Written by: Lana Adler
Updated March 8, 2021
Nearly one-third of Americans don't receive the recommended minimum seven hours of sleep each night (1). Even more school-aged children and adolescents are likely sleep-deprived, with anywhere from 50% to 90% of them (2) not receiving as much sleep as they need.
Unfortunately, losing sleep affects your body in many negative ways. In adults, not receiving enough sleep is associated with heart disease, stroke, mental issues, car accidents, and death. In adolescents, sleep deprivation is associated with decreased cognitive function (3) and depression (4), among other issues.
At least some sleep deprivation results from environmental disruptions and lifestyle factors you can likely lessen the impact of or even completely control. For example, background noise (5), light exposure at night (6), and large amounts of screen time (7) tend to disrupt sleep. If you're wondering how to get better quality sleep, start by making these simple environmental and lifestyle changes.
Keep Noise and Light to Minimum
If you want to know why you can’t fall asleep fast, start by taking a look around your bedroom. Take notice of how quiet it is. Also note if the lights dim as you prepare for sleep and if the room is completely dark by the time you close your eyes.
Background noise coming from others in the household or something outdoors, such as traffic, airplanes, or people (8), seems to disrupt sleep and, as a result, overall health and quality of life. Although you can't always control the sounds around you, you can try to block them. Opt for a white noise machine to drown out background sounds or pop in earplugs if the white noise isn't enough.
Light can also disrupt sleep. Light exposure inhibits the release of melatonin, a natural hormone that makes you feel sleepy. Light exposure from overhead lights and device screens before bed can affect your ability to fall asleep, while light exposure during the night can make it harder to stay asleep. Try limiting screen time before bed, keeping your bedroom dark, and wearing an eye mask if complete darkness isn't possible.
Upgrade Your Bedroom for Sleep
Perhaps you've slept deeply at a hotel in the past and wish you could sleep like you're at a hotel from your own bedroom. You can emulate that experience by making a few bedroom sleep upgrades to prioritize your comfort and promote restorative shuteye.
The first step in designing a bedroom that promotes sleep is finding the best mattress for you. If your mattress feels uncomfortable or causes or exacerbates pain or discomfort in your body, you won't sleep as soundly. Mattresses are not one-size-fits-all. Different people have different mattress needs depending on their body weight, preferred sleep position, and sleeping habits.
The sleepwear and bedding you use can also affect your sleep quality (9) by impacting your temperature throughout the night. Becoming too warm or sweating during the night reduces sleep quality. Set your thermostat to a slightly cool temperature before bed — most people are most comfortable sleeping in temperatures lower than those they prefer during the day — and opt for bedding and pajamas that won't trap heat.
Paint Your Bedroom a Soothing Color
You can also create a soothing bedroom environment by decorating your bedroom using the best colors for sleep. You might be wondering, what exactly are those colors? Research suggests the best colors for sleep are the colors you prefer (10). In one study, people fell asleep more quickly when in a room lit in a color they like than they did in a room lit in a color they dislike.
If stress or anxiety keeps you from falling asleep at night, you might consider incorporating some pink into your sleep space. The bubblegum shade called Baker-Miller pink (11) has been shown to significantly lower anxiety.
Increase Your Physical Activity Levels
Want to sleep better? Get moving. People sleep better on days they are more physically active (12). The activity doesn't have to be strenuous, either. Even walking more and increasing your daily step count improves sleep.
That said, if you like working up a sweat, that'll help you sleep better, too. Researchers have studied a variety of types of exercise in relation to sleep (13). Everything from aerobics to strength training improves sleep. If you find that exercising too close to bedtime wakes you up and interferes with your ability to fall asleep, switch to exercising in the morning instead.
Eat for Better Sleep
How you eat impacts how well you sleep, so make sure you eat to sleep better. The timing of your meals and snacks, called chrono-nutrition (14), is more important than you may realize. When you skip breakfast or eat meals late at night, you throw off your circadian rhythm. As a result, you might have trouble falling asleep or experience sleep disruptions that you wouldn't have had otherwise.
Which foods you eat also affect how you sleep. For example, sugar impacts sleep. In children, those who drink a lot of sugary drinks (15) tend to sleep less. Obesity and sleep are also related. Though the relationship is complex, sleep deprivation seems to increase a person's chance of becoming obese (16). These ties also appear bi-directional, with obesity leading to more sleep troubles (17). Focusing on your nutrition can help prevent a spiral of increased weight gain and sleep problems.
Diffuse a Relaxing Scent
If you enjoy fragrances, a relaxing scent provides another option for improved sleep. Research shows that smelling lavender essential oil as you sleep improves sleep quality in people who have had trouble sleeping (18). Diffuse lavender throughout your room using reed sticks or an electric essential oil diffuser.
If you like plants, you can skip the essential oil and surround yourself with scents straight from the source. Living plants, or sprigs of fresh lavender and other fragrant greenery, can improve both the look and smell of your room. Explore the best plants for the bedroom and choose those you find most calming.
We know that what happens during sleep is immensely important to our mental and physical health. For this reason, making simple environmental and lifestyle changes to improve sleep is absolutely worth it. Of course, if you've tried everything and still aren't sleeping well, consider seeing a doctor. Most people can solve minor sleep troubles on their own, but some are dealing with an underlying sleep disorder.
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