10 Tips for Better Sleep, from Matthew Walker, Ph.D.

Can you remember the last time you enjoyed sleep so deep and restorative, you practically floated out of bed the next morning? If you’re like most of us, it’s been a while.

The truth — few of us get the sleep quality we need to be the best version of ourselves.
(In fact,  the CDC reports that 1 in 3 struggle to sleep enough.)

So if you’re struggling with poor sleep, know that you’re not alone.

Here are 10 tips from our Chief Sleep Advisor, Matthew Walker, to help you enjoy deep, restorative sleep tonight.

Collapsible content

1. Be consistent in your sleep schedule and routine.

Your daily schedule may change, but your internal clock doesn’t. So if you’re having trouble sleeping, one of the best things you can do is get consistent in your evening sleep schedule.

In Matt’s words, “regularity is king! And when you anchor your sleep [to a specific time], you will improve both the quantity and quality of that sleep.”

2. Build your own evening relaxation routine.

“Sleep is… like landing a plane. It takes time for your biology to start to wind down and… descend you down onto the terra firma of good sleep at night,” says Matt.

So instead of switching off the light, hopping in bed, and hoping for sleep — try building a personal relaxation routine.

Here are a few activities people often use to relax and unwind before sleep:

- Read a book

- Light stretching

- Aromatherapy

- Listen to music

- Breath exercises

- Meditate

3. Avoid caffeine after 12pm.

According to Matt, even modest doses of caffeine in the evening can disrupt sleep and will strip away more than 30% of the deep brainwave activity in your first sleep cycle.

He found that a single cup of coffee in the evening can decrease the amount of deep sleep by 20% to 40% a night. Matt says, “I'd have to age a healthy adult by probably about ten to 15 years to produce that kind of a reduction in deep sleep.”

To avoid sleep problems, Matt suggests limiting coffee to 1-3 cups a day and stopping your caffeine intake 12 hours before you want to sleep.

4. Avoid naps after 1pm.

From the moment you wake up, your brain begins building sleep pressure. The longer you’re awake, the more sleep pressure builds and the sleepier you feel. 

But “when you nap,” Matt says, it’s “the equivalent of releasing the pressure valve on a steam cooker.” In other words — naps lessen your sleep pressure. “And for some people, it can make it harder for them to fall asleep at night or stay asleep.”

So your best bet to improve your sleep: avoid naps. If you’re really exhausted, try to nap no later than 1 or 2pm.

5. Use light to your advantage.

One of the biggest assets to sleep better at night is light. Bright light wakes us up, while darkness triggers the production of melatonin to help us fall and stay asleep at night. But there’s a problem.

“In some ways, we are a dark-deprived society. Many of us get too much artificial light exposure in the evening, which can impact our natural melatonin levels,” Matt says.

To maximize your body’s natural melatonin production, try dimming the lights in your home and lessening screen time in the last hour before bed.

Black-out curtains and under-door draft stoppers can also help darken your room.

6. Set your room temperature to 65-68° F.

To fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night, your brain and body need to drop their core temperature by about 2-3° F (1° C). You can give your brain a head-start on sleep by turning down the temperature on the thermostat, to about 65-68° F. 

If you feel too cold, try bringing a hot thermos to bed to warm your hands. Ironically, research has found that warming up your hands and feet (even just by 1° F) can help drop your core body temperature and fall asleep faster.

7. Take hot bath or shower before bed.

“When you’ve had a warm bath or shower, all of the blood races to the surface of your skin. As a result… your core body temperature actually plummets,” says Matt. 

In fact, this approach is so reliable at helping people fall and stay asleep faster, it’s called the “warm bath effect” in sleep science. (Research has found this method can increase deep sleep by 10-15%!)

8. Swap counting sheep for a mental stroll.

“Don’t count sheep!” Matt shares. “Research [by] UC Berkeley Professor Allison Harvey has shown that people who… count sheep took longer to fall asleep than those who didn’t.” 

If you want to fall asleep faster, Allison found a better option: Going on a mental stroll.

It’s pretty simple. Mentally envision (in high-definition) going on a walk you know well. Immerse yourself in the details, from heading downstairs to your first step outside.

Matt says, “In doing that, it really helps take your mind off itself. You stop overthinking… and then you fall asleep faster.”

9. Still awake after 25 minutes? Get out of bed.

If it’s been 25 minutes since you’ve slipped under the sheets and sleep still hasn’t found its way to you, that’s okay. It happens.

Instead of getting frustrated, Matt suggests “get up, get out of bed and, in dim light in a different room, just read a book or relax, do some stretching. Only come back to bed when you’re sleeping.”

This trains your brain to associate your bed with nothing but sleep.

10. Had a string of bad sleep nights? Do nothing.

By this, Matt says he means “don’t sleep in any later the following morning, don't nap during the day, and then don't try to go to bed any earlier the following evening.”

The reason? When you try to squeeze in extra sleep with naps or sleeping in, it lessens the natural build up of sleep pressure that helps you fall asleep close to bedtime.

So while it may be tempting to sleep in, try to stick to your sleep schedule — especially after a bad night. Wake up in the morning, then start your wind-down routine in the evening like clockwork.