How To Get a Really Good Night's Sleep

How To Get a Really Good Night's Sleep

Maxwell Ryan
Mar 14, 2011

For my Year in Bed Project, I've been studying different beds and our own sleep for the past six months. While we've still got six beds to go and haven't determined a favorite, I have learned that a really good night's sleep is only partially caused by the bed. This, then, is a primer of ten tips that I've collected up to help you sleep really well — in ANY bed.

I'm no scientist, but I'm a good sleep subject because I have a really hard time falling asleep and often have felt lousy in the morning. Because of this I do watch myself closely and get really excited when I awake feeling fresh, lovely and invigorated for the day ahead.

I've also been testing my theories to see if I can reproduce both good and bad nights' of sleep, and met with success. Therefore, I know that this stuff works — for me at least.

Remember, these tips are really old fashioned and accessible to all (they may not even surprise you), and have nothing to do with how much your bed costs, so enjoy and add any of your own to the comments.

The Night Has Three Parts - Ace Them All

I have found that our sense of a good night's sleep comes from our memory of three distinct parts, each of which has to have been restful and uninterrupted to gather up into a Really Good Night's Sleep:

  • Falling Asleep
  • Sleeping Through The Night
  • Waking up

A good night's sleep really means feeling good at every step of the way. For example, I can pass out pretty happily after a big weekend evening of drinking, but I'll toss in the middle of the night and awake with a headache that really ruins it all. Sometimes I go to bed early and sleep really well through the night, but awake feeling grumpy and tired for no discernable reason. Both of these are problems and these tips will solve them both.

Overall, my experience of a good night's sleep is 25% Falling Asleep, 25% Sleeping Throughout The Night and 50% Waking Up, which means that while each part is important, it's that last one that leaves the deepest impression. So here are the tips to address being successful each step of the way (keep in mind that we stick to these tips on most weeknights. Weekends we do not).

The Tips - In Order of Importance

1. Eat a Small Dinner - This is a huge deal and so easy. While a big meal before bed can keep your digestion working for hours, a small meal puts only a light demand on your body and allows it to rest much more fully. Sara and I actually have got it down to a large, fresh vegetable juice in the evening. That's all. You sleep better, AND you stay trim. :-)

2. Avoid Alcohol - While a great way to FALL asleep, all those fun drinks, like wine and beer, etc, will ruin a good nights' sleep by causing dehydration (among other things). They make me wake up in the middle of the night with a powerful, uncomfortable thirst, and I'm often very hot as well. And then there's that occasional hangover, which sucks. Want to sleep really well? Skip the fun drinks in the evening (we skip on weeknights).

3. Unwind Your Mind - Like your body, your mind can be over stimulated and make it hard to get a really good night's rest. When I have a stressful day at work I make an effort to not work or look at email after dinner. Computers and work stuff can really wind me up. Instead, I'll take a hot bath and read a book, both of which totally take my mind off the day.

4. Three Nights in a Row is the Magic Number - Sleep is cumulative, so don't expect a really good night's sleep on your first night. You need at least two nights and preferably three to get into a really good groove and bank some deep rest. We stick to these tips most Mondays through Thursdays and that's when it really gets good.


5. Exercise Helps - Being physically tired really contributes to a good night's sleep and that doesn't happen to most of us who work in offices these days - remember when you were a kid, ran around all day and collapsed at night? Having daily exercise as a part of your routine contributes strongly to your body relaxing at night.

6. Avoid Caffeine - Not having coffee or tea at night seems obvious, right? But as a chocolate lover, I've also learned to wean myself off of chocolate for dessert when I want a good night's sleep. In general, stimulants are NOT your friend when looking for a great night's sleep.

7. Unwind Your Body - I already recommended a hot bath for helping to unwind in the evening as the heat and water is very relaxing for the skin and muscles. If you don't have a bath or that much time, just having a shower and giving your body and hair a good scrub is excellently relaxing. Pair that with moisturizing any dry skin and jumping into fresh, clean sheets and you're golden.


8. Keep Bedtime & Rising Time Regular - Our mind and body organism thrives on comfortable, regular routine, and I find it much easier to fall asleep and wake happily when the times are consistent. Even if your evening time changes, try to keep your rising time consistent. This way your body always will know when to wake and you'll avoid that feeling of having gotten up "on the wrong side of the bed." I now barely need to set an alarm, because my body always wants to wake at 6am.

9. Drink Water - We all lose a lot of water while sleeping at night, so that keeping yourself well hydrated really helps your body to rest comfortably. If you have a night out and drink alcohol, a lot of water before bed really helps, but even on a "dry" night, keep your water intake up (but not too much so that you have to wake and pee!).

10. Light Matters, Noise Not So Much - Light is a much bigger disruptor of sleep than noise. Electric lights outside your window (or in your room) AND the sunrise will trigger waking mechanisms in the body, so keeping your windows well covered and eliminating any other ambient light is necessary to ensure a good rest.

Some of you may be wondering why I left out "8 Hours a Night is Crucial"? My experience is that people have widely varying needs for hours of sleep and that some can do really well with less than others. We go to sleep on most night between 10 and 11pm and our alarm always goes off at 6am, and 7-8 hours is probably a good place to start, but I'd leave this up to you to experiment with. Some of my great night's sleep have been much longer, and some much shorter.

Now, I'm curious to see what your experience has taught you....

Photo: Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan


Bed Rankings to Date - 4.11.11 (Best overall sleep experience according to both him and her - i.e. two thumbs up)

1. NaturaLatex Tranquil
1. Danny Seo Natural Care Bed by Simmons

Tie For First So Far

2. Hastens Excelsior II
3. Encased Coil Natural Mattress by Room & Board
4. Embody Memory Foam Stillness Plus Bed by Sealy
5. IKEA Erfjord


Year In Bed Info

About The Year In Bed

• Follow daily progress on Twitter at #yearinbed


All Year In Bed Posts

How To Get a Really Good Night's Sleep
Preview: NaturaLatex Tranquil
More Things I've Learned So Far
Sealy Preview
Ikea Preview
What is the Right Price for a Bed?
Some Things I've Learned So Far
Hastens Preview
Year in Bed: A Modest Proposal

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