How to improve sleep quality is just as important as quantity.
Sleep problems are usually related to an unhealthy lifestyle. They can thus be influenced for good or bad by other lifestyle behaviors.
Sleep quality is as important as quantity, if not more. Optimize your bedroom environment through darkness and the right temperature, don’t eat too late, minimize caffeine and alcohol, block out sounds and prepare your body for sleep by developing a set routine at bedtime.
For example, everyone will have experienced that periods of stress affect sleep quality.
However, many other factors affect our sleep quality.
Read on to learn more about some of the other factors that affect our sleep quality and benefit from some helpful, practical tips for better sleep.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to improve sleep quality: Introduction
- 2 Optimize your sleep environment
- 3 Tips to fall asleep more easily
- 4 How to improve sleep quality by sticking to a regular sleep schedule
- 5 When to find help for your sleep problems
- 6 How to improve sleep quality: Conclusion
How to improve sleep quality: Introduction
Nutrition also plays a role, and not just at bedtime. As a result, our daily eating patterns can lead to sleep problems, such as obesity.
Obesity can then, in turn, be associated with too little or too much sleep.
Too little exercise can also cause poor sleep and daytime fatigue. For example, a study shows that people who don’t exercise enough are 2 to 4 times more likely to feel tired during the day.
More exercise can help, although it is not recommended to exercise intensively just before going to bed because it makes your body and mind alert again.
Social and family situations can have a significant impact on your sleep. A partner can be a considerable influence, for better or worse.
For example, it may help to maintain good sleep hygiene and sleep at the same hour. Of course, (young) children are also sometimes a cause of limited sleep.
Parents with children who keep them awake at night can quickly become exhausted. This strain on your health, morale, and relationships cannot be underestimated.
Agreeing on a rotation can undoubtedly help both parents alternate between a (relatively) good night’s sleep.
Optimize your sleep environment
A good bedroom environment works miracles in how to improve sleep quality and depends on three factors: light, sound and temperature (losing weight also helps to sleep better at night by the way!).
Sleep in a cool room
When we sleep, our body temperature drops by about one degree Celsius. This natural phenomenon is necessary for many physiological processes.
For this reason, it is good to sleep in a cool room, and it is rarely necessary to heat the bedroom.
For the same reason, it is also better not to use too many insulating (down) blankets and not to wear too warm nightclothes.
Some studies, therefore, suggest that sleeping naked is better for your sleep.
Sleeping with the window open is also a good idea. That way, you introduce not only cold air but also fresh air. In an enclosed room, oxygen levels drop, and CO2 levels rise as we breathe.
Also, choose a good mattress. Remember that you spend a third of your life on it, so don’t skimp on the price and it’s better to opt for quality.
However, expensive does not automatically mean better. So get advice, for example, in a store that works with sleep experts.
The darker, the better
The best bedrooms are the darkest. That’s because any light source can negatively affect melatonin formation and, unknowingly, reduce sleep quality.
So make it as dark as possible: make sure you have curtains that don’t let light through.
In addition, it’s also best to remove all light sources (tablets, TVs…) from the room. Of course, you also don’t need a smartphone to sleep well.
When you go to sleep, it’s not a good idea to quickly bathe in a sea of cold, white light. Therefore, use amber lamps, which are available almost everywhere these days.
Luminous clocks should also be avoided, even though they are usually only a weak light source. If you can’t manage to completely darken the room, you can also opt for a blackout eye mask.
Room darkening is in itself a simple procedure, and there is plenty of evidence that it has a beneficial effect on our health.
Just as darkness is vital for sleep, so is exposure to light when we get up. Ideally, that’s the natural morning light.
For this reason, it is excellent to spend some time in the natural outdoor light in the morning, for example, by doing yoga exercises or meditating. Or you can start the day with a morning walk.
Find what works for you to block out unwanted noise
A room where it is quiet is obviously preferable. Silence has unfortunately become a luxury item in our society, so many people have to live and sleep in noisy environments.
Given the importance of sleep and how to improve sleep quality, it is recommended that you choose a quiet place and, if necessary, modify or remodel it so that you can sleep undisturbed.
It may sometimes be necessary to provide additional insulation. If that is not possible or not enough, earplugs may be a solution.
In that case, don’t be too skimpy and go for custom-made earplugs. Though these are more expensive, they do a much better job blocking out the noise.
The degree to which a sound is perceived as disturbing is primarily a subjective matter of perception and doesn’t depend only on its loudness and nature of sound.
If you grew up near a railroad, the passing of a train might not keep you from sleeping.
However, moving to a new place next to a busy intersection, for example, might cause you trouble at first since our brains filter sounds we are accustomed to.
A loud but constant stimulus (such as the sound of crickets on a balmy summer evening) is often much less disruptive than less predictable background noise.
Ensuring a quiet place to sleep is not only your responsibility; the government also has an important role to play in this.
Those less fortunate are often affected by (night) noise because their housing is in a noisy neighborhood or is not correctly (sound) insulated.
Tips to fall asleep more easily
Many people have problems falling asleep or sleeping through the night.
In that case, it may help to try the following tips before you go to bed to to explain how to improve sleep quality.
Don’t consume food, caffeine, and alcohol late at night
Caffeine is a pretty harmless stimulant that has numerous beneficial health effects. Still, it does belong to the group of stimuli that suppress signs of fatigue.
During the day, this is often welcome, but before you go to sleep, of course, it certainly isn’t.
Caffeine lingers in your system for a long time, its effect halving every 6 hours.
Suppose you drink a cup of coffee at 4 p.m. In that case, you will still have the caffeine from half a cup of coffee in your blood at 10 p.m. and still have a quarter of a cup at 4 a.m.
For this reason, it is not recommended to drink coffee after noon. However, decaffeinated coffee or tea without theine may be good alternatives.
Many people use alcohol as a nightcap. This can have a relaxing effect as a ritual, and you may even fall asleep faster.
Still, it’s not a good idea to drink alcohol before bed. While alcohol gives you the subjective feeling of sleeping better, it can also interfere with sleep quality.
Eating a copious meal shortly before bedtime is not good either. You may fall asleep easier, as you do with alcohol, but it undermines sleep quality.
A power nap in the afternoon can work wonders
If you really need that cup of caffeine in the afternoon, why not try a power nap instead?
A short afternoon nap helps you overcome your natural dip, making you more alert and productive.
Many progressive companies have embraced this and allow their employees to sleep for twenty minutes or so after midday.
Unfortunately, we still have to eliminate some cultural prejudices, such as the notion that power naps are rooted in laziness.
It also doesn’t help that countries with a siesta culture are phasing out their midday rest rather than generalizing it.
Introduce a period of relaxation as your bedtime approaches
After an (often) busy day, few people can just catch up on sleep. Often a transition time is needed to prepare for our sleep.
A period, ranging from a few minutes to an hour or more, in which you create the peace and relaxation necessary for a good night’s sleep.
It is crucial to create the right atmosphere for this by dimming the light in your living space well before bedtime.
If possible, adjust the colors so that there are fewer colors from the UV side of the color spectrum (blue, indigo, violet).
The easiest way is to turn off the strong lights you need during the day and use one or more floor lamps with an amber bulb.
Today, there are a lot of sophisticated lighting systems where you can customize all the lights in your home.
This can be done manually, but setting it up automatically with your computer or smartphone is even better.
Your indoor lighting follows the same pattern as the daylight outside. It automatically signals your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.
A good rule of thumb is to stop using screens an hour before bedtime. So no TV, no computer, tablet, or smartphone.
These create unwanted light that confuses our brains, but they also create arousal, a state of arousal where it is even harder to fall asleep.
If that’s just not feasible for you, modern electronic devices have night light features that dial down the so-called blue emitted from the screen and use a softer yellowish light that is easier on the eyes.
Before bed, do something that relaxes you: go for a walk (with or without a partner, friend, or dog), read a book (but not on a tablet that emits blue light), or listen to music.
Meditating, praying, chanting and gentle yoga exercises are also excellent ways to prepare for sleep. It is no coincidence that they have been part of the daily routine in many cultures for centuries.
Being with others can also be excellent, provided it does not create too much excitement.
Bringing up family problems, discussing money matters, and having political discussions are all things that are best avoided just before bedtime.
Write down what you’re grateful for
A good activity that promotes sleep and encourages overall well-being, and can reduce symptoms of chronic conditions is filling out a gratitude journal.
The principle is that you write down some things you are grateful for. These need not be special or spectacular things.
Most importantly, become aware of the positive things we all experience in our lives but are not always aware of.
Taking a moment to reflect on this makes us happier and healthier, and this will makes you go to bed feeling positive and grateful.
Thinking about things you are grateful for is a good start, but actually, the effect is much stronger if you actually start writing it down.
Some tips for completing a gratitude journal:
- Writing something down in a gratitude journal once or twice a week proves more effective than writing something every day.
- Above all, think about what you would miss if you did not have certain blessings. What would you miss if certain people were not in your life?
- Enjoy things you didn’t expect and the pleasant surprises you experienced. Unexpected things make you extra grateful.
- Focus mainly on people you are grateful to. This appears to have a stronger effect than being grateful for things.
- Don’t superficially just sum up things, but rather limit yourself to a few things and then go into more detail about them.
- Start with the intention of being happy and grateful.
How to improve sleep quality by sticking to a regular sleep schedule
Try to develop a set routine at bedtime. Central to this is the hour you go to sleep. Provide a set time to go to sleep.
It’s tempting to stray from this, but know that going to bed too late is one of the leading causes of disturbed sleep.
Anyway, avoid sacrificing sleep for work and study. This does not work and, worse, is counterproductive.
Try to keep the sleep hour even on weekends and vacations.
In the beginning, it may help to set an alarm clock so you get a signal when it’s bedtime.
After a while, you’ll find that the routine automatically makes your body a perfectly tuned clock that tells you when to go to sleep.
A set hour of going to sleep also suggests a set hour of getting up. For most people, that’s after 7 to 9 hours of sleep, but it depends from person to person.
Our bodies are remarkably resilient when it comes to sleep. A bad night will not kill you.
But you should not abuse this flexibility to commit predatory behavior by systematically adding night hours to your standard day.
Ideally, you go to sleep at sunset and wake up at sunrise.
Unfortunately, this is almost impossible to achieve in our current society. Still, it is preferable to deviate as little as possible from the natural rhythm indicated by the sun.
As we age, we automatically need less sleep. Going to bed too early can therefore be problematic.
This is what residents in many residential care facilities experience when put to bed extra early for organizational reasons. They then understandably cannot sleep.
For a time, attempts were made to artificially solve this problem with sleep medication.
Fortunately, just about all institutions and doctors are now aware that giving sleeping pills is not the right solution. Instead, the focus should be on the wishes of the nursing home residents themselves.
Yes, some people exceptionally need little sleep, but that is only a minority.
Many people think they need less sleep than average until they are tested and found that their performance does suffer.
Extra sleep may also be needed during illness and recovery. In that case, it’s essential to listen to your body’s signals.
This essentially comes down to sleeping it off so that your body and mind can optimally put to work the self-healing mechanisms that we all naturally have within us.
When to find help for your sleep problems
If you feel that everything you are doing is not getting you anywhere, seek professional help. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is too debilitating to do nothing about.
However, be cautious about simply accepting a suggestion of sleep medication, as it will not provide a solution in the long term.
In such a case, consider getting checked out at a specialized sleep center first.
After an overnight stay in a sleep lab, it is often possible to identify the exact cause of the sleep problem, making a customized solution more likely.
How to improve sleep quality: Conclusion
A lack of sleep or low-quality sleep can have severe side effects on our health. Therefore, it is essential to address how to improve sleep quality, tackle potential sleep problems and optimize our lives for better sleep.
This starts with our sleep environment, which should be as dark and quiet as possible, and cool rather than warm.
As our bedtime approaches, it helps to abstain from consuming food, alcohol, or caffeine. The more time passes between your last meal, alcoholic drink, or coffee, the better your sleep quality.
If the afternoon slump hits you and you want to avoid another coffee so late in the day, try a short power nap to give you an extra boost. If your work environment allows for it, of course.
It also helps to adhere to a regular sleep schedule. This means getting the same adequate amount of sleep every night, and going to bed and waking at about the same time every day.
Finally, if none of these tips on how to improve sleep quality are helping you, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Sleep problems are to be taken seriously and not swept under the rug!