3 Tips for Better Sleep
What the sleep experts say about improving your sleep.
Posted Dec 29, 2019
Do you wake up naturally without an alarm?
Do you feel alert and well-rested throughout the day?
Can you get through a day without caffeine to help keep you awake?
If you answered no to any those questions, you may have room to improve your sleep. Over the past six years I’ve worked closely with sleep experts exploring questions about the impact of sleep on social relationships. Here are some of the best tips I’ve learned from them:
1. Wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. This recommendation typically tops any list of sleep tips. If you can establish a consistent bed and wake time, after your body is adjusted to this routine, you’ll likely find yourself falling asleep more easily at night and eventually waking up without an alarm. Having a regular bed time is important, but waking up at the same time every day is what is really critical since it sets up the rest of your day. Once you wake up, expose yourself to bright light to help your brain recognize that it’s daytime. Avoiding blue light in the evening can be helpful, but don’t avoid it during the day: Blue light signals that its daytime and your brain should be alert. Getting lots of bright light during the day can help you sleep better at night.
Why is a consistent sleep schedule important? We are governed by circadian rhythms that influence when we want to eat, sleep, and even socialize. Sleeping and waking at a consistent time each day helps our bodies anticipate what is coming next to operate smoothly. If you’ve ever traveled across time zones, you know how it feels to be out of alignment with your circadian rhythms.
2. Give yourself some wind-down time. Another way you can improve your sleep is by making sure you give yourself some wind-down time before bed. Your brain and body both need to relax to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you work or party right up until bed time, you might find yourself lying in bed awake for longer than you’d like as your body and mind try to calm down. Creating a bed time routine that gives you time to relax can help you sleep better—dim the lights, turn on relaxing music, and read or listen to a book as you lay in bed. If you are anything like me and find yourself mindlessly browsing on your phone once you climb in bed, try leaving your phone outside the bedroom. If you need to have your phone with you, put it in airplane mode before you climb in bed. (For all that you claim you won’t go on Instagram or check your email in bed, it is more difficult to resist the siren call of the internet when you’re tired and lacking self-control.) A consistent bedtime routine is also helpful because it can create a connection between the routine and sleep, which helps condition your brain and body to expect sleep and fall asleep quickly once you begin your routine.
3. Pay attention to your natural rhythms and sleep needs. Although the recommendation is 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep for adults, people vary in their sleep needs. If you wake up naturally and feel alert throughout the day with 6.5 hours of sleep, then there is no need to force yourself to spend 8 hours in bed. Likewise, if you require 9 hours to feel rested, restricting your sleep to only 8 may leave you regularly feeling tired. The key is to figure out how much you personally need. Try tracking your sleep to figure out how many hours you require to wake up naturally and feel rested and alert throughout the day.
Chronotype is another area in which people naturally vary. Some people are night owls, some are morning larks, and many others fall somewhere in between. (If you fall at one of the extremes, you probably have already figured it out.) Having a sleep schedule that is incompatible with your natural rhythm may make it more difficult to sleep well. If you are naturally a night owl and you are forced to go to bed at too early an hour, you may find it difficult to fall and stay asleep. On the other hand, if you are a morning lark who stays up way past your natural bedtime, you may find yourself unable to sleep in past 6 am no matter how tired you feel. To the extent that you can recognize and embrace your natural chronotype and align your sleep with your natural rhythms, you may find yourself better able to meet your sleep needs.
These are just a few of the typical tips for improving sleep. You can find more sleep tips from the National Sleep Foundation here. Whatever you do, stick with it for at least a few weeks to give your body time to adjust and establish the new routine.