How to Sleep Better

How many days in a week do you wake up feeling your best and charged up to face the world? Every day? Only after a weekend? Rarely? Well, if you chose the last two, this article is for you.

You don’t have to spend sleepless nights (pun intended) to figure out how to sleep better. Nor do you have to knock yourself out with sleeping pills. The answer lies within your own body.

How Well Are You Sleeping Now?

But first, to know how to sleep better, assess the quality of your sleep now, through the following parameters.

  • How long should you stay asleep? Anywhere from 6.5 to 9 hours. Find your own sweet spot.
  • How long should it take for you to fall asleep? No more than 30 minutes and no less than 15
  • How long should you spend sleeping when in bed? Around 85–90% of your time on bed
  • How many times should you wake up in the night? No more than once
  • How long should you stay awake after initially sleeping? No more than 20 minutes

Now that you know what your exact troubles are, you can improve your sleep in just 2 steps.

1. Sync With Your Body’s Natural Rhythms

If you were to discuss your sleep problems with a friend, probably the first question you would be asked is how many hours of sleep do you get? Thanks to popular media, we have come to understand that sleeping better means sleeping long hours – at least 8 a night. But that’s not true.

Not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep; some can do fine with 6.5, while some may even need 9. You are sleeping fine if you wake up alert, refreshed, and ready for the day and continue with the same level of energy and motivation through the day.

All other factors like how long it takes you to fall asleep or how many times you wake up in a single night should be uniform across body types, but how long you need to sleep depends on your body. To arrive at the right number – unbiased by factors like stress, tiredness, or your mood – you need to sync with your natural rhythms of sleep duration and timing.

  • The rhythm of sleep duration is maintained by a system called the sleep wake homeostasis. It maintains the balance between your sleep and wakefulness. When you’ve been awake for too long, it creates a pressure on you to sleep, and vice versa.

To make the most of your sleep-wake homeostasis, sleep in a consistent manner. Don’t pull an all-nighter one day and sleep away all of the following day.

  • The rhythm of sleep timing depends on your biological clock (circadian rhythm) that takes its cue from natural light and darkness. Certain times of the day are better suited for sleep and waking – for instance, many people feel naturally sleepy around 10 pm since the body starts secreting the sleep hormone melatonin around 9. They also wake up around 6 am when the melatonin levels start dipping. This explains why you stay awake during the day and feel sleepy at night.

If this statement doesn’t ring true for you (perhaps you feel sleepy much later or much earlier), it’s because your biological clock has been reset by your routine and exposure to artificial light.

To get your body clock working as it was meant to, sleep at a fixed time every day (ideally 10) for a few days and you will find that you can wake up without an alarm clock.

2. Practice the Right Kind of Sleep Hygiene

As you fix up a bedtime, complement it with good sleep hygiene. You already know some of these.

  • Stay off electronic devices: The blue light from electronic screens hinders the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Stay away from electronic devices for at least an hour before bed.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool: Sleep onset requires darkness and a low temperature. Prep your bedroom in advance, adjusting the temperature and humidity. Need we also mention that your bedroom should be used exclusively for sex and sleep?

Some sleep hygiene practices, however, depend on your metabolic personality – the defining factor behind your body’s tendencies including your sleep pattern. Clearly, you would need different routines to stay asleep and to not oversleep. Let’s find out what you need to do to sleep better, one sleep problem at a time.

Delayed and Interrupted Sleep? Calm Down

If you are among those who can be easily labeled anxious, restless, and fidgety, your problem is falling asleep (sleep onset latency) and staying asleep (sleep fragmentation). Your restless energy spills into your sleep as well, frequently waking you up and giving you vivid dreams.

Chances are, your metabolic personality is predominantly light and quick. Observe closely and you may notice similar erratic patterns in other areas of your health.

What you need is a grounding evening routine that will help you settle down to a calm, heavy, and dull state that’s conducive for sleep.

  • Avoid stimulating activities in the evening. Don’t read or watch anything that can excite you. Try journaling instead. It could help you channel your thoughts, find solutions, and calm your busy mind.
  • Eat an early, moderately big, well-cooked dinner comprising sweet, salty, sour, and oily foods. If you are cooking dinner, rather than innovating, follow an easy recipe. The idea is to not overwork your already active mind. Have foods like brown rice, oats, almonds, bananas, and tart cherry juice, which are known to boost melatonin in your body.
  • Use spices and herbs like cardamom, cinnamon, dill, ashwagandha, jatamanasi, nutmeg, and valerian.
  • Massage your head and feet with warm sesame oil, brush your teeth, and moisturize your skin. These activities when done consistently for several days become part of your sleep routine. As soon as you start one activity, your brain starts preparing for sleep.
  • Take a longish warm bath to relax and lull your senses.
  • Drink warm milk or almond milk before bed.
  • Since your mind tends to wander a lot, meditate. You can try chanting a mantra slowly and bring you mind back to it every time it wanders. You could also listen to relaxing music or repetitive nature sounds.
  • Get into bed by 9:30 pm so that you can fall asleep by 10.
  • Wake up at 6 am. Waking up later than this makes you sluggish and dull.

Oversleeping? Get Active

People with a slow and steady metabolic personality need longer hours of sleep than others. If you are generally calm, composed, heavy, and slow in all your actions, it’s likely that your sleep will have similar qualities.

But if you’ve been overshooting your usual hours and waking up tired on top of it, it is an anomaly. It could indicate that you are not expending your energy right or that your biological clock is malfunctioning.

The way to fix both would be to get yourself a routine that keeps you active and alert. Rather than settling down comfortably with a cuppa, you should make an effort to stay active, both physically and mentally, especially from 6 to 10 in the morning. The idea is to start the day on full steam.

  • Keep yourself active in the early part of the evening (not after 7 pm). Try high-intensity workouts, brisk walks, and running – anything that gets your heart pumping and relieves stiffness. Activity increases the levels of a chemical called adenosine in certain areas of your brain. High levels of adenosine can make you sleepy. Exercise also helps tackle depression, which is common in people with this type of imbalance.
  • Have an early dinner no later than 8 pm so that you get enough time to digest the food.
  • Eat small portions comprising bitter (raw veggies), astringent (chickpeas), and pungent (onion) foods. You don’t typically need sleep-friendly foods.
  • Add balancing spices and herbs like cardamom, cinnamon, dill, jatamanasi, lemongrass, nutmeg, and shankhapushpi.
  • Drink ginger tea to stoke your digestive fire. The faster you digest, the better you’ll sleep.
  • A slow and steady mind is naturally calm and unruffled. You don’t need calming exercises. You can go for a walk before you hit the bed and perform deep breathing.
  • Massage your feet with mustard oil, brush your teeth, and moisturize your skin. These activities when followed consistently signal to your brain that you are ready for sleep.
  • Get into bed around 10:30 pm. Avoid sleeping in the 6–10 pm slot.
  • Wake up around 5 am. This hour of transition from darkness to light can reset your biological clock and wake you up fully.

We know what you’re thinking. Yes, it’s tough, but don’t wait for tomorrow. Hit the ground running!

Delayed and Scanty Sleep? Cool Down

If you have lain awake, problem solving or planning for the following day, or woken up early next morning, unable to go back to sleep, the tips below are for you.

It’s highly likely that you have an intense metabolic personality that keeps you driven, focused, and on the go all day … and night. Not even sleep can entirely relax the tautness of your body and mind. It shows up in your vivid dreams and the subconscious urge to wake up. You may not realize it yet, but you’re heading for a crash.

What you need right now is a routine that helps you cool down and relax.

  • Reserve the evening for unwinding activities. Read light books, paint, watch something relaxing, or take a few laps in the pool. Whatever you do, don’t treat it as a project that must be completed before you retire for the night.
  • If you need to plan for the next day, do it in the early evening.
  • Eat an early but moderately heavy dinner. You digest easily and might be woken up by hunger.
  • A veggie diet in the evening can keep you cooler. Choose sweet cooling fruits (apples, apricots, melons, and pomegranates) and sweet (beets) as well as bitter vegetables (artichokes and celery). Think soups and salads.
  • Use herbs like chamomile, jatamanasi, passion flower, shankhapushpi, and skullcap.
  • Massage your head and feet with olive oil, brush your teeth, and moisturize your skin. You are preparing your brain to recognize a bedtime routine.
  • Take a cold bath before bed.
  • Drink a soothing chamomile tea.
  • Keep the room temperature low. You would probably wake up bathed in sweat in the middle of the night if you don’t.
  • Meditate and practice deep breathing before sleeping. You could also listen to instrumental music or nature sounds to relax. Switch them off before you sleep.
  • Get into bed before 10 pm. If you shoot past 10, you will probably take up a new task and further delay sleep.
  • Wake up at 5:30 am in the morning. Spend some quiet time with yourself before you start working out.

Seek Help from Your Healthcare Provider for Severe Sleep Problems

If you notice severe symptoms of sleeplessness or oversleeping despite a healthy routine, seek help from your healthcare provider. Sometimes, these may indicate an underlying health condition like:

  • Restless leg syndrome
    • It causes itching, pins and needles, or a crawling sensation in the legs.
    • It is more common in people with a light and quick metabolic personality.
    • Besides conventional medicine, ashwagandha and amalaki could help.
  • Diabetes
    • The patient wakes up frequently at night to pass urine.
    • It is more common in people of the slow and steady metabolic personality .
    • In the early stages, diabetes can be managed with diet and lifestyle modification.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
    • It causes obstructed breathing leading to lack of oxygen and chronic fatigue.
    • It is common in people of the light and quick metabolic personality.
    • It is caused by adenoids, enlarged tonsils, a deviated nasal septum, or age-related loosening of throat muscles.
    • Besides conventional medicine, breathing aids, or surgery, metabolism-boosting herbal remedies like pippali, musta, and triphala in combination with yoga and exercise could help.
  • Narcolepsy
    • It is a serious though rare condition where one could drop off to sleep anytime anywhere, hallucinate, and experience sleep paralysis and cataplexy.
    • Conventional medicine has no cure.
    • Take frequent naps, consume more vitamin B12, D, and omega-3 fats, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
    • Nerve-strengthening herbs like brahmi, kapikachhu, and devadaru, and herbal formulations like yogaraj guggulu may help.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
    • It is common in women of slow and steady and intense metabolic personalities.
    • Some PCOS symptoms like hot flashes can be managed with herbs like licorice and maca root.
    • Shatavari and pippali can be used for other PCOS or menopause-related symptoms.

Needless to say, at this stage, none of the herbs or herbal combinations should be tried without consulting an expert herbalist or ayurvedic practitioner.