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Can’t Sleep? Treat Insomnia, Sleep More, and Sleep Better with Proven Scientific Methods

Easily diagnose your sleep problems and discover evidence-based ways to upgrade the quantity and quality of your sleep.


Quality sleep is essential for brain function and life wellness. No matter your current sleep troubles, you can make simple changes to upgrade your sleep.

Action Potentials:

 Choose which of the 12 themes of sleep tips (below) seems most impactful for you, based on your needs. Then commit to following 1-3 of the corresponding suggestions to transform your sleep!

Everyone Can Benefit from Improved Sleep

Let’s clear a couple of things up.

First, if you think you don’t need this article because you already function just fine with your usual sleep, you should know that when you’re short on sleep, you lose much of your ability to recognize that you’re actually under-functioning. Because your cognition is poor, it’s harder to tell that your cognition is poor! This phenomenon is called the “sleep deprivation illusion.” It especially happens when you’ve been sleep-deprived for so long that exhaustion feels normal – you’ve forgotten how it feels to be well-rested, so you can’t compare it to how you’re feeling now. You’ll be amazed at how much better you can feel once you get better sleep.

Second, if you think you don’t need this article because you already fall asleep easily, you should know that according to sleep experts, falling asleep easily is actually not a sign you’re a good sleeper – it’s more likely a sign that you’re sleep-deprived.

Third, before you keep reading, check in with your body. Are you tired? If so, instantly boost your sleep by simply going to sleep right now! Come back when you have more mental energy.

If you’re well-rested, read on.

“Sleep is the best investment you can make in yourself.”


Quality sleep is absolutely critical for optimal brain health and mental function. Study after study shows that both sleep quantity and quality directly affect body and cognitive performance. Good sleep is essential for energy, memory, focus, emotional regulation, willpower, good decision-making, and more. In short, sleep affects every aspect of your happiness, brain function, performance, and behavior.

(If you’re not familiar with why sleep is so critical, see how it affects your body and your brain. Or learn the biological reasons that it’s so important – basically, our brains need that time to clear out biological junk that builds up, process our experiences, and consolidate memories. Or if you’re more scientifically-minded, learn all of the above with peer-reviewed article one or two.)

Unfortunately, there is a long list of things that can disrupt your sleep (and resulting energy levels), including physical, emotional, and mental stressors. My goal with this article is to help you get to the source of your sleep struggles and give you a few things to start trying to improve it.

Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, nor the same quality, but the ideas below are true for most people. Some of the descriptions will be pretty minimal, so if you’d like to know why a tip works or how to properly apply it, use Google or contact me for personalized help.

Look at the short list below, then start with the one you think would be the most transformational for you. Be careful not to simply choose an easy one that is not actually the root of your issue. As an analogy, getting new tires on a race car is easy and can certainly help it go faster…but new tires will do absolutely nothing if the engine is dead! So, make sure you work on what will be the most impactful, not necessarily the easiest.


Not sure how to actually make changes? Discover how to effectively set and hit goals.


12 themes of sleep problems and their solutions, so you can transform your sleep for the better:

(1) If you’re not dedicating enough time to sleep, simply get more sleep.

(2) If your sleep is irregular, optimize your sleep schedule.

(3) If you’re out of sync with the sun, optimize your light exposure.

(4) If you have a poor or non-existent night routine, optimize your pre-sleep habits.

(5) If you dread the bed, optimize your sleep associations.

(6) If you’re too stressed, anxious, or emotional, optimize your stress / emotional management.

(7) If you’re sedentary, optimize your exercise.

(8) If you’re not eating healthy, optimize your diet and substance use.

(9) If you’re physically uncomfortable, optimize your sleep environment.

(10) If your sleep causes health problems, optimize your sleep position.

(11) If you have any underlying sleep disorders, resolve them with medical and professional intervention.

(12) If you’re not sure what’s happening with your sleep, optimize your tracking.


Disclaimer! I am a neuroscientist, not a medical doctor, so nothing in this article is intended as medical advice. Consult your doctor before making any drastic health changes.

(1) If you’re not dedicating enough time to sleep, simply get more sleep.

Do not make the mistake of underestimating how much sleep you need. Most people need 7-9 hours per night to feel fully functional and happy.

1. No, you’re probably not a superhuman exception. More likely, you’re too sleep-deprived to notice how sleep-deprived you are thanks to the sleep deprivation illusion mentioned above.

2. You can’t discover how much getting more sleep would transform your life until you try it.

3. My own life changed when I discovered that getting 9 hours of sleep instead of 7.5 completely erased struggles I had with focus, motivation, and irritability, literally overnight!

(2) If your sleep is irregular, optimize your sleep schedule.

Your circadian rhythm is an internal, biological clock that determines when you have energy and when you feel like sleeping. Keeping this clock on schedule is critical for energy during the morning and day and healthy sleepiness at night. If your sleep schedule is off, your body isn’t sure if it’s time to be energized or sleep, so you become worse at both. Therefore, you should…

1. Establish and stick to a consistent sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day so your body knows when to sleep and when to boost your energy.

2. Avoid sleeping in on weekends.

3. Follow sleep cycles: 1 full sleep cycle takes ~90 min. (+/- 20 min.). So, try to sleep for a length of time that is a multiple of 90 min., meaning 6, 7.5, or 9 hours, even if that means getting slightly less sleep. Doing so will help you wake at a time when your brain has a shallower sleep wave pattern, so you feel more awake and refreshed instead of fatigued and groggy.

      • Experiment to determine your own optimal length of sleep time.

4. Don’t use the snooze button: sleeping in can start another sleep cycle or otherwise disrupt your sleep and your schedule. If you regularly need more sleep, move your alarm back a bit rather than snoozing.

5. Avoid naps or take strategic naps: Nap for no more than 30 min., unless you really need to catch up on sleep, in which case try to limit it to one or two 90-min. cycles.

6. Make sleep a top priority: it should be a non-negotiable part of your daily routine. Avoid sacrificing sleep for other activities, such as work or socializing. Other life aspects will benefit more from you being well rested than from you dedicating more ineffectual, tired time to them.

7. Work with your body’s natural biological rhythm rather than against it:

      • You might biologically need more sleep than other people. That’s ok – many people should be sleeping longer, but most refuse to acknowledge it, so they suffer from lower-quality wake time.
      • You might not be a morning person. That’s ok. Trying to be one will likely hurt more than it helps.

8. If you need to jumpstart a better sleep schedule, consider melatonin or other supplements: Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. It and other supplements can help improve sleep quality and quantity, especially by helping you get on a better schedule, such as during jet lag. But there are risks and downsides, so use them cautiously. Consult with a healthcare provider before taking any new supplements.

9. FAQs [Footnote 1]

(3) If you’re out of sync with the sun, optimize your light exposure.

By stimulating cortisol (a hormone that keeps you alert) and inhibiting melatonin (a hormone that helps you sleep), light directly influences your biology and your wakefulness.

Light influences the hormones that determine your circadian rhythm and wakefulness.

The more light you get during the day and the less light you get at night, the stronger and healthier your circadian rhythms will be, leading to better sleep and more energy. Therefore…

1. Try to match the sun: be up when it is up, and sleep when it is down.

2. Get plenty of exposure to sunlight, as early as possible. As soon as spring hit, I started working outside a bit, and I immediately started waking up more energized and refreshed.

3. Use alarms that wake you gently with light, such as a dawn simulator. Ideally it will include gentle nature sounds, too, rather than stressful, annoying beeping.

4. Avoid bright lights at night.

5. Especially avoid blue light before bed: Blue light emitted by electronic devices interferes with your body’s production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. Avoid electronic devices for at least an hour before bedtime. If you must use them, use night mode settings or other blue light filters, or consider using blue light-blocking glasses.

(4) If you have a poor or non-existent night routine, optimize your pre-sleep habits.

A critical part of good sleep hygiene is your pre-sleep night routine. If you don’t have one, start one tonight! If you have one already, make it even better and keep it consistent so your brain learns that those night activities mean it’s sleep time.

1. Aim for at least a 30-min. wind-down time.

2. Reduce exposure to stimulating activities. No electronics for 30-60 min. before bed. Overall, screen use impairs sleep, even if it’s nowhere near bedtime [Footnote 2].

3. Avoid distressing conflict or news, and avoid anything that might ignite those things (ex: TV, difficult conversations, emails, etc.)

4. Reduce light (especially blue light) to keep your melatonin levels healthy: Make your screens turn to night mode automatically when the sun goes down. Consider blue light-blocking glasses.

5. Practice relaxation techniques: meditation, mindfulness, paced breathing, journaling, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation (tense and then relax each muscle group in your body one at a time).

6. Try soft music, light stretching, etc.

7. To avoid becoming anxious about sleep, focus on the goal of relaxation rather than the goal of falling asleep.

(5) If you dread the bed, optimize your sleep associations.

Your brain’s behavior depends on conditioned responses to stimuli: if your brain expects to sleep when it sees and feels your bed, then you’ll sleep. If your brain expects to stay awake, frustrated, or anxious in bed, then you will. Therefore, …

1. Restrict in-bed activity: only sleep and sex should happen in the bedroom. For any other relaxation, make a cozy Zen/nest space somewhere else.

2. Avoid self-fulfilling prophecies: You’ve heard of the placebo effect? Your brain is shockingly good at creating states that it believes to be true. If you consider yourself a good sleeper and expect good sleep, despite any interruptions or stress, then you will sleep better. But the reverse is also true! If you consider yourself a poor sleeper or expect poor sleep, you will sleep more poorly. If you expect that a sleep interruption or stressor will ruin your night, then it probably will.

3. If you need to change your beliefs around sleep, use positive declarations/affirmations. Rewire your brain so you believe positive things, like “I am a good sleeper. I can calm myself and sleep soundly even if I’m emotionally triggered.”

4. Try aromatherapy: Essential oils such as lavender or chamomile in a diffuser or on your pillow can promote relaxation and help you fall asleep faster. Lavender has been shown to produce a calming effect, but any aroma can build positive sleep associations, so your brain thinks, “scent = sleepy time.”

5. Watch out for “conditioned arousal” (a.k.a. learned arousal): This is a phenomenon where you feel tired but become more awake once in bed. Your brain has learned that “bed = lie awake,” so now your sleep environment signals to your brain that getting into bed mentally “arouses” you rather than sends you to sleep.

      • To help prevent this, if you can’t fall asleep or you wake up and can’t fall back asleep after ~15 min., get up and do something calming in low light before trying to sleep again. But avoid clock-watching, as it can increase anxiety and make it harder to fall asleep.

6. If you already have any such negative associations around the bedroom and trying to sleep, try switching things up: move your bed to a new room, rearrange your bedroom furniture, change your lighting, etc. The more things change, the less your old brain wiring will affect you.

(6) If you’re too stressed, anxious, or emotional, optimize your stress / emotional management.

If you don’t manage it well, emotional and/or mental stress can wreck your sleep (and your energy, mood, motivation, and productivity).

1. Reduce overall stress and anxiety.

2. Manage persistent mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Talk to your doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, etc.

3. Practice relaxation techniques, especially before bed: Activities such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing can help calm your mind and relax your body.

4. Practice gratitude: Take a few moments before bed to reflect on what you’re grateful for to promote positive emotions and reduce stress.

5. Try natural remedies such as valerian root or chamomile tea, which promote relaxation and improve sleep.

6. Avoid stress or excitement for an hour or so before bed. What can you do to avoid it at that time?

7. Learn cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to improve sleep.

8. Avoid negative self-talk. Practice self-acceptance.

9. Watch out for negative expectations that create self-fulfilling prophecies (see #5).

10. If you have trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts, try writing out your distracting thoughts or using a relaxation technique to calm your mind.

11. Use emotional freedom techniques (EFT), acupressure, an acupressure mat, etc. to help process and release unpleasant emotions and promote relaxation and sleep.

12. Most people benefit from therapy to heal deeper emotional wounds and triggers that activate your body’s stress responses.

(7) If you’re sedentary, optimize your exercise.

Regular exercise powerfully promotes quality sleep. It boosts healthy metabolism, feel-good hormones, and wakefulness and energy during the day, all of which regulates your body’s sleep schedule and helps you to feel ready to crash at night.

1. Sure, 30 min. of daily exercise is ideal, but even 5-10 min. per day can transform your energy, sleep, mood, and a million other aspects of your health.

2. Try to avoid exercising too close to bedtime (< 3 hours).

3. Any form of exercise is helpful, but cardio may be even better than strength training for sleep.

4. Consult with your doctor first, but it’s usually best to exercise even when you don’t feel like it. Challenge yourself, but don’t overdo it. That way you’ll have healthy physical stress without becoming exhausted [Footnote 3].

5. If you have to choose between catching up on sleep and working out, sleep is usually the better choice, since it helps your body and brain recover, whereas working out challenges your body to improve. You should probably avoid that extra challenge if you’re already barely functional – just think: when you’re sick your body tells you to rest, not get up and do sprints! But try to plan well enough that you don’t have to sacrifice either one.

Then I said, “Why not both?!”

(8) If you’re not eating healthy, optimize your diet and substance use.

Out of everything, the most transformational (yet simple) change that you can make may be your diet. Everything you consume affects your body for better or worse, adding energy or taking it, contributing to inflammation or reducing it, aiding your sleep or wrecking it.

1. Eat a balanced and healthy diet. Avoid sugar and refined carbs, which cause brain inflammation. Eat more brain foods, including green vegetables, fatty fish, whole grains, berries, nuts, and seeds. Consume more foods and drinks that specifically improve sleep.

2. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.

3. Stay well-hydrated throughout the day, but limit fluids before bedtime.

4. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake. They interfere with your sleep, so try to avoid them, especially in the evening.

5. Consider completely abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, drugs of abuse, and sugary drinks like soda and energy drinks. They can help in the short term but almost always make things worse in the long term, especially if you become dependent on them, like a crutch. The exception is caffeine at rare, critical times when you need more mental energy right now, so you decide the inevitable energy crash and other costs will be worth it.

There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.


(9) If you’re physically uncomfortable, optimize your sleep environment.

Your sleep environment greatly impacts the quality of your sleep. Create a relaxing, sleep-conducive environment:

1. Reduce noise. Consider earplugs. Use a white noise machine or app to mask other sounds that might disrupt your sleep, including others’ snoring [Footnote 4].

2. Reduce light. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask.

3. Adjust the temperature so it’s comfortable but on the cool side. The ideal sleeping temperature is generally between 60-67°F.

4. Invest in a high-quality mattress and bedding that meets your individual needs. Think comfortable and supportive.

5. Consider a sleep-specific pillow: A pillow designed for sleep can help improve neck and spine alignment, leading to more comfortable and restful sleep. Your ideal pillow depends on your sleep position.

6. Use a weighted blanket: These have been shown to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep.

(10) If your sleep causes health problems, optimize your sleep position.

Sleep positions can affect the quality of your sleep, so experiment to find which one works best for you.

1. Back sleeping is best for your spine, your posture, and pain relief. However, it can worsen sleep paralysis.

2. Side sleeping is best for reducing sleep apnea and acid reflux and for boosting brain health by clearing out waste through the brain’s glymphatic system.

3. Stomach sleeping tends to contribute to various health problems and has essentially no advantages. Avoid it.

4. Consider using a body pillow for support.

(11) If you have any underlying sleep disorders, resolve them with medical and professional intervention.

If you’re still having trouble sleeping, you may have a biological sleep disorder that you need to address. Talk to a sleep professional or your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing persistent sleep problems so they can help treat the underlying problem.

1. For example:

      • Sleep apnea: Do you snore badly or have trouble breathing at night, perhaps waking up gasping? Besides interrupting sleep, these consistent deprivations of oxygen increase risks of brain issues, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, etc.
      • Myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS): Includes a combination of symptoms such as severe, enduring fatigue; difficulty concentrating or remembering; unrefreshing sleep; muscle and joint pain; and headaches. Unprocessed trauma is a likely cause.
      • Night terrors: Also usually related to unprocessed trauma.
      • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): Sleep disrupted by irresistible urges to move your legs.
      • Long COVID: COVID can also reactivate viruses that cause chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
      • Chronic pain: Consider using pain management techniques such as physical therapy or acupuncture.
      • Hormone imbalances: Many hormones may be affecting your sleep. In people born female, menstrual and menopausal hormonal changes can further disrupt sleep.

2. Consult with a sleep specialist.

3. Consider getting a personal sleep study to identify underlying issues, leading to targeted treatments to help you sleep better.

4. Consider cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I): CBT-I is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to sleep. It has been shown to effectively treat chronic insomnia.

(12) If you’re not sure what’s happening with your sleep, optimize your tracking.

Tracking your sleep can help you identify patterns and make adjustments to improve quality and quantity.

1. Use a sleep-tracking app or device and/or keep a sleep diary.

2. But again, don’t put too much trust in sleep trackers. They can wrongly show that your sleep is poor, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy as mentioned in #5 above.

Sleep is a fundamental aspect of your life. By taking steps to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep, you can reap the benefits of increased energy, better mood, and improved cognitive function. So, make a commitment to yourself to prioritize your sleep and make changes to create more restful and rejuvenating slumber. Your body and brain can and will change for the better.

If you have questions or you’re struggling to apply these techniques to your specific situation, I’m happy to help. Just email me at [email protected]. You can even get 1-on-1 guidance over video with a free brain coaching session

“Sleep is the best investment you can make in yourself.” By investing in it, you can wake up refreshed and unlock the full potential of your body and mind.

This article will upgrade your sleep, energy, and cognitive function.

But only if you take action. Don’t sleep on this! 😄

Get out there and start using these skills in the real world so you can feel more rested, energetic, capable, and happy!

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1. FAQs about sleep schedules:
    • If I’m feeling tired, should I ignore my schedule and go to sleep early? Yes, usually, especially if you’re actually sleepy, not just drained, low-energy, mentally or emotionally exhausted, or feeling tired just in your eyes because of eye strain. You need the rest, and staying up might trick your brain into another wave of energy, exhausting you further. Falling asleep while watching TV or other relaxing activities is a good sign that your body wants to go to sleep earlier (beware that screen use can prevent you from noticing that you’re tired).
    • Should I go to sleep on schedule even if I’m not feeling tired yet? Yes and no.
      • Do try to bed on time, because often the cues of your sleep environment will initiate sleepiness. Plus, we’re often way more tired than we realize, especially when we’re mindlessly staring at screens.
      • But don’t stay in bed if you don’t start to feel sleepier or calmer after ~10 min. or 3 roll-overs; otherwise, you might create anxiety and insomnia. Get up and engage in relaxing, non-stimulating activities that won’t wake you up further.
    • Should I sleep in if I feel like it? Usually no, since that will mess up your circadian rhythm. But listen to your body – it might be worth it if you had a late night, a hard workout, or a particularly challenging day the day before.
    • What if I wake up earlier than planned? If you feel awake, your natural wake time may be earlier than you’re doing, so get up and consider shifting your schedule earlier. If you feel tired, go back to bed.
    • How can I effectively shift my sleep schedule without ruining my sleep?
      • If you’re shifting to earlier, do it gradually. Only ~15 min. earlier each night (unless you’re already tired), otherwise it might create insomnia. Suddenly going to bed much earlier can be an effective shortcut, but be sure to get up earlier the next day to avoid oversleeping. Push through morning tiredness by doing something to wake yourself up so your body can learn that what used to be sleep time in the morning is now wake time.
      • If you’re shifting to later, you can try an hour or two at a time. Push through any initial pre-sleep tiredness with energizing distractions.

2. Even if it’s nowhere near bedtime, screen overuse is not good for sleep. It increases stress and anxiety throughout the day and creates near-constant overstimulation of your brain’s dopamine reward pathways. In turn, this throws off mood, hormones, other neurotransmitters, the ability to feel pleasure and happiness, and more, directly and indirectly causing worse sleep.

So what can you do instead? It may seem hard to think of alternatives when your brain screams “But that’s not fun!!!” or “That’s so much effort!” because it’s more or less addicted to the easy dopamine rush that comes from technology. But really, once you give yourself a chance to try them and savor them, there are many things that feel better than screen time, The research shows that screen use creates unhappiness, whereas mindful activities objectively increase happiness, while requiring little conscious effort and less unconscious effort than screen-based activities, which drain your brain because it is so overstimulated. Our addicted brains tell us that we “need a break” and that screen-based activities are a great break because they’re effortless and pleasurable.

That’s a lie. They are neither effortless nor enjoyable compared to:

Socializing. Reading. Stretching. Going for a walk. Dancing. Noticing little beautiful things about nature. Observing people. Listening to music or singing. Cuddles or naps. Just sitting and thinking. Savoring your food (when was the last day that you used no screens every time you ate and drank? Can’t remember? “Food” for thought 😉). Etc.

If you had to choose between 20 minutes of screen time or one of those kinds of things, which sounds more enjoyable and happier? If they both disappeared, which would you be sadder to lose, deep down? Probably not mindless TikTok, Reddit, or Netflix.

3. Don’t put too much trust in energy trackers like “Body Battery.” They’re not particularly accurate, and they often create a self-fulfilling prophecy where it tells you your energy is low so you feel drained and decide you can’t exercise. The truth is that usually, starting to exercise (even when you supposedly don’t have much energy) will create more energy.

4. If your partner snores, that may disrupt your sleep more than you realize. Encourage your partner to make changes that reduce snoring, such as losing weight, sleeping more on their side, treating allergies, drinking more water, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and other sedatives, and using nasal strips, dilators, or decongestants. And above all, treating any sleep apnea is critical, because this is a serious health problem.

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