Sleep. We think about it all day, but sometimes when we finally climb into bed, our heads race and sweet dreams evade us. In honor of World Sleep Day, we asked sleep and wellness experts to share some of their best practical tips to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep, so you wake up refreshed and ready to go.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake
“Caffeine has a half-life of six to seven hours—this means that after six to seven hours, there is still half the amount of caffeine in your system,” explains sleep expert and behavior coach Nicole Shallow. “What does this do to our sleep? Well, caffeine impacts your ability to fall asleep and allows your body to drop into a deep sleep. Even if you feel that you aren’t affected, you are. The research tells us this is true!”
Shallow advises avoiding caffeine after 12 PM, while sleep expert Sari Broda suggests cutting caffeine at 2 PM. “This allows your body to process the caffeine, so there is very little in your system once you climb into bed,” explains Shallow.
Adjust your lighting
“Light is your best friend when it comes to a healthy circadian rhythm,” says Shallow. “By exposing yourself to daylight in the morning, you can give your body the jumpstart it needs to feel awake—it’s even better than caffeine” (more on that later).
By simply dimming the lights and reducing blue light exposure, Shallow says, “you can create conditions that will signal your body to produce melatonin and start the process of prepping your body and mind for sleep.”
Have a healthy morning routine
Holistic nutritionist and wellness expert Jennifer Hanway says your morning routine is even more important than your nighttime routine when it comes to quality sleep.
“How you wake up, light exposure, temperature, food, exercise, etc. actually sets up your sleep/wake cycle for the day, so your morning routine,” explains Hanway. She notes that many people don’t focus on that aspect enough.
Go outside shortly after waking up
In accordance with Hanway’s advice, sleep consultant Kelly Murray suggests going outside within 30 minutes of waking up for two to 10 minutes without sunglasses.
“When your eyes are exposed to sunlight, it will trigger the release of cortisol (the alert hormone),” says Murray. “You want a surge of cortisol in the morning so that it will rebound throughout the day, allowing it to be at its lowest point when you’re sleeping.”
Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption
While alcohol can make people tired, Broda notes that it also decreases the quality and duration of sleep. “Alcohol reduces the amount of REM sleep we get each night, and this is the most important part of the cycle,” explains Shallow. “In REM sleep, we do all of our healing and cleaning out of our brains, so we feel refreshed in the morning.” Without sufficient REM sleep, you may wake up feeling tired and foggy.
Shallow recommends giving yourself a two-hour window between your last beverage and bedtime. In that window, she suggests consuming plenty of water to help move the alcohol through your system.
Keep your bedroom cool
According to Hanway, the bedroom temperature should be kept at a cool, not cold, temperature. She says 65 degrees is ideal to get restorative sleep.
Have a bedtime mantra
Broda recommends maintaining a mantra that you consistently say before bed. The mantra can be any phrase, meditation or prayer that you repeat to yourself when it’s time to go to sleep. Over time this may help your body sink into a routine.
Block out blue light at night
“The number one thing you must do to sleep well is to block out blue light in the evening. Light is our primary zeitgeber (factor controlling the circadian rhythm, and therefore, melatonin levels),” says sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo.
Blocking out blue light for two to three hours before bed will help “support your ability to fall asleep faster, sleep deeper and wake more refreshed.” Arezzolo is not insisting that you avoid your phone and TV all evening, but rather invest in some blue-light-blocking glasses.
Get enough exercise during the day
Just like a toddler, you need to tire yourself out too. Broda says that moving your body for even 15 to 30 minutes during the day can make a big difference when it’s bedtime.
Avoid vigorous exercise in the evening
“Exercise in the morning is great for setting up your circadian rhythm for the day. However, later in the evening, this can have a significant impact on your ability to fall asleep,” says Shallow. “This is because exercise causes our body temperature to increase, which is not ideal for falling asleep, and intense exercise can shift our melatonin secretion the next day.”
Shallow says it’s generally recommended that any vigorous exercise should be completed two to three hours before bedtime to give your body time to cool off.
Don’t eat too close to bedtime
Hanway says you should avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime since digestion can keep you awake and disturb sleep. The lighter in protein, the better, when it’s late. She suggests swapping red meat for plant proteins, fish, seafood, chicken or turkey.
Manage your stress throughout the day
Murray says it’s important not to put off destressing yourself until the evening. You need to manage your stress levels throughout the day. “A quick and easy way is to do some deep breathing exercises between meetings or every time you use the restroom,” suggests Murray. “A simple breathing exercise that helps to lower stress is to inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for two seconds and then exhale through your mouth for six.”
Keep a to-do list by your bed
This may seem counterintuitive, but Broda says it can be a big help. She suggests you “keep a notepad next to your bed so you can write out anything that needs to be done.” Jotting running thoughts may help alleviate the pressure and help you drift off knowing you won’t forget to tackle it in the morning.
Take an epsom salt bath before bed
A bath before bed is such a soothing way to end the day, and now we’re giving you a scientific reason to back up the luxurious habit. “Epsom salt contains magnesium to help your mind and body to enter a relaxed state. When you get out of the warm water, your body temperature will lower, which will trigger the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone,” says Murray. “Our body temperature needs to fall by around two degrees Fahrenheit for our body to produce melatonin.”
Don’t let yourself get stuck
We’ve all been there, desperately trying to fall asleep to no avail for hours. In this instance, Broda suggests trying to do something else. “If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, leave your bedroom, do something relaxing, and then try again.”
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