Five hacks for better sleep

I have a strange relationship with sleep. On the one hand: it’s amazing, isn’t it? Falling into the comfort of bed after an exhausting day, feeling every muscle of your body relax into complete oblivion and closing your eyes for the final time that night is simply brilliant.

Waking the morning after, well-rested and good to go for the day ahead, is exhilarating, too. I often think that there really is no other feeling that’s quite like it.

On the other hand: it’s such a waste of time, isn’t it? The average person spends around 26 years of their life sleeping. Think about what else you could do with those 26 years! It’s annoying having to spend so much of our time unconscious, though it is of course a necessary evil. We wouldn’t be able to do half of the things that we want to in our days without it.

Despite that, even after filling my days with a number of exhausting activities – such as preparing meals, teaching (from home or from in school) and practicing Taekwondo – there are times when I still struggle to fall asleep.

Here are my five hacks for a more effective night’s sleep, which I am slowly but surely trying to incorporate into my sleeping routine. Give one of these a go and report back on which you find most effective.

No caffeine after 2pm

Let’s start with the trickiest tip: no caffeine after 2pm. Generally, this drug will stay in your system for up to 10 hours, so I try not to have any after two o’clock, though realistically that should be midday, since I aim to be in bed by 11pm. Regardless, limiting your caffeine exposure will help with getting you off to sleep quicker each night.

I struggle with this one because I enjoy coffee, and it’s not always feasible to have one before this time in my working day. Though I do occasionally cave and down a 5pm coffee, I’ll try to replace this with a herbal, fruity tea, since the caffeine content is far lower – and it’s not a bad idea trying to absorb more vitamins.

Total darkness

These people who sleep with street lamps glaring in through their windows make no sense to me: how can you possibly get off to sleep, and stay asleep, without anything blocking out sunlight? I counter the glare of lights with blackout blinds and curtains, plus an eye mask, and turn out every light source in my room.

The only light that stays on is a dimmed version of my alarm clock, in case I wake in the night and need to know how much time I have left to enjoy my bed before the radio blare, signalling that it’s time for work. Speaking of alarms…

Set a sleeping schedule

My physical alarm clock gradually gets louder as it sounds throughout the morning, which wakes me more gently than any alarm I’ve used before. However, you should try to wake in a more natural way if possible – ideally without any sort of alarm – or use smart bulbs if you own any. My housemate’s Hue Smart Bulbs used to gradually brighten over a 30-minute period*, and he swore by it, because it worked with the body’s circadian rhythm, in that he woke with the presence of light.

My bulbs are, unfortunately, only powered through smart plugs,* so they don’t come with that privilege. To reinforce my physical alarm clock, I’ve also set one on my phone. This operates as a backup, in case I snooze the first alarm in my sleep (embarrassingly, this has happened before). It’s also great because you can set a bedtime alarm. If you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle to peel yourself away from whatever it is you’re doing to hunker down into bed. Having my phone screaming that it’s 15 minutes until I should be asleep is a really simple, quite powerful, motivational tool.

As well as this, setting a sleeping schedule keeps your body regulated and used to when it should be operating, which can help with getting moving when you need to each morning.

Avoid this if you can!

Maximum comfort

Things to invest in:

  1. A good quality mattress. You should spend your money where you spend your time and, as we spend 26 years in bed, you should really be optimising for a comfortable night that supports your body in the places its needed.
  2. A decent pillow. I sleep with two on my bed, and both support my neck throughout the night really well.
  3. A thick duvet. I’m not a believer in changing duvets throughout the year to suit the temperature. Instead, I like to stick with a 13 tog duvet and use a fan if it’s too hot. This keeps my temperature close to the optimum 18 degrees or so that you should aim for while you sleep, but also keeps me cosy.

Limited exposure

I hear the same advice being peddled by content creators all the time: ‘don’t use electronics an hour before bed!’; ‘I sleep with my phone on the other side of the room so I don’t use it!’; ‘I actually don’t keep any technology in the same room that I sleep in,’ etc., etc., etc.

This is so unrealistic it hurts.

Regular readers will know that I love my tech, so chances are high that I – and I’m sure you do too – will be using technology before bed, whether that’s to scroll social media, catch up on streaming services or play games. As with anything, we should not cut this out cold turkey. Instead, use technology all you fancy before bed. Then, when you’re in bed, here’s where you make the change.

Rather than read through Reddit for half an hour on a bright surface – which does negatively impact your sleep – put the phone down and start reading. I lament my slow reading speed and an inability to find time to read throughout the day, but pledging to read for ten minutes – or until I feel sleepy – every night while in bed is really helping to improve my sleep AND reading speed. In fact, it’s looking quite likely that I’ll meet my Good Reads goal of 25 books this year. As someone who could barely manage five a year, this is huge for me.

Sleepy conclusions

These five hacks have really helped with improving the quality of my sleep, but it would be disingenuous to insist that I’ve mastered them. I struggle to read every night, and avoiding caffeine before 2pm doesn’t always work out. As ever, it’s important to try your best to implement these tips into your life, and to not sweat the small stuff if you struggle.

Isn’t life a work in progress, anyway?

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