How to sleep better and be happier in 3 easy steps.
I love looking for small, easy changes to my life that, together, add up to a huge positive results over time. And one of the easiest and most effective improvements I've made to my life, is getting better sleep.
I'm happier, my memory is stronger, and my physical and mental health is much better after a few nights of good sleep.
We are all guilty of burning the candle at both ends:
- When we have work
- A bit of a late night partying
- Other commitments
Allowing these activities to take priority over consistent and good sleep can have serious negative effects, however.
We only need to get to the second paragraph of Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep for him to spell it out for us.
Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.
Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor in whether or no t you will develop Alzheimer's disease. It can block your arteries, leading to stroke, and contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, and anxiety.
That's quite a wake up call when it comes to focusing on sleep. And if you're like me, you will know how bad sleep affects your concentration and energy levels through out the day.
Getting your environment right
A great way to improve sleep is to focus on your sleep environment. Get it right once, and the positive results of your initial efforts will compound massively overtime.
What we're aiming for here is to reduce the interruptions to our sleep, which directly affect the quality. The less we're waking up, the better.
So in this post I'm going to give you 3 easy ways to improve your sleep environment, and get you back on track to some quality sleep.
1. 🌡 Room Temperature
2. 🤫 Peace and Quiet (Noise)
3. 💡 Fight the light
🌡 Room Temperature
Most of us think the main focus of room temperature before bed is not to be too cold. But in fact, it's not to be too hot. I was actually quite surprised when I first read this in Why We Sleep. It's the sort of thing I love - an easy change to make that I never knew about.
There's science behind this, of course.
To fall asleep, your body temperature needs to drop by about 1 degree C, or about 2 or 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why your body's natural sleep clock not only responds to the decrease in light as the day moves in to the night, but also the corresponding reduction in temperature too.
With climate controlled rooms, thick bed covers and varying layers of sleep wear, it can be a struggle for your body to reduce its core temperature to help you get to sleep.
If you're anything like me, you'll often find your hands and feet sticking out of the cover - and this makes sense, because they are great radiators of heat and it helps you to cool down. Very cool indeed.
Aiming for a room temperature of about 18 degrees C or 65 degrees Fahrenheit should work for most of us. Your mileage may very depending on your height, weight, if you're on your period or not - but for the average person, this should be okay.;
If this sounds too cold - don't worry. Just think about what you'd rather - to be too cold, or too hot? I know what I'd prefer!
Cold side of the pillow
So. How do we get 18 degrees? Most of us have bedrooms that are too hot, than too cold, so let's focus on that.
- Adjust any temperature settings for your room. Most of us set these higher than the optimal number for good quality sleep. Don't go too cold! It might help to have a room temperature thermometer to get a clearer idea.
- Try to avoid too many covers and blankets, as these will make it difficult to cool down.
- Think about using a fan or leaving a window open in order to bring down the temperature.
- The final step, is to take a bath before bed. Lots of us associate a relaxing bath with better sleep, but it's probably not for the reason you think. Actually, the hot bath brings blood to the surface of your skin, and once you get out, this causes your body to quickly radiate heat away from the body, bring down your body temperature - helping you sleep better.
Making these changes to decrease your room temperature and let your body cool down before bed will have huge benefits in the long run. See what works best. I usually find 19 degrees works well.
Congrats - you've got your room temperature in check. Hopefully, by not being too warm, you won't wake up as much. But temperature isn't the only culprit. The next thing to focus on, is sound.
🤫 Peace and Quiet
Living in big cities means we're constantly surrounded by noise. And with the rise of 24 hour cities, it's hard to escape. Traffic, roadworks, your neighbour mowing the lawn at 6am - all of these make noise that will interrupt your sleep. Even the sounds that don't wake you are still registered by your sleeping brain.
As I mentioned before, reducing interruptions to sleep is key. Research studies have shown a positive correlation between subjective ratings of sleep quality and sleep continuity, with interrupted sleep contributing to sleep deprivation.
When it comes to reducing interruptions from noises and sounds, it's important to focus on controlling the controllable. So, where do we begin?
In my experience, traffic is the biggest source of noise when I'm trying to sleep - but these tips can be translated to loud neighbours or birdsong disturbing you in the morning, for example.
You can't control the traffic, but you can control your environment. Closing the window and having thick curtains can help reduce the noise level, and muffle the sound.
Try and position your bed as far away from the window as possible, and if possible, don't sleep in the room that has traffic noise in the first place.
This is great advice for people who are looking for a new house - sit in the bedroom and listen carefully for the noise. This can make or break any home.
Next is to focus on noise within your room. Switch off notifications on your phone at night by scheduling do not disturb in the settings. Even vibrations are loud enough to wake you up, so make sure they are kept switched off.
Get rid of overly loud ticking clocks, switch off appliances that make noises throughout the evening, and generally just look for a quieter room.
Sometimes, though, life gets in the way. The traffic noise might be especially loud, or your postal worker has decided to start their shift early today. If you're still being woken by noises while you're sleeping, there are some more options.
👂🏻 Ear plugs
Getting yourself a pair of ear plugs can limit noise disruption while you sleep. I use these soft foam ear plugs [Beary Quiet foam earplugs] and I think they work great.
There are hundreds and hundreds of options online, but these work best for me. Wearing earplugs will take some getting used to, but it's worth it. Just make sure to look for some that are soft and flexible.
⛈ Ambient noise
If they aren't your thing, another option is ambient noise. This constant stream of sound will help block other noises out and allow you to sleep better.
I've tried this a few times and found it's worked very well. For me, the sound of rain and thunder is great, but again, there's loads of options. Again, your mileage may vary.
So that's sound sorted. Last but not least, we need to consider light.
💡Fight the light
This could be a video by itself, but the long and short of it is that we need to avoid bright lights before bed, and any light at all while we're asleep.
I'm sure you know by now that the blue light from your phone harms your ability to wind down before bed and get a good night's rest.
Using LED devices at night impacts our natural sleep rhythms, the quality of our sleep, and how alert we feel in the day.
Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker
Make use of the blue light filters on your phone and laptop - but be careful because these aren't a silver bullet. Studies have shown that the brightness of light actually negatively affects sleep quality more than the temperature.
This isn't just handheld devices. It includes TVs, too. Giving yourself at least an hour of no screen time before bed will really help your quality of sleep.
But bigger, overhead lights can be a culprit too. As Matt Walker says:
Mood lighting is the order of the night
Lower, dim light in the evening will prevent help sleep disruption.
Complete darkness when you're asleep is also really important.
To achieve this, I use an eyemask which works pretty well. It doesn't fall off anywhere near as much as you'd think, but I think it might cause a bit of acne, so I think it's good to have a few on rotation and wash them regularly. My eyemasks of choice are these Alaska Bear silk eyemasks that are pretty decent value, and are very comfortable (read: soft and not too hot).
If eyemasks aren't your thing, you could consider using blackout curtains.
🛌 Now to bring it all together
I know just as well as you do that sleep can take a back seat when you're trying to get as much done as possible.
But what I've found is that making small changes to improve my sleep has had a noticeable effect on my sleep quality, and therefore my physical and my mental health.
These 3 areas of temperature, noise and light are easily changes and and putting in the work now, so that you don't need to do it again, will have a huge impact on your life over time.
If you're interested in sleep, make sure you read Matthew Walker's amazing Why We Sleep (Kindle is fine).