Sleep is a curious thing, isn’t it? We actually physically need it to survive. For many of us, the day starts with wanting more of it — even just nine more minutes feel like a world of opportunity to shut our eyes and rest some more. Then we get up groggy and drag ourselves through the day, sometimes never feeling completely energized and anxious to be done with work, for the sun to be down, and for bedtime to come right back. But then another funny thing happens: suddenly we’re finally actually awake. We stay up watching Netflix for just one more episode, we scroll through our phones, avoiding turning all the lights out and closing our eyes all over again. And if things are really bad, once the lights are all out, sleep eludes us yet again and we spend hours wide awake.
And voila, the table is set to repeat the exact same process when that alarm goes off in the morning.
So how do we beat the cycle and what are the consequences if we don’t? First off, we are at higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and even cancer over the long term with insufficient sleep. And in the short term, studies show that brain activity is similar to that of a person with a blood alcohol level of .005 after around 18 hours without sleep. This means the brain is functioning in line with somebody near the limit for driving under the influence at the end of a long day with less than the recommended eight hours of sleep.
With that in mind, here are a handful of guidelines to set yourself up for better sleep consistently. They’re all things you can do in your waking hours so long as you’re disciplined to help you get to sleep earlier, wake up refreshed, and actually sleep well in the hours between.
1.Hold yourself to consistent bedtimes and wake times (Even on weekends).
It doesn’t sound like fun but a weekend of little sleep only leads to a slow start on Monday. When you consistently lay your head down at the same time every night, your body starts to anticipate when it’s time to rest. The same goes for feeling ready to go the next morning. When you throw this off Friday night through Sunday morning, you’re not allowing your body the consistency it wants and needs to know when it can rest.
2. Don’t break up your sleep hours.
Sometimes your schedule only allows for broken up blocks of sleep. This fragmented sleep, no matter how many hours it amounts to, isn’t as useful for your body as a solid six to eight hours at once.
3. Don’t try to catch up with extra sleep in the morning.
Sleeping in as a way of catching up only throws your internal sleep clock off more, whereas getting to sleep earlier keeps you on that consistent cycle. Napping can help, but do it for too long and you’re still throwing your bedtime clock out of whack.
4. Set a coffee cut off.
Caffeine is a major player in the vicious cycle we’re trying to break here. We often need it to break out of that morning fog because we slept so poorly the night before. Suddenly, we’re taking in so much of it to function throughout the day that we set ourselves up to be wide awake in the evening without realizing it. This is because even hours after that initial jolt of caffeine fades away, it’s actually still in our system. To be exact, caffeine stays in our body for at least six hours after consumption, making a strict midday coffee cutoff necessary. Let’s say cut it off after lunch to be safe.
5. Beware, the myth of the nightcap.
Alcohol makes you a bit drowsy, sure. This is exactly why some people rely on a nightcap to wind down and get ready for bed. However, it also ensures that you never fall into a deep enough sleep to stay asleep for the full necessary eight hours.
6. There is actually a perfect sleeping temperature.
A bedroom that’s too warm can lead to restless, light sleep. One that’s too cold keeps you up because your body naturally wants to regulate its temperature. 65 degrees Fahrenheit is an ideal temperature for solid sleep.
7. Have an electronics cutoff time at night.
All those lights from cell phones, tablets, and computers tell our body it’s not the time for bed yet. Shut them off earlier and even dim the lights at home.
Reading is a good cheat to winding down at the end of the night. No noises from the television means less stimulus, so even just a half hour before bed will settle you into sleep mode.
9. Have an exercise schedule.
If you can exercise in the morning, you’ll feel more refreshed during the day. And if your schedule only allows for exercise after work hours, try to avoid doing so too late. Bringing your body temperature and heart rate back down can take as much as three hours, so any kind of workout too close to bedtime can make you restless.