Sleep Better Tonight: Five Often-Overlooked Hacks

Want to sleep better tonight? I'm willing to bet you haven't even HEARD of #3-5, let alone tried them. They've helped me immensely; give them a go and you may sleep better, too!

How’d you sleep last night? Did you toss and turn? Did you wake up feeling lousy? Or did you fall asleep right away, and wake up feeling refreshed? If waking up well-rested sounds like a pipe dream, do something about it! Small, simple changes can help you sleep better tonight, as I know from firsthand experience.



Keep in mind, I’m not a medical doctor. And not all these hacks will apply to you. But if you find yourself sleeping poorly, or waking up feeling awful, it’s worth considering if any of these secret weapons will help you sleep better. Give them a try, and see if they help you wake up feeling refreshed instead of run-down.

Sleep Better Tonight: Five Often-Overlooked Hacks

Bed risers are popular among college students and come in 4-packs; for medical purposes, just use two at the head of the bed.

1. Cover the basics

If you’re new to sleep problems, start with the basics. This post overviews the the common advice experts offer to sleep better: dark room, noise control, etc. (Bonus: these also help kids with sleep troubles sleep better. My offspring inherited many of my weird sleep-interfering quirks, so we’ve been around this block more than once!)

And of course, avoiding caffeine past morning (especially if you’re sensitive), and no more than one (women) or two (men) alcoholic drinks per day are also key.

If your doctor has given you special instructions relevant to a medical diagnosis (as mine have), follow those also. Allergies? Yes, encasing bedding in allergen covers and eliminating carpet from bedroom was a pain, but worth it. Acid reflux? Cutting off food and drink (even water!) a few hours before bedtime took effort, but made a huge difference. So did putting my bed on blocks, another step I resisted at first.

2. Banish the blues

As in, blue wavelengths of light.

You may have heard (or learned the hard way) that using electronic devices before bed is a no-no, but do you know why? Besides the mental stimulation of playing games or checking your social media feed, there’s a deeper scientific reason. The blue wavelengths of light actually inhibit our bodies’ ability to produce melatonin in preparation for sleep.

So if you want to sleep better, make sure your bedroom has “warm” light bulbs, not fluorescent or “cool” LED bulbs. Don’t leave your phone next to your bed face-up, where it can flash light at you all night. If you have a digital clock, make sure its display is red (not blue).

And if you must use a screen before bedtime, make sure it’s set to “night” status for at least an hour before you plan to turn in. Here is how to enable Night Mode for Android devices; for iOS devices, make sure Night Shift is on. Or activate Night Light (Windows 10+) or Night Shift (MacOS). Using an older computer? Apps f.lux and Twilight do the same thing.

3. Get your melatonin magnesium

Melatonin supplements are currently popular; half the teens attending a recent retreat at my church were taking doctor-prescribed melatonin (!!!). And Kimmie’s principal has suggested repeatedly that I ask the girls’ pediatrician about melatonin supplements to help Kimmie sleep.

So I did some research, and learned that melatonin supplements are overprescribed, overused (especially in kids), and unregulated. And they’re problematic for people with everything from high blood pressure to diabetes, as well as pregnant and nursing women.

But another “M” is important if you want to sleep better: magnesium, which is critical to many bodily functions.Magnesium (Mg) can help relieve conditions that contribute to poor sleep. Studies have linked magnesium deficiency to insomnia and other health problems. Healthy people should be able to get enough magnesium from proper nutrition, but only about half of Americans do.

While the best-known studies to date have studied older adults, results indicate that taking magnesium supplements orally helped them sleep better. Other studies indicate that getting enough magnesium helps us sleep longer. Still others suggest that absorbing magnesium directly through your skin – whether through Epsom-salt soaks or magnesium sprays – is a faster, easier way to get magnesium into your system before bedtime.

Before YOU try any of this, talk to your healthcare professional. I haven’t yet made a habit of pre-bedtime baths with the salts Kimmie and I made. But at the recommendation of one of my medical providers, I’ve tried squirting some magnesium-oil spray on myself and rubbing it in before bed. Yes, it itched some at first, but I got used to it. And it’s definitely helped me fall asleep faster, and thus sleep better.

4. Rinse, rinse, rinse

Do you suffer from seasonal allergies, as our family does? The U.S. allergy season worsens every year, affecting more of us than ever before. From spring through fall, pollen counts can really interfere with your breathing, making it hard to sleep and causing morning congestion.

A few years ago, my allergist asked how allergy season was going. I complained that even though I was taking all my medications faithfully and doing everything else “right,” I was still waking up with clogged sinuses.

Added benefit of spreading wet hair on my towel-covered pillow: it gets super-curly!

He suggested something new: Shower before bed, to rinse the pollen off my hair and skin every night. This way, pollen-covered hair wouldn’t coat my pillowcase with a concentrated dose of that day’s pollen.

I’m used to showering before bed to cool off in summer, but not wetting my hair. However, I was amazed to find what a difference doing this made in my ability to breathe clearly next morning! Not to mention awaken feeling rested. I’ve even started doing this for the girls when pollens trigger their allergies.

In addition, Kimmie’s pediatrician told us last week that elevating the head of her bed can help with nighttime breathing, too. So Kimmie now sleeps on a slant – and breathes better for it.

A final step both our doctors recommend: rinsing out one’s sinuses with a saline rinse or saline spray. This clears out the pollen, and provides immediate congestion relief.

5. Vaporize your feet

This last one, I confess, doesn’t have scientific studies to support it. But it seems to have helped us sleep better, and breathe better on waking. So take what I have to say with those caveats.

The hack? Rubbing some mentholated vapor rub on your feet (under your toes) before bed to clear your sinuses. (Covered by some slipper socks, for the sake of our sheets!)

My mama got this idea from my SIL Alicia, who’s more into natural medicine than I am. Alicia used a foot reflexology chart to explain to my mama how and why this works. Since reflexology connects underneath your toes to your head and sinuses, rubbing under your toes is supposedly a direct line to your sinuses.

My mama is a retired registered nurse; my late father was a medical doctor. Hence I was surprised when my mama told me she’d tried this hack to help relieve nighttime nasal congestion, with success. So I tried it (albeit skeptically) – and also woke up with clear sinuses. After several days of repeated success, I used it on the girls, with similar results.

The 411 on this:

Maybe it’s all in our heads – a group placebo effect. Vicks Vapo-Rub (the most popular brand) markets itself as a cough suppressant, NOT a congestion reliever. According to Jay L. Hoecker, M.D., the menthol odor doesn’t actually relieve congestion; it just tricks our brains into thinking we’re breathing better. And it’s also worth noting that vapor rubs are NOT recommended for use on children under age 2.

Moreover, I make no claims that this will stop nighttime coughs – an urban legend that started in 2007. I just know it seems to help us breathe better. Apparently I’m not the only mama blogger who’s found this helped her family sleep at night without waking up congested.

So maybe we’re all crazy. Maybe the mini-foot-massage under the toes is what’s really effective here, versus the medicated ointment. But if you’re desperate to un-clog your nose, you could try it. (And FWIW, I don’t use a “thick slab” of the stuff; I just apply a little and rub it in.)

What about you? What’s your secret to better sleep? Have you tried any of these hacks, and have they worked for you? Let us know in the comments!

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19 thoughts on “Sleep Better Tonight: Five Often-Overlooked Hacks”

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  4. Yes! Magnesium is awesome!

    Also, I’ll share a tip that works for me quite well. I read a story a few months back about a study conducted by the US Army back in the 1940s or 1950s about the link between mental conditioning and falling asleep faster and sleeping better. Basically, they found that those who imagined themselves in peaceful scenes, such as lying in a boat staring up at clouds, or relaxing in a hammock in the evening, and really focused on that scene for at least ten seconds fell asleep faster and slept better than those who did not. I use that trick every night, and I swear by it.

    1. I’ve done things like this in the past, and in the past they’ve worked for me. But right now the only way I can successfully clear my mind is by doing the 5-minute “Relax” focused-breathing exercise on my Fitbit lol…(still, though, EXCELLENT tip and thanks for sharing!)

    1. SO. TRUE. I’m lost without my eyemask at bedtime, and LOVE “Night Mode” when I have to be on a device too close to bedtime!

  5. Magnesium has so many benefits that are often missed! I’ve noticed how much better I feel since I’ve added it to my daily vitamins. Having hit menopause – sleep is often the one thing I can’t get right. I’ll have to try adding a few more of these great tips.

    1. So glad you liked the post, Lori! And I do hope some of these help with the menopausal shifts, since (my “young” kids not withstanding) I am knocking at that door…

    1. I know, right? The hair rinsing seems like such a no-brainer, but I totally hadn’t thought of it til my allergist pointed it out to me!!!

    1. I was skeptical about this one, too, and it’s even helped sometimes with getting BACK to sleep in the middle of the night!

  6. I love to use Vick’s on my feet and yes, it really does work! I am allergic to cats but at one time I used to have two cats in my house and one liked to sleep on my chest. I heard about the Vick’s thing and started using it. I would put a big dab on and rub it all over my feet, including my toes, and then put the sock on before going to sleep. It helped with the congestion and with the post nasal drip cough that I would get. And an added benefit was how soft my feet were.

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