I tried 3 tactics to get a better night’s sleep. One worked

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There’s nothing more frustrating than laying awake in bed, unable to fall asleep while watching the clock slowly tick closer to morning time—and if you’re experiencing chronic wakefulness, you know all too well that even the strongest cup of coffee won’t help you overcome lack of sleep. 

That’s why we tapped into some of the top sleep experts in our network to get their best tips on how to get a better night’s sleep—and while I was personally able to improve my overall quality of sleep with the simple change of a pillow, these tips should work for pretty much any sleep issues you may be having—from quieting a racing mind to finding a solution to lower back pain.

Change how you look at your pillow

According to Dr. Daina Patel BSc (Hons), DC Chronic Pain Chiropractor, if the reason for not sleeping well is physical or pain related, an easy trick to use is to place a pillow under the knees when sleeping on the back.

This allows for the lower back to relax and people tend to feel less tightness or pain. Similarly, while sleeping on the side, a pillow can be placed between the knees.

“I love using a long body pillow, especially while sleeping on the side, because you can hug the top and that helps keep the upper back and shoulders aligned and prevents them from slouching,” explains Dr. Patel. “This may be especially helpful for those who experience numbness or tingling in the arms or hands due to the compression from sleeping in a bad position.”

When it comes to the neck, you want to find a pillow that allows for the neck to stay neutral so the chin is neither sticking up or completely tucked in, giving you that double chin look. “I love water pillows because they tend to move with you while you sleep, resulting in less stiffness in the morning.”

Turn off the TV and open a book

“An amazing little trick I tell my patients to fall asleep and sleep better is to activate their imagination by reading a paperback book or magazine,” explains Dr. William L. Balanoff, Executive Clinical Director of Orthodontic Care of Georgia and the CEO of Oral Care Perfected. 

“Electronic devices like TVs, phones and tablets make it more difficult for your body and brian to slow down and enter deeper sleep but reading a paperback book allowed my patients, who suffer from the stress of chronic sleep issues like night time teeth grinding and sleep apnea, to sleep more soundly and wake-up refreshed.”

According to Dr. Balanoff, another benefit of this is the reduction of stress before bedtime — which can quickly snowball and waste hours of sleep time.

“Sleep anxiety begins to occur and can cause people to avoid sleep but developing this paperback reading habit before going to bed has enormous benefits for my patients.”

Maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule

Whether you’ve been working swing shifts, your home office is in a basement or bedroom with little light, or you’ve been taking advantage of the global lockdown measures and sleeping in way later than you used to, you may be throwing off your body’s natural melatonin production.

“The trick to getting better quality sleep is to maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule,” explains McKenzie Hyde, Certified Sleep Science Coach. “Our bodies are hardwired to feel sleepy and alert at different times of the day.”

For example, in the morning when we are exposed to sunlight, cortisol and adrenaline levels increase and our core body temperature rises.

These changes make us feel awake and alert. In the evening, however, as light decreases, melatonin levels increase and our core body temperature drops, helping us relax and fall asleep.

“When we sleep in opposition to this natural cycle by going to bed too late or waking up too early, it can cause a hormonal imbalance. Over time, this change can make it difficult to get deep sleep. A consistent sleep schedule will keep this cycle intact and allow for more restorative sleep.”