The holiday season can be full of many wonderful things: extra time with people we love, the chance to give and receive, cozy dinners filled with laughter and good food, and maybe even some time off from our day-to-day responsibilities. For many of us, it also means jam-packed schedules, late nights and the lack of one very important thing… rest!
I probably don’t have to tell you that rest plays a big role in your overall well-being. It’s the fourth pillar in my 5 pillars of wellness (optimizing what you’re eating, drinking and thinking, and how you’re resting and renewing). We talk about this topic frequently here on kriscarr.com and in the Inner Circle Wellness community because so many people struggle with it.
Studies show that 35 percent of adults get less than 7 hours of sleep a night (the recommended amount for most folks is 7.5-8 hours). Because this is such a busy season, it’s a great time to share my top 10 tips for how to sleep better!
I know from personal experience how frustrating it can be to toss and turn, try everything under the sun (or moon?!) to get better sleep and STILL feel exhausted. You might even start to think something is wrong with you or that you’ll never get a good night’s rest again.
Of course, if you think there’s something medical going on, please consult with your doctor. But keep in mind that sleep troubles are common and not always your fault. Don’t make things harder by beating yourself up. That just breeds stress and you guessed it—more lost sleep.
Resting isn’t just about sleep.
While we’re focusing on sleep, please remember that there’s more to rest than snoozing. Rest should happen during our waking ours, too. What do I mean by that?
In today’s 24/7 go-go-go world, it can be tough to slow down. Many of us spend our precious waking hours feeling stressed, overwhelmed, etc. But the thing is, we can’t count on sleep for 100 percent of our rest. That simply leaves us with too many crazy, non-stop minutes per day.
Whether it’s meditation, breathwork, mindful breaks or something else entirely, find a simple practice that helps you rest when you’re awake. Doing so will help boost productivity, mood, energy, focus and can even help set you up for better sleep at night.
Need help? Grab my free Wellness Tracker! This tool will help you get honest about self-care habits like sleep and the other pillars that have the biggest impact on your overall well-being.
Why is sleep so important?
Many major restorative functions occur while we sleep. For adults, the biggies are muscle growth, protein synthesis, and tissue and cell repair. For infants and children, hormone production and brain development are key (which is why they need so much more sleep than adults).
But perhaps the most restorative function of sleep has to do with a neurotransmitter called adenosine. While we’re awake, our neurons fire and cells power us through the day, this process produces adenosine. It builds up all day long, leading to a decrease in dopamine—the neurotransmitter that keeps us alert and focused. So as adenosine goes up, dopamine goes down, resulting in that sleepy feeling you get at night.
While we sleep, we clear adenosine from the body and start fresh in the morning feeling alert (study). The more sleep you get, the lower the level of adenosine and the more alert you’ll feel in the morning.
If you want to learn more about what goes on in your brain and body at night, check out this article (fascinating stuff!). But for now, know this: If you’re cutting yourself short in the sleep department, you’re also cutting your overall well-being short. Inadequate sleep can increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disorders and health challenges. It can also negatively impact your mental health, fueling problems with substance abuse, memory, stress response and more.
How much sleep do you need?
The number of hours you should sleep depends on your age, sex, lifestyle, current health and simply how you feel. So it’s different for everyone, but usually between 7.5-8 hours does the job.
When it comes to sleep timing, the most restorative window is typically between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. because your circadian rhythm is likely at its lowest point. Your circadian rhythm is influenced by your environment—namely light. It controls many of the physical, mental and behavioral changes you experience in a 24-hour cycle, including your sleep pattern. Paying attention to your circadian rhythm and going to sleep when you feel drowsy means you’ll hit deep, restorative sleep more rapidly (National Sleep Foundation).
If these numbers make you feel a little panicked, don’t worry. Many of us have trouble getting sufficient Zzzs. That’s why I’m sharing these tips for how to sleep better—because you have more power to set yourself up for sleepy success than you might think.
How to Sleep Better: 10 Must-Have Tips for Healthy, Restorative Sleep
1. Rest in cozy comfort.
A quality mattress, soft blankets and cool temperature will reduce annoying distractions (too hot! achy back!) and help you relax. If you need help finding the perfect mattress for you, check out my guide on the comfiest, most sustainable options.
2. Turn on some soothing sounds.
Use a sound machine or a fan to drown out what may be preventing you from falling asleep within 15 minutes of laying down. Certain types of music, such as binaural beats, may also help you relax and let go of racing thoughts.
3. Doze in complete darkness.
If your room isn’t completely dark, consider a sleep mask or room darkening curtains. Darkness stimulates natural melatonin production, which is not only a wonderful sleep inducer but a great cancer fighter as well.
4. Enjoy snooze-inducing smells.
Lavender lotion or using a diffuser with lavender essential oil may help you hit deep sleep sooner. Plus, who doesn’t love the smell of lavender? Ahhh… (For more on how to use essential oils for sleep, stress, etc., check out this helpful post!)
5. Turn off tech.
Plan to put your phone and other devices away at least 1 hour before going to bed. The blue light emitted from your phone, computer, etc. can interfere with sleep by suppressing melatonin production, so consider enabling features like Night Shift (which automatically adjusts your display to a warmer, less blue light) while you’re winding down in the evening. Then, keep lights dim and read or meditate to help get your brain and body ready for sleep.
6. Skip or reduce caffeine.
Caffeine makes it harder to fall asleep, but it doesn’t stop there—it can also interfere with the quality of your rest. If you’re having trouble getting or staying asleep, stick with decaf, herbal tea or one cup of coffee early in the morning. (Have more coffee questions? Check out this post!)
7. Go easy on the alcohol.
Alcohol feels like a sedative at first because it slows down motor and brain function, often leaving us relaxed and worry-free. But as it’s metabolized, acetaldehyde is produced, which acts like a stimulant in our bodies. This is what wakes us up in the wee hours of the morning, unable to get the restorative sleep we need. So for a good night’s sleep, peel back on alcohol and drink it earlier in the evening with food (or not at all).
8. Avoid nicotine.
Nicotine is similar to caffeine in that it’s a stimulant and may cause insomnia. It can also decrease slow wave sleep, which means it’s less restorative (study). Tough love: Stop smoking—for SO many reasons, not just better sleep. (I adore you too much not to say this.)
Research shows that exercise can help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your rest, so do your best to fit in 30-45 minutes four to five times a week. (Need help making exercise a habit? Check this out!). If you’re doing more vigorous exercise, try to avoid right before bed because it might amp you up. But relaxing stretching or restorative yoga can be great ways to wind down in the evening. Do what works best for you!
10. Clear your mind.
If you’re tossing and turning after switching the lights off, you may need to hit the mental reset button. Here are a few things to try: Before going to bed, journal—get those thoughts on paper and out of your head. Listen to a guided meditation or try Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique tutorial here). If you can’t fall asleep after lying in bed for 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing for 15-30 minutes before returning to bed. (It’s best not to stay in bed frustrated because doing so can actually train your brain to see bed as an unrestful place.)
Here’s to better rest—day and night!
I hope you’re feeling motivated and empowered to prioritize rest, dear one! You have a busy, beautiful life to lead—and you need rest to squeeze every ounce of joy out of it.
Please be gentle with yourself as you explore the tips for better sleep and rest throughout the day. This is a process and every step you take (even the stuff that doesn’t work for you!) is worth your time. You’re taking care of yourself—nothing is more worthwhile than that.
And don’t forget to grab your free Wellness Tracker! It’ll help you get clear on what might be draining your energy or interfering with your sleep. It only takes a few minutes a day to use. No judgment and no restriction involved—just a loving way to take better care of yourself!
Your turn: Do you have any helpful tips for how to sleep better? Please share what works for you in the comments below!
Peace & counting (less) sheep,