No matter how much we want to cram into each day, there’s no getting away from the necessity of sleep. Sleep is as essential to our well-being as diet and exercise are, it might be even more important since when we don’t sleep well we make poor food choices and don’t workout as much. Not sleeping well can affect our physical health, our mental health, our relationships with others and our work. It’s not surprising that we’re often on the look out for how to make our sleep better.

The Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said that ‘sleep is like a dove that has landed near one’s hand and stays there as long as one does not pay any attention to it’. Frankl illustrates the problem that occurs when it comes to trying to sleep better. Sleep is a passive function, just like breathing is. We can’t force sleep to happen. In fact, the less effort we put into trying to sleep the easier it is to do it. Recognising this can help to break the vicious cycle where we try too hard to sleep and end up frustrated. However, although we can’t control sleep itself, we can control some of the conditions that allow sleep to happen and it’s these conditions that this article focuses on.

In fact, the less effort we put into trying to sleep the easier it is to do it.

Here are eight hacks to create the conditions for a better night’s sleep:

1. Increase the time you spend in daylight

Daily light exposure helps to regulate our circadian rhythm, which tells our body when to wake and when to sleep. Research shows that people with sleeping problems who spend at least two hours in bright light each day sleep on average two hours more each night. The most effective method to increase our light exposure is to get outside each day, especially in the morning. If this isn’t possible then investing in a daylight lamp can also help.

2. Get your bedroom right

The environment of your bedroom can affect your sleep. Take steps to reduce any noise, or wear earplugs. Minimise light by turning off standby switches and investing in black out blinds. Decrease clutter by using neat storage solutions to make your bedroom peaceful. Try not to work in your bedroom and instead reserve the space for sleeping and relaxing. Consider moving your desk into another room. Keep your bedroom at an appropriate temperature for sleeping by not letting it get too hot. Make sure that your mattress, pillow and bedding are comfortable.

3. Exercise regularly

Research shows that exercise improves sleep and reduces insomnia. For the best results, don’t exercise too late in the evening as this can stimulate the body and increase alertness. Exercise during the day as a way to benefit your sleep and overall health. When choosing what exercise to do it’s best to pick something that you enjoy as you’re more likely to stick with it. You could also choose an activity that has a social element, such as tennis or a team sport, as social interaction can also help us to get a better night’s sleep.

4. Watch what you eat and drink

Foods and drink containing caffeine stimulates our nervous systems and negatively affects sleep. Aim to not consume any caffeine after around 3pm. Alcohol disrupts the hormones that promote sleep. If you’re struggling to sleep, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. Avoid eating a heavy meal before bedtime as this can interfere with our ability to sleep. Try not to drink anything one to two hours before bedtime to prevent being woken up needing the bathroom.

5. Block blue light

Blue light exposure, especially in the evening, tricks our circadian rhythm into thinking it’s still daytime and so inhibits the production of sleep hormones. Devices such as smartphones, laptops and TVs emit blue light. Turning off screens an hour or two before bed can improve sleep duration and quality. Reading a book instead, or doing some relaxation techniques, can be a good way to use the time before sleep. If you can’t totally switch off the screens, then you can try wearing glasses to block blue light or downloading an app that reduces blue light.

6. Keep a regular bedtime and reduce long naps

Consistency with when we go to bed and when we wake up improves sleep. Our circadian rhythm functions according to a set time frame determined by sunset and sunrise. By going to sleep at the same time each day and waking up at the same time – even on weekends and holidays – we can support our bodies to sleep better. Avoiding long daytime naps (those over 30 minutes) also helps us to regulate our sleep as it means we’re sufficiently tired when we go to bed. A short power nap is fine though and can be beneficial.

7. Practice relaxation

Relaxation techniques can benefit sleep duration and quality. Strategies to try can include mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, yoga, massage, listening to calm music, reading or listening to a relaxing book, or taking a warm bath. It can help to try some of these techniques to find one or two that work best for you. The relaxation practices can be carried out in the evening. Relaxing during the day can help you to sleep better too as it reduces the overall levels of hyper-arousal in your mind and body and so improves the conditions that allow sleep to happen.

8. Focus less on trying to sleep

Sleeping difficulties can be caused, or certainly worsened, by a preoccupation with sleep. When we’re not sleeping well it’s easy to focus intently on sleep, spending our waking hours worrying about what that night will bring. However, this obsession with sleeping better can actually make it more difficult for us to sleep, as Viktor Frankl’s quote at the beginning of this article showed. When we become obsessed with trying to sleep, we feel more anxious and less relaxed, both of which do not provide ideal conditions for sleep to occur. Have a go at paying less attention to how you sleep, even if you’re not sleeping well. Try distracting yourself during the day. Come to appreciate that even if you don’t sleep well, you can still be active in the day. The less you worry about sleeping, the easier it will be get to sleep.

How can Online-Therapy.com help?

If you’ve tried these ideas and you’re still struggling with sleep issues, then Online-Therapy.com can help! By signing up to our program you will choose a therapist who will work with you to explore your sleeping problems in more depth and find helpful solutions.

At Online-Therapy.com we offer an integrated and holistic package to support your well-being. Our approach includes regular sessions with your chosen therapist, unlimited messaging and worksheet support, journaling and yoga. This ongoing support means that you have the daily expert guidance you need to make progress and achieve better sleep for good. Click here begin your journey today!