- Keeping a sleep log by hand can be just as useful as a high-tech tracker.
- Try minimising blue light before sleep or using it to your advantage in the morning.
- Meditation is a tried and true relaxation technique that can help you sleep deeper and easier.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
There’s no shortage of devices advertised to help you hack your sleep, from an Alexa-enabled sleep apnea monitor to a wearable tracker that could give people the power to choose their dreams.
Sleep experts told Insider the influx of new technologies isn’t a bad thing for sleep health â€” the more interest people show in tracking their sleep, the more likely they are to shift toward healthier habits.
But you don’t need high-tech gadgets to track your sleep. Keeping an old-fashioned sleep diary can work just as well or even better than an Apple Watch â€” and cutting out electronics around bedtime is also good for your sleep and mental health, so going low-tech comes with added benefits.
For some pared-down strategies to make your nights and mornings easier, Insider asked two sleep experts about the basic sleep hacks that underlie some of the most popular somniac inventions.
A hand-written sleep log may be better than a phone tracker
There was a time when hand-written sleep diaries were the only way to track sleep outside of a laboratory, Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at University of Arizona, told Insider.
“As it turns out, that method is still extremely useful and often gets forgotten in some of the technology,” Grandner said. “But in terms of insomnia, which is extremely common, keeping a sleep log is still the best way to measure insomnia.”
Sleep logs â€” journals where someone records their bedtime, how long it takes them to fall asleep, any awakenings during the night, and what time they wake up in the morning â€” capture a dimension of sleep missed by devices that track heart rate and movement: your own perception of sleep.
“Simply by having information from the night before, you’re much more likely to reflect on what you did or maybe didn’t do the day before, and how you might be able to improve the next day,” said Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Wristbands or phone apps that claim to track your sleep will often overestimate nighttime awakenings, Robbins said, potentially raising unnecessary concern. When you’re noting awakenings yourself, you’ll only catch the instances where you were consciously awake, giving you a clearer picture of your sleep.
Eliminating light cues will make a big difference
One of the best recommendations coming from sleep research is to use light to your advantage, Robbins said.
The blue light of a computer screen can arouse your brain similar to sunlight, so Robbins recommends installing apps that will dim that light in the hours before bedtime.
Another option is to cut down your screen exposure between dinner and bedtime â€” no apps required.
A simple eye mask and ear plugs can also block out any stimulating light and sound, Grandner said. Especially for light sleepers, this tried-and-true method can effectively accomplish what many higher-tech devices aim to do: eliminating distractions that would keep you awake.
To improve your mood and energy levels, open your curtains and get moving as soon as you wake up
Light cues can work in both directions, and some modern alarm clocks include a “sunrise” feature to simulate that natural wake-up signal. But any devices with a soft yellow or orange-toned light likely don’t have a real effect, and nothing can beat the sun’s bluish light.
“Outside light is better than indoor light because it’s actually orders of magnitude brighter, even if you don’t notice,” Grandner said. “The cloudiest overcast day is still probably 10 times brighter than a bright living room.”
Opening your curtains partway before going to sleep is therefore more effective than buying a wake-up lamp, but not everyone has access to sunlight. For people who live in less sunny parts of the world or don’t have windows, a light box can help â€” but make sure it emits blue light to mimic the sun, Robbins said.
Combining light cues with motion â€” for example, getting outside to walk your dog first thing in the morning â€” is even more effective at waking up the brain, and can also improve mood and energy level, Grandner added.
Easy ways to meditate before bed to clear your mind
Meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction have been tried and tested over centuries with impressive results.
“When you can train people how to meditate, they fall asleep faster. They get deeper sleep,” Robbins said. “Anything that can instruct or provide guidance to people on meditation-like activities, like breathing, that’s really a homerun to me.”
One option for bedtime meditation is known as body scan. Start by turning the lights off and finding a comfortable position, then take a few deep breaths at your own pace. With each breath, imagine the stressors of the day leaving a different part of your body, from your head to your shoulders to your feet.
While not every technique that relaxes you is guaranteed to put you to sleep, meditation can accomplish both, whether you go the high-tech or low-tech route.