10 science-backed fixes for your sleep problems
For something so essential, getting to sleep (and staying asleep) can feel ludicrously hard.
It can feel like you’re the only person in the world suffering, but a lot of the issues that stop us from sleeping are actually pretty common.
Your drive to sleep can be built up with good habits and depleted with poor ones.
So let’s take a look at what’s keeping you awake and what science says you should do about it.
1. You’re worried about sleep
Worrying about whether you’ll fall asleep (or you won’t get enough sleep, or enough deep sleep…) activates your stress response, which unfortunately makes it much harder to drift off.
So how can you stop the sleep anxiety spiral? We’ll take you in depth in this blog, but here are some quick tips to get you started:
- Trust your body. Sleep is a bodily process that cannot be forced, so only go to bed when you’re feeling tired.
- Remind yourself it’s not the end of the world. You have survived insomnia before and you will be able to again.
- Try our Power Sleep with Chris Hemsworth series, which features audios that target sleep anxiety.
2. Your bedroom is too hot
Research tells us that the most comfortable night’s sleep happens at around 65ºF or 18ºC. Turning the temperature down at night can also help signal to your body that it’s time to go to bed.
Finding your best sleep ever could be as easy as opening a window or switching on a fan.
Feeling sleepy yet, lads?
3. Revenge bedtime procrastination
This phenomenon may have a fancy name, but it’s really just old-fashioned self-sabotage: you’re trying to scrape back some time for yourself after a busy day, yet all you’re really doing is losing out on sleep.
Instead of scrolling through your social feed or staying up to watch “just one more episode”, try picking up a book. While procrastination isn’t new, bedtime procrastination has become widespread with the advent of smartphones.
Switching to a physical book to unwind after a long day will cut out the blue light that messes with sleep, while reading naturally helps you to drift off.
Clutter is a known stressor and sleep deterrent.
Switch your wine glass for a water bottle to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.
4. Your nightly wine
Convinced a glass of wine helps you sleep better? Alcohol knocks you out quickly, but just 2 drinks (for a man) or 1 drink (for a woman) can decrease sleep quality by 24 percent. That’s because alcohol makes your liver work when it should be resting, disrupts your cardiovascular system and suppresses REM sleep cycles.
If there is no way you are going to give up your nightcap, at least try not to go to bed tipsy or drunk. Stopping drinking at least 4 hours before bed will limit sleep disturbance.
5. Hidden caffeine
Most of us already know that it’s best to avoid an afternoon coffee or energy drink so we’re not still buzzing at bedtime. But that’s not the only place caffeine – which increases activity in your brain and nervous system – is hiding out.
It’s also found in significant amounts in tea, chocolate, sodas (even non-cola varieties) and some protein bars and ice creams. So check the ingredients label before you tuck into an evening snack.
Light is nature’s alarm clock. Switch it off before bed.
6. Your eyes think it’s daytime
You know how the sunlight wakes you up in the morning? Light can also keep you up at night.
Darkness is required for our bodies to produce the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, so dim your lights an hour or so before bed. If light leaks into your bedroom, try black out shades, wearing an eye mask or ditching your glowing alarm clock.
7. You don’t have a sleep routine
You can’t just jump from a brain-stimulating activity into bed and expect sleep to arrive immediately.
Falling asleep is a process that begins before you get into bed. Think about how you can set up a calming, tech-free routine that starts at least 20 minutes before you plan to hop under the covers.
Try a gentle yoga session with Tahl, make yourself a herbal tea (caffeine free), or make your skincare routine the first step of your sleep routine.
Shh… don’t wake Elsa and Tahl, we just got them down.
8. You’ve ruined your ‘sleep drive’
Sleep drive is the pressure to sleep that builds up in our bodies during waking hours. Just like your motivation to work out, your drive to sleep can be built up with good habits and depleted with poor ones. If you often find yourself lying in bed unable to sleep, or don’t get tired until the early hours, this could be why.
So what are the good habits that can help to maintain your sleep drive?
- Don’t oversleep on the weekends. Aim to keep the same wake time as your weekdays.
- Don’t take naps during the day.
- Incorporate moderate to vigorous exercise into your day. (Your Planner is ready with workouts when you are!)
- Only go to bed when you’re tired.
Awake at 3am? Try the SOS return to sleep meditation from the Power Sleep series with Chris Hemsworth.
9. You wake up in the night
It’s not unusual to wake up in the middle of the night and then struggle to get back to sleep. It may be because you need to pee, you had a bad dream, you heard a noise, or for no obvious reason at all. Then you make the mistake of checking the time on your phone and 30 minutes later you’re still scrolling…
Attitude is everything when it comes to getting back to sleep. Our sleep-expert backed audio SOS return to sleep, narrated by Chris Hemsworth, uses a number of mindfulness techniques to help you drift off.
Here are some more tips for reducing the anxiety that can keep you up when you wake at night:
- Don’t judge yourself. It’s normal to wake up at night, it doesn’t mean you’re a ‘bad sleeper’.
- Don’t look at the clock (it creates time anxiety).
- Think like a good sleeper. If a good sleeper wakes up at 3am, they think “Great! I still have 3 hours until I have to get up.”
- Remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world – you’ve survived a night of interrupted sleep before, and you will this time, too.
If you are waking up frequently to pee, or you wake feeling winded or out of breath, please make an appointment to see a doctor as these issues can indicate more serious health problems.
10. Your night brain is confused
Not much different to your day brain, are we right? Jokes aside, your brain needs to link your bed with sleep.
So try not to spend time in bed awake, whether it’s at night or a morning lie-in. If you’re struggling to fall asleep and a visualization hasn’t worked, get out of bed – you don’t want your brain to associate your bed as a place of struggle.
Laying in bed tossing and turning can lead to sleep anxiety (“Why can’t I sleep?”), causing a stress response which will keep you up for even longer.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have experienced sleep issues for three months or more, are facing excessive drowsiness that causes safety concerns, frequently snore loudly, or have been observed having difficulty breathing during sleep, please seek qualified medical advice. For a list of registered healthcare providers worldwide specializing in behavioral sleep medicine, please visit The Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
Sign up to unlock your full potential
All your tools in one place
Expert-training to fuel your fitness, nutrition and mindfulness.
Limitless ways to fuel your mind & body
Access to over 3,000 workouts, recipes, and meditations – all tailored to your goals.
Tech that keeps you moving
Download Centr on all your devices to level up and track your results live.