Most of us would feel happier and live healthier if we got better sleep on a regular basis. We end up intentionally staying up late, checking work emails or finishing a captivating TV show, or we struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep, tossing and turning most of the night.
Then, when we wake up, we’re faced with the effects of short-term sleep deprivation. Over time, those effects grow worse, compounding into long-term health risks like obesity, heart disease, depression, and even susceptibility to illness.
There are many ways to improve the quality of your sleep, but let’s face it: some of them simply aren’t pleasant. For example, one common strategy involves giving up caffeine altogether, avoiding coffee and tea, since caffeine is a stimulating substance that can play a role in keeping you up at night. But if you’re the type of person who thrives on caffeine, this might as well be a death sentence.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other reasonable strategies to choose from.
Modulate Your Caffeine Intake
For starters, you don’t have to give up your caffeine addiction, but there are some subtle changes you can make to prevent your caffeine from negatively affecting the quality of your sleep. For example, you can sequester your caffeine drinking to a certain time of day, like before 6 pm. With a firm cutoff, the caffeine in your system should have plenty of time to work its way out by the time you go to bed. You can also substitute a different source of caffeine; for example, switching from a high-intensity energy drink to green tea could help you get your caffeine fix without projecting you into jittery territory.
Improve Your Bed
Lots of people who struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep throughout the night have only their bed to blame. Over time, even the best mattresses will suffer wear and tear, diminishing in support and comfort, and in some cases becoming unhygienic. And if you started with a low-quality mattress in the first place, you might have been stuck with low-quality sleep for years.
The intuitive choice is to invest in a new mattress—the highest quality you can afford. However, you may not have the budget to invest in a pricey mattress, and your mattress may not be completely useless yet. Instead, you could invest in a gel memory foam mattress topper; this is a layer of supportive material that goes over your existing mattress, giving you extra comfort and support without necessitating the purchase of a full mattress. It can easily help you get a few more years out of your existing mattress.
Lower the Temperature
Did you know that most people sleep better in cooler conditions? If you’ve never tried it, consider lowering the temperature of your room, or cooling yourself as you sleep. If it’s an option, turn down the heater or crank the air conditioning (depending on the season). If these options aren’t available to you, sometimes a fan and a cool shower before bed can be all it takes to help you sleep more peacefully.
Get a White Noise Machine
Are you easily disturbed by random sounds from outside, or by snoring from your partner? Or do you find it nearly impossible to sleep in complete silence? You might stand to benefit from a white noise machine, which will broadcast a steady stream of innocuous sounds, filling the silence and covering up whatever interrupting sounds you deal with throughout the night. They aren’t helpful for everyone, but they’re worth a try if you struggle with quality sleep consistently.
Get on a Strict Schedule
Our bodies run like clockwork, and they function much better when they’re on a strict schedule. If you go to bed at exactly the same time every day, and wake up at exactly the same time, eventually, you’ll “get used to it.” Your circadian rhythms will acclimate to this pattern, and you’ll find it much easier to get to sleep quickly and stay asleep until it’s time to wake up. You’ll also feel better-rested when you do wake up. The hard part is getting started, but if you’re committed to getting better sleep, this is a sacrifice you should be willing to make.
Don’t underestimate the value that better sleep can bring to your life. While it can be hard to make some sacrifices, like relegating your caffeine consumption to the morning and afternoon, or forcing yourself to go on a strict sleep schedule (even on weekends), the end result will be a better mood, cognitive clarity, and a sharply reduced risk for dozens of health complications.
You owe it to yourself to make a positive change.