Did you sleep well last night? Did you start your day feeling energetic and well rested? If you regularly answer no to these questions and would like to sleep better, you’re not alone. Sleep is crucial for our physical and mental health. Yet sleep disorders are among the most common health problems in Germany.
Our body regulates sleep automatically – just like breathing or our heartbeat. Guided by a natural sleep-wake rhythm our body takes control, an experienced pilot bringing us safely to where we need to be. Disruption can occur for a variety of very different reasons. As well as stress, our sleeping habits and thoughts have the greatest impact on our sleep.
In this article we’ll explain what’s good for your sleep and how you can sleep better so that you wake up feeling refreshed.
A plan for better sleep
The transition from wakefulness to sleep is regulated by our body’s inner clock. You can strengthen this clock by making a fixed sleep plan. Make sure that you sleep around 8 hours per night, and that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – no matter whether you slept badly last night or that it’s the weekend. Take into account your work schedule and your natural sleep behaviour if possible. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Find the rhythm that suits you and make your own sleep plan.
Implementing your plan
To implement this plan, at the beginning it can be helpful to set an alarm to go off at the time you want to go to bed. It’s best to use a gentle ringtone which is different from the one you use for your morning alarm. Then you have one signal for the morning and one for the evening. This supports your body’s natural sleep-wake rhythm and helps you to sleep better. If you sometimes end up going to bed later than planned, that’s ok. Try to stick to your sleep plan as far as possible. Take it step by step. Humans are creatures of habit – the more often you follow your sleep plan the easier it will be.
Tips for a sleep ritual
Around one hour before going to bed you can start getting yourself in the mood for nighttime. The best way is with a relaxing sleep ritual. It could be hot milk with honey, a short meditation session or reading. A hot bath also promotes sleep: as soon as you get out of the tub your body temperature sinks, which makes you feel tired. Your sleep ritual should be a fixed part of your evening. Just like with the sleep plan, this signals to your body that it’s time for sleep so that you can switch off better.
If thoughts are keeping you up
People with sleep problems often report burdensome thoughts during the night. It might be everyday worries going round and round, things you are afraid of or too much pressure to sleep – thoughts like “I have to sleep now or I won’t get anything done tomorrow”, or “I’m going to be lying here awake for hours again.” These thoughts lead to stress and make it more difficult to fall asleep – a vicious cycle.
Let your thoughts go
Here it helps to distract yourself. The best way is with simple, soporific thoughts. You can count sheep, relive your last holiday in your head or concentrate on your breathing. This distracts your attention away from the stress of the day and thoughts which are keeping you awake, and you can relax better. Try to combat stress in your daily life to achieve better sleep in the long run. You can find helpful tips for dealing with stress in our blog article, which you can apply straight away. Be aware that there are good nights and bad nights. Relax and sleep will soon follow.
Breathing exercise for letting go
Get comfortable and close your eyes. Keep your arms loosely at your sides. Concentrate on your breathing and feel how each breath comes and goes. Place your hands on your abdomen and feel how it rises when you breathe in and falls again when you breathe out. Keep breathing gently in and out.
Now connect each breath in with the word “let” and each breath out with the word “go” – either out loud or in your thoughts. Breath in – let – breathe out – go. Let – go. Keep breathing and repeat the exercise until you feel relaxed or even fall asleep.
The right light for better sleep
Creating a good sleep environment means banishing anything from your bedroom which could disturb your sleep. Light is one of the most important things regulating our inner clock. Dim the lights at home around an hour before going to bed. Instead of using a ceiling light choose warm, indirect lighting instead.
So-called “blue light” emitted by smartphones, tablets and televisions also plays an important role. Blue light makes you feel awake because it limits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and makes your brain think that you’re still in daylight. Therefore it’s best to turn off all devices around an hour before going to bed, in order to sleep better. Many smartphones also have a night mode which filters blue light. In the morning you can turn on bright lights again or go out in the daylight to wake up your body and mind.
A good sleep environment is quiet, cool, dark and free of screens.
Stimulus control as a sleep aid
The stimulus control method has a simple goal: bedtime = sleep time. Bedtime is the time that you are lying down in bed, whereas sleep time means the amount of time that you are actually sleeping. So if you are still awake 20 minutes after going to bed, then get up, go into a different room if possible and do a relaxing activity until you are tired again. This also applies if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep again. This way your brain retains the connection “bed = a place for sleeping”. We don’t sit at the dining table if we’re not hungry, so why should you lie in bed if you’re not tired?
Sleeping better without caffeine
Caffeine is one of the most effective stimulants. It blocks the second important sleep molecule adenosine. This not only makes it more difficult to fall asleep, but also reduces the proportion of regenerative deep sleep phases. The body needs a very long time to break down caffeine, so it’s good for our sleep if we don’t eat or drink anything containing caffeine after lunch (e.g. coffee, black tea, dark chocolate). Take a considered approach with this stimulant. It helps to start small. Start one day by not drinking any more coffee after lunch. If it works, then you can slowly increase the number of days.
There is no one perfect strategy for sleeping better. Find out which tips will help you sleep best. It takes time to undo old sleep habits and form new ones. For long-lasting sleep problems it’s also advisable to seek additional advice from your doctor.
Our HelloBetter online course for insomnia also offers an in-depth exploration of how to improve your sleep. This scientifically evaluated online course provides effective strategies and helpful tips for sleeping better.
But whatever you do, remember one thing: give yourself time! Sleep will come. Relax and enjoy the journey.