30+ Hacks to Help You Sleep Better and Improve Brain Health
How important is sleep? Let statistics speak for themselves:
- 1/3 of Americans report they get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. This jumps to 43% for single parents.
- For adults age 60+, up to 48% suffer from insomnia.
- About 76% of women over the age of 40 have Nocturia, meaning they have to use the bathroom at least once a night.
Here are some major impacts from poor sleep in the US annually:
- Overall economic loss of $411+ billion
- 6,000+ fatal car crashes from drowsy driving
- Nearly 20% of all serious car crash injuries are associated with driver sleepiness
- 40% of nurses report having 12-hour shifts, reducing their sleep time and nearly tripling the risk of making errors.
The clincher: Sleep affects mental health.
About 40% of people with insomnia are potentially affected by a mental health disorder.
So yes, getting a good night’s sleep replenishes the body and mind. When we sleep better, we improve our physical and mental health.
This guide will empower you with a deep understanding about:
- The four stages of sleep
- Dreams and how they affect brain function
- How to get a good night’s rest with 33 sleep hacks
Let’s get started.
Sleep is a basic human need, yet it’s a mystery we are still working to solve. Here’s what we know so far:
Four Sleep Stages
The sleep cycle has four stages, reclassified in 2007 by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Before that, most experts referred to five stages.
Stage 1: Dozing Off
The “dozing off” stage typically lasts just one to five minutes. It’s easy to wake someone up during this initial stage. If a person isn’t disturbed, they move quickly into stage 2.
Stage 2: Subdued Sleep
The body drops in temperature, relaxes muscles, slows breathing, and lowers heart rate. Simultaneously, brain wave patterns change, and eye movements disappear.
Stage 3: Deep Sleep
This stage has the most names:
- Deep sleep
- Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS), and
- Delta Sleep, named after the brain wave pattern
The muscles in the body relax even further. Pulse and breathing rates become slower.
Here’s a fascinating tidbit that confounds scholars on sleepwalking which happens during this stage:
When people sleepwalk, they may sit up and look as though they are awake when they are actually asleep. For example, they may get up and walk around. Or they do complex activities such as moving furniture, going to the bathroom, and dressing or undressing. Some people even drive a car while they are asleep.
What’s perplexing is how the body performs complex tasks in such a relaxed state. And sleepwalkers don’t remember any of it!
During the first half of the night, we get lots of deep sleep. How does deep sleep benefit the brain?
- Recoup and recover
- Boost the immune system
- Enhance creativity, memory, and insightful thinking
Stage 4: REM Sleep
A.k.a Rapid Eye Movement. Here brain activity picks up, almost to waking levels. Conversely, the body enters “atonia” – a temporary muscle paralysis, except the eyes and thoracic muscles, which control breathing. Even though the eyes are shut, they shift rapidly, earning its name.
If you’ve ever woken up during the REM stage or gotten hardly any REM sleep, you will feel disorientated, irritable, and groggy during the day.
How Does REM Sleep Impact Brain Health?
REM sleep is essential for improving cognitive functions, including memory, learning, and creativity. It may even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. The REM stage is where vivid dreams occur. The body stops moving as if you’re seated in a theater, watching yourself on screen. Speaking of dreams…
Vivid dreaming happens during REM sleep and can incorporate visual, mental, and emotional elements.
People dream in all colors of the spectrum. Some people even dream in black and white.
Did you know the dreams of blind people tend to include more elements of sound, taste, and smell?
How Do Dreams Improve Brain Health?
Healthy dreams facilitate sharper thinking, improved cognitive function, and emotional well-being. Experts believe dreaming is either a reflection of or a contributor to quality sleep.
Here are three ways dreaming benefits the brain:
Dreaming has been associated with memory consolidation and informational recall.
The ability to engage with and rehearse feelings in different imagined scenarios may be the brain’s method for managing emotions.
Periods of dreaming could be the brain’s way of “clearing up” partial, erroneous, or unnecessary information.
Although dreams can occur in any sleep stage, they are less common and intense in the non-REM periods.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?
“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” – Banksy
On average, most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep. This is because the body needs to go through multiple sleep cycles to reap maximum benefit. The physical and mental recuperation and renewing come from stages 3 and 4.
Consider this: the first time we go through the sleep cycle, we arrive at REM after about 90 minutes. This first REM stage only lasts about 10 minutes. With each new sleep cycle, the REM period lasts longer. On the final run of an 8-hour sleep, the REM stage can last a full hour!
This is why after a great night’s rest, we wake up fresh, feeling like a million bucks!
We often hear people say, “I only need 4 to 5 hours sleep.” Sure, you can function on that. However, the Deep and REM stages are where the body and brain recuperate and rebuild. It takes 7 to 8 hours to ramp up and lengthen these recovery periods.
Failure to obtain enough of both Deep and REM sleep explains some of the profound long-term effects on emotional, physical, and mental health.
Sleep Regimen of Top Athletes
Professional athletes understand the benefits of good sleep. They treat sleep as a regimen because quality sleep propels peak performance. Winning is as much a mental as a physical challenge. Here are some notable examples:
- Michelle Wie – At least 10 hours, prefers 12
- LeBron James – 12 hours
- Kevin Durant – 8 hours
- Larry Fitzgerald – 9 hours usually,10-11 before a game
- Usain Bolt – 8-10 hours
- Rafael Nadal – 8-9 hours
“I know how important sleep is. I wanna be the best every day, and my best is getting 7 to 9 hours.” – Michael Phelps
So sleeping better plays a vital role in our overall health. Here are abundant ways to improve your sleep.
SLEEP BETTER WITH THESE 30+ SLEEP HACKS:
Track Sleeping Patterns
When performance is measured, performance improves. Track your sleep with a journal or a smartphone app. Note the following:
- What you did before bed
- What time you went to bed
- How long you slept
- Did you stay asleep through the night?
- Can you remember any dreams?
After a few days, take a look at your journal and look for consistent positive or negative patterns.
28% of people use a smartphone app to track their sleep.
Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Try to sleep as close to the same time every day as possible. If you are sleeping at a different time every night, it’s more difficult for your body to know when to shut down and go to bed. This has to do with a circadian rhythm – the body’s internal clock.
Get Sun Exposure
Direct sunlight helps with good sleep. And sunlight is a bonus for Vitamin D intake naturally! So how does sunlight help you get better sleep?
Circadian rhythm governs a wide range of bodily activities, including sleep. The rhythm is controlled by the circadian pacemaker in the brain and influenced by light exposure.
When exposed to natural light, our circadian rhythm becomes closely synchronized with sunrise and sunset. As a result, we stay awake during the day and sleep when it’s dark.
Seasoned travelers reset their circadian rhythm to avoid jet lag by walking in the sunlight when they first arrive at their destination.
Exercise in the Morning
“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Outdoor morning exercise doubles up the benefits as you:
- Get more energy flow to start the day,
- Increase the amount of melatonin released in the evening to sleep better.
“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.” – Charlotte Brontë
Stress can keep the best of us up, tossing and turning at night. Reducing stress is easier said than done, but doing so will help you sleep better. Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation are just a few examples. Speaking of meditation…
Meditation increases the level of melatonin by stimulating the pineal gland of the brain. Melatonin induces sleep.
The figure below shows various brain wave patterns. Notice the Theta wave when one is in deep meditation and during REM/dreaming state.
Theta brainwaves enhance creativity, intuition, memory, and concentration. They also facilitate healing and unlock inner wisdom from the unconscious mind, which typically lies untapped when alert. So Theta wave is hugely beneficial, and meditation can get you there.
Amazingly, planet Earth gives us an important clue about our body as it resonates at a Theta frequency (7.83 Hz), aka Schumann Resonance.
So as you can see, our body has a powerful built-in mechanism to help us heal through sound sleep. We can boost this magical power through meditation.
Employ a Deep Breathing Routine
Originating in India, pranayama is an Ayurvedic form of breathwork. Here in the West, we’ve adopted it as Box Breathing. Even the Navy SEALs practice this before a mission.
Deep breathing is also practiced in yoga with different techniques for calming, energizing, and healing the nervous system.
Box Breathing Method
- Set a timer for five minutes
- Sit with a straight spine on the floor or in a chair with your feet flat
- Close your eyes and inhale for a count of four
- Hold your breath for a count of four
- Exhale for a count of four
- Hold for a count of four
- Repeat until the timer goes off
Listen to Calming Sounds
Everyone is different. You may prefer gentle music, mellow nature sounds, white noise (electric fans), perhaps even pink noise (rustling leaves). Sounds have great effects on our mindset and mood, helping us drift off easily to sleep.
Avoid Long Daytime Naps
They say power naps are great. But napping isn’t for everyone. Generally, taking random and long naps during the day is counter-productive to healthy sleep. Some fun nap facts:
Like a buffet bar, naps come in different forms and flavors:
- Recovery naps – for sleep deprivation
- Prophylactic nap – for shift workers
- Essential nap— for accelerated healing
- Power nap— 20 – 30 minutes is ideal
Did you know that 1/3 of American adults nap?
Develop a Pre-Sleep Routine
This can be doing whatever soothes you. Some ideas include: meditating, listening to quiet music, or writing in a journal. Also, if you have a volunteer for foot massage, take that!
Enjoy a Relaxing Bath/Shower
Take a nice warm water treatment by candlelight, enhanced with soothing essential oils such as lavender, frankincense, or chamomile. Consider playing quiet music in the background to create a relaxing home-spa environment.
Get a Foot Massager (Or Volunteer to Be One)
Heard of Chinese foot reflexology? An ancient art form to send healing energy throughout the body by massaging the foot’s pressure points. Getting foot massages regularly promotes good sleep and overall health.
Wear Noise-Canceling Headphones
For light sleepers, noise could disrupt sleep. This could be due to having a thin wall, and someone left a television on too loud. Or you live in a noisy area or sleep next to a snoring significant other.
Whatever the reason, wearing noise-canceling headphones can provide you with a quiet atmosphere to fall asleep. Notice we said to “fall” asleep because the headphones fall off during the night.
Use an Eye Mask
This gives you control of the visual environment, creating a darker sleep atmosphere.
Explore Sleep Aid Gadgets
We’re not endorsing any specific device; however, an online search revealed dozens of sleep aid gadgets. So do your research and try ones that provide money-back guarantees.
Sleep in a Dark Room
A dark room helps you fall asleep faster and keep you from waking up too early. In addition, thicker window treatments will help you naturally sleep longer.
Turn Off TV
The blue light from the TV can keep your body from producing melatonin. Sounds can keep you in a lighter sleep mode, even though you may fall asleep while watching TV.
Power Off Phone
Like the TV, the phone’s blue light keeps your body from producing melatonin, thus taking longer to fall asleep. If you want to read on your smartphone, use night mode.
Sleep Pro Tip: Consider leaving all electronic gadgets outside of the sleeping quarters.
Utilize Light Therapy
This is for those who live in regions of the world with extreme sunlight exposure either way. Looking at you, Finland and Alaska. This is where light therapy comes in.
A bright lightbox can simulate natural outdoor light for certain times of the day. So, if you keep the outdoor exposure in your room limited, you can use therapy to simulate light slowly coming into your room in the mornings.
Control Room Temperature
The optimal room temperature for sleeping is 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit. However, our core body temperature hovers around 98.6 degrees, fluctuating by about 2 degrees throughout the night. This drop in temperature begins two hours before going to sleep, coinciding with the release of melatonin. Then, as the sun rises, body temperature gradually warms back up.
A cost-savings tip to lower room temperature is using a ceiling fan.
Ceiling fans create wind chill, making you feel cooler by about 8 degrees! For example, if the room temperature is 74 degrees, running the fan makes it feel like 66 degrees.
Choose the Right Mattress
Surveys show 93% of people believe a comfortable mattress is essential for a good night’s sleep. So a quality mattress matters.
Sleep on the Proper Pillow
Having the right pillow is essential, especially for those who have neck issues. Some people even take their pillows from home when they travel. Have pillow. Will travel.
Refresh Your Sheets
78% of people say they are more excited to go to bed if they have fresh-smelling sheets.
Men, take notice. Wash your sheets and pillowcases once a week because women love sleeping on fresh-smelling sheets. Maintain good sleep hygiene, and you’ll be glad you did.
Make Your Sheets Count
Invest in quality sheets. Do you prefer 1,000 thread count Egyptian cotton, or do you fancy 300 thread count Bamboo? Are you into Satin or flannel? Negotiate with your partner and pick one that makes you feel most comfortable, so you sleep better.
Avoid Alcohol Right Before Bed
Some people would argue alcohol helps them sleep. The truth is, they only think it helps them.
Sure, you can fall asleep quickly with enough alcohol, but it affects your REM sleep (your dreams). It can even cause you to have nightmares. But mainly, it can stop you from staying in a deep sleep.
Drinking 2+ servings of alcohol per day for men and 1+ serving per day for women decreases sleep quality by 39.2%
Ditch Caffeine Late in the Day
Avoid coffee, tea, or any caffeinated drinks about 6 hours before bed.
Enjoy Herbal Tea
Caffeine-free herbal tea can work wonders. Here are some excellent choices:
- Chamomile tea
- Lavender tea
- Valerian root tea
- Lemon balm tea
- Ashwagandha tea
- Passionflower tea
- Magnolia Bark tea
Eat Dinner Early
Set a regular time for dinner, ideally giving the body 3 to 4 hours for digestion before bedtime. Hence, the wisdom of “Early Bird Dinner Specials.” A tip of the hat to the Texas Roadhouse, which serves an early dinner ending at 6 pm!
Choose Healthy Foods
As an adage goes: We are what we eat. So eating some of these foods promotes good sleep. For example, almonds, walnuts, kiwis, tart cherries, malted milk, warm milk, and turkey meat.
Tip: If you have a cow, milk it at night. Because night milk contains more melatonin! 🤠🐄
Explore Natural Sleep Aids
20% of American adults tried a natural remedy for sleep problems last year.
There are a variety of sleep aids available:
- Valerian root
- John’s Wort
- California Poppy
Rule Out Depression
Did you know that around 75% of adults with depression have insomnia?
This combination is a vicious cycle that gets worse if not treated. So if you have insomnia, visit your doctor to rule this out.
Rectify Sleep Disorders Such As Sleep-Apnea
Did you know 1 out of 4 American adults between 30 and 70 have sleep apnea?
Studies reveal sleep apnea negatively affects the brain and heart. However, there are effective treatments. See a specialist to look into this.
And there you have it. We thoroughly enjoyed researching and putting together this Ultimate Guide For Better Sleep.
We hope that you understand more deeply what sleep is and why it’s so important. Now you’re empowered with plenty of sleep hacks for body and mental wellness.
“What is without periods of rest will not endure.” – Ovid, Ancient Roman Poet