This sleepy cat gets better sleep than you
Jealous of this sleepy cat? Read the three science-based tips for better sleep below!
I’ve written before about my love of mornings. Early, productive mornings are one of the best tools in my arsenal. When I’m up early, more gets done, and it gets done faster.

Good mornings require good sleep, and good sleep requires getting to bed on time so you can get enough of it. Sometimes though, getting to sleep can be tough, which is why I have three strategies that help me develop better sleep habits, so I can nod off faster and earlier. These are all backed by science (and I’ve linked to sources throughout the article) so you know they’re good!

Better sleep through supplements

The first trick is using supplements to help trigger sleepy feelings. Melatonin is a safe supplement that lets you “jumpstart” your sleep schedule by helping your body secrete natural hormones that are associated with sleep.

Melatonin doesn’t necessarily keep you asleep (at least, it hasn’t been proven yet). However, it still has its uses. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “studies show promise for the use of melatonin in shortening the time it takes to fall asleep and reducing the number of awakenings, but not necessarily total sleep time.” You probably don’t want to make regular use of melatonin, but in circumstances where you know you need the extra help, it might be handy.

Another option is valerian-based teas, like Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime Extra or Yogi’s Bedtime Tea. According to the National Sleep Foundation, valerian “has shown, in a number of placebo-controlled, double-blind studies, a subjective improvement in sleep quality, an objective decrease in sleep latency, a decrease in the number of awakenings, and an increase in SWS [slow wave sleep, or deep sleep].” That’s pretty exciting, right?

You can take valerian directly as a supplement, but you’ll want to be careful not to overuse it. Like melatonin, take it only when you’ve exhausted all the other options. You don’t want it to lose its effect!

Turn off (or filter) your glowing screens

Atticus Daly gets better sleep than you.
Atticus Daly, courtesy Kevin.
Bright, glowing things keep us awake. If you think about it, it makes sense. After all, the sun—the ultimate bright, glowing thing—is what wakes us up in the morning. Shining bright things in your face at night can trick your mind into thinking it’s day time, keeping you from critical sleep.

By committing to some electronic-free time before bed, you can make sure your mind knows it’s night and starts going into shutdown mode. Again, the National Sleep Foundation has the scoop:

Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the eye to parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide-awake. Too much light, right before bedtime may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. In fact, one study recently found that exposure to unnatural light cycles may have real consequences for our health including increased risk for depression.

You can also make use of wavelength filtering apps for your computer or smartphone. The grandaddy of them all is f.lux, a free app for Mac OS X (including Mavericks), Windows, Linux, and iPad/iPhone (jailbroken phones only, alas). Android users might try Twilight.

During [an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air], neuroscientist Penelope Lewis, author of “The Secret World of Sleep”, advised people to “filter out the blue wavelength of the light, which are the ones that influence your circadian system and would cause you to wake up.” That makes sense to me, and I swear by F.lux as a consequence (even if they won’t let me hide the Mac menu bar item).

Hack your body temperature

Another cat with better sleep habits than you.Sleep also connects with your body temperature. When you fall asleep, your body naturally cools down. You can take advantage of this by forcing your body temperature to drop, thus tricking your brain into thinking it’s time for bed.

Again, Penelope Lewis explains:

[Your] body temperature naturally cools down when you fall asleep. And so if you’re trying to get yourself to fall asleep then a really handy trick for making that happen is artificially cooling your body temperature down. […] If you’re having trouble sleeping, then it’s even a good idea to kind of heat yourself up before you go to bed. So you could have a hot bath, a hot shower or put your feet in a hot foot bath so that you heat up your temperature and then you go to bed in a nice cool room and your body temperature cools down. And that tricks your body into thinking oh, I’m falling asleep because this is what happens when I fall asleep.

The trick is heating your body up so it can drop quickly again. A hot shower is a great way to do this, and it can also be valuable as an opportunity to collect and sort through your thoughts before bed.

Your tips?

What are your favourite tips for better sleep? Have you tried these strategies? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

photo credit: kevin dooley, eXage, and Tommy Hemmert Olesen via photopin cc

Published by Chris Van Patten

I'm an entrepreneur and product lead, and owner of Tomodomo, through which I help companies build their digital publishing platform.

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4 Comments

  1. I take Melatonin when filghting the jetlag and it’s pretty good. Also, endorphins are pretty efficient, so often times, when I feel I’mm ‘too excited’ to go to bed early, I’ll just get outside and walk fast for a little while (20 mins) and when I get back, I usually feel a little kick that helps fall asleep!

    Also, no heavy meal, no alcohol!

    1. No alcohol is a big one! We often think it helps us nod off, but there’s actually a point where it does more harm than good!

      Agreed about the late night walks. They’re also great for giving you some time to process your day and calm your brain down.

  2. I occasionally use melatonin on nights where nothing else will work, or when I know I need to be more rested than usual the next day. On days where I don’t have to set an alarm, it’s perfect for me. Other days, I wake up feeling a little hazy, and slower than usual. I generally recommend melatonin use, but I also suggest an infrequent amount of use. Although there is no proof that melatonin is harmful, sleep aids are often highly addictive/habit forming. I really don’t advocate the dependency of any substance.

    I’ve made a great effort to try to make sleep hygiene a part of my lifestyle over the past couple years. Powering down electronics is a must. Also, try to get into the same routine every night, as your body will naturally realize that it’s time to sleep.

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