Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Few of us wake up fully rested, knowing that each and every day they have gotten as much sleep as they wanted. For the rest of us, we may need to change a few things in our environment or change some of our behaviors. We have compiled a list of the top ten methods to improve our sleep, and we hope that some of these ideas may benefit you as well.
1) Put down the Phone (Behavior Change)
I was testing the speed of this site with think with Google, and while I waited they popped up a statistic that said that Americans spend 177 minutes a day on their phones. Surely we don’t really spend 3 hours a day on our phones, right? So I started tracking my phone behavior along with Rana’s. I’m on the phone for about an hour a day visiting with clients for my normal job at Medical Valuations.
Do I really clock in another two hours? Well, when my kids have a question, surely google has an answer. Waiting for lunch, yep better check my email. In the bathroom? Good time to check up on the football scores. Still there is no way that I have clocked in a full two hours a day on my phone. Then it hits me, why oh why do I take my phone into the bedroom? Very few of my clients have emergencies and need to speak with me at 9pm, which would be midnight eastern, so there is certainly no business need at that time.
Do I need to check my emails at night? Again only my east coast clients could really get upset with not getting a response until I’m up the next morning. So there we have it, why have I been taking it with me into the bedroom all of these years? Well, it must be because I want to make think with Google smarter and be part of their statistic. As I was examining my behavior it became clear that I do put in around 3 hours on the phone, just like they said. I now have a new rule, which is simple and easy to follow. I shut down my phone at 9 and then plug it into charge in my office, which is on the other end of the house. The moral of the step, don’t call me after 9…
If you can’t stick to that, or if you can’t cold turkey shut off the phone at bed time, then set a countdown on your phone. Start the timer at one hour and you will find out how much time you are really spending at night. Just knowing that you have a tracker counting down on your allowed minutes will encourage your brain to start scaling back on the time you are wasting. After a few days, cut the time from an hour to 45 minutes and see how your mind starts to react. Within a couple of weeks you will be able to just leave it in another room and start to focus on sleep.
2) If you are going to watch TV in bed, set the sleep timer (Behavior Change)
Obviously, if you can go without a TV in bed, you are probably getting more sleep than your peers. However, if you need the distraction or like settling in and watching a show or two, then you should consider setting limits. A sleep timer will do two things for you:
- Give you an outside limit of the amount of time you spend watching rather than sleeping
- If you doze off during the movie, it will turn off so that a sudden noise later in the show doesn’t wake you up.
As painful as this can be you probably won’t want to try to cut bedroom TV cold turkey. Again use the weaning strategy. Once you get in the bedroom set the sleep timer at say 90 minutes. If you are awake and it goes off, use some restraint and don’t turn it on until tomorrow. Then after a week at 90 minutes try 60 minutes and see if you can get yourself to the ultimate goal of moving the TV out of your bedroom altogether.
3) Set a strict bed time (behavior change)
It is a part of parenting to have a bed time for your children, but do you bother to have one for yourself? Odds are you don’t. Perhaps it’s time to get serious about getting your body into a comfortable pattern.
Figure that it takes about 7-15 minutes to fall asleep once you put your head to the pillow. If you know that it takes you longer than that you may need to change quite a few behaviors or some of your sleeping conditions.
4) Track your sleep (understand your habits)
Only after tracking your sleep habits will you really understand what is going on. I assure you that two things will happen once you purchase a sleep/fitness tracker.
- You will be shocked at how you sleep. Sure you already have an idea of how long you sleep, but do you have any idea how many times you woke up at night, or how long you spent tossing and turning or just being restless?
- You will have a desire to change certain behaviors which will lead to better sleep.
We have an entire section devoted to wearable tech devices, but we are mainly concerned with their sleep tracking. You can read more about them on our wearable tech page.
5) Change your mattress (adapt your surroundings)
This may come as an unwanted expense, but when you consider how much time you spend sleeping, or trying to sleep, the cost becomes trivial when compared to the benefits. I can’t tell you how many bad mattresses I have had, from the college days of sleeping on a mattress on the floor, to ones that gave me horrible back pain. It wasn’t until we started this project that I really started to log serious sleep on my fitness tracker. Without really testing a few different mattress types, its hard to know what your body really likes.
For example, if you are currently on a innerspring mattress without a pillow top, and you can feel some coil lumps, then try something completely different like an all foam mattress. The ship directly to the customer market that Amazon has perfected works great for mattress firms. Now that they don’t have to have store in every city they can afford to let you test their products for a few months. Most of the companies like Helix, Nectar, Eve, Leesa, Ghostbed, Purple etc. will let you test their beds for 100 days. If you don’t like it they will refund you and you can try something different. If it turns out that an all foam mattress doesn’t work for you, and you know that your current innerspring mattress doesn’t work, then try a hybrid.
You can learn more about the mattresses that we have tested on our Mattresses page.
6) Change your surroundings (adapt your surroundings)
This may be as simple as getting a different set of sheets, or as complicated as remodeling your bedroom. But if there is something in your room that always bugs you, perhaps it is time to change it.
In our case, we had a house that backed to a street. 5 years after living there we started noticing a major problem. 10,000 houses had been built north of us, so everyone of those people needed to use the road behind us to get to the city. OOOPS! We went from a few cars to so many cars that I couldn’t sleep until traffic died down at around 10pm and I was up at 4 am when the early rush hour started. We tried everything from triple pane windows to nice wooden shutters. Each helped ever so slightly, but neither one solved the problem.
For our health we knew we either had to take over one of the kids’ rooms or move. As we couldn’t torture our kids with the traffic pain that we were enduring we opted to move. We were fortunate that we had the finances necessary to pick up and move, and the results have been incredible. We both feel so much better now that our sleep is back to normal. It took awhile to realize that less than 6 hours of sleep per night long term had serious health consequences.
7) Change your pillows (adapt your surroundings)
This is something that most of us overlook. Ok, go ahead and step away from your screen and remove the pillow from the pillow case. It’s alright I’ll wait for you…
Did you see huge sweat/other fluid spots/discoloration on it or is it still as white as the day you bought it? Odds are it’s not white anymore. How about the firmness? Is it fluffy and supportive like it used to be or is it stretched out? If it’s still sparkly white and super firm, no problem. Otherwise it’s time to look into a change.
8) Try some white noise or some pleasant aromas (adapt your surroundings)
If you are like me and you just can’t sleep without something in the background, then a white noise maker/or soundtrack may do the trick. Rana is really into the scent diffusers, and they typically put out a little bit of a noise that serves the same peaceful purpose. You can read more about this on our Diffusers page.
9) Snuff out your partner’s snoring (really fun!)
If you have a partner that snores, don’t pretend that you haven’t thought about or tried putting a pillow over their mouth. Anyway you look at it, it’s hilarious to see the results. I’m usually the one who is on the wrong end of this trick, but it’s a funny way to alert your partner that there is an issue and it needs to be addressed.
Being overweight, sick, or sleeping on your back can all contribute to stealing precious sleep from your partner. The one thing that you may be able to control with behavioral adjustments is your weight. There are plenty of other places where you can get tips on losing weight, so we aren’t going to go there. What’s important is that you recognize the damage you are doing to your partner and discuss ways to mitigate that damage.
10) Exercise (Behavioral Change)
Do you remember being a kid? You were always active and when bedtime hit, it usually didn’t take too long to fall asleep. Look at yourself now, are you anywhere near as active as you were? If you answered no, then concentrate on the other 9 sleep tips. For the rest of us, getting more exercise is probably going to be one of the easiest things we can do. I am a firm believer in tracking. It doesn’t matter what you track, it could be your spending, your work habits, or your sleep habits. Once you start tracking them something your life changes.
Have you ever created a budget, where you track every last dollar that you spend? If not, try it for just one month, it opens your mind to see how you spend your money. Once you know where it goes, then you can figure out what to cut so that you can take a hold of your financial life. The cool part about budgeting is that once you understand your spending behavior you can change it. When changed you don’t need to stick to the budget (or follow it), as you just adapt your spending habits.
Fitness trackers work the same way, you have to understand how infrequently you move (if you are stuck behind a desk all day) before you can recognize the need to get more exercise. Now, by itself a fitness tracker isn’t going to get you more exercise, you have to choose to alter your behavior by accepting their information/feedback. You can ignore your hourly notifications to get up out of the chair, or you can walk over to the watercooler or around the building when the notification comes in.
There is no silver bullet which will yield better sleep. However, if you attempt a combination of behavioral changes and some environmental changes you will find yourself waking up a little more refreshed.