It’s 2am, you’re wide awake, and the temptation of your phone is just an arm’s reach away. Insomnia plagues us all at one point or another, and the CDC considers sleep deprivation a public health epidemic. Try these strategies for improving your sleep habits.
Early To Bed, Early To Rise
It might not make you wealthy or wise, but it will certainly boost your health and wellness.
Studies show that the lowest point in our natural circadian rhythm occurs between 10pm-5am. Modern life (and electric lights!) doesn’t always keep this sleep schedule, but the hours we get in that window are more effective. Remember those late nights in college? Even if you slept from 4am-12pm, those 8 hours didn’t feel the same as when you went to bed at 11pm.
Don’t Touch Your Phone
If you find yourself awake and staring at the ceiling, it’s tempting to pull out Candy Crush to while away the time. But just about the worst thing you can do when you can’t sleep is stare at a screen. The artificial light of electronic devices interrupt melatonin production, and trick our bodies into thinking it’s daytime.
Keep your mind busy by naming an animal for each letter of the alphabet, or counting sheep that jump over the fence in your mind’s eye. This author prefers the repetition of the same four sheep, to keep her from realizing how many sheep have gone by!
Multiples Of 90
Our sleep cycle occurs in 90-minute segments, varying from light sleep to deep REM sleep. The three stages of non-REM sleep can take 15-20 minutes each to complete:
Stage 1: Your eyes are closed, but it’s easy to wake you up. This phase may last for 5 to 10 minutes.
Stage 2: You are in light sleep. Your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops. Your body is getting ready for deep sleep.
Stages 3: This is the deep sleep stage. It’s harder to rouse you during this stage, and if someone woke you up, you would feel disoriented for a few minutes.
After the non-REM stages, REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep takes over; you may have intense dreams during this stage. At the end of each REM cycle, you return to light sleep, and can wake easily. By timing your alarm clock with the end of an REM cycle, you’re more likely to wake refreshed than rudely jolted from an intense dream.
Say you’d like to wake up at 6:30am: count back in 90-minute segments to determine what time you should fall asleep. For an ideal 7.5 hours, your best bet is to be asleep by 11pm.
Take A Power Nap
Everyone naturally gets drowsy around 1pm, and if we’re lucky, we can squeeze a nap in before our afternoon tasks take over. Research has shown that we can benefit most from a 6-minute to 10-minute power nap. Figures like Lady Thatcher and Winston Churchill favored the refreshing power of a quick catnap, realizing the benefits a quick snooze can provide.
If you often wake from a nap feeling groggy and disoriented, you’re probably setting a one-hour timer that wakes you in the middle of a deep sleep cycle. Try setting a 6-10 minute timer, and see how your mood improves.
Mom Was Right, No Coffee After 5pm
Caffeine is most Americans’ drug of choice. We all love our morning coffee, maybe an afternoon coffee, and just one more after dinner. How can we be expected to function without our beloved jet fuel? If you believe the ads, America runs on Dunkin‘… but is coffee consumption optimizing our mental performance?
Not to fear. Coffee (and by extension, caffiene) has been shown to boost memory and cognitive skills. The ideal time for your cuppa is actually between 9:30am-11:30am, when cortisol levels dip. Research also shows that drinking coffee too late in the day can hamper your ability to fall asleep. Aim for a cutoff time six hours before you’d like to fall asleep. If you’re shooting for a 6:30pm wakeup time, and want to be asleep by 11pm, cut off the caffeine by 5pm.
Sharing Is Caring
What nighttime rituals or methods help you get a good night’s sleep? Share your tips in the comments below.