How to Sleep Better: 4 Surprising Sleep Hacks You Haven’t Heard Before

“How can I sleep better?”

I get this question all the time from new clients. By the time clients hire me for coaching, they’ve typically tried a few things to improve their sleep on their own, such as taking a melatonin supplement or even using prescription sleeping aids. Both of these approaches are quite ineffective, primarily because they do not address the root cause of poor quality sleep. Even worse, prescription sleeping aids have been significantly associated with the risk of development of all forms of cancer. 

So what can you do if you struggle with sleep?

I’ve been biohacking insomnia for a couple years now. I’ve had insomnia for as long as I can remember, even when I was a child. I understand how frustrating it is to lie in bed tossing and turning for hours before falling asleep. I also understand that it’s even more frustrating to have zero energy the next day! But don’t worry; through plenty of trial-and-error combined with what I learned to become a Certified Holistic Health Coach, I know what sleep hacks will give you the biggest ROI. 

So if you’re wondering how to sleep better, read on to learn 4 surprising sleep hacks that you probably haven’t heard before!

Prep for good sleep

Before I reveal my 4 surprising sleep hacks, I think there’s a few simple things you can do to prep for good sleep, including:

  • Determine your sleep chronotype

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule 

  • Don’t stress about getting 8 hours of sleep

Below I’ll talk about each of these points in more detail.

Determine your sleep chronotype

A person's chronotype is the propensity for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period. [1]

It is based on your circadian rhythm, the internal clock that your brain uses to control your sleep/wake cycle. According to sleep expert and The Power of When author Dr. Michael Breus, we each have a unique chronotype that determines our most energetic times of day. You can take a quiz to determine your chronotype. 

Another way to determine your sleep chronotype will require you to take off one week from morning obligations. During this week, allow yourself to go to sleep only when you’re tired (not when you’re “suppose” to), and wake up naturally (without an alarm clock). If you’ve been following my Instagram stories, you may know that I just finished up a week long sleep experiment (if you haven’t been following along, go check out my ‘Sleep’ highlight on Insta!). This sleep experiment allowed me to figure out that I should go to bed at about 10:30 PM and wake up at 7:00 AM.

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule 

After identifying your sleep chronotype and adjusting your sleep schedule accordingly, it’s important to stick to that schedule every day. Many people with inconsistent sleep schedules report restless sleep, meaning you never enter the stages of deep, quality sleep your brain and body need to restore themselves. [2] Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends) supports your circadian rhythm, helping your body settle into a regular sleep-wake cycle.

Track your sleep

Before you make any lifestyle change or try any sleep hacks, I would recommend choosing a method to track your sleep. Why? Because tracking the quality of your sleep will let you know which hacks are working and which aren’t! This can help save your time, money, and, of course, sleep!

Oura ring

In regards to sleep tracking, I think the gold standard is the Oura ring. At the time of writing this blog, I do not have an Oura ring yet, but I plan on ordering one soon because the amount of insight this tiny ring provides is amazing. You wear the Oura ring on your finger all day and night, and it tracks so many things, one being the amount and timing of deep, REM, light sleep, and possible awake time during the night. The Oura ring even guides you to find and maintain a bedtime that suits your daily rhythms, which may help you feel more energetic during the day. Okay, so writing this section has convinced me that I need to get one… I will update this post once I do :)

Smartphone apps

If you’re not ready to invest in an Oura ring, there are many free sleep tracking apps available, including Sleep Cycle, Sleepzy, and Pillow Automatic Sleep Tracker. There are also several apps you can download to use with an Apple Watch to track sleep. However, as we’ll discuss below, sleeping with your phone in your room is not the best idea (even if it’s on airplane mode).

After you have determined your sleep chronotype, maintained a consistent sleep schedule, and figured out which sleep tracking method is right for you, you may want to try one (or all) of my 4 surprising sleep hacks. 

4 surprising sleep hacks you haven’t heard before

1. Stop wearing sunscreen

Pretty surprising sleep hack, right? So what the heck does wearing sunscreen have to do with sleep?

As you know, sunscreen is intended to block the sun’s ultraviolet rays. And this is a good thing… or is it? 

Unfortunately, many people nowadays are afraid of going out into the sun without sun protection because of its ties to skin cancer and premature skin aging. These are both possible outcomes if you spend too much time in the sun. However, a growing body of scientific research suggests that completely avoiding sunlight isn't such a good idea. Sunlight can benefit your eyes, brain, mitochondria, and even your skin- in the right amounts, of course. 

After evaluating research and personally experimenting with this sleep hack, it is my opinion that adequate daily sun exposure is one of the most impactful sleep hacks to promote better sleep.

This is because the human eye contains photosensitive cells in the retina that directly affect the brain’s hypothalamus region, which controls our biological clock. Stimulation of these important cells comes from sunlight, in particular, the blue unseen spectrum. [3]

Going out in the sun first thing in the morning is important because your body will increase production of serotonin. Serotonin regulates mood, appetite, memory, and sleep. It is also the precursor to melatonin, which helps control your sleep and wake cycles. 

Bright light in the morning (e.g. sunlight) also increases production of cortisol like it does with serotonin, which further helps us to wake up. [4] 

Lastly, when your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. Specifically, the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur. [5]

But did you know that sunscreen lowers your body’s ability to make vitamin D by up to 95 percent? [7] Low levels of vitamin D are linked with poor quality sleep. There’s a strong chance you’re deficient in it — more than half the world’s population isn’t getting enough of this vital nutrient. [8]

It’s typically recommended to spend 10 to 30 minutes in direct sunlight every day (in the morning if possible). If you start to burn, you’ve gone too long. Scale it back by a couple minutes next time.

Read more about why you should stop wearing sunscreen.


2. Play in the dirt

I’m not kidding with this one; playing in the dirt can actually improve your sleep! I’m talking about earthing (also known as grounding). Earthing is direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth. This can be as simple as walking outside into your yard barefoot!

The earth naturally has an endless supply of negative electrons that pulse out in a pattern. Your daily routine builds up a positive charge in your body, and things like wearing shoes and walking around inside prevents you from discharging this positive charge you’ve built up into the ground. [10]

Free electrons from the Earth neutralize the positively charged free radicals (highly reactive molecules that damage cells), which are the hallmark of chronic inflammation. [11] In addition to reducing inflammation, science-backed benefits of grounding include improved regulation of cortisol, reduced stress, reduced pain, and better sleep. [10]

In fact, grounding has been shown to help with every aspect of the sleeping process: improved morning fatigue, less nighttime pain, higher daytime energy, decreased cortisol levels, and falling asleep faster. [12]

3. Try a magnesium supplement

In pharmacy school, I learned that melatonin was the best OTC supplement to promote sleep. So when patients asked me how to sleep better, I would usually recommend melatonin.

Now that I’ve been biohacking insomnia for several years, I know that taking melatonin every night for sleep may not be the best idea, mostly because the supplements available offer a much higher dose of melatonin than necessary. 

The proper dosage of melatonin is 0.3 milligrams. There are OTC melatonin supplements with 10 times that suggested amount in a single dose. While this high of a dose is not harmful, it can lead to higher plasma melatonin levels the next day. This may cause a “hangover” effect that leaves users groggy. [13]

Plus, melatonin supplementation is not very effective. Consumer Reports said melatonin supplements helped users fall asleep “only 7 minutes faster and sleep 8 minutes longer on average,” according to a 2013 analysis. And the same report notes that “about 20 percent of users in our survey reported next-day grogginess”. [13][14]

A better solution is a magnesium supplement.

Did you know nearly half of all Americans aren’t meeting their daily magnesium needs?

This is quite concerning, especially considering that magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. 

Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and reduces stress. Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep. [15] 

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, adults are recommended to take about 300 to 400 mg daily. [16] Individual dosing will vary, and can vary widely depending on an individual’s magnesium levels.

I take a magnesium supplement called Natural Calm. It is available in a powder that you mix with water or chewable gummies. I have tried both and think they both taste great, but I personally prefer the gummines. You can get them on Amazon.

4. Sleep as far away from your phone as possible

My final surprising sleep hack is to sleep as far away from your phone (or other electronic devices as possible). Use a real alarm clock instead of your phone’s alarm clock. You can also shut your Wi-Fi down whenever you're not using it, and certainly at night when you're sleeping.

EMF exposures from cellphones, routers, cordless phones, smart meters, baby monitors and other wireless devices causes massive mitochondrial dysfunction due to free radical damage. If you want to understand the science behind the damaging biological effects of EMFs, I suggest reading this article by Dr. Joseph Mercola. [17] 

If you still want to sleep with your phone in the room, at least put it in airplane mode for the night. When a smartphone is put in airplane mode, the connection to radio towers is cut off and radiation due to wireless transmission will cease. However, the electrical components of the cellphone will still emit small amounts of radiation.

10 more science-backed sleep hacks

I wanted to start this blog post on how to sleep better by discussing the 4 surprising sleep hacks above because I bet you probably haven’t heard them before! But since I have been biohacking insomnia for several years now, I obviously have way more sleep hacks to share with you! Below are 10 more science-backed sleep hacks that are pretty simple yet effective!

  1. Know what time to stop drinking caffeine during the day - typically 2 PM or 8 hours before bedtime, whichever comes first

  2. Keep your bedroom between 64 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 22 Celsius)

  3. Reduce exposure to blue light in the evenings by wearing blue blocking glasses or putting away electronic devices at least an hour before bed!

  4. Create a completely dark bedroom with blackout curtains and by unplugging electronics (or covering any lights on devices that cannot be unplugged with electrical tape)

  5. Meditate daily

  6. Exercise daily (but avoid exercising within 3 hours before bed)

  7. Create a relaxing nighttime ritual (reading, listening to calm music, light stretching, meditating, journaling, practicing gratitude, chamomile tea etc.)

  8. Try inversion therapy. It is well-documented that hanging upside down can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly

  9. Limit alcohol. If you’re going to drink alcohol, stay hydrated, increase intake of antioxidants and B vitamins, and consider taking activated charcoal

  10. In addition to magnesium, the following supplements have evidence that they can be helpful for improving sleep: GABA, 5HTP, tryptophan, L-theanine, potassium ornithine

If you want to read more about these sleep hacks, I have written about many of them in detail in my free ebook “Biohacking on a Budget: 15 Biohacks You Can Try Today (For Little or No Money) to Upgrade Your Life”.