Better Sleep in 9 Steps

I had trouble sleeping through the night since college, especially since moving nearly five years ago to New York. But after some doctor visits, research and a few tests, my rest is better than ever. Here's how:

1. Spend 10-15 minutes in the dark (lights off) right before bed

I recommend trying some meditation to fill the time. Or find a safe open space to stretch.

The idea is to signal to your body that you're winding down before getting into bed.

2. Minimize light

This is different from the previous point because I'm talking about when you're actually sleeping. If you can't blackout your room (very difficult if you live in a populated area), invest in an eye mask.

You can get a nice one from Dream Essentials (no affiliation) for $20. What I like about the one I bought is there's a little space on each side for your eyes so that the mask doesn't touch your eyelashes.

Not only will this help you fall asleep more quickly (it took me very little time to adjust to sleeping with something wrapped around my head), but the morning sun won't wake you up prematurely, either, depending on how late you stay in bed. The real beauty of it, though, is how it blocks out streetlights coming through my window.

3. Minimize noise

If you can afford it, go to an ear doctor and get custom ear plugs. Make sure you mention they're for sleeping. (The ones they make for concerts aren't as shallow and can wake you up from the pain of having them in all night.)

I got a custom pair for, I believe, about $250 from New York Hearing Doctors. The reason I recommend getting custom ones is because they won't fall out of your ear like foam ones do. Plus, these will last years and you won't have to keep replacing them.

The only caveat is that I pretty much have to sleep on my back (which is maybe bad for breathing but good for your body) because if I roll on my side when they're in, they get smashed into my ear after a while and I inevitably wake up in very mild but irritating pain.

4. Go to bed and wake up as close to the same time as possible, including weekends

After a while, your body will adjust to your regular schedule and you'll fall asleep much more easily.

While you might sleep in a little on weekends, don't overdo it – if you get up at 7 for work then sleep until 10 on Saturdays and Sundays, your body will be very confused.

I recently started getting up at 6:15 every morning – about an hour earlier than I had been before – so I could make it to the gym by 7:30. The first few days were rough, but after a week, I started waking up without an alarm on some mornings.

5. Don't eat or drink (especially alcohol and caffeine) too close to bed

Your body will be trying to digest while you're trying to sleep. I have also found this to be a great way to lose or maintain weight. Try not to consume anything but water (and maybe decaffeinated tea) for at least four hours before bed.

I promise you'll go to bed hungrier than you wake up (in other words, you'll survive and your body will adjust), and you'll sleep more peacefully, too.

You'll probably regret that late-night cup of coffee.

You'll probably regret that late-night cup of coffee.

6. Avoid screens – phone, TV – for the last hour before sleep

You're feeding your eyes a blue light that suppresses melatonin and sending your body a signal that you want to stay awake.

Even if you get a full night's sleep, you can still feel fatigued the next day.

7. Track your sleep

I use Sleep Cycle. All you have to do, ironically, is set your phone (facedown) by you at night and it will graph your sleep quality based on your movement and breathing.

Behold, my some of my Sleep Cycle statistics.

Behold, my some of my Sleep Cycle statistics.

You can even make notes of things you did that day and over time it will tell you which of those things is more or less effective in sleeping well.

After a trial, you do have to pay for some of the better features, but I found that if you decline to pay for the premium version a couple times, the price keeps going down.

8. Exercise

I wouldn't recommend working out right before bed because: "[Your] adrenaline is high, [your] brain is active, and it's difficult to wind down."

But it has made a big difference for me not only in falling asleep faster, but also staying asleep through the night.

9. Get a nice bed, make it every morning (and change your sheets)

Your bed should be something clean and fun and inviting in which you look forward to sleeping.

We spend a quarter to a third of our life in bed – we might as well invest in it.

What are your best tips for better sleep? Please share them.