Your Way To Better Health
Sleep is a $70 billion industry—we throw our money at a dreamier night’s rest, promise ourselves we’ll prioritize it, and then complain when we’re still tired. Despite our collective obsession with sleep, we seem unable to get more of it. In fact, we’re clocking fewer hours than ever to the point that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called insufficient sleep a health epidemic. So we’re taking a look at what’s getting in the way and what you can do about it.
Above: The average person will spend one-third of his life asleep.
Get up at the same time every day.
“If there’s only one thing that everybody needs to know, it’s to keep the same wake-up time seven days a week,” says Michael Breus, a sleep specialist and author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. Most of us don’t do this. By the time the weekend rolls around, catching up on sleep seems it should be the priority, but that’s not how it works. Breus explains, “What you end up doing by sleeping in is shifting your circadian rhythms.
Forget the eight-hour rule.
The whole eight-hour rule is more of a general guideline—not a one-size-fits-all sleep prescription. In reality, everyone’s sleep needs are different. You might do totally fine on six hours while your partner is impossible to deal with if they get anything less than nine. To find the amount of sleep you require, experts recommend giving yourself a two-week vacation from alarm clocks. In that time, go to bed when you get tired, and get out of bed as soon as you wake up, noting the average amount you naturally sleep each night.
Know the difference between sleep quality and sleep quantity.
When we talk about sleep, we tend to talk about how many hours we got—but it’s the quality of those hours that really matters. Breus explains,”Things like caffeine and alcohol can mess with the quality of your rest, so you might be missing the most restorative sleep stages and waking up groggy.”
Stop caffeine by 2 p.m.
“Caffeine is so often used, but nobody knows that it’s got a half-life of six to eight hours. What a lot of people don’t recognize is, that means if you stop drinking it at 2 p.m., eight hours later is 10 p.m.—and that’s the average bedtime for most people,” Breus says. That can affect your sleep quality. “Lots of people can drink a cup of coffee at dinner and fall asleep, but man, the quality of their sleep sucks,” Breus explains. “If you stop caffeine by 2:00 p.m., you have a far greater likelihood of getting not only better-quantity but also better-quality sleep.”
Above: Be sure that you’re not exercising too close to bedtime.
Exercise—just not before bed.
Regular exercise helps improve just about every system in your body and sleep is no exception. Just make sure you’re not exercising too close to bedtime, or it could leave you tossing and turning. “Sleep follows the core body temperature cycle,” Breus explains. Around 10:30 p.m., your core body temperature naturally begins to drop, which signals your brain to release the sleep hormone melatonin. “If you exercise too close to bedtime, you raise your core body temperature and that cooling mechanism can’t happen.”
Chill things down.
The same cool-down principle applies to the actual temperature of your bedroom too. “We need to drop our core body temperature by about one degree Celsius throughout the night to fall asleep and stay asleep. That’s the reason you will always find it easier to fall asleep in a room that’s too cold than in one that’s too hot, because too cold is in the right temperature direction for good sleep. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Go dark at night.
We are a dark-deprived society in this modern era, and we need that darkness at night to release melatonin. If we’re not getting darkness at night, then that can be problematic. Luckily there are some really basic solutions: room darkening curtains or an eye mask. Another trick is to try to dim down half of the lights in your home in the hour before you go to sleep. You’ll be surprised at how sleepy that actually makes you. Consider this your excuse to burn that fancy candle.
Maximize natural light during the day.
“Every single morning, people should be getting 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight to help them reset their circadian clocks,” says Breus. Even on a cloudy day, the strength of light outside is typically manyfold stronger than a bright office inside. Some kind of natural light exposure, even if it’s working next to a window, is great. If you don’t have that opportunity, try to take a break during lunchtime to get outside.
Above: Banish your cell phone from the bedroom at least one hour before you plan to go to sleep.
Seriously, stay off your phone.
Aside from the fact that your phone screen delivers the biggest dose of sleep-disrupting light, using your phone also tends to be more stimulating than watching something on Netflix. “If you’re trying to get your high score on Candy Crush, or you’re watching on your tablet the last episode of Game of Thrones, you’re really not getting yourself set up for sleep, right?” Breus says. “There’s such an emotional valence to things like Facebook and e-mail and game playing. Handheld devices are far more interactive.”
Create the perfect sanctuary.
A comfortable mattress that supports your body in a neutral position, soft sheets, and a comfy duvet all help to create a welcome retreat. And don’t overlook your pillows. Depending on whether you sleep on your back, your stomach, or your side, you need different types of support for the best sleep quality.
“The number one thing that I hear in my office is, ‘Dr. Breus, I can’t turn off my brain at night,’” Breus says. “Sleep requires some runway. It’s not an on-off switch. There’s a process that needs to occur there and we need to let that process happen by giving our body the opportunity to fall asleep.” Meditation is one such way to help quiet your mind to get you in the right headspace for sleep. If you don’t have a meditation practice, try spending five minutes before bed going over what made you happy that day.
All these tips add up to one thing: If you want to know how to sleep better, start by prioritizing sleep. We’re working longer hours than ever and nobody when they come home later wants to sacrifice time with friends, family, their significant other, or Netflix. The first thing to go? Sleep. If you want to get more rest, start by giving yourself the opportunity to get it.