Take it from someone who deeply struggles with regulating her sleep schedule — a good night’s sleep is vital to your health. But sometimes, falling and staying asleep is a lot harder than it sounds. Issues with physical discomfort, stress, anxiety, light, and temperature regulation, can all contribute to a poor quality of sleep.
Dr. Jennifer M. Mundt, PhD, and assistant professor of Neurology (Sleep Medicine) and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, says that occasional difficulty falling or staying asleep is usually due to stress or life changes. “If this problem becomes chronic, it’s a good idea to see a sleep medicine specialist to figure out what the underlying problem is,” she tells Bustle. But in the meantime, she and several other experts share their tips for regulating your sleep schedule and guiding you into that REM cycle. Plus, you’ll find products to help you do so.
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Dr. Wendy Troxel PhD, senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation and scientific advisor for SleepFoundation.org.
Dr. Jennifer Mundt, PhD, assistant professor of Neurology (Sleep Medicine) and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Dr. Jeff Gladd, MD, integrative medicine physician and chief medical officer at Fullscript
Rachel Mitchell, Certified Sleep Specialist and CEO of My Sweet Sleeper
1. Get Some Bright Light Soon After Waking Up
Improving your sleep doesn’t just start at nighttime — it can begin right when you wake up. Going outside, sitting by a window, or even using an artificial light box can help you jumpstart your day.
“Bright light exposure is one of the most effective morning routines that can help a person improve their sleep quality,” says Po-Chang Hsu, MD, and a medical content expert at SleepingOcean.com, a a site that tests and reviews sleep products. “Ideally, one should get plenty of morning light within the first 30 minutes after waking up. Scientists also agree that it’s better to go outside than sit by the window. So, if a person has a patio, a balcony, or a backyard, that would be an excellent place to have breakfast.”
If you can’t make it outside, consider a light therapy lamp that mimics the colors of daylight to wake you up. This top-rated one provides the recommended 10,000 LUX of brightness to help regulate your sleep, and you can even customize brightness for your comfort.
2. Stick To A Relaxing Wind-Down Ritual
Whether it’s taking a warm bath, journaling, doing yoga, or listening to relaxing music (or all of the above), having an evening ritual you can look forward to — and one that doesn’t feel forced — is key.
In general, Mundt says, avoiding “anything productive or goal-oriented” will help you wind down. “Taking a warm bath or shower 1-2 hours before bedtime helps with falling asleep faster and can also just feel very relaxing,” Mundt adds. As for other helpful wind-down activities, Mundt says some people find luck reading, listening to audiobooks, podcasts, sleep stories, and guided meditations, or watching something mindless.
3. Make Your Bedroom A Haven
As you consider a wind-down routine, experts also say your bedroom should be your sleep sanctuary — a safe place for you to land and one look forward to ending your day in.
“Make your bedroom a haven,” says Dr. Wendy Troxel, senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation and scientific advisor for SleepFoundation.org. Troxel recommends relaxing colors like neutrals, silvers, and grays. “Beyond the color palette, what’s even more important is what you keep in your room and what you keep out,” she adds. Troxel suggests keeping your bedroom free of clutter and interferences, like having dirty clothes on the floor or keeping your phone by your bedside.
“All of those distractions and mess can increase anxiety and interfere with deep, good quality sleep,” Troxel says. “Each night that you return to bed should be like an invitation to your warm, inviting, and tidy haven.”
4. Keep Your Bedroom Temperature Cool
We sleep better in cool spaces, and that’s partly because a drop in body temperature is one of the key changes that happens as we fall asleep, says Troxel. “Keeping the room cool and even taking a warm bath or shower before bed can help to nudge your body along towards this drop in body temperature, can facilitate your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.” The ideal temperature, Troxel says, is around 65-68 degrees.
If you don’t have control of the thermostat in your living space, you can still cool down by using and wearing breathable sheets and pajamas with fabrics like cotton, linen, bamboo, and silk.
Amazon reviewers agree this top-rated bamboo and cotton sheet set is soft, comfortable, won’t pill. As one reviewer writes: “One of the best sheets I’ve ever had. Great price, great quality. Great for the summer months, and it’s breathable.”
5. Make Sure You’re Getting The Sleep Hours You Need
It can be tricky to find the sweet spot for how many hours you need to sleep, as your ideal bedtime and wake-up time largely depends on your work schedule and lifestyle, says Dr. Jeff Gladd, MD, integrative medicine physician and chief medical officer at Fullscript, free supplement dispensing platform.
“Generally speaking, most adults should aim for between 7-8 hours of sleep per night,” Gladd says. “As far as an ideal number of hours, you should gauge your daytime energy as a guide. If energy is sustained throughout the day without falling asleep or fighting sleep with stimulants, then you are likely getting enough.”
To help you get your hours in, consider this top-rated white noise sound machine that offers 24 soothing sounds — think lullaby, campfire, waves, and more. Amazon reviewers can’t get enough of its look, timer function, and how much it helps them fall asleep. “It is almost a trigger that it is time to go to sleep,” one reviewer writers. “You can set the length of time you want it to run. I just use the one that sounds like an air conditioner running. I fall asleep quickly with it and it drowns out the light snoring of my sweet little Shih-Tzu.”
6. Monitor Your Light Exposure Right Before Bed
If you’re one to scroll through your phone or watch a movie in bed, chances are it’s disrupting your mind from shutting down, and keeping you from falling asleep. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends stopping your electronic use at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
If that’s not doable, or you think your screentime during the day could be hurting your sleep, consider these blue light blocking glasses, which customers love for their quality, comfortability, and style. As one Amazon reviewer says, “I noticed a huge impact on my sleeping schedule, I was able to go to sleep two hours earlier than I normally do. I stare at computer screens during the work day so I'm exposed to a lot of blue light which was affecting my sleeping pattern.”
7. Wake Up At A Consistent Time
If you have trouble with falling asleep quickly and deeply, you likely need to set a consistent wake-up time for each day (yes, including on weekends), even if you had a poor night of sleep the night before.
“This will support the two primary processes that control our sleep — our circadian rhythm (aka biological clock) and our sleep drive,” Troxel says. “You have to wait for the natural signaling in your body to cue that it’s time for sleep — and that happens when you feel sleepy.”
8. Keep Your Room Completely Dark At Bedtime
In addition to keeping your bedroom cool, Hsu says an optimal bedroom is also dark and quiet.
“Darkness stimulates the release of the hormone melatonin, which signals to your brain that it’s time for sleep,” Troxel says. “Do what you can to eliminate all light in the middle of the night, including any light trying to come in from your windows.”
Blackout curtains can help do the trick. With nearly 8,000 5-star ratings, Nicetown’s blackout curtains are beloved by Amazon customers for their high quality, easy installation, and overall elegance.
9. Get A Workout In
Feelin’ that afternoon slump? Instead of taking a nap, Rachel Mitchell, certified sleep specialist and CEO of My Sweet Sleeper maternity and pediatric sleep specialists, suggests a 30-minute workout instead.
“Exercise is proven to promote quality sleep,” she says. While both a morning and evening workout has been shown to promote deep sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation, others find that an afternoon sweat sesh is what helps them sleep best. Mitchell suggests working out midday for 30 minutes to an hour.
Take your yoga or pilates workout with you on-the-go with this non-slip exercise mat that comes with an adjustable strap. Amazon customers agree it’s thick, comfortable, and offers a good grip on hard wood floors.
10. Go To Bed Only When You Are Sleepy
Though it may seem tempting to lounge in your bed at any hour of the day, experts recommend only getting into bed when you’re actually sleepy.
“Going to bed too early will result in tossing and turning and becoming frustrated, which ultimately makes it harder to sleep,” Mundt says. “Notice your body’s signs of drowsiness and wait to go to bed until your body tells you it is ready to actually sleep.”
If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, Mundt suggests doing something calming and relaxing, as staying in bed trying to fall asleep ultimately makes it harder to sleep, and creates unhelpful conditioned associations with your bed overtime.