How to Sleep Better in Five Easy Steps

A friend gave me an unusual compliment after we slept in a dorm during a weekend bicycle ride.

“You’re a good sleeper.”

Since we hear dire warnings about the consequences of sleep deprivation—DIABETES! HEART DISEASE! ALZHEIMER’S! LOW LIBIDO! YOUR CHILDREN WILL NOT GET INTO COLLEGE! ZOMBIES WILL CONTROL YOUR HOME!—I felt good owning this skill and decided to share why sleep is important and how to sleep better.

How Poor Sleep Affects Your Health

There is ample evidence that chronic sleep problems increase the risk or severity of common diseases.

For example, a study published in the May 2019 issue of Diabetes Care https://doi.org/10.2337/dc19-0298 reported that among 962 adults with Type 2 diabetes, Hgb A1c (an indication of blood sugar levels over time) was significantly higher in those who reported sleeping less than five or more than eight hours per night. Sleep disruption has also been linked to risk for Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and weight gain.

Dogs sleep well throughout the day

I credit my parents for my sleeping skills. Dad could drink black coffee at nine p.m. and fall asleep at eleven. Mom slept through family road trips of any length—five hours to grandma’s or four days cross country. She slept in comfort, for she took the entire back seat of our car while my brother and I, later my sisters and I, crammed in front with dad. That may show something about our family dynamics. Hmm…

Even so, there are times when I toss and turn. Here’s what helps me not sleep like a baby. (Who wants to wake up crying every three hours?)

We don't want to sleep like a baby--they wake up crying every three hours!

Sleep Tips

Shut down screens well before bedtime. Several studies reported that the light from TVs, computers, and smart phones stimulates wakefulness, yet many people still have TVs in bedrooms, do work email at night, and text until the lights go off. Stop it. You need sleep. Move the TV from the bedroom, please.

L et go of anger. The Bible says “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent” (Psalms 4:4). How many times do you hash over a situation or carry on an imaginary conversation at night because of unresolved anger or frustration? The psalmist says be at peace, with a silent heart. That may require you to engage in courageous and vulnerable conversations, set and enforce boundaries, or decide to forgive and release your resentment. Your health and well being is worth it! Do these things as early in the day as possible. I’ve found it’s better to tackle tough conversations in the morning, when I’m rested, and have time to work off tension or stress before bed time..

E liminate stimulants. Unlike my dad, I am caffeine sensitive. If I eat dark chocolate or drink a caffeinated soft drink, tea, or coffee in the evening I feel awake and wired until well past midnight. Many people like to relax with a glass of wine or beer after a rough day. That feels good at first, but alcohol intake causes light, fitful sleep. If you have sleep problems, it may be advisable to try ten days without caffeine or alcohol before resorting to a prescription sleep medication. While sleeping pills can make a difference, their long term use is associated with troublesome side effects like memory problems, poor learning, and sleep walking or doing potentially dangerous activities without awareness. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/15308-sleeping-pills

E xercise every day. This reduces stress and generates whole body calmness. I love the way I feel after exercise. How great to honor your body with the movement it needs for relaxed health.

P repare for sleep. I think many of us have trouble sleeping because we live so focused on what we DO, not what we  ARE. Going to sleep requires letting go, as Wendell Berry said in his poem The Wild Geese: “abandon, as in love or sleep.” https://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=2144

Some of us have trouble letting go, either because we live at such a hectic pace, or because concerns we haven’t dealt with during the day bubble up from our subconscious at bedtime. Don’t you love how dogs can relax almost anytime, anywhere?

This dog naps during the day. That can be a good way to relieve stress.

A Bedtime Routine

Here are things that help me transition from always-in-charge-run-till-I-drop to sleepy abandonment:

Gratitude—I like to name and focus on the good things in my life.

Deep breathing The yoga practice of ujjayi breath, sometimes called Darth Vader breath, helps me release unproductive thoughts.

READ! Jeanette Winterson writes, “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines. What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.” In a recent New Yorker article Ceridwen Dovey commented that reading puts the brain in a trance-like state, bringing relaxation, and therefore regular readers sleep better.

Coming Soon

I hope these tips help you enjoy deep sleep and relaxed, restful nights. What you eat, and when you eat it also impacts your sleep. In my next video I will read from a book by Nashville author and dietitian Karman Meyer:

“Eat to Sleep–What to Eat and When to Eat It for a Good Night’s Sleep–Every Night”  


(This is an affiliate link and I earn from qualifying purchases, but I bought the book myself and think it is a wonderful resource.)

Chronic Stress and Burnout

Sleeplessness can add to your feelings of burnout, while chronic stress and burnout can increase your sleep problems.

If you have trouble going to sleep, or often can’t sleep through the night, gauge your stress level and ask yourself if the way you live is working for you. My quiz “Signs Burnout May Be Building” can help you assess yourself–http://deborahrankinrd.com/burnout-quiz/

Leave a comment below. What helps you get a good night’s sleep? How often do you wake up refreshed and ready for a new day?

© 2020 Deborah Rankin


11 thoughts on “How to Sleep Better in Five Easy Steps”

  1. A new book with an exciting cover but not one of my favorite subjects. In other words, dry reading…. Puts me to sleep in 10 minutes.

    1. Ha! Smart move, so you deliberately pick something of little interest that you know will put you to sleep!

  2. Deb, I sure agree with reading before bed and shutting out electronics! Although, in spite of that, I do find reading on my tablet still works as well as or nearly as well as from a print book (my first choice for certain–I prefer the feel of that book itself in my hands). I enjoyed this post and look forward to the coming ones.

  3. Deb, a little reading – or flipping through a magazine / catalog – is a before the lights go out requirement! My favorite to read? A cookbook!

    1. I agree Gigi. Cookbooks are good evening reading. And to everyone who commented, here’s my go to solution for nights when I wake up and can’t go back to sleep–a bowl of Cheerios and milk. I’ll usually fall asleep within thirty minutes, probably because of the tryptophan uptick from the milk and carbohydrate.

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