Dear Lifehacker, I'm a terribly restless sleeper, and when I wake up, I'm often not well rested at all. Is there anything I can do to stay comfortable and sleep soundly through the night? Sincerely, Light Sleeper
Dear Light Sleeper,
A lot of people have a hard time sleeping through the night, and many of them find part of the problem is that they toss and turn and just generally can't get comfortable. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to address the problem, up to and including seeing a sleep expert, which we'll get to later. Here are a few things to get you started on the road to a more peaceful night's sleep.
Upgrade Your Bed for Comfort
If you're having a problem sleeping, the first place to look for problems is your bed. How old is your mattress? How about your sheets? When's the last time you replaced your pillow? Part of your discomfort may just come from a bad mattress or uncomfortable sheets and blankets. Let's look at your bed piece-by-piece. Photo by Tifonimages (Shutterstock).
- Your mattress: It might be time to shop for a new mattress, or at least head to the mattress store and try out a few to see if you can find one that's more comfortable. Some mattress stores have test mattresses that you can lay down on that will help you determine whether you need a firmer or softer one.
- Your pillows: If you haven't replaced your pillow in a few years, you might consider doing so, for comfort if not cleanliness. Not all pillows are alike, so here are some tips to pick a good pillow based on your sleeping style.
- Your sheets: When it comes to sheets, don't get caught up in thread count. It's one indicator of quality, but not the only one. Check out these tips from Real Simple and these suggestions from Suite 101 to make sure you pick up sheets that are best for your personal comfort.
Try giving your bed a makeover to see if that helps your restless nights. Sheets and pillows are relatively cheap, so definitely go that route before replacing your mattress, but your bed and bedspread could make all the difference.
Tweak the Temperature
If the problem with your sleep is that you're too hot or too cold, it might be time to adjust the ambient temperature in your bedroom a bit. In general, a room temperature between 15C and 20C is optimal sleeping temperature.
If the problem is that you need to warm up a bit, a few extra blankets will usually do the trick, or an electric heater near (but not too close!) the bed with a timer that shuts off after you've fallen asleep. That way the room is comfortable when you fall asleep, but once you're out, it stops draining energy. Photo by joelk75.
Upgrade Your Routine for Solid Sleeping
Getting to sleep is one thing, but staying asleep is a different problem. If you're having trouble sleeping through the night, it's possible that your days just aren't set up to help you sleep. Here a re a few simple things you can do to make sure your routine is conducive to a good, solid night's sleep:
- Get some exercise: The National Sleep Foundation says that working out in the morning will actually help you sleep deeper and fall asleep faster at night, upping the chances you'll sleep through the night.
- Take breaks during the day: Taking breaks during the day can help you reduce your overall stress level, which in turn will make it easier for you to shut off your brain, fall asleep at night, and stay asleep through the night.
- Ditch the electronics: We've mentioned this before, but banning the electronics from your bedroom and making it a real restful retreat will definitely help you get more restul, sound sleep. Leave your phone to charge in the living room, keep the TV off, and just relax. Keeping the screens off and away from the bed will keep you from looking at them before you go to sleep, and keep you from being tempted to use them if you wake up during the night.
- Don't forget the basics: Go to bed at the same time every night, try to minimise the amount of light in your bedroom with thick curtains and blinds, avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages right before bed, and try not to eat right before bed to avoid indigestion that might wake you up later in the night.
- Reboot your sleep cycle entirely: Check out our comprehensive guide to transform your dysfunctional relationship with sleep to a positive, healthy one. Some of the tips we've mentioned here are there as well, but it's worth a look for more detail.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, try to focus on going back to sleep or visualising where your dream left off. Avoid the temptation to get up and check your email or turn on the light — just try to relax completely, keep your eyes closed and go back to sleep. If that doesn't work, or you're waking up close to the time you would get up anyway, you may want to just get up and begin the day, and go back to bed at your regular time that evening. With luck, you'll be a bit more tired and able to sleep more deeply.
Track Your Sleep Cycles with Technology
We've discussed several great ways to track your sleep habits with wristbands and other appliances you can wear at night. Our own Adam Dachis went through a few gadgets, all of which promised to help him find a better night's sleep, and even if you don't have the dough to spend on a wristband that monitors your pulse and how often you toss and turn, you can find free mobile apps to help instead.
See a Sleep Specialist
If all else fails and you just can't sleep through the night, or even sleep peacefully, you should check with your doctor and see a sleep specialist. Your issues may not be a matter of comfort or position — you could have a medical issue that can be treated. Your doctor may prescribe something that can help you fall and stay asleep through the night, or they may refer you to a testing centre where you can be monitored while you sleep to see if you have sleep apnea or another condition that keeps you from sleeping soundly through the night. Either way, the only way you'll know for sure is if you talk to an expert. Photo by Eric Schmuttenmaer.
Most of the changes we've suggested here are pretty easy to make, and even if you're not having trouble sleeping through the night or falling asleep, they'll result in a more restful, comfortable night's rest. Here's hoping they help you out, Light Sleeper, and good luck!
PS Do you have any other suggestions for Light Sleeper? Have you been in a situation where you could fall asleep but just couldn't stay asleep? How did you fix it? Let us know in the comments below.
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