Sleep

3 key ingredients for good sleep

We’ve all been there—tossing and turning, willing our tired bodies to hit the sack when it refuses shuteye. To help, we turn to sleeping pills, herbal remedies, over-the-counter sleep meds and other antidotes.

But the truth: we already have everything within ourselves to get a good night’s sleep—it’s built into our amazing mechanism as human beings.

So why then do we still struggle to get good Zzz’s?

Most, if not all, slumber problems stem from not having one or more of three key sleep ingredients in place when it’s time for bed. 

1. Feeling sleepy.

It may sound obvious, but many times we go to bed before we’re actually sleepy. And by “sleepy” I mean not just feeling tired or even exhausted, but where you actually find yourself nodding off.

And while our reasons for hitting the hay may seem sound: it’s your usual bedtime, your partner is going to sleep so you should too, or you want to get “the right” number of shuteye hours—if you’re not sleepy, you won’t sleep. 

So how can you ensure your body is ready for lights out? 

  • Establish a set wake-up time. Generally, we need to be awake about 16 hours before we’re ready for sleep (assuming we’re already well-rested). The key? Having a set wake-up time and sticking with it.

If you get up about the same time each morning, including weekends, your body will establish a regular sleep/wake cycle, and you’ll get sleepy around the same time each evening. 
It can be challenging at first, especially on the weekends, when all you want to do is stay in bed and sleep late. But your body will adjust after a few weeks—making it easier to wake up earlier (which means more time to enjoy your days off!). 

  • Stay active during the day. Engage in your life wholeheartedly. Put everything into your work, relationships and leisure activities. The more mentally and physically active you are during the day, the more tired you’ll be at night, and the easier sleepiness will come. 

2. Allowing Yourself to Relax.

Relaxing in the evening is challenging for many. Life can be stressful and demanding, so when bedtime comes, we can still be wound up, making sleep feel impossible.

Here are a few tips to get relaxed before bed:

  • Give yourself at least an hour to unwind.

This means no work or stressful activities for an hour (2-3 hours is ideal) before going to sleep. You can read or listen to a not-too-heart-pumping story (be sure to check out Calm Sleep Stories for some great bedtime fiction). Or enjoy peaceful music, do a puzzle, or make love. It can be almost anything as long as it helps you relax and decompress. 

It’s important to carve out this time for yourself. Mark it into your calendar so nothing else will take its place.

  • Move your Body.

Working out 3-6 hours before bedtime has several benefits: it decreases stress and anxiety, facilitating relaxation; if exercising outside, the natural light helps maintain a regular sleep cycle (making the desire to sleep at night stronger); and it raises and then steeply drops your body temperature, which is ideal for good sleep.

  • Take a hot bath.

If exercise isn’t an option, then a good substitute is a bath. Keep it hot and soak for 20-30 minutes, no earlier than two hours before bed. This will allow your body temperature enough time to drop for optimal sleep.

3. Listening to your sleep signals.

Many of us try to force sleep or expect it to come when we want it to. But just as our body will signal when it’s hungry, it will tell us when it needs sleep.

Unfortunately, we lose touch with this innate signal because we (unknowingly) interfere with our sleep by trying to make it come.

But your body will sleep when it’s ready. 

Learning what to do, and not do, to reset your sleep cycle and being in touch with your body’s signals are fundamental to get and maintain a strong, consistent and healthy sleep pattern.

For more details on how to achieve this and cultivate great sleep, listen to the introduction to Sleep Stories at www.calm.com and check out my story in the app.


Dr. Steve Orma is a clinical psychologist, recognized mental health expert, and specialist in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, and stress.