Sleep Better, Starting Tonight
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and maybe you’ve even used it to justify a few sleepless nights and overproductive days. But the truth is, getting enough sleep (and at the right times) is as essential to wellbeing as food and water.
Without proper sleep, the pathways that allow our brains to concentrate, learn, respond, and create new memories are impaired. And new research suggests that sleeping clears toxins in the brain that accumulate while we’re awake — toxins that may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
“Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance,” reports the National Institutes of Health.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to catch a cold, or suffer from high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even depression.
Sound a little scary? Don’t fret. You can start sleeping better tonight by trying the following research-backed, healthy-sleep practices. Integrate one or more into your daily routine to reap all the benefits of healthy sleep — starting tonight.
1. Set a Sleep Schedule
Keeping a consistent sleep schedule, i.e. the time you go to bed and wake each day, is a tricky but important step in setting yourself up for success. According to the National Sleep Foundation Guidelines, healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night.
Your body will clue you in as to whether you’re on the higher or lower end of that spectrum. Do you feel cranky, forgetful, or drowsy? Do you depend heavily on caffeine throughout the day? Chances are you need to up your sleep.
Once you’ve estimated how much sleep you want to get per night, calculate reasonable to-bed and wake times, and try to stick with them as much as possible — even on weekends.
Habits and routines are powerful precisely because they are repeated over and over again, reinforcing the pattern, writes Sleep Foundation’s Eric Suni. “By following a standard schedule and healthy sleep habits, the mind and body become accustomed to a routine that includes plenty of high-quality sleep,” says Suni.
Having a bedtime ritual that includes relaxation-inducing practices like the ones below will help you stick to your sleep schedule even when inevitable disruptions arise.
2. Eat Better to Sleep Better
Nutritious foods play an important factor in sleep. A growing body of research confirms a connection between people who suffer from lack of good sleep and those who eat lower-quality diets — think less protein, fewer fruits and vegetables, and more added sugars and highly processed foods.
While eating a diet that’s high in sugar, saturated fat, and processed carbohydrates can disrupt your sleep, eating more fiber, plants, and unsaturated fat (fish, nuts, avocado, olive oil) can actually promote sounder sleep, The New York Times reports.
Other foods that disrupt sleep, such as anything containing caffeine, should be avoided in the afternoon and evening. These include high-protein meats like steak or chicken, which are difficult to break down, and spicy foods that can cause heartburn and acid reflux.
3. Start a Journaling Practice
“When we lay our heads down at night, our minds start buzzing with worries and to-do lists, obsessing over things we may not be able to change — certainly not at that moment,” says Roundglass meditation teacher and hypnotherapist Sophie Fox. “As we prepare for sleep, coming back into the present and releasing anxiety and worry is crucial for drifting off into a peaceful sleep.”
How? One way is to journal during the day, she says. Jotting down thoughts, worries, and any lingering emotions from the day can allow you to process them and reflect before you hit the pillow, easing overthinking as you’re trying to fall asleep.
If you notice that tomorrow’s tasks often plague you at bedtime, writing out your to-do lists beforehand can help. One study published in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology" randomly asked participants to either write to-do lists at bedtime or to write about tasks they had already completed.
People who wrote out their to-do lists fell asleep significantly faster than those who wrote down past accomplishments. Researchers found that the more specific participants were when they wrote their to-do lists, the faster they fell asleep.
So writing “a very specific to-do list for five minutes at bedtime, rather than journaling about completed activities,” may help you fall asleep faster, because it allows you to get them off your mind, the study concluded.
Try this: Do you stress over to-do lists or obsess over tomorrow (or today, or yesterday) at bedtime? You're not alone. This meditation from Sophie Fox uses hypnotherapy techniques to help quiet your mind, release worries, and relax your body so you can get the peaceful rest you deserve.
4. Try Yoga for Better Sleep
Many research studies have demonstrated yoga’s ability to improve sleep. Practicing controlled breathing during yoga stimulates the vagus nerve, signaling rest and recovery to the brain. Yoga can also improve digestion and reduce the heart rate, aiding in better sleep.
And because naps can mess with your circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep schedules, practicing 20 minutes of certain yoga poses — like Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) — can replace a much-needed nap.
Yoga is an opportunity to “offer the energy of relaxation to every cell in your body” and “tranquilize not just the body, but the sacred space around you that’s going to serve as your temple for a night of healing and repair,” says Roundglass yoga and meditation teacher Mansi Mahajan.
Try this: Use Yin Yoga and breathwork to help calm your mind for deep, restful sleep — with gentle restorative poses and deep, conscious breaths. In this Yin Yoga practice you can do right from your bed, yoga teacher Mansi Mahajan teaches simple movements and breathwork to help the body unwind and drift into peaceful, uninterrupted sleep.
5. Try a Body Scan in Bed
A body scan is a beginner mindfulness practice that asks us to tune into the sensations of each part of the body, one at a time, carefully noticing (and releasing) any tension or stored emotions along the way. Tuning into the body this way helps us connect to our deeper selves, both physically and emotionally, paving the way for a deep, restful sleep.
And a body scan isn’t just a great way to unwind before bed — according to the University of California, Berkeley, adults who regularly practice body scans report “greater psychological wellbeing and self-compassion, less reactivity to stress, and a decrease in depression.”
Check out the Roundglass app to find these practices and more, all designed to release worries and tension, cultivate calm, and train your body and mind to find regular deep, restorative sleep.
- Getting enough sleep is imperative to optimal brain function and clearing toxins in the brain that accumulate while we’re awake.
- Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance.
- Healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, and setting a routine sleep schedule can help ensure you’re getting your daily dose of Zzs.
- Incorporating relaxing bedtime rituals like yoga, body scans, and journaling will help your body and mind find deeper, more restful sleep faster.