Sleeping well is a huge part of feeling well, but, for all sorts of reasons, getting enough shut-eye isn’t always as easy as just counting sheep.
One of the simplest ways to level up your sleep game is to focus on your sleep hygiene, which is all about putting yourself in the best position to get consistent, uninterrupted sleep, each and every night.
Here are some strategies and tips you can try out to make falling (and staying) asleep more achievable.
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Research suggests that teens need around 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, while young adults (18–25) need around 7 to 9 hours. Of course, sticking to this quota can be a little tricky for some of us, as our days don’t always look the same.
However, if you can make a good night’s sleep a priority, and try to stick to a sleep schedule, it’ll help your body and brain start to know when it’s time to rest, which will help you to get those recommended hours. Here’s some things to try out:
- Set your alarm. Set your alarm for the same time each morning and aim to go to bed at the same time each night. It’s natural to want to stay up later and to sleep in on weekends, but if you can stick to roughly the same times each day, it’ll help keep your body clock in a consistent rhythm.
- Take it slow. It can be hard to set your sleep schedule all in one go. Instead, aim for gradual changes. For example, you could try setting your bedtime 10 minutes earlier each week until you’ve nailed it.
- Nap smart. A little nap can be a refreshing way to regain your energy, but longer naps late in the day can throw off your sleep at night. So, if you need a quick boost, it’s best to keep your naps to no more than 30 minutes (and to take them early in the afternoon).
2. Get into a nightly routine
This is all about small actions you can build into your pre-bed playbook to help your mind and body know when it’s time to wind down. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Unplug from electronics. Try going device free for one to two hours before bed. TV, phones, tablets and laptops can all cause mental stimulation that makes it hard to shut off. The blue light these devices emit can also trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime.
Good thing is, many devices have in-built features to reduce blue light (e.g. Night Shift on iOS devices, or Blue Light Filter/Night Light on Android devices) that you can schedule to switch on when you’re trying to wind down. As part of your routine, you could also turn your phone screen to grayscale, which might reduce the temptation to use your phone.
- Find your calm. Focus on creating a relaxing bedtime routine. This might involve listening to soft music, reading (a physical book or mag, if you can), taking a shower or bath, doing some gentle stretching or yoga, journalling, or having some chamomile tea. Try to follow the same steps each night to reinforce in your mind that it’s time to unwind and get ready for bed. Check out our self-care collection for more ideas.
Try a relaxation technique. Sometimes it’s easier to focus on relaxation, rather than putting sleep on a pedestal. Things like meditation and mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation, can help you to switch off your mind. For inspo, Headspace and Smiling Mind have a bunch of helpful exercises.
Here’s a simple deep breathing exercise you can also try: inhale through your nose for seven seconds. Hold for four. Then exhale slowly through your mouth for eight seconds. Then repeat.
- Escape into your imagination. If you’re stuck for ideas, why not give yourself an imaginary task to do? You could build your dream house, or even explore a new city, in your mind.
3. Create a sleep sanctuary
Creating a calm environment is a big part of setting the stage for quality sleep. This will look and feel a little different for everyone, but here are some tips:
- Check the room temp. Too cold or too hot? Pop a window, grab an extra blanket, or (if you have one) change the air-con setting so that your bedroom is more comfortable.
- Block out the light. Blackout curtains can go a long way to blocking out street lights and those early-morning rays. Or, you could wear an eye-mask or chuck a T-shirt over your eyes to block out any excess light.
- Drown out or mask any noise. If there’s inside or outside noise disturbing you, pop in some ear-plugs or put on a ‘sleep playlist’ with some soft, gentle music to help you unwind. Some people also find the sound of white, pink or brown noise a good way to muffle sound or to relax. There’s all kinds of sound machines you could look into, or apps such as BetterSleep, Calm or Headspace, which offer a bunch of colour noise features and ambient sounds.
- Try a soothing scent. Essential oils like lavender, chamomile or rose may help to calm your mind and create a more relaxing space. You could drop some into a diffuser, create your own mist and spray it around the room, or dab some onto your wrists or behind your ears (just make sure it’s diluted and won’t irritate your skin).
- Beds are for sleeping. It can be tempting to study, chat, snack, scroll or watch your fave shows in bed, but this can make it harder to relax. Try doing activities like this on the couch. If you can’t do that, consider doing them on the bed, rather than in it. It’s important to train your brain to associate bed with sleep.
- Keep your bedroom clean. Spend a few minutes a day picking stuff up off the floor, putting things away and tidying up clutter. That way, things won’t build up and feel too overwhelming to deal with. You could even chuck on some music or listen to a podcast while you’re at it.
4. Build some healthy habits
It's not just the things you do around bedtime that matter. Building healthy habits into your daytime routine can also help you to sleep better. Here's what you do:
- Get physical. Doing regular exercise can make it easier to sleep at night. Try getting active first thing in the morning, outdoors if you can, as sunlight can help to reset your body clock.
- Lay off the caffeine. Drinks containing caffeine, like coffee, tea, some soft drinks and energy drinks, are all stimulants, which means they can keep you alert when you want to rest. So, it’s best to avoid them in the afternoon and evening.
- Reduce alcohol and nicotine. As with caffeine, it’s best to moderate your alcohol use and try to avoid drinking near your bedtime, as it can disrupt your sleep. Whether it’s in cigarettes or vapes, nicotine stimulates the body in ways that can also disrupt sleep.
- Don’t have dinner too late. A full stomach when you’re trying to nod off can make it harder to get to sleep. If you can, aim to have dinner at least two hours before you go to bed.
What if nothing is working?
Give yourself a break. If you’re having trouble dozing off, turn on a dim light and read a few pages of your book, get up and do some light stretching, or walk around the house for a few minutes. Breaking the frustrating loop of not sleeping can help you to reset and feel drowsy again.
If you’ve tried some of these suggestions and you still aren’t sleeping well, have a chat with your GP. They’ll be able to assess your overall health, identify possible causes of your sleep issues, offer some initial recommendations, and (if necessary) refer you to another health professional, such as a sleep specialist or psychologist.