BI Answers: How can I fix my sleeping habits?
Establishing good sleeping habits is one of the best ways to transform your life — there’s little that affects your day more than how you slept the night before.
But as the 40% of Americans who don’t get enough sleep know, getting a good night’s rest is easier said than done.
It’s worth it though: There are some incredible benefits to getting more sleep.
1. Pick a bedtime. Don’t try to go to bed “as early as possible” — that’s a vague goal, which makes it almost impossible to achieve. Instead, plan ahead.
Do you want to be up by 7:00? Then get in bed at 11:00. The vast majority of people need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, so shoot for eight to start, and adjust if it eventually feels like too much or too little.
2. Look at your normal schedule and take note of what you do.Before making any changes, think about what you are doing for the two hours before you want to be asleep. Do you normally watch TV right until you want to get into bed? Do you give yourself any time to get ready for sleep before you actually want to be asleep? Do you do eat or drink anything late at night? You can’t change habits until you are aware of what you are already doing.
3. Set some rules for the future. Since you’ve already taken note of your habits, you can now start re-building your bedtime routine to train yourself to sleep. Set rules that will help you relax.
One big one: never do anything work-related in bed, including checking your email or social media accounts. If you associate your bed with work, it will be much harder to relax there. That old advice about reserving your bed for sleep and sex is pretty solid — even if 9 out 10 Americans ignore it — but really, just make sure you don’t do anything in bed that isn’t relaxing.
4. Don’t eat or drink alcohol right before bed. Eating too soon before sleeping is associated with heartburn, which can ruin a night. And even though a nightcap is tempting and might help you fall asleep at first, people who drink a lot before bed usually experience disruptions to their sleep in the second half of the night. The more time you can give yourself between partying and feasting and sleeping, the better your rest will be overall.
5. Put your smartphone and laptop away at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This is advice that people love to ignore, but there are very good reasons for it. The blue light from your phone mimics the brightness of the sun, which tells your brain to stop producing melatonin, an essential hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm and tells your body when it’s time to wake and when it’s time to sleep.
6. Spend the 30 minutes before sleep relaxing. Here are a few recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation and a few other sources:
- Read a book or magazine you enjoy — just make sure it’s not work related.
- Write your thoughts down. Experts say journaling at night can help manage stress and anxiety, making it easier for you to drift off. Spending a few minutes writing in a journal is associated with more productive workdays, less stress, fewer symptoms of depression, and more.
- Create a hygiene ritual that sends a psychological signal that you are getting ready for bed. Brush your teeth, wash your face, floss.
- Try meditation. Studies show that mindfulness meditation lowers stress and promotes psychological well-being. If you want something that will send you to sleep, the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center has a selection of free downloadable meditations, including one specifically designed to be done in bed.
7. If in the end you can’t sleep after all that, try not to fight it. Get out of bed, make yourself a cup of herbal tea, and go read something relaxing (or boring, even — but again, not work-related). Don’t look at the screen of your TV, phone, or computer, and get back in bed when you feel tired.
8. In the a.m., don’t hit snooze. Experts say that those 10 minutes will only leave you groggier if you fall into a deeper sleep and it will take even longer for you to feel fully awake.
9. Get some exercise and in particular, some sun, early on. It will wake you up and that early morning exposure to sunlight will shut off melatonin production, priming your body to start producing it again the next night, when you are getting ready for bed.
It’s not always easy, but taking these steps can help you get a good night’s sleep. And when you wake up fully rested, you’ll thank yourself.
This post is part of a continuing series that answers all of your questions related to science. Have your own question? Email [email protected] with the subject line “Q&A”; tweet your question to @BI_Science; or post to our Facebook page.