Sleep can be an elusive beast — but it doesn't have to be. Employing a few simple tips and tricks can do wonders when it comes to increasing the quality of your sleep. Everyone deserves to sleep as if their dreams are borne on the backs of rainbows and unicorns, so why not put in a little extra effort and make your zzz's the best they can be?
The National Sleep Foundation's latest guidelines recommend that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get between seven and nine hours of good, solid shut-eye per night; the number drops to seven to eight hours for people over 64, but eh. Potaytoes, potahtoes — the point still remains, because the bottom line is that most of us aren't hitting either of those figures, anyway. It's not necessarily because we're not going to bed on time, though—it's due to the fact that the quality of the sleep we're getting over those hours is… well, lacking.
So how do you make it better? You develop a bag of tricks. These 12 pointers may not work for everyone; furthermore, there are plenty of other tips out there that didn't make their way onto this list. The ones seen here are a good place to start, though, so in case you need a few ideas for getting better sleep, have at thee. Ready… set… snooze!
1. Make your bedroom into a cool, dark sleeping cave.
The temperature of your bedroom has a lot to do with how well you sleep. Opinions differ on exactly what the optimal thermometer reading is for maximum sleep awesomeness; most studies, however, recommend keeping your sleeping area around 65 degrees F. Unfortunately we don't always have a great deal of control over whether or not we've got such climate control perks as air conditioning or a thermostat, but do the best you can. Get creative: I tend to overheat when I sleep, so after a lot of trial and error, I've developed a system that involves using a blanket across my shoulders and upper body, letting my legs breathe with only a sheet, and pointing a fan at my feet. It's weird, but it works.
2. Cut back on the booze at night.
Sure, a nightcap might help you drift off a little easier — but it'll ultimately do more harm than good. Research reviewed in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in 2013 showed that alcohol disrupts REM sleep, resulting in significantly less restful sleep overall. If you've ever gone to bed only slightly tipsy, slept for 12 hours, and still woken up feeling like hell, that's part of the reason why.
3. Listen to the dulcet tones of Jeff Bridges.
He just released an album designed to help you sleep. I'm not kidding. Not having tried it myself, I can't speak to its efficacy… but I mean, come on. You know you want The Dude to sing you to sleep.
4. Learn to turn your brain off.
Or at least calm it down. I don't know about you, but whenever I'm feeling anxious about something, I basically become the real-life embodiment of “The Princess and the Pea” for the night. Developing a few techniques to manage stress, anxiety, or other things that keep your brain busy can go a long way towards mitigating them, though. You don't have to get all Zen or meditate if idea doesn't do it for you; relaxation techniques like regulating your breathing and getting your muscles to chill out work just as well.
5. Wind down with a bedtime ritual.
Maybe it's some aromatherapy; maybe it's a cup of warm milk or herbal tea; maybe it's a little bit of tranquil music; maybe it's bathing in the blood of innocents (just kidding — don't do that). For me, it's reading a book — something unrelated to either my work or my everyday life.
6. Up the comfort factor.
Are your pillows supporting your head and neck properly? How about your mattress? Do you have enough space? Is your bedding just the way you like it? Does your cat do what mine does and curl up with her butt in your face every night, severely limiting your ability to breathe? Take all of those factors into account and adjust accordingly. Sometimes that means kicking your cat out of the bed, even if she's being really cute. Sorry, cat. You don't need to be able to function at work tomorrow. I do.
7. Take a James Bond shower.
Yes, this is a real thing. In Ian Fleming's novels featuring the spy, we learn rather a lot about 007's showering habits: Namely, he starts with hot water and finishes off with freezing effing cold water. The video from the Art of Manliness seen here gives you the full rundown on the perks of the James Bond shower, but the short version is that the fluctuating temperatures help your body cool off. This, in turn, both puts you to sleep faster and encourages deeper sleep throughout the night.
8. Put away your electronic devices well before you hit the hay.
You probably already know this one, but just in case, here's why: Computer screen, tablets, smartphones, and all those other electronic devices that have become such an essential part of our day-to-day lives emit blue light — which, studies have shown, seriously messes with your sleep cycle. There's a tiny little organ the size of a pea in your brain called the pineal gland that whose job is to start releasing melatonin a couple hours before your bedtime. Melatonin makes you sleepy, giving your body the cue it needs to send you off to bed. Blue light, however, can stop the pineal gland from releasing melatonin, preventing you from feeling sleepy at the appropriate time. If you must use your computer, tablet, or phone, at least install something like f.lux first. Also, repeat after me: “No more Netflix on my tablet in bed.”
9. Nap if you need to, but do it wisely.
If you live in a place where siesta culture is a thing, for the love all that is holy, take advantage of it. Nap in the afternoon (not at night), and for no more than 30 minutes. You might try a coffee nap, as long as you don't think the caffeine will impair your ability to sleep later that night.
10. Limit your bed usage to sleep and sex.
You don't want your brain to associate it with anything that will keep you awake. This is also why it's recommended that you get up if you can't fall asleep — doing something else, somewhere else, will keep you from associating your bed with the anxiety of not being able to drop off.
11. Start working out if you don't already.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people who say they exercise vigorously as a matter of routine also report the best quality sleep. There's some debate about whether working out right before bed might actually make it harder for you to sleep, though, so you may want to be careful about your timing. If you can stand to drag yourself out of bed early enough to hit the gym before work, that might be the safest bet; as a bonus, getting yourself moving in the morning will also make waking up slightly less painful.
12. If all else fails, go to the doctor.
OK, maybe not Dr. Dave Franco, but you get what I mean. If you're having trouble sleeping and nothing seems to work, a sleep study will help identify if there's anything else going on: Sleep apnea, delayed sleep phase disorder, sleep paralysis, or any other kind of sleep disorder. They suck, but better to know you have one and to get it treated than never, ever to feel well-rested, right?