Sleep is very important to live a long, healthy life.
Not having enough high-quality sleep is associated with accelerated aging, and increases the risk of various diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and depression.
We compiled the best tips for you to sleep better. They are arranged as follows:
- The best supplements to sleep better
- Reprogramming your circadian rhythm
- The best behavioral approaches to sleep better
- The best sleep devices and apps
- Medical conditions that hinder proper sleep
TOP SUPPLEMENTS TO SLEEP BETTER
Magnesium is a mineral that naturally occurs in our body. Magnesium can calm the mind, reduce stress and help to fall asleep faster (R). Besides its relaxing effects, magnesium also has various other health effects, like protecting (stabilizing) DNA, improving heart health, reducing the risk of diabetes and improving blood pressure. Unfortunately, studies show that up to 70 percent of people are deficient in magnesium.
Most magnesium supplements contain magnesium oxide. However, this form of magnesium is less well absorbed than other forms, which also have additional benefits, such as magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate. To improve sleep, take 200 to 400 mg of magnesium before bedtime. NOVOS Core contains 300 mg of pure magnesium in the form of magnesium malate, the best and most healthy form of magnesium.
Calcium is an essential mineral that has an inhibiting activity, especially for nerve and muscle cells. It has a calming effect and promotes sleep (R). Take 300 to 400 mg of calcium before bedtime.
Glycine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in our body. Glycine helps us to relax and to feel more calm. Glycine can also promote sleep (R). Take 1 to 2 grams just before you go to bed. Interestingly, glycine can also extend lifespan. NOVOS Core contains 2 grams of glycine.
4. Theanine (do not confuse with theine)
Theanine is a natural substance found in green tea. It is one of the reasons why green tea is healthy. Theanine can improve both concentration and sleep (R). It also has various health benefits and can even extend lifespan. That is why NOVOS Core also contains theanine.
Valerian is a herb that has shown to improve sleep (R). Valerian contains substances that increase levels of GABA in the brain. GABA is an important inhibiting neurotransmitter that has a calming effect.
6. Valerian and passion flower
This mixture carries more punch than only valerian. Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), like valerian, is a plant-based product. You can often find this combination at the pharmacist, drugstore or online.
7. Melatonin (taken in the right form and right way)
Melatonin is a small neurotransmitter-like substance (it looks a lot like serotonin) that the brain produces to make you feel sleepy. Unfortunately, many people take melatonin in the wrong way. They take too high doses (2 to 5 mg of melatonin, sometimes even 10 mg!) and they also take the regular form, not the extended-release form.
If you take such high doses of regular immediate-release (not extended-release) melatonin you will cause a sudden very high melatonin peak in the blood, which will also drop quickly, potentially causing you to wake up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Also, such a high melatonin peak can make you feel drowsy the next day.
In the long term too high doses of melatonin can blunt the pineal gland (which produces melatonin), and disrupt circadian rhythm.
To make a long story short, the best way to take melatonin is in smaller doses and in the extended-release form. So, take a maximum of 1 mg of melatonin, ideally around 0.5 to 0.8 mg, and use extended-release melatonin, which is gradually given off during the night. This regimen adheres much more to the normal natural melatonin production in our brain and body.
Besides melatonin’s beneficial effects on sleep, this substance also has various other health benefits: it can restore and protect the body and can slow aging (R,R). However, the older we become, the less melatonin the body produces (usually a decrease begins when people are in their forties).
8. Chamomile tea
Scientific research shows that chamomile tea contains substances that relax the mind (R,R). Chamomile tea also contains substances that bring about various healthy effects and can delay aging (R,R). You can make yourself a cup of chamomile tea, and add for example magnesium malate powder or glycine to it.
9. Vitamin B6
This B vitamin can also help with sleep. Natrol contains both time-release melatonin and vitamin B6.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that occurs naturally in the brain. It promotes feelings of restfulness and calmness. The usual dose is 500 mg before sleep. Despite popular belief, GABA can be absorbed orally and cross the blood brain barrier, or at least mediates effects that impact the brain.
11. Cannabidiol (CBD)
This is a substance found in cannabis. But don’t worry, it’s not addictive and does not have the psychological effects like marijuana or hash. Many countries allow the use of CBD, and studies show that CBD can improve sleep and relaxation by its effect on specific receptors in the brain and immune system. CBD can also reduce pain and inflammation, so it can help people suffering from these conditions to fall asleep better.
Choline is often called the “forgotten fat-soluble B-vitamin.” Choline is an important substance to improve brain health and DNA and epigenetic stability. Many people are deficient in choline (we explain more about choline, and other need-to-take supplements here). Some people find that choline relaxes them, and improves their sleep.
13. Lavender aroma
You can use an aroma diffuser to spread lavender aroma in your bedroom. Some scents, such as lavender and chamomile, activate alpha brain waves that calm you down and make you fall asleep faster (R,R). After all, odor molecules in lavender and chamomile are inhaled and enter the bloodstream through the lungs and reach the brain where they can exert relaxing effects. Mix some drops of essential oil with water and sprinkle on your pillow or in a little jar on your bedside table, or use an aroma diffuser.
REPROGRAMMING YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
14. Expose yourself to daylight
Make sure to spend some time outside each day, at least 30 minutes, ideally in the morning. Exposure to outside light during the day adjusts your body’s circadian clock. This clock needs daylight to function properly and calibrate itself. People who are sufficiently exposed to bright light during the day significantly improve their sleep efficiency according to various studies (R). Older people who were exposed to bright light for two hours a day, stayed on average almost two hours less awake at night (R).
15. Buy a blue light lamp
A (less ideal but still good) alternative to taking a walk outside every morning is to buy a blue light lamp, which emits blue light of a specific wavelength that activates the brain and suppresses melatonin production (melatonin makes you sleepy). Exposure to blue light in the morning can improve sleep quality and time in the night.
16. Buy a wake-up light alarm clock
A wake-up light alarm clock gently starts to light up. Unlike a standard alarm clock that makes a loud noise every morning, you wake up in a gentle way. Some people claim it helps them to get out of bed and start the day better.
17. Avoid blue light in the evening
Exposure to blue light during the day is great, but blue light in the evening, or hours before you need to go to bed, is very bad for your sleep quality. Blue light has a high frequency that makes your brain think it is still day. You stay awake a lot more and alert. Electronic devices such as cell phones, computer screens and tablets emit lots of blue light. This suppresses the production of melatonin, a substance that makes you tired and sleepy. You can reduce the amount of blue light by doing the following:
18. Use special sunglasses that do not let blue light through
These glasses block blue light. That way, your brain thinks it’s evening, and starts to produce melatonin, the small messenger molecule that makes you feel sleepy. Wear blue-light glasses for one hour to 30 minutes before you go to sleep. An example of a (not too expensive) blue-light-filter-sunglasses can be found here here. These blue-light blocking glasses are very important, and often work much better than blue-light filters on the screen of your smartphone or computer (see further down).
19. Download blue-light filters for your electronic devices
These are simple programs that you install on your smartphone, tablet or pc that automatically turn on late in the evening and block the blue-light emanating from the computer screen (of course, your screen will get a brownish/orange like tint). An example of a blue-light filter is f.lux. Also install a filter on your smartphone, and make sure it switches on for example at 10 pm (some devices offer this feature by default).
20. Switch off all electronics late in the evening
Stop using electronic devices more than one hour before you go to sleep, or after 10 pm. Choose a definite time when you won’t use electronics anymore, and stick with it.
21. Absolute darkness
Make your bedroom pitch dark. A little bit of light, even the letters of your alarm clock, will suppress melatonin production by your brain, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep. If you must have LEDs, try for red ones. Otherwise, put duct tape over the lights that you don’t absolutely need.
22. Avoid caffeine or smoking
Caffeine in coffee and nicotine in cigarettes are stimulants. Many teas, such as green tea, black tea or white tea, also contain caffeine, only it’s called theine (do not confuse it with theanine, a healthy longevity substance that is an ingredient in NOVOS Core). A cup of such teas contains about half the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. Do not drink coffee after 3 pm given it takes many hours for your body to break down caffeine. And of course you should never smoke: not only does smacking make it more difficult to fall asleep, it is also very unhealthy of course.
23. Avoid alcohol
Do not drink alcohol before bedtime. Some people believe that alcohol can make them fall asleep faster. However, science shows that alcohol makes sleep less deep and less refreshing.
24. Do not exercise before you go to sleep
When you exercise, various stimulating substances are released (such as adrenaline), which can prevent you from falling asleep hours later. It also elevates your body temperature, which can take hours to cool down. Keep at least three hours of time between exercising and sleeping. However, exercise during the day is a great way to fall asleep better in the evening.
25. Avoid a heavy meal in the evening
A heavy meal not only lays heavy on the stomach and can lead to gastric reflux, making it uncomfortable to fall asleep, but also makes sleep less effective. Some people who eat a meal with a lot of fats and sugars in the evening sleep much longer, and feel less refreshed in the morning. Try to eat a small meal in the evening – or no meal at all, a healthy habit which is called intermittent fasting.
26. Get up at the same time every day
Some sleep scientists swear by this: try to get to bed at a fixed time as much as possible. Your body likes regularity. When you get up at the same time (and also get in bed the same time), you will maximize the ability of your body to repair itself, to recover, and to stay healthy. It is especially important to try to go to bed at the same time – which is even better than always getting up at the same time.
27. A warm bath
Take a warm bath, or a warm foot bath, before you go to sleep. A warm, relaxing bath can reduce the time to fall asleep (R).The same for a foot bath (R). The warmth of the bath calms and relaxes the brain. Also, your body needs to cool down to fall asleep. Which brings us to the following point:
28. Keep your body cool
To fall asleep, your body needs to cool down. It’s this drop in temperature that sends a signal to the brain to fall asleep. So make sure you do not have too many blankets. Some people even put one leg out of bed: this way, they can cool down better, helping them to fall asleep faster (R). If you have taken a warm bad before, the fact that you will cool down can contribute to sleep.
29. Turn away your sleep clock
Staring at those colored numbers on your alarm clock telling that it’s already too late and you still haven’t fallen asleep will only make you more nervous, which is not exactly helping you to fall asleep. Also, when your clock is turned away, there is no light from the digital letters that can shine on your eyes (or even through your eyelids) which would lower melatonin production.
30. No naps during the day
Daytime naps can disrupt your biorhythm. If you really do need to take a nap, keep it short (less than 30 minutes) and not after 5 pm. Often, people feel tired after lunch and they take a nap. But this tiredness usually arises because they ate a meal with too many carbohydrates (sugars, but also potatoes, pasta, bread and rice), whether or not in combination with too many proteins (e.g. meat). Such meals cause high glucose, insulin and IGF peaks, which make you suddenly feel tired. Try to avoid these “food comas” by eating a healthy diet. Find out here which is the best diet.
31. Absolute silence
Of course, to sleep properly, you need absolute silence. Use earplugs (whether or not custom made for an even better effect). In a noisy environment, such as in a hotel or on a plane, you can use ‘white noise’: this is a repetitive sound that you continuously play and that calms and overrides other sounds, so that you are not distracted by disturbing sounds. There are various apps that you can download on your smartphone that play white noise.
32. Set an alarm to go to bed
Set an alarm on your smartphone reminding you to go to sleep. Also, set an alarm that reminds you to turn off your electronics so you can wind down. Many people mention they suffer from sleep procrastination because of electronics keeping them up way too long (e.g. watching Netflix, Youtube, or listening to Spotify).
33. Create your sleeping ritual
A sleeping ritual prepares your mind and body to go to sleep. Some examples of sleep rituals: prepare breakfast for the next day, or prepare your bag, or get your clothes ready. Then spend 10 minutes on personal hygiene (flossing and brushing teeth, washing face, taking a hot (foot) bath, …). You then can do 15 minutes of meditation, prayer or gratitude journaling (in bed). Everyone has their own set of habits and rituals before bedtime. What is your sleep ritual?
34. Switch off all electronic devices
TV, internet, tablets, your smartphone and the almost limitless amount of entertainment (and work) they bring: they often prevent people from going to bed on time. Set yourself on the habit that after 10 pm (or earlier) you can no longer use electronic devices: no PC, no tablet, and even no smartphone. Choose for yourself what you will do during that time: reading a book or magazine, meditating, taking a bath, doing household chores, having a conversation, listening to music or an audiobook, … Download a program like PC Sleep that automatically shuts down your computer at a certain hour. You can also download InternetOff, to shut down the internet on your pc at a certain time in the evening.
HOW TO STOP WORRYING TO FALL ASLEEP FASTER
Many people have difficulty falling asleep because they keep thinking when laying in bed, not being able to switch off their never-ending stream of thoughts, worries or excitement. One main way to address this is to distract yourself from your thoughts by doing other things, for example by focusing on your breathing, or by counting or doing meditation. Here are some approaches.
35. Focus on your breathing
Distract yourself from your worrying thoughts by focusing on your breathing. There are many possible breathing patterns you can try out. For example, breath in 5 counts, and 5 counts out. Try to do this as long as possible. A bit more complex is the 4-7-8 technique, which is also explained in this video: inhale 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and then exhale 8 seconds. By breathing slowly, the nerves in your chest and lungs (which are part of the parasympathetic nervous system) send signals to the brain, which makes you more relaxed and sleepy.
Meditation is a great and powerful way to distract you from your (worrying) thoughts and to fall asleep faster. And to become happier. Moreover, meditation not only promotes sleep, but also general health, both mentally and physically. People who meditate have less risk of heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, have a stronger immune system and even delay aging (R, R, R). Download meditation music or a meditation app on your smartphone. Listen to meditation exercises, for example from Tara Brach, with or without headphones, while lying in bed.
37. Use visualization
By thinking about certain scenery you can settle down and distract yourself from your (worrying) thoughts. Many visualizations are possible:
- One can try to imagine a beautiful, relaxing landscape. This is a place where you feel completely calm and safe, such as a white sandy beach, a beautiful waterfall in a jungle, a vast grass landscape under a bright sun in a blue sky. Or think of a nice place that you once visited. Keep thinking about this place, this way you are distracted from your (worrying) thoughts. Try to think how calm and safe you feel at this place.
- Visualize a protective dome. Imagine being surrounded by a dome that protects you from the outside world. Imagine the color of the dome, the pattern, how it radiates the light. All worries and problems remain outside this dome. Nothing can go through this dome. You are completely safe inside this dome.
- Visualize a ball of yarn. This ball of yarn rolls on a wooden floor, slowly but steadily. The string that remains on the floor is calm and quiet. Imagine the starting point of the thread, and how it becomes longer and longer. The ball of yarn represents stress, which slowly unfurls. The ball keeps on rolling, because it contains endless yarn.
- Dimming. Imagine that the light behind your eyelids, in your body, slowly but surely darkens. Dim the sound in your head, too: the voices, thoughts in your head, slowly but surely dim until only silence remains. Try to keep this silence.
- A river. Imagine yourself floating on a river like a leaf on the water. This river takes you away, always further away into relaxing, deep sleep.
38. Count to 300 and start over again
This is a very simple, but powerful tip. Just try to count. That way, you are distracted from your thoughts and worries. Just start to count to 300. And then start over again … And again. Simple, but often very effective. Of course, you will need to practise multiple times, because you will still be distracted by your own thoughts during the first tries.
39. Repeat affirmation
Affirmations are short phrases you repeat to yourself. For example ‘I am so tired …’, ‘I am so tired’, ‘I am so tired’, … This way, you cannot think about other things. Also, if you repeat these affirmations many times your brain will start to believe them, whether it’s true or not. It’s called brainwashing yourself (and your subconscious).
40. Listen to a bedtime story
Bedtime stories are calm and relaxed stories specifically designed to calm you and help you to fall asleep. And yes, these are made for adults, not only for little children. Listening to a bedtime story distracts you from your own thoughts and worries, and puts your mind to something completely different. You can listen to bedtime stories in bed through (meditation) apps like Calm.
41. Make lists
Before you go to sleep, make a list of things you need to do the next day. This helps you to close off the day, and will prevent you from thinking about them when lying in bed. Also, you then can start to be productive immediately the next day. You can also write your worries on a sheet of paper before you go to bed. Fold this sheet up and put it away. This deliberate “worry moment” can help you to put these thoughts literally to rest, so you can go to sleep with an empty head.
42. Keep a sleep diary
A sleep diary can help you to learn more about your sleep pattern, or to motivate you to go to bed earlier or at a fixed time. You can download an example of a sleep diary here. You can also use apps like SleepBot or HabitBull. Instead of using an app, you can also just print a sleep diary and keep this sheet of paper on your night stand, where you always then mark the hours when you go to bed and get up.
SLEEP DEVICES AND APPS
43. Use sleep apps
44. Sleep trackers
You can use devices like the Oura ring to track your sleep. It won’t help you to fall asleep, but it can help you to find out what helps you sleep better or what hinders sleep.
45. Sleep robots
There are also sleep robots, like Somnox, that can help you to fall asleep.
46. Sleep headbands
These measure brain waves and provide (auditory) feedback. An example is the Dreem headband.
47. Get a good mattress
Make sure your mattress is soft and that you have a good pillow. One of the best smart mattresses is https://www.eightsleep.com. It’s better to use a more soft mattress than a medium or hard mattress to fall asleep. You need to feel as comfortable and cozy as possible.
48. Exclude medical causes
Make sure there are no medical reasons why you can’t sleep well. You may suffer from sleep apnea for example, a condition in which the muscles in the throat weaken during sleep so people can’t get enough oxygen and wake up dozens of times a night. This happens unconsciously, so the next day they wake up feeling very tired, not remembering their many short nightly awakenings. Losing weight and eating healthier is the most important remedy for sleep apnea.
Other medical causes that can hinder proper sleep are restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). People suffering from these disorders move their legs during their sleep and often don’t remember this. Iron, B vitamins such as folate (folic acid), magnesium and other micronutrients can help. Consult your doctor, or schedule a somnographic study (a sleep study, mostly done in a hospital to see how well you sleep).
49. Check the drugs you take
Some drugs can interfere with your sleep, like some blood-pressure lowering drugs, statins (which lower cholesterol), or specific antidepressants. Check the side-effects of the drugs you take and see if there are any common side effects described pertaining to sleep, such as insomnia.
50. Save this web page
Bookmark this page or save it via a shortcut on your desktop or on your smartphone, so that you can always consult it every time you want to (improve your) sleep. Please use a blue-light blocker on your smartphone if you read this page at night 😉