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16 Practical Tips For Anyone Who Wants To Sleep Better

Bad news: Wine, pets, and hot showers can all be terrible for your sleep.

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This week at Goodful, we're talking sleep — why it matters, how to get more, and ways to make it better. You can find more Slumber Party posts here.

We're all aware that getting enough sleep is incredibly important for our mental and physical health, but that doesn't mean it's all of a sudden easy to make that happen.

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When optimizing for sleep, it feels like there are a million little things that need to be taken into consideration from temperate, to lighting, to what we eat and drink in the hours before bedtime. But what would a truly perfect sleep environment look and feel like? I recently spoke to Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dr. Rebecca Robbins, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, to find out everything we should be doing to get the best sleep of our life.

1. Try your best to keep surrounding sounds under 60 decibels.

"Any sound over 60 decibels can seriously interfere with your sleep," says Robbins. This means that anything louder than a low conversation, humming refrigerator, or air conditioning unit needs to go, or be blocked out as much as possible. (For even more context, an ambulance siren is about 120 decibels — so, if you regularly hear them from inside your bedroom, you're likely to have trouble sleeping.)

"A lot of people believe that they actually sleep better with the television on, but during the lighter stages of sleep, everyone can be disturbed by even the lowest noise," Robbins says. "If you do find it easier to fall asleep listening to the TV, music, or a podcast, be sure to put it on a timer, so that you're not disrupted as you move into lighter stages of sleep during the night."

2. And if that's not possible in your home, try ear plugs or a white noise machine.

Ear plugs are a great solution to sound pollution since they work to silence sounds, rather than mask them with even more noise — but, not everyone can sleep with earplugs. If you can't, Robbins suggests getting a white or pink noise machine. "White noise is essentially background noise, while pink noise is a more natural sound, like sounds of the rainforest, rainfall, or wind. There's also some evidence that suggests pink noise might actually be a good thing to hear, even if noise isn't disrupting your sleep," Robbins says.

You can get a white noise machine (that also plays natural sounds) from Amazon for $18.97 or 50 pairs of ear plugs for $17.99.

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3. Keep your bedroom somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees.

This tip is one that gets repeated a lot — but that's mainly because it's so important. To keep your bedroom within this temperature range is to create what scientists refer to as a "thermoneutral zone." Basically, this is the temperature range in which the human body doesn't have to work (e.g. sweat or shiver) to maintain an ideal temperature. "If you try to sleep in a temperature that isn't thermoneutral, your body will ultimately begin fighting to regulate its own temperature and will keep you from going into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep," Czeisler says. REM is the most restorative period in our sleep cycle, so is super important. It's also when we dream, so if you're someone who never dreams, this could be an indicator that the temperature in your bedroom needs adjusting.

4. And don't have a hot bath or shower right before bed.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, doing so can cause your body temperature to spike, which means your body will have to work to regulate itself and find that sweet thermoneutral zone.

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5. Decorate your room in soft and neutral colors that denote feelings of coziness and relaxation.

"Colors can make a big difference," says Robbins. "When you’re in your bedroom, you really want to relax, so think about neutral tones like beige, light blue, or pastels. You want to avoid any bright or overly alerting colors like bright green or red, for example."

6. And when sleeping, keep your room as close to completely dark as possible.

"A dark room tells your brain that it's time for bed. When you turn off your lights, you want to make sure that the room is completely dark," says Robbins. "It’s best to refrain from any light coming in from the streets or even from a blinking cable box. The little things really matter, so try to blackout your bedroom as much as possible."

If this isn't possible for you, opt for an eye mask that you can blink underneath, so it doesn't disrupt the eye movement that occurs during different periods of sleep.

Get a three-pack of contoured eye masks from Amazon for $10.99.

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7. If you get up a lot during the night, consider investing in motion-activated night lights for your bathroom.

We all know the feeling of waking up to go to the bathroom only to fumble around in the dark before giving up and reaching for the light switch. To avoid this sleep-sabotaging scenario, Czeisler suggests installing a nightlight in your bathroom so you can stay sleepy during your midnight bathroom visit without injuring yourself in the complete darkness.

Get a motion-activated toilet lights from Amazon for $8.99.

8. And go for warm low-wattage lightbulbs over bright LEDs in the bedroom.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, LEDs aren't ideal for the bedroom or bathroom, despite being energy efficient. These bright lights emit harmful blue light (just like your phone and other screens) that can seriously mess with your melatonin secretion, tricking your brain into thinking it's still daytime. Instead, they suggest using incandescent bulbs, which diffuse a soft warm light, or installing red or pink lightbulbs — or even string lights — in your bedroom.

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9. Rather than sleeping late on the weekends, give yourself permission to take an afternoon weekend nap.

If you work Monday to Friday, it's likely that you get up around the same time every day during the week — but on the weekends, for a lot of us, it's a completely different story. However, sleeping late on Saturday and Sunday isn't doing you any favors. Instead, Robbins suggests getting up at the same time as you would on weekdays, and then taking an afternoon nap if you need some extra sleep.

"Even if you’ve had a later night than usual and you’re exhausted, kick yourself out of bed at the normal time and then take a nap that afternoon," says Robbins. "This will do you many favors because your biological clock will start in the morning and begin that countdown to bedtime, keeping your consistent sleep schedule. The nap will pay back your sleep debt without the consequence of throwing you out of schedule."

10. Familiarize yourself with the lifespan of your mattress and pillows, then replace when needed.

Even people who sleep poorly still spend a lot of time in bed — whether they're reading, watching Netflix, or just, you know, lying completely still waiting for sleep to eventually (any time now!) come. All of that time in bed wears and reshapes your mattress and pillows, which affects their quality and comfort.

"So many people can't even remember when they purchased their mattress," says Robbins. "A good mattress will last about eight years — not forever. It's also important to think about refreshing your pillows, because even the best one will only last about a year and a half."

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11. Make your before-bed routine as cozy as possible.

A good bedtime routine isn't something that just happens — it takes intention and practice. It can, however, make the world of difference when it comes to getting your mind and body prepared for sleep. "Take the time to engage in a very relaxing routine before bed; light a candle or read a couple of pages from a book. Really think: How can I best unwind and prepare for the night ahead?," says Robbins.

12. Exercise regularly, but try and avoid working out right before bed if you find it hard to wind down at night.

"Exercise is really great, as it releases endorphins, which are also mood elevators and reduce stress. This is most likely why people who exercise regularly get better sleep," says Robbins. "As far as what time to exercise, there's evidence that it actually doesn’t matter if you exercise before bed. But, if you do find yourself having a hard time unwinding and getting your heart rate down at night, it might be best to get your workout done earlier in the day."

Basically, listen to your body and if you find it harder to fall asleep after a nighttime workout, try switching up your routine and exercise in the morning or early afternoon.

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13. Don't drink alcohol before bed, even you swear it helps you fall asleep faster.

"Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, so while it will in fact help you wind down, it will also disturb sleep and lead to nocturnal awakenings. If you plan on drinking, it would be best to consume alcohol earlier in the day and evening, so that by the time you go to bed you will have a zero blood alcohol level," says Czeisler.

14. And also try to avoid food and drink that are high in sugar.

The more sugar you eat during the day, the more likely you are to wake up — or be pulled out of a deep sleep — during the night, as it causes your energy levels to spike.

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15. Don't share your bed — or bedroom — with your pets.

Pets are great! So very great! But one thing they're especially great at is disturbing your sleep. Just like a car horn or flashing light, a dog or cat jumping or moving around on the bed can, and will, wake you up — which is why Czeisler suggests keeping them out of the bedroom.

16. And if you truly want a great sleep, don't smoke cigarettes.

Not only does smoking make it harder to fall asleep, it also makes it harder to wake up in the morning — a truly terrible combination. Research has also found that smoking cigarettes can increase nightmares and excessive daytime sleepiness. If you've been looking for yet another reason to quit, this is probably it.

By the way, if you've been having trouble sleeping and it's not going away, it's definitely worth checking with your doctor. Many things can cause insomnia, from stress to certain disorders, and your doctor will best be able to help you figure out what's going on so you can get the sleep you need. In the meantime, you can always read more about insomnia here.