Sleep Well//

21 Small Changes to Try For Better Sleep

No major life overhauls required.

Kevin Monaghan / EyeEm / Getty Images
Kevin Monaghan / EyeEm / Getty Images

Getting more sleep is a classic resolution that isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Many of us are aware of the big, sweeping life changes that result in better sleep: Eat right and exercise every day, slash your stress levels and screen time, and so on. But few of us can snap our fingers and turn those major behavior changes into habits, at least right away. Still, we know that getting enough quality sleep is critical for our physical and mental health, our vitality, our creativity, and yes, our sanity.

Here at Thrive, we believe in Microsteps: small, science-backed mini habits that you can integrate into your life right away. Arianna’s favorite Microstep for sleep? 30 minutes before bed, escort your devices out of your bedroom (Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen happen to follow that rule as well). Other Thrive staffers swear by weighted blankets and tidying up before bed.

We asked members of the Thrive Global community to share the small changes that helped them fall asleep quicker and get a more restful night’s sleep. The result? A bounty of great tips: Which ones will you try?

Create a nightly ritual

“I used to have terrible nighttime anxiety (think the Sunday scaries, just every night of the week). I’ve found that creating a ritual to do every night has been profoundly helpful. Whether rain, shine, home in New York or visiting family in Ohio, I always make a cup of camomile tea to drink in bed. Once in bed, I journal things that I’m grateful for, things I’m calling in, and attributes of who I am becoming. This is grounding, helps me to prioritize and focus on my current goals, and also give me room to play and manifest all that I dream about. This part can change over time, and if you create your own ritual, it can be whatever you want. The most important thing is that you’re doing something consistently and with the intention to signal to your body and mind that sleep is coming. Night night!

—Jenna Hillier, life coach, New York, NY

Escape with a bit of fiction

“I read or write a few words of fiction to carry my mind away from the cares of the day. Next, I do a short yoga practice. After that, I climb into bed in a cool, dark room.”

—Tom Franklin, oil and gas industry, Houston, TX

Try warm feet and a cool head

“My personal “go to sleep” tool kit includes: warm feet, a cool head, calcium, and disconnection! I take 500-1000 mg of calcium (which helps sleep and your bones). I make sure my feet are warm with a cozy blanket, and wear socks if I’m in colder temperatures. The brain needs to cool down to sleep, so I make sure that the window is open and heater is turned way down. I also disconnect by charging my iPhone in my home office, and not next to the bed.”

—Pennie Sempell, J.D., health advocate, San Francisco, CA

Check your D levels

“I was having difficulty sleeping, and after discovering that I had a critically low vitamin D level, my doctor put me on vitamin D supplements. Since then, my levels have been normal and surprisingly, so is my sleep. I’m now getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I learned that vitamin D deficiency can affect sleep, so I highly recommend that insomniacs look at this as a possible problem because there is a solution. It worked for me!”

—Holly Morris, clinical research nurse, Gainesville, FL

Plan sleep in cycles

“One of the most impactful things I’ve done to improve my sleep is to think in cycles, rather than hours. Most of us lead busy, varied lives, where going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday just isn’t possible. So planning my sleep patterns in full sleep cycles of 90 minutes has revolutionised my sleep. It’s given me more energy — meaning that I wake up at the end of a full cycle feeling refreshed — made me more productive, and allowed me to take control of my sleep patterns, rather than just falling into bed any random hour.”

—Tim Etherington-Judge, founder, London, U.K.

Don’t fill up before bed

“No food before bed. It gives me weird dreams and makes me feel hungover in the A.M.”

—Alison Coates, high school teacher, Detroit, MI

Switch off your screens

“On work days, I switch off all screens by 8 p.m. and don’t check my phone until the morning. Sometimes, I do a few gentle yoga exercises like cat cow pose and belly twists. I always read a print book (instead of an eBook) in bed until my eyes feel heavy and I drop the book! If I have trouble falling asleep, I do some meditation in bed. I might do a body scan, repeat a word like ‘peace’ or count each breath backwards from 20. Spraying lavender essential oil on my pillow also helps.”

—Roz Andrews, writer, editor and proofreader, Newark, U.K.

Stick to a bedtime curfew

“I set a curfew for my bedtime. I have an alarm on my phone for 8:30 p.m. that says, ‘Go to bed. It will be there tomorrow!’ Even if I don’t fall asleep, I’m in my bed, with my devices tucked away, the lights low, and starting to wind down from my jam-packed days.”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist and content expert, Ontario, Canada

Add some spice to your night

“The pre-sleep routine is our sweetest lullaby, so I recommend powering down at least an hour before bed. This practice includes making sure my to-do list for the next day is done so I can clear space in my head. It’s a great time of day to practice gratitude, recall the goodness of the day, set intentions, etc. So turn off all visual electronics, dim the lights, indulge in a shower or bath by candlelight, and listen to relaxing music. Create an inviting sleep sanctuary with good linens, a cool and darkened room and even get lucky! Sex is a great way to bond and connect with your partner, and it also happens to be a great natural sleeping pill. Additionally, I recommend having chamomile tea, melatonin, or valerian root about 30 minutes before bed to invite sleep. Stressing less about sleep allows the sandman to more easily visit!”

—Lisa Cypers Kamen, optimal lifestyle management expert, Los Angeles, CA

Doze off at the same time every night

“Going to sleep at a consistent time each night works wonders for me. I begin winding down 30 minutes before lights out with a gratitude journal, and then read a book in bed. When the time is up, I turn the lights out and I drift right off to sleep.”

—Christine Denker, retail sales, Omaha, NE

Discover hypnotic stories

“After years of an erratic sleep schedule, I discovered sleep meditation and hypnotic stories. Instead of letting anxious thoughts from the day interrupt this special time, I close my blackout curtains, spritz lavender or eucalyptus on my pillows, and unwind with a guided meditation. A few years ago I started Michelle’s Sanctuary on YouTube in order to create stories with words and ideas that helped me feel the safest and coziest before sleep. So whenever my sleep is interrupted, instead of stressfully counting the hours I have left before the alarm sounds, I reach for my headphones and drift back to sleep with the help of a meditation.”

—Michelle Hotaling, performer, New York, NY

Do a “brain dump”

“I have started to do a ‘brain dump.’ I write down all my thoughts before I lay my head down. Sometimes they’re to-dos, and other times, they’re just sporadic thoughts that may not even make sense on paper, but at least they’re out of my head!”

—Pamela H., contracts, Oklahoma

Warm up your light source

“Here are two tips:

  1. I read a book for at least 30 minutes — that helps me slow down from the daily things that are spinning in my head.
  2. I changed the light bulbs in my bedroom for warm light, instead of cool light.”

—Gustavo Arias, project manager, San José, Costa Rica

Try blue light-blocking glasses

“I got a pair of blue light-blocking glasses last year, and it literally changed my life. I used to have a hard time falling and staying asleep. I’d have headaches when I went to bed and when I woke up. But my headache disappeared just 15 minutes after putting these on. On the first night, I fell asleep almost right away. It’s my new essential.”

—Crystal Kadakia, management consultant, Atlanta, GA

Zero in on your breath

“I meditate for five to 10 minutes while focusing on my breath to fall asleep better. This calms anxious thoughts and slows down my heart rate to prepare my body for sleep. It also gives me time to mentally reconcile the events of my day in an intentional way. I then get into bed and read print books about a half hour before I intend to fall asleep, which further signals to my body and mind to wind down.”

—Patty Johnson, clinical health psychologist, Chicago, IL

Tap into the power of positive self-talk

“Positive affirmations like ‘I give myself permission to sleep’ work because your unconscious mind accepts what you think and say as true, so the ability to transform your negative thoughts into positive ones will serve you well. When we keep repeating our positive self-talk to ourselves, through things like positive affirmations and challenging our negative beliefs, slowly our negative ones begin to unravel and are replaced by our more confident and positive ones. This develops new neural pathways which interrupt old, unhelpful thought patterns, employ new ideas, and are useful in aiding you to a restful night’s sleep.”

—Dr. Sue Peacock, consultant health psychologist, Bedford, U.K.

Make some changes to your bedroom

“I will share my story because it has really helped my husband and me! After we both crossed the 50th birthday mark, our sleep patterns changed. We went to bed and, of course, all the possible thoughts came knocking. We were both restless, and tossed and turned to no avail.

But 10 months ago, we decided to change our entire bedroom. We had read about this a dozen times, but doubted it. How wrong we were! So here’s what we did:

  1. We sold our California King bed and bought two extra long twins, and stuck them together. The first huge relief is that each of us can toss and turn without disturbing the other.
  2. We emptied our bedroom and created a Zen environment. Beds, nightstands, and one chest of drawers are the only things left in the bedroom.
  3. We got rid of every iPad, phone, and even our electric alarm clock. We bought a simple, silent battery-operated alarm clock for $11 — that’s the only ‘device’ we allowed in the bedroom.
  4. We bought a pair of dark blue curtains to darken the bedroom.

Results:

The first night, we didn’t think much had changed, but low and behold, we woke up the next morning feeling relaxed and refreshed. We had the same results on the second night, and have never looked back. Try this and you’ll see a big difference. All those articles are right! Any electronic device, including TVs, laptops, cell phones, iPads, etc., do emit frequencies just by being connected to your home’s WiFi. I had to share this because we have so many friends who really can’t sleep and tell us that we are exaggerating by changing our bedroom like we did. Good luck — here’s to a full night’s sleep for everyone.”

—Mariella Stockmal, blogger, Santa Barbara, CA

Write down how you were “playful” during the day

“Before I go to bed, I scribble down how I was playful that day, even if it was just one thing, like doodling on a leaf, watching a bird, or dancing with my kids. Playfulness helps release stress and I find that it helps me unwind so that I can enter sweet and playful dreams, and wake up with a bounce!”

—Enoch Li, founder of mental wellness consultancy Bearapy, Beijing, China

Make meditation a priority

“As someone who used to describe himself as an insomniac, the single thing that has helped me the most with sleep in the last year is regular bedtime meditation. Doing this for just ten minutes every night before bed has made it much easier for me to fall asleep. I find that using a meditation app (I use Headspace) makes it very easy if you are not an experienced meditator because it guides you through the process. I wish I had tried this years ago. Why does this work? Throughout the day, a constant stream of thoughts fills our minds. These thoughts are often set aside while we’re working or engaged in concentrated activity. But when we’re lying in bed at night, the sensory deprivation of being in the dark silence can cause make those thoughts resurface and prevent us from falling asleep. In some cases, it can encourage us to engage in other distractions, like using social media to escape those thoughts, which delays sleep further and makes the situation worse. Meditation allows us to accept and let go of those thoughts.”

—Arif Akhtar, physician, U.K.

Take a few “personal pauses” during the day

“My sleep tip for 2019 is: I allow myself to have a personal pause a few times throughout the day. Our brains are so busy throughout the day that we don’t give ourselves time to think about our to-do-lists or our normal, everyday worries and stresses. We’re going to have some — we’re human. The moment we lie down to sleep, life’s distractions stop and our brain floods with all of it. So give yourself a few personal pauses throughout the day in a quiet corner for two to three minutes. This will give you the opportunity to get these thoughts out of the way so you don’t feel a need to do it at night when you should be sleeping.”

—Alanna McGinn, sleep consultant, Toronto, Canada

Realize that most of your problems can’t be solved from your bed

“My sleeping habits improved when I realized that sleepless nights don’t last forever, and that there are many sleep hacks that work in different life stages. A warm shower before bedtime washes away stress, our commuter’s sweat and is a great way to relax our muscles. We all have bad days and sometimes, long, horrible life periods but being thankful for the smallest things daily and holding on to that feeling makes a huge difference. Be aware and present — feel your body weight on the mattress and realize that most of problems won’t be solved from our bedroom, but as they come along on the following day.

—Leticia Credidio, art director and entrepreneur, London, U.K.

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