The Ultimate Guide to Better Sleep

Sleeping well has been correlated with a better memory, more energy, improved decision making, and a lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, and death (R1, R2). 

Yet about 30% of people aren’t getting quality sleep. (R)

I used to be in that 30% most nights, until I got tired of being tired all the time and decided to try almost every sleep hack there is to improve my sleep. 

Here’s the list of my favorite strategies, tools, and supplements that have improved my sleep:

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Table of Contents:

  1. Activities
  2. Things to Avoid
  3. Foods 
  4. Herbs
  5. Teas
  6. Supplements
  7. Tools
  8. Exercises


Get some sun in the morning 

Sun exposure in the morning helps to reset our body’s internal clock, which helps our body cue us when it’s time to sleep and wake up. (R)

Consider drinking your morning cup of coffee outside.

Wake up at the same time each day 

When you wake up at the same time, you’re more likely to go to sleep at the same time too. 

Try to stick to the same or similar routine on the weekdays as the weekend to have a consistent sleep schedule. 

Set up a nightly routine

By setting up a routine, you’re subconsciously telling your body that it’s time to get to sleep.

Make herbal tea or drink hot water

Research has shown that when we raise our body temperature before bed, such as by drinking herbal tea, it will later lead to a later lowering of your body temperature, which makes us feel more tired. (R)

My current favorite tea for sleep is Sleepytime Tea by Celestial Seasonings (chamomile, valerian root, spearmint, lemongrass, hawthorn, and tilia flowers)

Take a hot shower or bath

Not only are hot baths and showers relaxing, but they’re also vasodilating. This increase in blood volume helps your body cool down later, which triggers sleep. (R)

If a regular bath doesn’t improve your sleep, try an Epsom salt bath.

Magnesium has many functions in the body (R). One of the ways it improves sleep is by acting as a natural muscle relaxant.

Though the research for skin absorption of magnesium sulfate  (Epsom salt) is limited, based on its ability to ease constipation, it’s likely well-absorbed through the skin. (R)

Use essential oils to help you sleep

If the hot Epsom salt bath wasn’t relaxing enough for you, try adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to your bath, or use an essential oil diffuser, or room spray. (R)

Our sense of smell is strongly connected to our amygdala, the emotional center in our brain. (R)

By using essential oils, or smelling other relaxing smells, we’re better able to calm our emotions and get to sleep.

Take a sauna

If the hot Epsom salt bath with essential oils wasn’t making you feel more relaxed or tired, you might need to bump up the heat.

There’s something about sitting in a hot box, that just melts stress and returns me to baseline after a long day.

I alternate between using a traditional sauna, and an infrared sauna. 

Get a massage

If you can’t sleep because your muscles are too tight, there’s nothing better than a massage. 

Give yourself a massage

If you’re too lazy to give yourself a massage and don’t want to spend money on a massage, try this electric massaging gun. It makes your muscles feel like butter (in a good way).

If you want something cheaper or easier to use on your upper and mid-back, try using a Theracane or foam roller.

Or, for a deeper massage in hard to reach areas, try using a lacrosse ball.   


Meditation can help you calm your mind so you can focus on getting to sleep instead of worrying about things in the past or future. 

Dim the lights 

This reduces the amount of blue light which signals to your brain its daytime and not time to sleep. (R)

Use orange lights at night

Unlike most lightbulbs that contain a spectrum of different colors, including blue-light, that influences our circadian rhythm, orange LED lights lack blue-wavelength light, but provide enough hues that allow us to carry on with most nightly activities.

Put on some blue-light blocking glasses 

If you’re too lazy to dim the lights or set up orange lights, then consider buying some orange glasses that block blue light wherever you go. 


If your mind is racing, write down your thoughts to help get them out of your head and on paper. 

Read a boring book, or listen to a boring podcast

Consider reading a dictionary or checking out the Sleep With Me podcast.

Read fiction 

Unlike non-fiction which can make us think about what we need to do in the future or remind us of the past, fiction tends to let us forget about our daily troubles as we follow a story that leads us to unfamiliar lands and helps us drift off to sleep. 

Listen to music, nature sounds, or a podcast

Some of my favorite apps for sleep are Relax Melodies and Headspace meditation.

For music: check out Circling Planes by Andapo (ambient plane sounds) and Ella’s Sleep Song by Enno Aare (calming repetitive melodies)

For podcasts: Check out Sleep with me (random fictional stories)

Participate in a sleep study

If none of the above helped, consider enrolling in a sleep study to better understand why you can’t sleep. 

Things to avoid

Taking Benadryl and other anticholinergic drugs 

Long-term use of tricyclic antidepressants, first-generation antihistamines (like Benadryl), and bladder antimuscarinics are associated with dementia in the elderly, and probably aren’t healthy for most people, despite being helpful for getting to sleep. (R, R2)

Prescription hypnotic drugs like Ambien and benzodiazepines

These drugs are associated with a higher chance of death, depression, infection, and cancer. (R1, R2)

Drinking caffeine late in the day

The half-life for caffeine is 5 hours for most people (R), so if you had 150 mg of caffeine at 9 AM (An amount common for a ), at 2 PM your body will still have 75 mg, and at 7 PM, you will have about 32.5 mg of caffeine still in your system. 

Since people respond differently to caffeine, and beverages and foods contain varying amounts of caffeine, the best way to see how caffeine affects your sleep is to record how well you sleep after drinking or eating caffeine-containing items at different times in the day to find your optimal cut off time. For many people, this means no caffeine after 12 to 2 pm. But it may be earlier or later depending on your physiology. 

Drinking alcohol before bed

Although alcohol can help some people get to sleep, it leads to lower-quality sleep and can disrupt your circadian rhythm, contributing to more sleep problems in the future. (R)

Using your bed for activities other than sleep

When our bed is used for activities, besides sleeping, your brain will subconsciously start to associate the bed with these activities and prepare for them. 

By using your bed primarily for sleep, you’re more likely to feel tired when you go to bed.


Get enough protein with each meal 

Eating protein in the day reduces blood sugar swings and can help you feel more satiated at night when you’re trying to go to sleep. (R)

Eat slow-digesting foods a few hours before bed

Having some carbs at night can help you get to sleep by promoting the absorption of tryptophan and by boosting serotonin, which can lead to higher melatonin levels, since both tryptophan and serotonin are precursors for melatonin. (R1, R2)

Try to eat more slow-digesting carbohydrates, like legumes, and avoid eating most white processed foods like bread, pasta, and rice on their own. This will help you avoid blood sugar crashes while you’re sleeping, which will leave you feeling groggy the next day. (R)

Keep a food journal 

To see which foods lead to better sleep, record the foods you ate during the day and how well you slept that night. You might be surprised by what you find. 

After I started tracking my diet and sleep, I realized that eating lemons, gluten, coconut oil, or granny smith apples, at night would disrupt my sleep (I know, I’m weird).


Valerian Root – Valerian root has a long history of use, a good safety record, and promising research to back up claims that it aids insomnia (R). It likely works by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain. For some people, it can cause a hangover effect if the dosage is too high.  

Ashwagandha Extract (The Sensoril brand) – Ashwagandha is a popular ayurvedic herb that likely works decreasing the amount of cortisol the body releases and by mimicking the action of GABA in the brain. (R)

Now Passionflower Extract – Passionflower aids sleep and reduces anxiety by boosting levels of the calming GABA neurotransmitter and positively influencing genes that regulate the circadian rhythm. (R)

Herbal Teas

Lemon Balm Tea – Lemon balm helps to relieve stress and calm the mind by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter GABA, which slows down brain activity. (R)

Sleepytime tea – This tea made of chamomile, valerian root, spearmint, lemongrass, hawthorn, and tilia flowers will knock out even the most resistant insomniac.

Nighty Nite tea – This tisane by Traditional Medicinals main sleep-promoting ingredients are passionflower and chamomile.  

If you’d prefer to buy loose leaf tea, I recommend Rishi teas and teas from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Rishi tea bags – These are good tea bags for loose tea.


Amino Acids

Phosphatidylserine – Phosphatidylserine is found in sunflower seeds, soy, and other common foods. It has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and may improve sleep for those who can’t sleep because of stress or too much caffeine. (R)

Glycine – Glycine is a common amino acid in our diet. It benefits sleep by functioning as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and by reducing the activity of the excitatory amino acid glutamate. One study found that 3 grams of glycine before bed promoted more restful sleep. (R)

L-theanine – L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves and some mushrooms. It’s been shown to aid sleep and reduce anxiety by increasing theta brain waves and by slowing down excessive brain activity by increasing GABA in the brain. (R)

Magnesium – Magnesium is a mineral that is needed by over 300 different enzymes in the body, yet most people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet (R). 

Dark leafy greens are especially rich in magnesium. If you’re not much of a vegetable eater, consider supplementing with a form that ends in “ate”, such as magnesium glycinate or citrate. Some people find they tolerate the glycinate form better than the citrate form (less loose stools). 

Raspberry Lemon Calm (magnesium citrate drink) – Mix some of this powder in water at night for a delicious alcohol-free nightcap.

Sublingual Melatonin – Melatonin is a neurohormone that our brain produces during darkness and helps us maintain a healthy sleep schedule and brain health (R). It also acts as a powerful antioxidant and may reduce your chance of getting cancer (R). 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults take between .2 mg to  5 mg, one hour before bed (R). I’ve found that .2 mg to .5 mg is more effective than larger doses and doesn’t cause excessive grogginess in the morning. 


F.lux – This free program reduces the amount of blue-light your electronic screens produce.

Blackout blinds – These blinds help to keep your room as dark as possible, so your body produces as much melatonin as possible.

Sleep Mask — If you’re traveling or don’t feel like setting up blackout blinds, a sleep mask can be just as effective for blocking light and helping you fall asleep faster.

Blue light blocking glasses – Block blue-light and scare your neighbors with these attractive glasses. 

White noise machine – This small machine produces a nice ambient sound that can help you block out unwanted noise while you’re working and sleeping. 

Lightbox – Instead of spending time outside in the morning to reset your circadian rhythm, instead you can use this bright light. 

Earplugs – I like the Hearos Xtreme earplugs and Macs Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs.

Theracane – This cane can be used to self-massage sore back and neck muscles. 

Acupressure mat – Acupuncture has been shown to help some people get to sleep, but it’s expensive. Instead, consider trying an acupuncture mat to poke yourself for better sleep.

Massage gun – If you’re too lazy to give yourself a massage and don’t want to spend money on a massage, try using a massage gun. It works wonders.


Cardio exercise

Besides the health benefits of getting enough cardio exercise for heart health (R) and mental health (R), many studies have linked exercise to better sleep quality (R). 

One of my favorite ways to get exercise is biking. However, any form of exercise is likely beneficial. If you have a hard time sticking to an exercise routine, focus on doing activities that you enjoy.


Some studies have found that yoga is more effective than cardio exercise for improving sleep. (R)

Some people prefer the yoga classes that involve more stretching, while others find that exhausting vinyasa flow classes help them more with sleep.

Avoiding certain late-night exercises

Many people store tension in their neck and traps. Try to avoid exercises that tighten these already tight muscles to sleep better.

For me, this means avoiding bent-over rows and similar exercises within five hours before bed or if my traps are tight.


Whew. That concludes this list of sleep-inducing info. 

If you’re still here, you might be a bit overwhelmed, or starting to fall asleep. (It’s working!)

To get started on your sleep improvement journey, I recommend implementing just a few of the tips above, especially waking up at the same time most days and getting enough sun in the morning. Then if you want to further experiment with other sleep hacks, come back to this list and gradually add them to your routine. 

Do you have any favorite strategies, tools, or supplements that have improved your sleep?


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