written exclusively for Give Yourself Kindness by Olena Santangeli, PhD, a neuroscientist and child & adult sleep consultant dedicated to helping you overcome your sleep problems and enhance your general health.


The importance of quality sleep for overall well-being


Quality sleep is fundamental to our emotional health, cognitive function, and overall well-being. It's not just about the number of hours we spend asleep but the quality of that sleep.

There are many tools and strategies that can help improve sleep; in this post, I would like to highlight the key tools and principles that can set you up for a better night's sleep.

These practices are not just strategies for better rest; they're acts of self-love and self-compassion that can significantly enhance our emotional health and resilience.


Establishing morning and evening routines for quality sleep


Establishing a routine and consistency in your daily life isn't just about ticking boxes; it's about crafting rituals that signal to your body, "Hey, it's time to wind down," or "Let's get ready to embrace the day."

Think of it as setting the stage for your body's internal clock or circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up naturally, filled with energy.


Harnessing sunlight exposure


Starting your day with exposure to natural sunlight isn't just a way to enjoy a beautiful sunrise; it's a powerful cue to your brain that boosts mood and alertness, setting a positive tone for the entire day.

Getting morning sunlight for just 5 to 20 minutes as soon as you wake up aligns your circadian rhythm and quickly suppresses melatonin production, the hormone responsible for sleepiness, thereby reserving it for the night.

The result? Increased daytime alertness and improved sleep quality when night falls (He, Meiheng et al., 2023; Blume, Christine et al., 2019).


Moreover, this early dose of sunlight elevates levels of cortisol and dopamine—hormones that play key roles in our daily well-being.

Cortisol, often dubbed the "stress hormone," naturally peaks in the morning, helping you feel awake and energized. Dopamine, known for its role in motivation and attention, further boosts your ability to seize the day. Together, these hormonal shifts prepare you for an active full of energy day.


Morning rituals for peak cognitive functions


Having a brief morning routine is a great way to start the day. In fact, it is a powerful way to leverage your brain's heightened responsiveness in the early hours.

Research shows that upon waking, our brain is at its peak for cognitive functions like memory, creativity, and planning (Venkat, Nanditha et al., 2020).

This makes the morning an ideal time to engage in activities that can positively influence our mindset and emotional state for the day ahead. 


Moreover, immediately upon waking, our brain shifts from delta waves, indicative of deep sleep, to the daydream-like theta state. It then progresses to producing alpha waves, a phase of being awake yet relaxed and not heavily processing information.

This relaxed, highly receptive state is a perfect time to incorporate just 15-20 mins of “me time” dedicated to meditation, breath exercises, or engaging with affirmations and inspirational content.

Instead, engaging immediately in high-demanding tasks, such as checking news, email or social media will make you bypass the crucial theta and alpha stages, moving directly to the highly alert beta state.


Evening wind-down routine for restful sleep


In the evening, creating a wind-down routine is equally important. This might involve limiting screen time to reduce blue light exposure, which can interfere with sleep quality. Engaging in calming activities, such as reading, meditation, gentle yoga and warm bath can help prepare your mind and body for rest.


By setting up these morning and night routines, you're doing more than just following steps; you're taking care of yourself in a way that fits with your body's natural patterns. This helps you sleep better and makes your life better overall.


The benefits of journaling for sleep


Journaling is one of my favourite tools for improving emotional health and enhancing sleep quality. It can serve as a powerful tool in both your morning and evening routines, offering unique benefits at each time of the day.


Morning journaling: setting the tone for success 


In the morning, journaling can help set the tone for the day ahead, allowing you to outline your goals, intentions, and positive affirmations.

This practice primes your mind for success and positivity, leveraging the morning's natural responsiveness to external stimuli to positively influence your day's trajectory.


Evening journaling: processing emotions for restful sleep 


In the evening, journaling shifts focus, providing a therapeutic outlet to unwind and process the day's events. Reflecting on your experiences by hand, rather than digitally, encourages a deeper engagement with your thoughts and feelings.

This hands-on method has been shown to facilitate a more profound processing of emotions, aiding in stress reduction and anxiety management (Arigo, Danielle, 2012).

By physically writing down your worries, achievements, and reflections, you create a mental space for relaxation, making it easier to transition into a restful state of sleep.


Optimizing your sleep environment


    Despite the importance of emotional health practices and routines, even the best efforts can be undermined if the sleep environment isn't conducive to rest (Troynikov, Olga et al., 2018). 

    Keeping your bedroom cool (around 18 degrees Celsius) and dark can signal to your body that it's time to sleep, mimicking the natural drop in temperature and light levels that occur at night.

    Investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows can also improve sleep quality, as physical support is crucial for preventing discomfort and pain that may disrupt sleep.


    Better sleep: small changes, big impact


    In the end, getting better sleep is about more than just going to bed early. You need to mindful about what you do every day and how your sleeping space looks and feels. By trying out these tips, you're doing something good for yourself.

    Good sleep is really important for staying healthy and happy. Let's promise to take care of ourselves by sleeping well, one night at a time. It's a simple step that can make a big difference in our lives. 


    neuroscientist and sleep expert Olena Santangeli

    Olena Santangeli, BSc, MSc, PhD (Med) is a neuroscientist and child & adult sleep consultant dedicated to helping you overcome your sleep problems and enhance your general health. She brings a wealth of knowledge in various techniques to optimize your sleep, brain health and overall well-being. 



    He, Meiheng et al. “Shine light on sleep: Morning bright light improves nocturnal sleep and next morning alertness among college students.” Journal of sleep research vol. 32,2 (2023): e13724. doi:10.1111/jsr.13724

    Venkat, Nanditha et al. “Neuro-Cognitive Profile of Morning and Evening Chronotypes at Different Times of Day.” Annals of neurosciences vol. 27,3-4 (2020): 257-265. doi:10.1177/0972753121990280

    Arigo, Danielle, and Joshua M Smyth. “The benefits of expressive writing on sleep difficulty and appearance concerns for college women.” Psychology & health vol. 27,2 (2012): 210-26. doi:10.1080/08870446.2011.558196

    Troynikov, Olga et al. “Sleep environments and sleep physiology: A review.” Journal of thermal biology vol. 78 (2018): 192-203. doi:10.1016/j.jtherbio.2018.09.012