7 Ways to Sleep Better in Fewer Hours

by Christa Avampato on 12 February 2014 2 comments

Though the National Sleep Foundation advises healthy adults to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, a recent study found that 30% of working Americans sleep less than six hours per night. According to the National Academy of Sciences, sleep deprivation is bad for your health; it elevates the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and it increases weight-gain and stress. In desperation, many people turn to sleep aids to make their sleep more effective. The pharmaceutical sleep aid market is estimated to be $4.5 billion annually. (See also: Effective Sleep Tips You Haven't Tried)

There's got to be a better way to make sleep more effective, however many hours you are able to devote to it, right? In fact there are several, and they're mostly free. All you need is personal discipline and the commitment to trade unhealthy habits for healthy ones.

1. Practice Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is a method of meditation that has been taught in India for centuries. There are currently many research studies underway to analyze the health benefits of a regular Yoga Nidra practice. Early results show that it improves our ability to reap the benefits of deep sleep in less time than normal sleep cycles.

Here's how it works: In between our waking and dreaming cycles in normal sleep, there is a short window of time (roughly three to five minutes) called the "hypnagogic state." In this state, tension is greatly reduced and our bodies are most at ease. Yoga Nidra, sometimes called "dreamless sleep," teaches us how to consciously extend the hypnagogic state and gives our bodies more time to deeply relax. When we relax, our blood pressure and blood sugar levels decrease and we reduce muscular tension and fatigue. With reduced muscle tension, we are literally able breathe easier and we can get nourishing oxygen to our cells more efficiently. (See also: Yoga Tricks to Help You Relax)

2. Stick to a Bedtime Routine

It's so simple, and yet most of us don't do it. We have to prepare the body for sleep to make our sleep effective. Power down the electronic devices, block outside light, turn down the thermostat, and do some very light exercise such as gentle stretching before hitting the hay. Otherwise you'll waste time powering down by lying awake in bed.

3. Watch What You Eat and Drink

When our digestive system is active, it disturbs our sleep. Eat earlier in the evening so your body has a few hours to digest before heading off to bed. Also, reduce or eliminate alcohol and caffeine because they throw off our natural circadian rhythms making sleep more difficult and less beneficial.

4. Consider Some Natural Supplements

Herbal teas such as chamomile and valerian root have the potential to help us naturally relax and enhance sleep. The warmth of a glass of warm milk may help us relax, although there's really nothing in it that can make us feel drowsy or actually help us sleep. Always consult your physician before taking any supplements. (See also: Foods That Can Help You Sleep)

5. Exercise

Exercise has many health benefits, and one of those benefits is more effective sleep. One of the best pieces of news on the link between exercise and sleep comes via a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation that found the time of day we exercise doesn't matter. Additionally, any intensity of workout has a positive impact on sleep. So walk, jog, or sprint — day or night. All that matters is that we get our regular workouts in some form.

6. Apply Technology

Today we have incredible technology in the form of mobile apps that can track the quality and quantity of our sleep. If you have an iPhone, try Sleep Cycle. If you have an Android phone, try SleepBot. By tracking your sleep patterns, you'll discover the best time for you to fall asleep, and the best time to wake up. (See Also: Great Sleep-Tracking Apps)

A white noise machine is another option. They've have been around for decades for one good reason: They work. There are many options on the market today at a variety of price points, so it's easy to find one that fits within your budget.

7. Go Polyphasic

The experts are clear that we really should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night. But if you really want to get by on less sleep — significantly less — follow the lead of Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci. They were rumored to follow "polyphasic" or alternate sleep cycles. People who utilize this method sleep for a few consecutive hours several times per day. If you give this method a try, however, exercise caution. Don't drive, operate heavy machinery, or make any critical life decisions until you know how this kind of sleep schedule will affect you. It works for some people and not for others.

Ideally, we want to have both good quality sleep and a sufficient amount of it. These remedies, or a combination of them, can help. Experiment with them and use the ones that work best for you.

What helps you sleep better? Please share in comments!

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Abigail

We have a $3 white noise machine via anapp on our iPod. I think its called Sleep Pillow, and it's been a great boon since our house carries sound all too well.

Also, I use trazadone because I'm a light sleeper and it helps me stay asleep. It's not habit forming like most sleep aids. But for those who prefer the non-prescription route, I've heard good things about melatonin supplements.

Christa Avampato's picture

Hi Abigail,
Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your experience.