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10 strategies to improve your sleep

A man with glasses meditating on the couch
Most of us experience trouble sleeping at some point in their lives. When sleep-related disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea and snoring strike over a long period of time, they can take a serious toll on both your mental and physical health1. Sleeping disorders are increasingly prevalent and are proven to lead to functional daytime difficulties and even increase your risk of accidents1.

Fortunately, if you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, there are some easy and effective ways to help improve the quality and duration of your sleep cycle. But first, let’s identify the enemy:

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep, or waking up too early and being unable to fall back to sleep2. According to Statistics Canada, approximately one in seven Canadians suffers from insomnia, making it the most common sleep disorder by far3.

Insomnia can lead to fatigue or sleepiness during the day, forgetfulness, poor concentration, irritability, anxiety, depression, reduced motivation and generally low energy4. These symptoms can be annoying at best, and at worst, they may interfere with personal relationships, job performance and other daily functions.

Before pursuing medication or other treatments, try these simple strategies to help you sleep better:

  1. Create a comfortable sleep environment – Ensure your room is not too hot or cold, block out light sources and minimize noise (using earplugs if needed).

  2. Exercise – Studies have shown that exercising for at least 30 minutes, three times per week, can help improve your sleep. Experts traditionally recommend to avoid exercising at night, but a new study has shown that you can exercise in the evening as long as you avoid vigorous activity for at least one hour before bedtime5.

  3. Relax – Try to relax your body and mind before going to bed with a hot bath 90 minutes before you plan to go to bed or relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation.

  4. Set a routine – Establish regular waking and bedtime routines with consistent bed times to help you develop a regular sleep rhythm. Such routines will become your body’s cue that it’s time to sleep6.

  5. Sleep only when sleepy – Don’t force yourself into bed by a particular time if you’re not feeling sleepy. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something boring or relaxing, such as listening to calm music or having a warm, caffeine-free drink until you feel sleepy again7.

  6. Use your bed for sleeping – Try to avoid reading, watching television, working or studying in bed. These activities can keep your mind active, which may get in the way of sleep.

  7. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking – Avoid consuming caffeine at least four hours before bedtime8. This includes coffee, some teas, soft drinks and even chocolate. As for alcohol, although you may think it helps you fall asleep, it can actually interfere with your sleep cycle later in the evening8. Smoking can also negatively affect your sleep routine and increase your risk of developing sleep apnea9.

  8. Keep short naps, around 20 minutes – To sleep better at night, be careful about taking naps. If your naps are too long or too late in the day, it can mess up your sleep schedule and make it tough to fall asleep when you want to10 .

  9. Test out apps for better sleep - Consider using apps to improve your sleep, whether they help you prepare for a restful night or monitor your sleep quality.

    Sleep Cycle: tracks sleep patterns and offers recommendations on how to optimize sleep.

    Slumber: pre-sleep meditations, bedtime stories and background noise.

    White Noise Lite: a broad selection of white noise options for pre-sleep soothing.

If you’re suffering from insomnia or another sleep disorder and the strategies above don’t help you improve your sleep, contact your TELUS Health Care Centres health professional about other treatment options.

This article has been updated and republished in September 2023.

1. Krista O'Connell. (Medically reviewed by Kevin Martinez, M.D. — By Krista O'Connell — Updated on April 25, 2022). Effects of Insomnia On the Body.  

2. Adrienne Santos-Longhurst (Medically reviewed by J. Keith Fisher, MD — By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst — Updated on January 11, 2023). What Are the Different Types of Insomnia? 

3. Jean-Philippe Chaput, Jessica Yau, Deepa P. Rao and Charles M. Morin (2018) Health Reports, Prevalence of insomnia for Canadians aged 6 to 79.  

4. Logan Foley. (Updated August 8, 2023). Insomnia. Sleep Foundation.  

5. Does exercising at night affect sleep? (April 2019) Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard School of Medicine and Dolezal, B., Neufeld, E., Boland, D., Martin, J., & Cooper, C. (2017). Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Advances in Preventive Medicine. 

6. Eric Suni. (Updated September 1, 2023). How to Reset Your Sleep Routine.  

7. Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, and Robert Segal, (2020) Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment.  

8. Sleep Health Foundation (2013). Caffeine, Food, Alcohol, Smoking and Sleep.  

9. Wen-Yu Hsu, Nan-Ying Chiu, Cheng-Chen Chang, Ting-Gang Chang, Hsien-Yuan Lane. (2019) The association between cigarette smoking and obstructive sleep apnea.  

10. Dr. Abhinav Singh (Updated September 1, 2023). 20 Tips for How to Sleep Better