10 sleep hygiene hacks for a better night’s sleep
by Hannah Moss
When it comes to improving our wellbeing, sleep hygiene seems to be one of the most commonly recurring issues for a huge majority of us. We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep, and how it negatively affects us when we don’t.
There are so many factors involved in sleeping well, including our emotional and psychological state, our diet and eating habits, how we use and interact with technology, and environmental influences, such as light, sound and temperature. Learning about these different factors and knowing what’s right for us can be overwhelming and it can be hard to know where to begin.
The ultimate guide to a better night’s sleep
I recently had the privilege of watching an incredibly informative 3-hour webinar all about this very topic! It was delivered by Bob Chugani, a Certified Heart Math Coach/Mentor, Inspirational Speaker, Professor, Biohacker, Sleep Expert, and a humble student of Neurobiology, Psychology and Emotional Intelligence. The webinar was hosted by Theo of Time of the Sixth Sun and, I have to admit, I watched it in several sittings, as there was a lot to take in!
I’ve turned the 10 pages of notes I took during this webinar (yes, that’s 10 A4 pages – I told you there was a lot to take in!) into the ultimate How to improve your sleep guide and you can get a copy for FREE by signing up to my mailing list.
In this article I’m going to give you the most important headlines from the webinar, so you can get started on improving your sleep hygiene right away. But, to dive deeper into the topic, discover the neurobiology behind some of these sleep hacks, and learn much more besides, you’ll want to read the full guide.
The No.1 sleep hack you should start today
Plus: there was one piece of advice given in the webinar, which Bob said if you were only going to do ONE thing out of everything he suggests, make it this one. So, what is it? Going to bed earlier? Turning off your phone at night? Drinking less caffeine? No, it’s none of these. You’ll never guess what it is, but even two of my insomniac friends who’ve been trying this say it’s really helped them. If you want to find out what it is, sign up to my mailing list to get the full guide.
Some shocking sleep statistics
- Between 10% and 30% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia. (Source: Sleep Foundation)
- 100,000 deaths occur each year in US hospitals due to medical errors and sleep deprivation has been shown to make a significant contribution. (Source: American Sleep Association)
- 1 in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed. Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, coronary heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy. (Source: NHS)
- 16 million UK adults are suffering from sleepless nights as a third (31%) say they have insomnia and almost half (48%) agree they don’t get the right amount of sleep. (Source: Aviva)
- Almost half of UK adults aged 18 and above (48%) said that sleeping badly had a negative effect on their mental health. (Source: Mental Health Foundation)
It’s not surprising that sleep deprivation leads to obesity and heart conditions, because according to Teach Yourself To Sleep by Kate Mikhall, “We eat on average 385 extra calories daily when we’re sleep deprived.” Do you notice you feel more hungry when you haven’t slept well? Or that you tend to comfort eat when you’re tired?
Unfortunately, this trend is only likely to get worse, as we rely more and more heavily on technology and devices, put increasing pressure on ourselves to do more, faster, and become even more out of touch with the natural way of living our ancestors once enjoyed – in harmony with nature’s cycles.
10 hacks for better sleep hygiene
So, what are some of the key factors we need to look at in order to improve our sleep? The following are the top 10 pieces of advice I extracted from the webinar, plus my own personal insights. Top 10, that is, apart from the absolute No.1 sleep hack that Bob advises. And to find out what that is, simply join my mailing list.
1. The 8-hour myth
For some reason, most advice we hear about sleep duration is that we should be aiming for around 8 hours per night. Bob doesn’t really understand where this came from, because our sleep cycles usually occur in 90-minute cycles. It’s much better for us to wake naturally at the end of a sleep cycle, which means we should be aiming for either 6 hours (4 cycles) or 7½ hours (5 cycles). Or, if you have the luxury, keep going for 9 hours (6 cycles)!
Wise Waves insight: It’s possible the 8-hour thing came about due to adding a buffer of time in which to fall asleep, but if you tend to fall asleep pretty quickly, aiming for 7½ hours from lights out is a pretty safe bet. Personally, I’ve discovered over the last few years that 7½ hours is definitely my optimum. Get curious, experiment and see what works best for you.
2. No alarms, please!
Now, this one can obviously be taken with a pinch of salt, as most of us have things like jobs, work, school runs and other responsibilities we need to get up for. But, the point Bob’s making here is that it’s soooo much better for our nervous systems if we can wake up instinctively – at the natural end of a sleep cycle – than being rudely awakened by a harsh, artificial alarm tone.
You can always set an alarm as a backup, but if you’re able to train yourself to wake up before the alarm, you’ll start to feel the benefits.
Wise Waves insight: Since regulating the time I get up through the week, and not having long lie-ins at the weekend, I’ve found my body now naturally wakes up at roughly the same time every day, regardless of whether I’ve set an alarm or not. If you do need to wake at a particular time, try saying that time over and over in your head just before you go to sleep. This is another way of training your mind and can be really effective.
I also recently invested in an alarm clock that has several different sounds, so although it’s still artificial, I now wake to the sound of birds tweeting, which is so much nicer on the ears.
3. Hit the hay by 10pm
The first of our sleep cycles in any given night is always the longest and deepest. If we go to bed before 10pm, this means we can get a huge chunk of deep, good quality sleep in our first cycle, which will then get shorter and shallower as the night goes on. Ideally, we need to get most of our deep sleep between 10pm-2am at least a few nights per week, as this is when our melatonin levels peak.
Wise Waves insight: I can’t say that I follow this one personally, but there was a time when I did. As a committed Ashtangi with a daily Ashtanga yoga practice, I’d go to bed around 9:30-10pm and get up at 5-5:30am 6 days a week. I rarely had any sleep issues and do remember enjoying the rhythm of getting consistently good sleep.
4. Cool and dark is best
We’re far more likely to experience deeper, better quality sleep if we’re able to create absolute darkness in the room we sleep in. And it’s not just our eyes that absorb light, but our skin too. In the webinar, Bob shared a fascinating piece of research to do with a tiny light taped to the back of the sleeper’s knee. Get the full guide to find out more!
It’s also far better to sleep in a cooler, rather than a warmer, room. If you’ve ever spent time in a hot country, like India or Thailand, you’ll know how true this is! Bob also shared some research findings where insomniacs slept way better after their body temperature was reduced by just 1°C.
Wise Waves insight: It’s best to eliminate all light in your bedroom, even those little LED appliance-on-standby lights. My new alarm clock also has a dimmer switch so you can turn the display completely off at night – bliss!
I currently don’t have any heating in my bedroom and, when I stay at someone else’s house with central heating, I always turn it off in the room I’m sleeping in (with their permission of course!). I also nearly always sleep with a window open, even through winter, even just a crack. I remember an Indian doctor once telling me that’s why we tend to get so many coughs and colds in this country – because we don’t sleep with the window open.
5. Magnesium is your friend
According to Bob, 70% of the world’s population is deficient in magnesium. We’re not getting nearly as much from natural sources as we used to. And this is bad news for our sleep, due to the relationship between cortisol – the stress hormone – and magnesium. Therefore, this is the only supplement Bob recommends taking. But, rather than taking tablets, it’s far more effective to absorb it through our skin.
Wise Waves insight: If I’ve had a stressful day and suspect I might not sleep very well, I spray magnesium oil on the soles of my feet before bed and nearly always sleep more deeply. I often don’t even wake during the night, which is unheard of for many people! My favourite spray is made by Life-flo as it’s good quality, light and not too sticky.
6. Get savvy about red vs blue light
In the webinar, Bob gives a fascinating brief history of how electric light has evolved over the years. Our light bulbs might have become more environmentally friendly, but unfortunately they’re not doing much good for our sleep hygiene nowadays.
The trick, according to Bob, is to make sure we’re getting the right amounts of red and blue light at the right times of day. In a nutshell, red light calms down our nervous system (think sunsets, candles and firelight), whereas blue light fires it up (think bright white lights, LEDs and hand-held device screens).
The amount of red and blue light in natural daylight changes throughout the day, so we need to make sure we’re getting enough natural daylight at the right times of day, and minimising artificial and electric light, particularly before bed.
Wise Waves insight: I found this one of the most interesting topics of the webinar and it really makes you think about the effects that urbanisation and advances in technology have had – and will continue to have – on our natural ability to sleep well.
7. Keep away from the screens!
You’ve probably heard this one a gazillion times, but as I mentioned above, Bob explains the science behind red vs blue light in great detail. Too much blue light before bed increases our cortisol levels and decreases melatonin, making it much harder for us to fall – and stay – asleep.
So, Bob’s advice? Stop using screens up to 1-2 hours before bedtime and never look at screens in the middle of the night. Oh, and buy some blue blocker glasses. More about those in the full guide.
Wise Waves insight: I definitely notice the difference when I switch off devices, wifi and electric lights and then have a hot, candlelit bath before slipping into bed – bliss!
8. Get that phone out of the bedroom!
Bob was very adamant about this one! You should never keep your phone on your bedside table overnight. And you should definitely never leave your phone charging next to you while you sleep. This is all to do with electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and how they affect our biology.
Even if your phone is switched off or in airplane mode while it’s charging, it still generates EMFs because the battery is still running. Ideally, you should keep your mobile as far away from your brain and heart as possible while sleeping.
Wise Waves insight: I’m sure that many readers will strongly object to this one! “But what if I want to check the time in the night?” “I need it in case I wake up.” “What if there’s an emergency?” “I just need to have my phone near me!” My question to you is: What did you do before mobile phones? (If you’ve been alive long enough to remember!) We survived, right? We managed. It was fine.
This ‘need’ to be near our phones at all times is a total myth. It’s an addiction. If you wake in the night, the very last thing you should be doing is checking your phone (see point 7 above). It’s also not a good idea to check the time in the night, as it can activate anxiety. And if you really do need to be available for emergencies, leave your phone switched on but in another room (or use the ‘do not disturb’ function). You’ll still hear it if it rings.
9. Exercise? Be an early bird
Because physical exercise increases adrenaline and cortisol – the hormones that need to start decreasing for a good night’s sleep – it’s far better to do any kind of cardio movement in the morning rather than the evening. Bob shared another interesting piece of research data which looked at the times of day people exercised and the effect this had on their sleep quality. Ideally, the latest we should exercise is by about 4-5pm, or 4-5 hours before bed.
Wise Waves insight: I don’t know if it’s because I had a daily Ashtanga practice for 6 years and it’s been drilled into me, but I’m definitely an early bird when it comes to exercise. I love exercising first thing in the morning and getting really hungry in the process – it makes breakfast feel so much more satisfying! I’ve tried exercising in the evenings and it just doesn’t work for me. And now I know why – it plays havoc with my hormones!
10. Coffee & booze – it’s all about timing
Of course, we can’t talk about sleep hygiene hacks without mentioning caffeine and alcohol! Everyone knows that the more of these psychoactive stimulants you consume, the worse your sleep is going to be.
Granted, there are some people who don’t seem to be affected by drinking a strong shot of espresso at 11pm before rolling into bed. But I suspect their body has simply gotten used to this habit; it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy thing to do! Or that their sleep wouldn’t be improved by cutting it out.
In the webinar, Bob doesn’t preach about cutting these stimulants out entirely; he focuses more on when you should consume them if you’re going to. He explains how long it takes for a single shot of espresso to pass through your system (longer than you might think) and how long it takes for your liver to detoxify alcohol.
For these reasons, he suggests that if you’re going to take stimulants, it’s better to take them in the morning than the evening. Obviously, this doesn’t really work for alcohol – unless we’re all about to become alcoholic – but certainly for coffee. And, if we can aim to have our last drink at least 3 hours before we go to bed, then all the better.
Wise Waves insight: Over the years, I’ve gone through periods of cutting out both caffeine and alcohol entirely from my diet, for various reasons. Whilst this was useful and insightful at the time, there’s also something to be said about deprivation. Which really all comes down to mindset. If you feel like you’re being deprived of something you love, you’re probably not going to have much motivation or staying power to stay off it. Which is why a lot of diets don’t work.
Personally, I’ve managed to find a middle ground with both coffee and alcohol that works for me. I do drink 1 cup of black coffee (or tea) most mornings, but I never have more than 2 cups a day and hardly ever after 12 noon. I also enjoy drinking alcohol, find it relaxes me and, again, very rarely overdo it. So, I believe it’s about finding what works for you.
If you’ve never tried quitting them, why not give it a go and see what happens? Just for a bit. Just as an experiment. If you get terrible headaches in the first few days, that’s a sign you’re probably overdoing it on the caffeine front.
And, hey, decaffeination methods like Swiss Water, water-only or CO2 are much better for both us and the planet than they used to be and there are some really tasty decafs out there. Decaf cappuccino with oat milk, anyone?!
Stress and sleep
So, there you have it. The top 10 sleep hygiene hacks that I gleaned from watching the webinar. Get curious and have a play. Start incorporating some of them into your daily routine and see if any of them improve your sleep quality. Then let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear how you get on.
Before I go, I just wanted to mention one more thing. I’m aware that these sleep hacks are nearly all focussed on managing external and environmental factors, but what about stress? What if you’re just too stressed to sleep, no matter how much you reduce your caffeine intake and blue light emissions?
As Charlie Morley, a sleep and dream expert and author of Wake Up To Sleep, puts it, “You can use all the blue-light filters in the world, but until you filter out the internal obstacles that prevent sleep from occurring, you may find yourself staring at the ceiling until morning.” (Source: Psychologies Magazine, Dec 2021)
An overactivated nervous system is the main internal obstacle to sleep. And this is where the ‘fight or flight’ response comes in (sympathetic nervous system) as opposed to the ‘rest and digest’ response (parasympathetic nervous system). When we’re stressed, the vagus nerve is not very active, so we need to stimulate it to induce the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system. And one of the best ways of increasing our vagal tone is to practise coherent breathing.
This breathing technique is incredibly simple, yet has the power to change your life. Put simply, you slow down your breathing and make your inhale and exhale the same length. This is usually to the count of 5 or 6, but whichever you choose, make sure it’s the same for both the inhale and the exhale.
You can practise coherent breathing lying in your bed before going to sleep, or at any other time of the day, particularly when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. It’s a really good way to calm yourself down.
- Ideally, you want to be sitting or lying comfortably with your eyes closed and your attention focused inwards.
- Take a gentle, slow, deep breath in through the nose to the count of 1…2…3…4…5…
- Then exhale slowly through the nose to the count of 1…2…3…4…5…
- Think about relaxing and releasing tension on every exhale.
- If your mind drifts, simply bring it back to your breath whenever you notice it’s drifted.
- Repeat for 5 minutes and build up to longer as you feel ready.
- You can either count in your head or use an audio track or app to follow – just search online, there are lots to choose from. (Although using an app isn’t ideal before bed – see point 8 above!)
This is also a great practice to do if you wake in the night and can’t go back to sleep. Rather than reaching for your phone or another device – remember Bob’s advice and never do that – just close your eyes, follow the coherent breathing method and relax back into sleep. Aaaaahhhhhhh!
Want to know more?
To dive deeper into all of these topics, as well as finding out more about hormones, red and blue light, resetting our circadian rhythms and, of course, that No.1 tip you need to try today, sign up to my mailing list using the link below and get the full FREE guide.
And don’t forget to leave me a comment below to share if any of these sleep hygiene hacks worked for you.
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