Most toddlers know how to get a good night’s sleep. The needs of their bodies usually surpass the ability of their thoughts to keep them awake. So when they are tired, they sleep! I have memories of my kids falling asleep in their high chairs and other various places around our home.
Somewhere along the way, the activities of the mind begin to upstage the needs of the body. We start shoe-horning sleep around the things we need and want to do. We use caffeine to shut down our body’s desire for sleep. We are busy on our computers and are constantly stimulating our mind.
This was certainly the case for me, especially when I hit my 40s. Not only did it take me forever to fall asleep, I also started waking up several times during the night! This dramatically impacted my mood and productivity, so I began researching strategies on how to get a good night’s sleep without using prescription sleeping pills.
And now I’ve got lots of tips and tricks to share with you! These are all tips that worked for me in spite of the fact we let our dog sleep on our bed — which is technically a big no-no for getting a good night’s sleep.
Heavy Hitting Tips on How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The heavy hitters are the tips that provide the fastest results. Nearly every article I read included these recommendations.
1. Wake up at the same time every morning, even on weekends.
This is important because your body really does have an internal clock, a rhythm of resting and wakefulness. When your internal clock is synced to your actual bed time and morning alarm clock, it becomes easier to sleep and to wake up in the mornings. I resisted this for a long time because of beliefs I developed in college — weekends were for sleeping in! But I learned that when I’m generally well rested, I don’t need to sleep in on weekends.
2. Invest in a Quality Mattress.
Good bedding matters. You spend a third of your time sleeping, so you might as well invest in a decent mattress that’s the appropriate size. My husband and I had a full-sized mattress for many years when we first got married and looking back I think we were absolutely nuts. A king sized mattress made such a big difference in the quality of our sleep.
Our latest mattress is a foam mattress from Tuft and Needle. One of my favorite things about it is that it muffles movement. My husband used to wake me up every time he got up to use the bathroom or if he went to bed later than me because the bed shook so much or squeaked or whatever. The memory foam mattress reduced that dramatically and now he rarely disturbs my sleep.
3. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
Caffeine has a half-life of five hours, which means five hours after you drink it, half of it is still in your body keeping you awake! This actually varies depending on your age. The older you are, the longer it takes your body to process caffeine. This is a huge bummer because I used to enjoy an afternoon cup of coffee and I love working in coffee shops. I switched to decaf and sometimes Kombucha, and yes I know it’s not the same thing but for me it was a sacrifice worth making.
4. Avoid screens in the evenings.
When it gets dark, your body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone which makes you tired and tells your body it’s time for bed. Blue light from screens (or any bright light) will inhibit melatonin production and make it harder to sleep. If you must use your computer late at night, you can purchased blue light glasses on Amazon and they help a little bit — there are many to choose from (these are the ones I have and like).
However I think screens have a negative impact beyond the blue light — they are mentally stimulating and keep our brain synapses firing as we process and respond to whatever we are reading, which is not conducive to sleep. I still keep my phone in my bedroom (another no-no for sleep), but I’ve made changes to the way my phone is set up that reduce its addictive qualities and enable me to leave it alone once I get into bed.
More Tips for How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The tips below are a smorgasbord of second-tier ideas that work for me and may work for you. The first three are related to things I’ve done in my bedroom, and the following tips are actions I’ve built into an evening routine.
5. Weighted blanket.
I’ve always liked the feeling of being nestled under lots of blankets, but they tend to shift during the night or get bunched up and I wake up because I’m cold or they’ve bunched uncomfortably. I got this weighted blanket from Amazon and I LOVE it. It provides that sensation of being nestled and it doesn’t shift around. I use it year round, I don’t find it too hot in the summer either. I eventually got them for my whole family, and I noticed that it really helps my husband stop tossing and turning so much.
6. White noise.
At some point, my kids started staying up later than me. And because our home has an open floor plan, I could always hear them — going up and down the stairs, closing the refrigerator, opening the microwave, watching TV, taking a shower. So I got this white noise machine from Amazon which I love bc it has a fan so it doesn’t loop.
Nowadays there are lots of apps on your phone that could do the same thing, as well as less expensive options. These machines don’t drown out the noise completely, but they muffle it, they provide a calming noise I can anchor my attention to that makes the other noises recede.
7. Light Pollution Clean Up.
I made my room as dark as possible. This meant turning off and shutting down my husband’s work computer and the literally dozens of lights he has in his workspace, from his hard drive in a clear case to the keyboard, etc… When the router was in our bedroom I had to tape over those lights with gaffer’s tape.
Also, our home is near street lights, and that light shines into our bedroom, especially in the winter when the leaves have fallen from the trees. So I purchased room darkening blinds that prevent light outside from getting into the bedroom.
8. Avoid eating a heavy snack or meal before bedtime.
This is especially important if you are prone to heartburn or GERD. A heavy meal starts your digestive juices flowing and puts pressure on the valve that keeps the contents of your stomach in your stomach. A reclined position might allow those juices to splash back up into your throat. This may not wake you up, but it can keep you from falling into REM sleep or it can cause small disturbances to your sleep, leaving you feeling sleepy in the morning.
A light snack is fine. Healthline has a list of healthy snacks that may actually help you sleep.
9. Review and Prep for the Next Day.
This step allows me peace of mind when I climb into bed. It gets rid of the general anxiety about the next day, that it will be busy and that I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing. By looking over my calendar, and getting anything together I might need for early morning appointments or activities, I can feel confident about the next day. Bonus points if I know what I’m cooking for dinner and have confirmed I have all of the ingredients. Taking this step in the evening also changes how I feel when I wake up, because I remember specifically what’s coming up and I know I’ve done a little bit of prep work.
This is also incredibly important! Relaxing your body is like a back-door hack to relaxing your mind. Plus it feels really good! The Youtube channel Yoga With Adriene has several great videos for wind-down workouts, but sometimes I just do my own. Working the kinks out of my neck and shoulders and stretching out all of my muscles really gets me yawning, relaxed and ready to sleep.
11. Breathing exercises.
After I’ve stretched, I like to sit (or lay down) for five minutes and do a few simple breathing exercises. Sometimes I’ll rub a drop of essential oil blend into my hands before I do this, and then inhale the fragrance. Because I”m pairing the fragrance with the feeling of being relaxed and stretched out and the breaking exercises, I can use the scent of the oil at other times during the day to calm myself down and feel grounded.
There are a lot of breathing exercises out there. I usually place one hand on my belly and one on my chest, and then do a few deep “Belly Breaths”. Belly breathing is when you breath in slowly through your nose and imagine the air bypassing your chest and filling your belly, and then you breath out slowly through your mouth, pushing all of the air out of your belly. As I belly breathe, I will list the good things that happened that day, or the little grace notes I remember.
Another favorite exercises is the “Relaxing Breath”. For this exercise, you breath for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and slowly exhale for eight seconds. This is also my favorite breath to do when I’m driving and I find myself getting stressed! It really does just release the tension in your neck and shoulders.
Finally, I like to read before bed. I have a kindle paper white, which doesn’t have blue light. I used to read on my phone, but it was too tempting to check out the day’s news or social media. Both of those are terrible for drifting off to sleep because headlines are designed to evoke strong emotions and keep us reading.
Bottom line: If you are having trouble falling asleep, there are many strategies besides taking medication for helping you sleep. Pick and choose from the strategies listed above and notice whether they make a difference. There is no perfect technique or routine for getting a good night sleep that will work for everyone.
And don’t worry about trying to design everything perfectly for sleep. We still let our dog on our bed even though that does not promote sleep. The important thing is to have enough positive strategies that outweigh any negative ones.
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