A good night's sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Research shows that poor sleep has immediate negative effects on your hormones, exercise performance and brain function.
It can also cause weight gain and increase disease risk in both adults and children.
In contrast, good sleep can help you eat less, exercise better and be healthier.
Here are 10 evidence-based tips to sleep better at night.
1. Rule Out a Sleep Disorder
An underlying health condition may be the cause of your sleep problems.
One common issue is sleep apnea, which causes inconsistent and interrupted breathing. People with this disorder stop breathing repeatedly while sleeping.
This condition may be more common than you think. One review claimed that 24% of men and 9% of women have sleep apnea.
Other common medically diagnosed issues include sleep movement disorders and circadian rhythm sleep/wake disorders, which are common in shift workers.
If you've always struggled with sleep, it may be wise to consult with your doctor.
2. Increase Bright Light Exposure During The Day
Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm.
It affects your brain, body and hormones, helping you stay awake and telling your body when it's time to sleep.
Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as night-time sleep quality and duration.
In people with insomnia, daytime bright light exposure improved sleep quality and duration. It also reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 83%.
A similar study in older adults found that two hours of bright light exposure during the day increased the amount of sleep by two hours and sleep efficiency by 80%.
While most research is in people with severe sleep issues, daily light exposure will most likely help you even if you experience average sleep.
Try getting daily sunlight exposure or — if this is not practical — invest in an artificial bright-light device or bulbs.
3. Reduce Blue Light Exposure in the Evening
Exposure to light during the day is beneficial, but night-time light exposure has the opposite effect.
Again, this is due to its impact on your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into thinking it is still daytime. This reduces hormones like melatonin, which help you relax and get deep sleep.
Blue light - which electronic devices like smartphones and computers emit in large amounts — is the worst in this regard.
There are several popular methods you can use to reduce night-time blue light exposure. These include:
- Wear glasses that block blue light.
- Download an app such as luxto block blue light on your laptop or computer.
- Install an app that blocks blue light on your smartphone. These are available for both iPhones and Android models.
- Stop watching TV and turn off any bright lights two hours before heading to bed.
4. Don't Consume Caffeine Late in the Day
Caffeine has numerous benefits.
A single dose can enhance focus, energy and sports performance.
However, when consumed late in the day, coffee stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night.
In one study, consuming caffeine up to six hours before bed significantly worsened sleep quality.
Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for 6–8 hours. Therefore, drinking large amounts of coffee after 3–4 p.m. is not recommended — especially if you are sensitive to caffeine or have trouble sleeping.
If you do crave a cup of coffee in the late afternoon or evening, stick with decaffeinated coffee.
5. Reduce Irregular or Long Daytime Naps
While short power naps are beneficial, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep.
Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal clock, meaning that you may struggle to sleep at night.
In fact, in one study, participants ended up being sleepier during the day after taking daytime naps.
Another study noted that while napping for 30 minutes or less can enhance daytime brain function, longer naps can negatively affect health and sleep quality.
However, some studies demonstrate that those who are used to taking regular daytime naps do not experience poor sleep quality or disrupted sleep at night.
If you take regular daytime naps and sleep well, you shouldn’t have to worry. The effects of napping depend on the individual.
6. Try to Sleep and Wake at Consistent Times
Your body's circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset.
Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid long-term sleep quality.
One study noted that participants who had irregular sleeping patterns and went to bed late on the weekends reported poor sleep.
Other studies have highlighted that irregular sleep patterns can alter your circadian rhythm and levels of melatonin, which signal your brain to sleep.
If you struggle with sleep, try to get in the habit of waking up and going to bed at similar times. After several weeks, you may not even need an alarm.
7. Don't Eat Late in the Evening
Late-night eating may negatively impact both sleep quality and the natural release of HGH and melatonin.
That said, the quality and type of your late-night snack may play a role as well.
In one study, a high-carb meal eaten four hours before bed helped people fall asleep faster.
Interestingly, one study discovered that a low-carb diet also improved sleep, indicating that carbs are not always necessary - especially if you are used to a low-carb diet.
8. Don't Drink Any Liquids Before Bed
Nocturia is the medical term for excessive urination during the night. It affects sleep quality and daytime energy.
Drinking large amounts of liquids before bed can lead to similar symptoms, though some people are more sensitive than others.
Although hydration is vital for your health, it is wise to reduce your fluid intake in the late evening.
Try not to drink any fluids 1-2 hours before going to bed.
You should also use the bathroom right before going to bed, as this may decrease your chances of waking in the night.
9. Relax and Clear Your Mind in the Evening
Many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them relax.
Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia.
In one study, a relaxing massage improved sleep quality in people who were ill.
Strategies include listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating, deep breathing and visualization.
Try out different methods and find what works best for you.
10. Exercise Regularly — But Not Before Bed
Exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health.
It can enhance all aspects of sleep and has been used to reduce symptoms of insomnia.
One study in older adults determined that exercise nearly halved the amount of time it took to fall asleep and provided 41 more minutes of sleep at night.
In people with severe insomnia, exercise offered more benefits than most drugs. Exercise reduced time to fall asleep by 55%, total night wakefulness by 30% and anxiety by 15% while increasing total sleep time by 18%.
Although daily exercise is key for a good night's sleep, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems.
This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, which increases alertness and hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline. However, some studies show no detrimental effects, so it clearly depends on the individual.