right side. This is particularly important after 28 gestational weeks, as research suggests that constantly sleeping on your back after this point can double the risk of stillbirths. Don't worry if you wake up on your back, just aim to sleep on your side as much as possible. You may find that supporting your bump with a pillow increases comfort and sleep quality.
Avoid caffeine before bed
If you struggle with sleep, caffeine might be the reason.
Several scientific studies have concluded that caffeine is a potent sleep disruptor. Caffeine can affect you when it is consumed up to 6 hours before bedtime.
It's been scientifically proven that caffeine consumption before bed decreases sleep efficiency by causing more frequent awakenings during the night as wellas reducing total night sleeping time, thus disrupting the natural sleep pattern.
It's also important to remember that caffeine is in many foods, not just in coffee. Caffeinated tea, chocolate and soft drinks are also caffeinated so it may be beneficial to try and reduce these in your diet if you struggle with sleep. You might have to completely cut out caffeine or at least reduce the amount of caffeine you consume during the day.
Optimize your sleep environment
Having a relaxing and safe sleep environment is vital to getting better sleep naturally. Here are some quick science-back tips and tricks that can improve your environment and aid sleep:
- Reduce room temperature to around 18°C.
- Open a window to improve air quality. Consider investing in an air purifier.
- Ensure a clean and decluttered environment
- Block out external light
- Reduce noise. Don't sleep with the TV on as this prevents us from obtaining some stages of deep sleep. If you can't sleep with silence, then try an ambient white-noise machine that can produce soothing and non-invasive noise throughout the night.
Control stress and anxiety
Many of us will be familiar with the experience of night-time worries or overthinking. The association between stress and poor-quality sleep has been well established. Hence, it's important that we work to lower these negative emotions before bed. Some natural methods and relaxation techniques of calming the mind that can help you to fall asleep faster are:
- Gentle yoga
- Deep breathing exercises
- Meditation or guided meditation
- Visualisation exercises
- Avoiding work tasks and difficult or emotionally driven situations close to bed-time
Natural sleep aids
We discussed the problems with many of the pharmaceuticals prescribed to help sleep earlier in this article. Sleeping pills don't induce a natural form of restorative sleep and so cannot act as a substitute. Moreover, many of these interventions have negative side effects and interactions with other medications.
If you've tried all of the tips and tricks above and are still struggling with sleep, you may wish to explore some natural supplements. These natural supplements are backed by research and have been shown to provide some benefit to sleep.
- Gingko Biloba
It's vital to remember that supplementation is not a replacement for good sleep hygiene. These supplements are natural but it is important to understand whether they are appropriate for your particular needs. If you have an underlying health condition or are taking any other medication, you must speak to your doctor before implementing any supplement. Moreover, pregnant women should be aware of whether the supplement is suitable for them and should discuss this with their relevant healthcare practitioner.
Get some exercise during the day.
Sometimes, staying asleep is just a challenge as falling asleep.
The easiest way to improve sleep and health is by exercising.
It has been scientifically proven that exercise can be beneficial for sleep. Exercising during the day releases chemicals that act as central nervous system stimulants and increase our metabolic rate. These chemicals are effective while we are exercising, but they also make us feel awake well into the evening, making it harder to fall asleep at night (if you exercise right before going to bed)
Exercise can be beneficial for your mind, just as it can be for your body.
When we exercise, our growth hormone levels are increased. Growth hormone is vital for rebuilding and repairing the body after exercise and aiding sleep. In fact, exercise has proven to be more effective than most drugs.
People with severe insomnia have been shown to fall asleep faster with fewer sleep disturbances and total night wakefulness after they exercise during the day.
Exercise has also been proven to act as an effective stress reliever. When we exercise, the activity reduces cortisol and adrenaline levels in our bodies. These hormones are known as 'stress hormones and can be responsible for poor sleep and feelings of stress. Exercise is an effective way to reduce stress because it stabilizes these hormone levels.
Eat foods rich in magnesium.
Magnesium is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies. In the United States alone, it is estimated that over half of the population is deficient in magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is implicated in conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma.
However, magnesium might also be beneficial for your sleep. There has been a lot of research to suggest that magnesium may help with sleep because it acts as a natural muscle relaxant. Magnesium regulates muscle and nerve function, helps maintain heart rhythm, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong.
Foods high in magnesium effectively induce sleep because they act as natural muscle relaxants. Magnesium can also reduce anxiety which has been shown to reduce the time it takes to get to sleep.
Some of the top foods that are rich in magnesium are whole grains, bananas, legumes, spinach and avocado. You can also find magnesium in nuts such as almonds, cashews or pumpkin seeds. However, magnesium can also be bought in supplement form.
As is always advisable with supplementation, check with your doctor to determine whether magnesium supplements are suitable for you.
Make sure your beddings are fresh & clean.
Your beddings might seem like a trivial thing to consider, but they do have an effect on how well we sleep.
Ever wondered why it feels better to sleep in a hotel?
Apart from the comfortable bed and fresh beddings, hotel rooms are clean (sometimes!) and free of clutter. This creates a relaxing environment and gives you a sense of order and purity which is relaxing in itself. When we feel relaxed, we fall asleep faster and sleep better throughout the night.
It is crucial to invest in a good mattress. You can buy plush memory foam mattresses or affordable alternatives if you are on a budget. However, make sure that it is comfortable and supportive to sleep in. Research the best mattress for your particular conditions if you have back problems.
Regularly clean and replace beddings to create a fresh and clean environment consistently. It might sound simple, but it is essential for good sleep hygiene.
Avoid excessive water & meals before bedtime.
Taking too much water before bedtime might make you need to go to the bathroom during the night and wake you up. Also, avoid a big meal before going to bed as the digestive process might disrupt your sleep.
Such frequent awakenings disrupt sleep patterns and give you an uncomfortable sleep. Instead, eat approximately 3 hours prior to sleep time to allow your body to process the food.
If you have trouble falling asleep, try aromatherapy essential oils.
These essential oils have been shown to alter our brain waves. When we are exposed to certain smells, the electrical signals produced in the brain change. Essential oils derived from plants include rosemary oil, lavender oil, frankincense oil - all of which have been shown to induce sleep.
You can simply diffuse the oils into your room or try lavender pillows, warm baths with dissolved essential oils or sleep masks that contain these oils.
The bottom line
According to a sleep study done by the National Sleep Foundation, poor sleep quality can significantly impact your overall health. The study revealed that out of those who took part in the study, 67% of those who had irregular sleeping patterns and inadequate sleep reported having poor physical health and/or being sick often.
Multiple studies have also linked sleep deprivation to an increased risk of developing severe ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular issues and obesity.
This goes to show that a good night of rest is critical for the mind and body. Getting better sleep naturally doesn't have to involve substantial life overhauls. By implementing a few small changes to your lifestyle and sleep hygiene, you may find some considerable benefits to the quality of your sleep.
Once you find something that works for you, stick to it as you try to incorporate other natural methods into your routine.