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Get the basics right — 20 simple changes

Two people and a cat in bed sleeping

Key points

If you’re struggling with your sleep and looking for help to improve it, then it’s important to make sure that you’ve got the basics right to begin with. Small changes can make a noticeable difference to your sleep, if we change what matters. You’ll likely have heard all of the advice about having a dark bedroom or staying cooler at night before, but it’s important to make sure you have the right foundations in place before making bigger changes to your sleep. Our experts have curated a list of the top 20 things that actually matter, the building blocks that can get you started on the path to better sleep. The simple changes in this article will make sure you’re equipped to:

  • achieve better sleep by making some straightforward lifestyle changes
  • relax and unwind in your perfect sleep space
  • know which dietary choices can help you sleep easier
  • boost your sleep by prioritising your physical and mental wellbeing
  • take the steps you need if you’re still not sleeping well and need professional support.

Why you shouldn’t take your sleep for granted

With around a third of adults in the western world regularly experiencing trouble sleeping, it’s no wonder that so many of us are looking for ways to improve our sleep.1

While it’s perfectly normal to experience the occasional night of bad sleep, when you’re not getting enough sleep night after night, sleep deprivation can have some pretty serious effects on your health and wellbeing.

In the short-term, a lack of sleep can impair your ability to perform everyday tasks like driving or concentrating at work. It can make you irritable and more prone to accidents.

Experts have noted that, over the longer-term, poor sleep has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of many medical conditions, including:

It’s easy to take sleep for granted, but we should all prioritise looking after our sleep and being proactive in addressing problem sleep. That’s why we’ve put together 20 easy to follow and scientifically-backed sleep tips to help you improve your sleep habits.

We’ll cover everything from how to make sure your bedroom’s set up to be the perfect place for a good night’s sleep to identifying things in your lifestyle that might be coming between you and the sleep you deserve. Each sleep tip shows you how simple changes can help boost your sleep, so let’s dive straight in with our first tip and see how you can take steps to improve your sleep from today!

Trying to improve your sleep on your own can be a lonely road

When you choose our sleep therapy, you won’t be alone, you’ll be supported at every step by your sleep coaches. They’ll be there to answer your questions, guide you round obstacles and celebrate your successes as you improve your sleep. Find out today how our fully supported sleep therapy can help you rebuild a healthy relationship with your sleep.


1. Aim to have a consistent sleep routine

For our first tip, we want you to think about how much sleep you’re getting at the moment. Do you get the same amount or does it vary from night to night? Do you feel well-rested when you wake or could you do with a little bit more shut eye sometimes?

One thing we mention a lot is that sleep loves consistency. This means that the more you can keep to a set routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time, the better your sleep will be. Following a nightly routine is one of the basic principles of good sleep hygiene.4

But how do you fix a sleep schedule that’s all over the place? First, consider how much sleep you need. If you’re waking up sleepy and don’t feel like you’ve got the energy to get through the day, chances are your sleep need isn’t being met.

If you need to get more sleep, try going to bed a little earlier at night and see how keeping to this schedule for a while makes you feel when you wake. Play around with your bedtime and wake-up time until you find the length of time that works best for you.

Once you’ve found your routine, stick to it. Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time each and every day. It can be really easy to get into a mindset where you think, “It doesn’t matter if I don’t get enough sleep during the week ― I’ll just catch up at the weekend.”

And while the occasional lie-in never did anyone any harm, the more you can keep to a regular sleep schedule, the more your sleep will benefit. We realise that for some people, work schedules can mean that a set sleep routine won’t be possible.

This is especially true for shift workers. If this applies to you, try to keep the amount of time you sleep for as consistent as possible. Even a little routine is better than none at all.

2. Give yourself some time to wind-down in the evening

Setting aside some time each evening to relax and unwind before bed can be an excellent way to put your day to bed and prepare your body and mind for sleep.

In the run-up to bedtime, try giving yourself a little time for relaxing activities such as reading a book, listening to music or enjoying a hot bath or shower. It really doesn’t matter how you choose to relax. Your personal wind-down routine can be as simple or have as many steps as you choose.

Over time, your brain will start to associate your wind-down activities with the fact that sleep follows, helping you to fall asleep when you get into bed. Don’t stress if you don’t see immediate results or if you don’t manage to follow your routine 100% of the time, just enjoy the fact that you’re devoting some time to looking after yourself each evening and see if this helps you feel more relaxed by bedtime.

How to get better sleep: A warm, relaxing bubble bath as part of a wind-down routine.

3. Electrical devices

Carrying on from our previous sleep tip, disconnecting from your electrical devices can be an excellent part of your evening wind-down.

Checking your social media accounts, doing a bit of work on your laptop or watching your favourite series on Netflix all keep your brain engaged and active, which is fine during the day but as bedtime approaches it’s better to opt for more relaxing activities.

Smartphones, tablets, laptops and TVs also emit light, which can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime and you should be awake, the opposite of what you need in the evening!

So in the run-up to bedtime, turn off your electrical devices and enjoy some screen-free time before sleep. If possible, keep screens out of your bedroom too, it’ll help you to not be tempted to scroll, work or watch a movie in bed!

4. Spend some time outside in natural light

Natural light signals to your brain and body that it’s time to be awake and alert. Exposure to light also suppresses melatonin, a hormone that’s key to helping you feel sleepy as bedtimes approaches. Over the course of the day as light levels get lower, melatonin levels rise which sets off a cascade of signals in the body that result in you feeling ready to sleep by bedtime.

Getting exposure to natural light, especially in the morning helps to align your body clock.

Studies have also shown that spending time outside can benefit your overall health, wellbeing and mood, so making sure you spend some part of each day outdoors is a great habit to build.5 6 Taking a stroll, standing in your doorway with your morning coffee or exercising outside are all excellent ways to ensure you get exposure to natural light each day.

How to get better sleep: A woman walking in the sunny countryside to help regulate her body clock.

5. Consider whether it’s time to upgrade your mattress and bedding

Your bed setup can make or break a good night’s sleep. A good, comfy mattress and the right bedding can make it easy to relax and fall asleep at night. Plus, the support you get from having the right mattress and pillow will keep your spine properly aligned and help you to sleep free from aches and pains.

You can have the best sleep habits in the world, but if you’re trying to sleep on a terrible mattress then it’s probably not going to add up to a brilliant night’s sleep. And if you’re trying to sleep with a bad back or sciatica for example, your bed setup can make all the difference.

If you’re waking up with lower back pain or other aches, it could be a sign that your mattress isn’t offering you the support you need. It could be time to invest in a new bed or, for a more budget-friendly option, you could consider a mattress topper instead.

The key is to make it somewhere that you look forward to getting into each night and that it’s offering you the right amount of support for your body.

6. Limit light in the evening

While light in the morning can help you feel awake and alert, limiting your light exposure in the evening can help you to feel sleepy as bedtime approaches. So keep the lighting low in your home and be mindful of how much light you’re being exposed to from your TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

How you light your home in the evening may also have an effect on your sleep. A study has shown that greater exposure to home lighting in the evening is associated with poorer sleep.7

Your bedroom itself should be as dark as possible while you sleep. Next time you go to bed take a moment after you turn off all your bedroom lights to see if there’s any light still spilling into your room. It could be light from under a door, a streetlight shining in through the window or even something tiny like a power indicator on a charger.

All of these light sources have the potential to interfere with your sleep. So if you do notice any unwanted light in your room, have a think about how you could keep it out of your sleep space. Here’s some ideas:

  • use blackout blinds or curtains to reduce light leaking in from outdoors
  • a draft excluder can help with light coming under the door
  • unplug or relocate electronics with light indicators to somewhere outside of your bedroom
  • consider investing in a well-fitting eye mask while you sleep.

A research study found that wearing an eye mask to sleep improved people’s alertness the next day.8 So this simple step could be a quick and easy way of making a real difference to your sleep.

How to get better sleep: A very dark room can help improve your sleep.

7. Reduce noise exposure in your bedroom

Just as you want to limit light in your bedroom, the same’s true when it comes to noise. You want to keep your sleep space as quiet as possible.

Whether it’s sharing your bed with someone who snores, indoor sounds from a noisy household, noise filtering in from neighbours or the sounds of the outdoors that disturbs your slumbers, we’ve got plenty of ideas for how to limit noise disturbance.

Firstly, you can take steps to soundproof your room. Heavy curtains can help dampen noises from outside your windows and carpets or rugs can help absorb sounds within your room.

Earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones can work for some people or alternatively, you could also consider a white or pink noise generator. These are effective at masking noises that might disturb your sleep by distracting the brain from the intrusive noise with meaningless sound.

How to get better sleep: If noise is disrupting your sleep, try wearing ear plugs.

8. Temperature

You want your bedroom to be the perfect temperature for sleep. If it’s too hot or cold your sleep can be disturbed. And it’s not only the temperature in your room that you want to optimise, how warm you are under the covers also has an impact on your sleep.

If you’re waking up chilly or so hot you’re throwing off blankets in the night, then you could find that playing around with the temperature could help you to get better sleep. The optimal room temperature is around 16-20°C.

If your room’s cold or you’re feeling cold at night think about whether there’s any draughts in your room that you could take care of, consider thicker nightwear, add some more layers to your bedding or invest in a thicker duvet.

If your room’s on the hotter side, maybe try sleeping with the window open slightly, use a fan, opt for lighter sleepwear or try thinner bedding.

That way, if you do wake in the night, it’s easy for you to just add or remove a layer with minimal disruption to your sleep. There’re plenty of other factors that can influence your body temperature too, making you feel colder or warmer during the night, such as:

If you think the temperature of your sleep environment is about right, but you’re concerned about any of the above, it might be worth speaking to your healthcare provider for more information.

9. Use your alarm clock wisely

If you use an alarm clock to wake up, try to keep it set to the same time each day. While it might be tempting to have it wake you up later on your days off, this might not be the best idea when it comes to your sleep.

We’ve already talked about how sleep thrives on a consistent routine, so if you’re getting up at 7am on weekdays but setting your alarm for 10am on the weekend, it might actually cause problems with your sleep.

While many of us choose to wake up to a sound-based alarm, there’s a whole host of other alarm types that may be a better fit for you. So if you’re looking for a gentler way to wake up, you could consider other alarm options including some that use light or vibration to wake you.

10. Don’t try to use naps to catch up on sleep

There’s lots of evidence that a short daytime nap can help reduce fatigue, boost mood and performance and increase your alertness.9 But to get these benefits you should aim to keep your nap to 30 minutes or less and opt to take it in the early to mid-afternoon.10

Napping for more than half an hour isn’t recommended because it could cause you to wake up with sleep inertia which is the groggy, disorientated feeling that most often occurs when you wake suddenly.11

Plus, longer naps during the daytime can also make it harder for you to sleep when bedtime rolls round. During the day your body’s naturally building up a pressure to sleep. If you nap for too long, you can reduce this sleep pressure, which then makes it harder to sleep at night.

If you’re a daytime napper who finds it hard to sleep at night, dropping your daily nap might be just what you need to help you sleep better at night.

11. Exercise regularly

Regular exercise is great for your physical health, controlling your weight, your mental wellbeing and it can also benefit your sleep.12 Exercising regularly can help you fall asleep quickly at night, help you sleep soundly and can increase how much sleep you get overall.13 14

Research has also shown that exercise can improve sleep for people experiencing a range of sleep disorders, including restless legs syndrome (RLS), insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

If you exercise outside, exposure to natural light can have the added benefit of helping to synchronise your body clock. However, if you prefer evening exercise, be sure to leave enough time after your workout for your body temperature and heart rate to return to normal before you go to bed.

How to get better sleep: A selection of gym equipment because exercise can help you sleep.

12. Be mindful of your caffeine intake

Caffeine’s a stimulant that can improve alertness and performance. But it can also keep you awake when you want to sleep. While we’re not going to suggest that you give up your favourite latte, just be mindful of when you’re choosing to indulge.

While caffeine’s commonly found in coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks, it’s also added to other products we eat and drink that might slip under your radar. Snack bars, soft drinks and certain medication can all contain caffeine too.

Research shows that caffeine can have a negative effect on how long it takes to fall asleep, the quality of sleep and how long people sleep for.15 But everybody’s sensitivity to caffeine is different, so how it affects you will be individual to you.

Some people can eat or drink caffeine-containing products close to bedtime and sleep like a baby. Others will find it leaves them wired and unable to sleep. If you’re finding it hard to sleep at night, you might want to think about your caffeine intake.

Caffeine stays in your body for several hours, so any caffeinated food or drink you enjoy in the hours leading up to bedtime may still be having an effect when you try to sleep.

You could try reducing how much caffeine you consume during the day and see if it impacts your sleep, or limit your caffeine intake to the earlier portion of the day.

13. Consider your alcohol intake

Alcohol slows down your brain activity and can lead to you feeling relaxed or drowsy. While an evening drink can make it easier to fall asleep, it can have a negative effect on your sleep quality and how much sleep you get overall.16

It can also have an impact on different stages of your sleep.17

So while you might initially feel sleepy when you go to bed after drinking, you’re more likely to wake up feeling less rested than if you’d not indulged. Again, everyone’s body is individual and so each of us will react slightly differently to alcoholic drinks.

The NHS recommends that you avoid alcohol in the 1-2 hours before going to bed, but the effects alcoholic drinks will have on your sleep will also depend on how many you’ve had.18 Many people enjoy an evening nightcap when they’re relaxing before bed and will sleep just fine.

But if you’re experiencing problems with your sleep, or you’re finding you wake up unrefreshed after drinking, you might want to try cutting back or cutting out alcohol to see if you notice an improvement to your sleep.

14. Eating close to bedtime may make it harder to sleep

The foods you eat and when you choose to consume them can both have an effect on your sleep too. We’ve already touched on this in tip 12, when we mentioned that the caffeine in chocolate may interfere with sleep.

If you eat too close to bedtime, you might find that it’s harder for you to fall asleep when you go to bed. One reason for this is that as bedtime approaches, your body temperature begins to drop slightly and this is thought to be a trigger to fall asleep.

But the process of digesting your food causes your body temperature to rise a little instead. So it’s best to avoid large, fatty or high calorie meals in the run-up to bedtime as all of these may cause a rise in your body temperature and keep you from sleeping.

How to get better sleep: An apple, doughnut and peach. Healthy, light food choices before bed can help you sleep better.

15. Nicotine

Just like caffeine, nicotine’s also a stimulant. This means that it can increase activity in the brain, making you more alert and boosting your mood.19 Nicotine-containing products come in a variety of forms including:

  • cigars, cigarettes and pipes
  • chewing tobacco and nicotine chewing gum
  • nicotine patches
  • e-cigarettes (vapes).

Research has shown that nicotine has negative effects on both sleep length and sleep quality.20 NHS guidelines recommend you limit use of nicotine-containing products in the 1-2 hours before bed.

16. Consider whether supplements or sleep aids are right for you

Some people may find that taking a sleep supplement or using a natural sleep aid can help them to sleep. These are products that you can buy without a prescription that aim to help you sleep better.

Some of the most popular that you might have heard of include:

  • plant-based products such as chamomile, hops, lavender, valerian and passionflower
  • cannabinoids such as CBD and CBN
  • magnesium
  • gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

There is very little scientific evidence to show that these sleep aids are effective. They also can’t get to the root of why you’re not sleeping well, so they shouldn’t be considered as long-term treatments to help you sleep.

If you‘re considering taking a sleep aid or supplement, it’s important to discuss it with your healthcare provider first. Many sleep aids can interact with medications that you may be taking and they can come with side effects.

17. Don’t try to force sleep

Sometimes no matter how hard you try to fall asleep, you just don’t seem to be able to. We can all probably relate to the frustrating feeling of lying in bed wide awake, trying as hard as you can to fall asleep and asking yourself: why can’t I sleep?

You lie in bed getting more and more annoyed that you can’t sleep and then this feeling of irritation actually stops you from falling asleep. This can create a cycle where your negative thinking disrupts your sleep.

So what should you do instead when you can’t sleep?

The trick is to not try to force yourself to sleep. This will only make you more frustrated if sleep doesn’t come. If racing thoughts are what’s keeping you from sleep, you could try thought blocking exercises to clear your mind and help you relax.

How to get better sleep: A man lying in bed using the thought blocking techniques of repeating the word ‘the’.

There’s also a large variety of techniques that aim to help you fall asleep fast by helping you to feel calm and relaxed while you’re lying in bed. These can include activities such as meditating, breathing exercises and visualisations.

All of these techniques take your mind away from focussing on getting to sleep, which helps you to actually fall asleep. While this might sound slightly confusing, these techniques can be really effective, so they’re worth giving a try.

If after trying these techniques you’re still lying in bed unable to sleep, it can be a good idea to take yourself out of the bedroom and spend some time in another room, doing something relaxing like reading a book, doing a crossword or listening to some music.

Make sure to keep the lighting low and avoid using your electronic devices during this time. Removing yourself from the bedroom can allow you to mentally reset from whatever feelings you were experiencing in bed and once you’re sleepy again, you should head back to bed and hopefully sleep.

18. Keep a sleep diary

Keeping a diary of your sleep can be a really useful way to keep an eye on your sleep. You can use a diary to note down details about your sleep such as:

  • what time you went to bed and woke up
  • how long you think it took you to fall asleep
  • whether you woke during the night and for how long
  • how long and how well you slept overall
  • whether you took sleep medication
  • your intake of coffee, alcohol, nicotine.

There’re no hard and fast rules, you can add as much or as little detail as you think useful. Your sleep diary can help you to see how well you’re sleeping overall and, if you’re experiencing problems with your sleep, it can help identify what areas are being affected.

At Sleepstation, filling in a daily sleep diary is a key part of our sleep therapy. Sleep diaries are incredibly useful when we’re helping someone to identify the root causes behind their poor sleep. They also provide a quick and easy way for users to track progress as they progress through their therapy.

You might want to use a sleep diary to track how trying some of the tips above impact your sleep. For example, say you choose to start going to bed a little earlier, your sleep diary might help you identify whether this change helps you to fall asleep faster, sleep for longer or didn’t change your sleep at all.

19. Mindfulness, meditation & managing worry

Your sleep and mental health go hand in hand. Take care of one and the other will benefit. Stress, anxiety and depression can all have a negative affect on your sleep and poor sleep can make their symptoms worse. But getting good sleep can improve the symptoms of all three.

So why are we telling you this?

Taking steps to destress, manage your worries and calm anxious thoughts before bed can all make it easier for you to fall asleep and help you to sleep better. And there’re plenty of things to try that can help you to calm your mind and relax in preparation for sleep.

One of these we’ve already covered in our tenth tip is to have a good wind-down routine in the evening. Meditation and mindfulness techniques may also be helpful to relieve stress and anxiety before bed.

Writing or journaling may also help you to make sense of the day you’ve just experienced and can help you to clear your thoughts before bed. Writing out a to-do list for the coming day could stop you from worrying about these tasks when you go to bed.

In fact one study found that people who wrote a to-do list fell asleep faster than those who wrote about tasks they’d completed during that day.21 Writing a gratitude journal may also help you to sleep better.

Another study showed that the more gratitude people expressed, the quicker they were able to fall asleep, their sleep quality was higher and the longer they slept for.22 So the simple act of writing down a short (or long) list of things you’re grateful for that day may have a noticeable impact on your sleep.

20. Speak to a professional if you need more help

For our final tip, we want you to know that you don’t have to go it alone. Trying to fix a sleep problem on your own can be a lonely and difficult task so don’t be shy about reaching out for support if you’ve tried all our sleep tips and you’re still not getting the sleep you need.

Your healthcare provider can look at your health as a whole to identify if any underlying health conditions may be behind your poor sleep and they’ll be able to give you further details about the best way for you to improve your sleep.

You can also come directly to us at Sleepstation. Our digital sleep clinic’s been helping people to improve their sleep for over a decade and our sleep therapy is clinically validated, highly effective and gives results that last.

We use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBTi), the gold-standard treatment for insomnia. We’ve helped thousands of people just like you to take back control of their sleep and we’d love to help you too.

What sets our sleep therapy apart is that you’re fully supported at every stage by our team of dedicated sleep coaches. You’ll always have someone there to listen and guide you, as you take steps to identify the root cause of your sleep problem and work towards rebuilding healthy sleep.

Sign up is quick and easy and our sleep therapy is fully-online, offering you the flexibility to improve your sleep at your own pace and from the comfort of your own home. So why wait? Tell us a little about your sleep by answering our sleep quiz and start your journey back to sound sleep today.

How to get better sleep:A man accessing Sleepstation on his mobile.


Your life as a whole has a big impact on your sleep. When you’re trying to improve your sleep, it’s important to:

  • take steps to create the best bedroom setup possible for good sleep
  • try to limit caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the run-up to bedtime
  • incorporate regular exercise, especially outside, into your daily life
  • establish some routine to your sleep
  • prioritise your mental wellbeing and give yourself time to relax and unwind before bed
  • reach out if you need help and support to get your sleep back on track.


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