7 Tips for Getting a Better Night's Sleep

Public Domain. MaxPixel

This science-backed advice comes from Arianna Huffington's 2016 book, "The Sleep Revolution."

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, believes so strongly in the importance of sleep that she wrote an entire book about it. "The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time" was published in 2016, following a physical collapse that resulted in Huffington blacking out, breaking her cheekbone, and realizing she needed to prioritize sleep in her life.

The book is full of interesting studies showing how sleep (or lack thereof) affects our mental state, health, productivity at work, fertility, safety, waistlines, etc. The list goes on. In fact, it's hard to find anything in life that sleep does not improve. What particularly interested me was Huffington's research into the tips and tricks for making that desired sleep happen. I think that most of us realize we need more sleep -- and better -- but don't know how to approach it. From the chapter on "What to do, what not to do," here are some of her suggestions:

1. Let there be (less) light. Light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that triggers sleepiness. As the evening wears on toward your bedtime, make a point of surrounding yourself with fewer and dimmer lights. Make your bedroom a dark oasis.

2. Cut the blue light. Too much screen time is bad for us for a lot of reasons, not least of all the blue light emitted by the screens that suppressed melatonin. It serves as "an alert stimulus that will frustrate your body's ability to go to sleep later," according to George Brainard, a neurologist and circadian-rhythm researcher. Keep your smartphone, laptop, and tablet out of the bedroom, and avoid using them for at least 30 minutes before falling asleep. This is especially crucial for young children.

3. Turn down the heat. A bedroom should be cool for sleeping; somewhere between 60 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 19 Celsius) is considered ideal. Writes Huffington:

"Our bodies have a temperature cycle much like our circadian sleep cycle: our body temperature drops throughout the night, bottoming out a few hours before waking and going up as we approach morning."

That small drop in temperature prompts sleep signals to the brain, hence the benefit of keeping the room cool. Not to mention that it feels so cozy to snuggle under the covers!

4. Get exercise. Exercise is so important for everyone, not least of all because it helps you to sleep better at night. Huffington writes that a "study from Bellarmine University and Oregon State University found that 'regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep,' at least for those who meet the basic recommended guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise."

5. Eat right, sleep tight. Some foods should be treated with caution. Caffeine's effects can linger longer than you realize. "When taken even six hours before bed, caffeine can decrease sleep by as much as one hour." Spicy foods can cause bloating and heartburn, and high-fat diets are linked to excessive daytime sleepiness. Foods with magnesium, calcium, and B vitamins are thought to aid sleep regulation, so eating lots of leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, chickpeas, and pumpkin seeds is good. Cherries are surprisingly rich in melatonin:

"A 2014 study from Louisiana State University found that participants who drank a glass of tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks slept an average of 85 minutes more each night than those who drank the placebo."

6. Skip the nightcap. The popular belief that a pre-bedtime drink can aid with sleep is a misconception. From the London Sleep Center: "Alcohol causes a more consolidated first half sleep and an increase in sleep disruption in the second half of sleep."

7. Meditate or relax. Meditation isn't for everyone, but its practice can help fend off insomnia. It frees the mind from feeling stress and anxiety about things that need to be done. If sitting isn't your thing, there are other ways to incorporate a meditative approach into your life. Perform a 'mind dump' before going to bed, where you write down everything that's bugging you, or keep a gratitude list. Take a hot bath with candles, sprinkle lavender on your pillow, have some sleep-inducing tea. Huffington recommends focusing on breathing:

"Counting out a few slow breaths is one of the techniques I use when I'm having trouble falling asleep. One such version, the 4-7-8 method popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil, is rooted in the ancient Indian practice of pranayama. I love its simplicity: you inhale quietly through the nose for four counts, hold for seven counts, and exhale with a whooshing sound through the mouth for eight counts. Weil says that with practice and regularity it can put you to sleep in one minute."

Huffington's book is certainly worth a read by anyone who's dissatisfied with their sleep routine. It is eye-opening, alarming, and important within the context of our chronically sleep-deprived society.