Today, over 70 million Americans deal with sleep problems. And, it is undeniable that hectic lifestyles, high levels of stress, and unhealthy habits contribute to this spreading condition – no wonder that the sleeping aids market is growing at an unprecedented rate!
But, a good night’s sleep it’s all but a hard-earned luxury that eats into your productive time! Oppositely, improving your sleep health is vital to all bodily functions, from promoting immune health to boosting productivity, fending off cognitive disorders, and fighting inflammation.
This guide highlights simple and effective ways to improve your sleep naturally, without relying on medication.
10 Simple Ways to Improve Sleep Naturally
Here are the best natural ways to improve sleep, effectively and efficiently:
1. Exercise on a Regular Basis
If you have noticed that you sleep better after a workout, you are not just imagining it! Sleep and exercise are intertwined – and recent polls confirm that up to 83% of respondents who exercise regularly are satisfied with their sleep quality and duration. In comparison, this percentage drops to 53% for those who don’t exercise.
That’s because exercise raises your body temperature, thus regulating the release of melatonin and other hormones involved in the sleep-wake cycle. Additionally, physical activity decreases daytime sleepiness and lowers the risk of sleep-disrupting conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, which are often linked to obesity.
Pro tip: Not a fan of the gym? Don’t fret! Luckily, you can reap the benefits of exercise for sleep without having to become an avid gym-goer.
For example, you could fit aerobic exercise into your routine by taking a 30-minute walk, going for a light jog, or practicing low-impact sports like yoga and pilates.
Whatever activity you choose, make sure to opt for one that stimulates your interests and allows you to be consistent with your fitness schedule.
2. Adjust Your Diet
For better sleep, change your diet and refocus it around natural, whole, and seasonal products and supplements. In particular, some foods have some sleep-promoting properties that can’t be ignored.
According to recent studies, foods that contain compounds like potassium, melatonin, calcium, and pyridoxine can help you sleep faster and for longer. These functional foods and ingredients include:
- Barley grass powder
- Whole grains
- White rice
Aside from the food you eat, your meal plan and times also matter. Generally, dinner should be the lightest meal of the day and should not include foods that can increase the risk of indigestion or heartburn (i.e. spicy foods).
Additionally, it is important to avoid eating just before going to sleep, as this can cause acid reflux and other digestive issues – which, in turn, can make it harder for you to enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
3. Choose The Right (Non-Alcoholic) Nightcap
As seen above, some functional foods can significantly improve your sleep quality. But what about drinks and beverages? While the body of research is still expanding on this, some studies have shown that the right non-alcoholic nightcap can be beneficial for your sleep.
For example, having a glass of warm milk before bedtime acts similarly to tryptophan, an essential amino acid that regulates the release of some hormones involved with sleep like melatonin and serotonin.
Alternatively, some natural drinks like tart cherry juice can fine-tune the release of melatonin in the body, thus helping with the wake-sleep transition.
Last but not least, some herbal infusions and calming teas like chamomile are an excellent choice to naturally improve your sleep quality. Indeed, chamomile contains apigenin, an antioxidant that influences some brain receptors, thus promoting sleepiness.
4. Take Melatonin Supplements
As we have seen above, adjusting your diet and nightcap choice to improve your sleep can be very efficient strategies. But, sometimes, you might need a little extra help to reset your natural body clock and enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
In this case, consider taking melatonin supplements as part of your diet. But let’s take a step back. What is melatonin? And why is it important for sleep quality?
Also called the “sleep hormone”, melatonin is a chemical messenger that plays an important role in several bodily functions. But, in particular, this hormone is released in the brain in response to natural darkness. As the levels of melatonin increase, the brain receives signals that it is time for sleep, thus causing us to feel sleepy and ready for bedtime.
The levels of melatonin in the body continue to rise throughout the night to then peak in the early morning and decrease as the sun rises. Because of this natural process, melatonin controls our Circadian Rhythm or the daily sleep-wake cycles.
Taking melatonin supplements is one of the best natural ways to improve sleep and an efficient solution to replenish the body’s natural levels of this substance and induce sleep. Depending on the kind of product you opt for, you should aim to consume between 0.5 and 5 milligrams of melatonin per day. Make sure to consult an experienced healthcare professional to find the right dosage for your needs.
5. Establish a Robust Bedtime Routine
Your routine will have a profound effect on your sleep-wake cycle – or Circadian Rhythm. Make sure to establish a robust bedtime routine you can follow every day and train your body to feel sleepy close to bedtime and wakeful in the morning.
To do so, set your morning alarm at the same time every day, even if at first you might not be able to fall asleep right away and you might end up sleeping less than 8 hours per night. Your body will adjust in no time!
This video by Rachelleea has some more useful bedtime routine tips:
6. Leverage the Power of Light Exposure to Your Advantage
As we have seen above, our body tends to follow a wake-sleep cycle that is linked to the natural transition between light and darkness. That is why we start to feel sleepy at night and awake during the daytime.
Disrupting this natural cycle through artificial light can trick your brain into thinking that it’s daytime – and vice versa. Once you are clear on this, you can leverage light exposure to support your sleep health. Some tips to keep in mind include:
- Avoid using light-emitting devices at night as this can interrupt the natural production of melatonin. Choose to read a book instead!
- Expose your body to natural sunlight in the morning to facilitate the waking up process
- Increase light exposure during the day
- Use natural light therapy and lamps to assist with maintaining your sleep schedule
- Use blue light glasses to block the blue light emitted by devices like your laptop or your phone
- Avoid exposing your body to bright light at night
7. Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol Too Late in the Day
While the first one is a depressant and the second is a stimulant, both caffeine and alcohol have a disrupting effect on the nervous system and can prevent you from enjoying the sleep quality you deserve.
For example, it’s common knowledge that having a nightcap can make you feel sleepy and relaxed. But it is also true that alcohol can lead to waking up too early and experiencing severe sleep disruptions.
Drinking alcohol can cause what it’s known as rebound alertness, or a state of alert wakefulness that often happens in the second part of the night, once your body has processed the alcohol consumed. In turn, this can cause you to miss out on the REM phase, which is essential to all cognitive functions.
8. Improve Your Bedroom Environment
Your bedroom environment can have a significant effect on your sleep quality. You can improve it by:
- Keeping the room’s temperature at an average of 65 degrees Fahrenheit (or 18.3C)
- Avoiding sleeping with children and pets
- Keeping your bedroom as a dedicated space for sleep
- Regulating sound and noise levels
- Keeping it dark – don’t forget that sunlight can signal to your body that it’s time to wake up!
The tips above are especially important if you are going through some life phases, such as menopause. During this time, you might experience hot flashes and night sweats that can make you feel uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep. In this case, keeping your room temperature low and wearing breathable fabrics can help.
The right bedroom environment is one of the simplest and most often overlooked natural ways to improve sleep.
9. Lower Stress and Boost Your Mental Wellbeing
When not addressed, the relationship between stress and sleep can become a vicious circle. Indeed, high levels of stress can compromise your sleep quality, while poor sleep can make you feel more stressed and anxious during the day. That is why one of the best natural ways to improve sleep is to tackle both aspects simultaneously!
To tackle your stress levels, start by understanding your triggers, which might be your professional life, interactions with some friends or family members, or important events. Then you can address these issues by practicing meditation, breathing exercises, and mind-body activities like yoga.
You can find a quick bedtime yoga routine in the video by Yoga With Adriene below:
Additionally, natural remedies like herbs for anxiety, spending time outdoors, exercising regularly, and taking time to rest can also help you keep stress at bay and lower your cortisol levels.
10. Work With a Specialist to Address Underlying Issues
Natural ways to improve sleep will not address all sleep problems, especially when there is an underlying medical condition triggering the issue. If you have been struggling with chronic sleep problems like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea, consult a specialized healthcare provider to regain your sleep quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much sleep should I aim to get per night?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours per night, depending on how active your daytime lifestyle is. Read the full guide to learn more about how much sleep you need and how to improve your sleep naturally.
What is the best time to go to sleep and wake up?
The best time to sleep is at night, ideally between midnight and 7 am. However, the Circadian Rhythm is different in every person, and night owls might have a different natural schedule than early risers. Read the full guide to learn more about your Circadian Rhythm and how to improve it.
What is a good sleep hygiene routine?
What you do during the day will influence your sleep quality. You can improve your sleep by exercising regularly, maintaining a robust bedtime routine, keeping stress low, and creating the perfect sleeping environment in your bedroom. Read the full guide to learn more about sleep hygiene and how to create the best routine for you.
How long does it take to improve sleep?
Habits built over months or years are hard to break - especially if they involve the Circadian Rhythm or your internal natural clock. However, you can improve your sleep quality and routine by making small, gradual adjustments. If you are recovering from jet lag, you are likely to see improvements within days. If you are resetting the routine of a lifetime, you might need between a few weeks and a few months. Read the full guide to learn more about improving your sleep and the best natural ways to change your sleep habits.
Sleep Foundation: Healthy Sleep Tips
CDC: Key Sleep Disorders