“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” — Matthew Walker, sleep scientist.
Do you lay awake in bed at night staring at the cracks in the ceiling, your eyes red with despair?
Or do you fall asleep as effortlessly as the next tired person?
Perhaps it’s the latter and yet you wonder how to sleep even better.
After all, you’ve been bracing for life in a post-pandemic world riddled with post-pandemic stress.
Wherever you lie on the sleep spectrum, fear not!
This summary and review of “Headspace Guide To Sleep” on Netflix covers the basics on how to catch more of those elusive ZZZs.
As you scroll through this article, be on the lookout for text in bold highlighting each essential piece of advice on how to sleep better.
EPISODE 1: HOW TO SLEEP BETTER
In the introductory episode of “Headspace Guide To Sleep,” the series narrator, Eve, uses her soothing lilt to debunk some common myths about sleep.
One such myth is the purported eight hours of sleep needed to replenish and restore the body.
Since the recent discovery of DEC2 — a gene that affects sleep longevity — science has proven that not everyone’s internal clock is wired the same way.
As we pointed out in our chronotypes article, some people only need as little as four hours of sleep each night.
And in extreme cases, one to two hours may suffice.
This isn’t to say that those who get by with minimal sleep will always be this way.
As people go through different phases in life — from students and working professionals to job burnouts and retirees — sleep will experience some peaks and valleys of its own.
Another sleep myth to debunk is physical exercise before bedtime.
Keep in mind that working out in the evening doesn’t always correlate with alertness.
In other words, exercising at night won’t prevent you from catching some much-needed shut-eye as you settle into bed.
But it really all depends on the type and timing of your exercise.
For instance, a high-intensity workout right before bed can harm your ability to drift into effortless sleep.
This is because to prepare for sleep, your body temperature needs to cool and your heart rate needs to slow.
So, it’s good to remember that if you plan to exercise at night, do so at least two hours before bedtime.
The last sleep myths in this episode of “Headspace Guide To Sleep” are alcohol and caffeine intakes throughout the day.
To know how to sleep better, you’ll need to keep these mood-altering substances in check.
Although a nightcap (an alcoholic beverage right before bed) can certainly aid the onset of sleep, it could also suppress REM — the dream stage of sleep — and increase your likelihood of snoring.
Thus, to sleep better, you should drink your last cocktail or glass of wine at least two hours before bedtime.
Similarly, caffeine can disrupt your body’s sleep/wake cycle and threaten to keep you awake.
To avoid this tragedy, stick to just one cup of coffee per day and drink it before 2 PM.
But if you’re pining for that second or third cup of joe on the same day, try not to sip it past 5 PM!
EPISODE 2: PUTTING YOUR PHONE TO SLEEP
Technology can make your life a whole lot easier.
Sadly, it can disrupt your natural sleep/wake cycle, too.
There are mainly two ways in which technology impacts sleep and both have to do with chemicals released in your brain.
First up: “The Big M”:
As in, melatonin.
If you haven’t heard yet, melatonin’s a huge deal in the enigmatic realm of sleep.
And if you’re wondering how to sleep better, regulating your melatonin levels should be a top priority.
So, how does this work, exactly?
Well, it’s pretty simple:
When your pupils no longer catch the photon-filled light of the day, your brain triggers the release of melatonin (in response to darkness.)
In turn, this hormone tells your body that it’s time for bed.
Knock, knock! Throw on some pajamas and get your ass in bed! Says vulgar Melatonin.
But rather than listen, you stare at your phone screen right before falling asleep, scrolling through your social media feeds or catching up with the latest news.
What’s wrong with this picture? (So glad you asked!)
The blue light emitted from your electronic devices suppresses the release of melatonin, thus making it harder to fall asleep.
What’s more, interacting with your smartphone as you settle into bed can trigger a double whammy of chemicals, leading to a poorer quality of sleep.
We mean, of course, “The Big D.”
As in, dopamine.
Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that governs your internal reward system.
The more you feel rewarded through the use of electronic devices, the likelier you are to stay awake and extract more of that addictive dopamine from your brain.
Let’s say, for example, that one of your favorite bedtime rituals is to monitor the number of social media likes and comments you received that day.
If these social media impressions are mainly positive and flattering, your brain could trigger the release of dopamine.
Next thing you know, you’re lying wide awake in bed, mining for dopamine in your brain thanks to Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
Want to know how to sleep better?
Do yourself a favor: put away your phone at least one hour before bedtime.
We’ll do you one better: switch your phone notifications to “Do Not Disturb” for at least seven to nine hours overnight.
You can now start counting some lovely, fence-hopping sheep!
EPISODE 3: THE WEIRD WORLD OF DREAMS
Episode three of “Headspace Guide to Sleep” highlights the importance of REM (rapid eye movement), otherwise known as the dream stage of sleep.
Some people experience “micro-awakenings” during REM.
Micro-awakenings are brief periods of lucidity in between dreams.
Think of these as small intermissions. You can go to the bathroom or refill your glass of water on the nightstand. Then, you go back to bed and resume the next stage of sleep.
Studies have shown that those who experience micro-awakenings overnight tend to recall their dreams in memory better than those who don’t experience micro-awakenings.
The narrator herself, Eve, believes that there’s a correlation between this sense of hyper-awareness during the dream stage of sleep (which often leads to multiple awakenings overnight) and the art of mindful meditation.
Consider this: mindfulness practices like meditation and journaling evoke a sense of extreme awareness, specifically how you feel (in the present moment) as you meditate or keep a journal.
This sense of awareness can easily spill into the weird world of dreams, rousing you from sleep not to annoy you, per se, but to help you recall your dreams even better, thereby flexing your muscle memory.
And why would you want to recall your dreams? Even the not-so-fun ones (aka nightmares?)
Well, take author Rosalind D. Cartwright’s input in her book, “The Twenty-four Hour Mind.”
According to Cartwright, the dream stage of sleep can help you release tension in your body and work out some of the negative emotions that you may be feeling within.
By revisiting these negative emotions in your dreams, your sleeping mind can now work on mitigating them.
This practice helps resolve the unpleasant experiences that are often left unresolved in your conscious life.
When you awaken and recall the events in the dream, you can then piece together a semblance of closure out of the emotional gunk that’s left.
EPISODE 4: LETTING GO OF STRESS
When it comes to catching some blissful ZZZs, stress is absolutely no bueno (“not good.”)
As more worries stack up in your mind, your brain shifts into overdrive mode.
You lie awake in bed, ruminating over stressful experiences — perhaps a falling-out with a co-worker or a recent break-up with a loved one.
In response to stress, your brain triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline into your bloodstream.
These chemicals heighten your sense of alertness, thus preventing sleepiness.
So, to lower your stress levels, try spending more time outdoors.
Connecting with nature — even if it’s a casual stroll in the park — can do wonders for your mental health.
And physical activities, such as jogging, hiking, or practicing yoga, can also do the trick.
More importantly, if you find yourself wide awake because of stress, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Forcing yourself to sleep will likely backfire (and pile on even more stress.)
Instead, get out of bed and move to another room. Then, listen to relaxing music or read until you feel sleepy.
Finally, breathing exercises can help you relax and drift into a peaceful slumber.
EPISODE 5: THE FACTS ABOUT SLEEPING PILLS
Sleep aids are a multi-billion dollar industry.
And it isn’t hard to understand why.
According to episode five of “Headspace Guide To Sleep,” lack of restorative sleep can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease in humans.
That alone is frightening and yet the risks of poor sleep quality don’t end there.
Restlessness can also lead to poor decision-making, like buying red sneakers, or worse, buying red sneakers and actually wearing them.
This is why sleeping pills are hella-appealing: they offer a swift solution to your life-threatening sleep problems.
They’re also quite the tricksters: they release chemicals in your brain that fool your body into thinking that it’s tired.
This is particularly enticing if you’ve been trying to figure out how to sleep better but keep failing at it.
And though sleeping pills may offer that respite from waking life you so desperately need, it’s important to consult with your doctor on whether or not they’re right for you.
After all, sleeping pills may cancel REM cycles entirely.
Remember REM? Your body desperately needs that, too. Otherwise, how to sleep better becomes a futile mission.
EPISODE 6: PUTTING INSOMNIA TO BED
Insomnia is a serious sleep condition that can wreak havoc on your mental health and personal wellbeing.
An insomniac is someone who is regularly unable to sleep.
Episode six of “Headspace Guide To Sleep” warns that traumatic events, as well as anxiety and depression, can trigger bouts of insomnia.
Conversely, some forms of insomnia are genetic, meaning that fending it off isn’t always up to sheer will.
It makes you wonder how to sleep better when insomnia can easily disrupt your waking life and keep you from a peaceful slumber.
Well, the answer isn’t simple, but it’s not impossible either.
To combat the throes of insomnia, “Headspace Guide To Sleep” offers up a mindfulness technique called “visualization.”
Visualization brings to mind a scene in a tranquil environment — one that promotes ultra relaxation.
This imaginary environment can be a pristine beach on a sandbar in paradise or a zen garden filled with bonsai trees and koi ponds.
But you needn’t venture to these peaceful settings in your mind to overcome insomnia.
You could also move from your bedroom to a different room in your home, put on some headphones and listen to soothing music, or practice a few deep breathing exercises.
Furthermore, if you suffer from insomnia and want to learn how to sleep better, it’s important to establish a positive association with your bedroom.
Your bedroom should be a haven for sleep. This is why moving to another room when you’re feeling restless is super important. You shouldn’t take out your frustrations on your bedroom.
Finally, keep in mind that insomnia is a serious mental health condition and that it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
To our point, we recommend that you consult with your doctor on how to sleep better and tackle insomnia with a medically approved game plan.
EPISODE 7: YOUR PERFECT SLEEP RHYTHM
This final episode of “Headspace Guide To Sleep” sheds light on humankind’s relationship with circadian rhythms.
“We are creatures of the sun,” says Eve, pointing out that humans have evolved over millennia to become a diurnal species, meaning “of, relating to, or occurring in the daytime.”
Now, some chronotypes will beg to differ, especially if you’re a dolphin-type.
But just because you follow irregular sleep cycles doesn’t mean that you’ll always be a night owl who won’t ever rise with the sun or a morning lark who won’t ever sleep in from time to time.
The truth is, all chronotypes are most productive during the day when sunlight is abundant. It’s just that they follow different sleep cycles based on their unique habitats and genetic codes.
To learn how to sleep better, it’s important to aid your internal clock by helping it identify the cues that differentiate your morning and nighttime routines.
For instance, when your rise in the morning, go to each room in your home, draw back the curtains, or open up the blinds. Let in some light through the windows and rejoice!
In short, expose yourself to as much sunlight as you can.
A short stroll outdoors should work, even in the wintertime when the sky is often overcast (depending on where you live.)
Then, to ease into a bedtime ritual, start dimming the lights in your home a few hours before bed.
If you practice mindful meditation, exercise regularly, or do a combination of both during the day, the chances for better sleep will skyrocket!
But more importantly, as you’re winding down for the evening, make sure that you’re in a safe space for sleep — one that promotes a higher quality of sleep.
For the perfect bedroom setup to promote peaceful sleep, check out this post.
And if you need some extra help winding down for the evening, listen to our free sleep story and guided meditation, “Paradise Island.”