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These Are The 14 Best Sleep Tips We've Heard All Year

Emma Loewe
December 16, 2020
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Woman Waking Up
Image by Liliya Rodnikova / Stocksy
December 16, 2020

Sleeping took on a whole new appeal in 2020. During a time that calls for constant strength and resilience, rest becomes all the more essential—hence why mbg has upped its sleep coverage this year.

In the past 10 months, we've pinpointed the best sleep position for better zzz's, doled out sleep tips for every Enneagram type, demystified the science of dream interpretation, and so much more. Today, we're sharing the best tips we've picked up along the way. Read 'em and sleep:

1. Start a dream journal.

Remember the "quarandreams" craze early in the pandemic, when everyone realized their dreams were more vivid, more confusing, more full of random people and weird snakes, than ever? Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep and sleep disorders, felt it too—and he suspects it has to do with the fact that on average, people are now sleeping in later and spending more time in sleep Stages 3 and 4, where most dreaming happens.

This fall, therapist and dream expert Leslie Ellis, Ph.D., told us that recording this new vault of dreams can actually improve sleep quality (by helping you reframe and work through alerting nightmares) and provide insights into waking life. Keeping a journal by your bed can help you track the patterns of your dreams and begin the work of applying them. "It's important to write your dreams down as soon as possible after waking up," Ellis told mbg, "because they tend to fade from our memory very quickly."

2. Try a sleep supplement.

For a little extra sleep support, many experts in mbg's wheelhouse now reach for our sleep support+ supplement, which combines calming magnesium glycinate with jujube, a fruit that's used for insomnia in traditional Chinese medicine, and pharmaGABA, a neurotransmitter that helps the brain wind down.*

When paired with other sleep-promoting habits, sleep support+ has helped users fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling well-rested this whole year through. It's Amy Shah, M.D.'s go-to whenever she needs a deep, restful night of sleep and nutritionist Dana James, M.S. CNS, CDN, told us it's the best sleep supplement she's ever used.*

3. Lay off the glass of water by your bed.

Urologist Vannita Simma-Chiang, M.D., rocked our nighttime routines when she told us she tries to stop drinking water three to four hours before bed, to prevent waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. She added that, of course, it's important to drink water whenever you're thirsty, but laying off the hydration at night may ultimately help you sleep better.

4. Do a bedtime breathwork exercise.

Oftentimes people have trouble sleeping because lingering thoughts from the day keep them awake. To power down the mind before bed, acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner Tsao-Lin E. Moy, L.Ac, recommends making a habit of doing a 4-7-8 relaxing breath sequence from under the covers every night.

5. Set and stick to a bedtime (preferably one on the earlier side).

One sleep theme that came up again and again this year was the importance of sticking to a schedule. Prepandemic life was filled with social jet lag—which happens when we're constantly going to bed and waking up later on the weekends. One bright side of staying in is that it can help establish a more steady bedtime and wake-up time throughout the week—which helps with overall sleep quality.

"As basic as it sounds, the body functions optimally when it runs on a predictable schedule," holistic psychiatrist and sleep expert Ellen Vora, M.D., told us. "It's best when that schedule involves an early wake-up and sleep time."

6. Edit your pillow collection.

A bed stacked with pillows may look pretty, but chiropractor B.J. Hardick, D.C., says that having more than one under your head at a time when you sleep is "almost never needed—or practical." Instead, he recommends using just one larger pillow that flattens to adapt to the shape of your head, neck, and shoulders. Investing in a body pillow that supports and aligns to the natural "S" curvature of the spine can also help keep you in a healthy sleep position.

7. Don't rely on melatonin.

Functional medicine doctor Robert Rountree, M.D., explains that popular sleep aid melatonin does one thing really well—and that's send a signal to the brain that it's time for bed. This makes it good to keep around when you're traveling to a new time zone or trying to establish a new sleep schedule. But for nightly use, it might not be as effective since it doesn't actually do much to help the body stay asleep.

8. Nap—within limits.

Nap lovers, rejoice! Naturopathic sleep doctor Catherine Darley, N.D., says that treating yourself to a daytime snooze won't necessarily mess with your nighttime sleep quality. The trick, she says, is to align your naps with your natural sleep cycle, which lasts around 90 minutes. "You want to avoid waking up out of deep sleep," she explained, which usually starts around 30 to 90 minutes into this cycle. By this logic, you should always set an alarm and plan to nap either for under 30 minutes or up to 90.

9. Get moving.

Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., speculated that one reason more people are suffering from insomnia and light sleep during COVID1 is that we're moving our bodies less on average. "Sleep is recovery," he told us. "If you haven't done anything you need to recover from, you're not going to sleep particularly well." Yet another reason to commit to at-home workouts and sneak some extra walks in where you can in the new year.

10. Make chickpeas your nighttime snack of choice.

On an episode of the mindbodygreen podcast this summer, nutritionist Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, shared her unlikely bedtime snack: chickpeas. Since chickpeas are complex carbs that help the body produce serotonin but don't spike blood sugar, she loves to roast them up and munch on them before bed if she's feeling peckish.

11. Turn the thermostat down.

"In the outdoor conditions in which we evolved, the temperature drops at night," Ellen Vora, M.D., told us in an article about the optimal bedroom temperature for sleep. "That drop is part of many contextual factors that cause us to feel sleepy." A chilly 65 degrees Fahrenheit is the gold-standard sleep temperature, as far as she's concerned. If you're wary of cranking the AC all year round, Vora says that anything in the high 60s range should be comfortable.

12. Set a wind-down alarm.

Once you decide what time you want to get in bed every night (remember, consistency is key), Catherine Darley, N.D., recommends setting a repeating alarm to go off about an hour before that time. When the alarm sounds off, it's your cue to turn off electronics, dim the lights, and start to unwind from the day. Humans don't come with an on/off switch, but this can help ensure that you're already halfway to sleep mode by the time you get into bed.

13. Smell your partner.

This one is slightly creepy, but hey, there's some science to support it. In February, researchers out of the University of British Columbia found that the scent of a romantic partner can improve sleep quality. "The sleep watch data showed that participants experienced less tossing and turning when exposed to their partners' scent, even if they weren't aware of whose scent they were smelling," lead author Frances Chen, Ph.D., said. If you don't share a bed with your partner, a piece of their clothing will do.

14. If you wake up in the middle of the night, get out of bed.

And finally, if all else fails and you find yourself wide-awake in the middle of the night, Robert Rountree, M.D., recommends getting out of bed to take your mind off it. "If it's been more than 30 minutes, you might as well get up and do something else," Rountree said during a Sleep Summit Masterclass. "You're better off just going and reading with a little bit of light or doing something that's non-stressful." Maybe grill up some chickpeas, too?

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.