Sleep is a fundamental part of our life. When we don't get enough sleep, it can negatively affect our mood, our mental clarity and our overall health. Though you may be aware that sleep is integral to a healthy, balanced lifestyle, it can still be a constant challenge to fall asleep or wake up feeling rested. Fortunately, there are things you can do throughout the day and night to improve your chances of getting a rejuvenating sleep. Here are six health hacks to follow for a better night's sleep:
1. Cut the caffeine
For many of us, caffeine is a vital part of our daily routine, whether in the form of tea, coffee or energy drink. This powerful elixir stimulates our central nervous system, which wakes us up and makes us feel more alert.
Once you consume caffeine, it takes around 6 hours to reduce to half-capacity in your body and well over 6 hours for the full effects to wear off.1 This is excellent if you need to stay alert but not if you are struggling with sleep. If you want to relax and find sleep faster, try cutting off your caffeine intake by early afternoon — this will give it more time to leave your system before snooze time.
2. Avoid screens
Electronic devices, like TVs, computers and cell phones, emit blue light. While this may seem like an insignificant fact about backlight, this blue light actually impacts the circadian rhythm — our internal clock — and disrupts our sleep cycle.2 Therefore, it is wise to avoid screens well before bed to mitigate this disruption and fall asleep easier. Reading a physical book, listening to a podcast or picking up a hobby like crocheting are just a few screen-free ideas that can help you relax around bedtime.
If you still need pre-bed screen time, try using one of the many available programs that automatically change your screen light from blue to yellow/orange in the evenings.
3. Stick to a schedule
Setting a sleep routine will make it easier for you to fall asleep when it is time for bed and wake up when your alarm goes off.
Start by considering when you typically go to bed and when you must wake up. Then set parameters that give you an adequate amount of sleep. For example, it is recommended that adults get seven or more hours of sleep per night,3 so 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. sets you up for a solid eight hours of rest.
In addition to making your morning wake-up a little easier, a set schedule will improve your sleep quality by supporting an important part of your circadian rhythm: your sleep cycle.4 Part of your sleep cycle includes the release of the sleep hormone melatonin; melatonin is released during the initial stages of sleep, increasing until it peaks and then gradually decreases approaching wake-up time.5 Regular sleep and wake times help maintain a steady melatonin schedule, thus better supporting your sleep.
There will be an initial adjustment period as your body gets used to the new routine, but try your best to stick to it.
4. Set the right temperature
It could be time to reassess your night-time temperature.
According to various studies, the best room temperature for sleep ranges from 59°F to 66.2°F or 66.2°F to 69.8°F.67 While this may seem cold, there is a reason your body rests better in the cold.
As your body moves through the circadian rhythms — the internal clock that tells you when to sleep or wake — your core body temperature fluctuates.8 Your temperature decreases during the sleep phase and increases during the wake phase.9 The core temperature is also affected by your skin temperature. When the temperature around you is cold, your body increases blood flow to your skin and certain areas, like your hands and feet, to warm them up. This change in blood flow causes your core temperature to decrease, which is beneficial for the sleep phase.
Sleeping in a room with too much heat exposure makes it more difficult for the body to reach an optimal core sleep temperature, resulting in a more restless sleep.10 If you're wondering why you get sleepy when you're all nice and warm, warming up a few hours before bed may help initiate sleep.11 However, to assist the rest of your sleep cycle, you should still decrease the temperature when you are ready for bed.
5. Try a weighted blanket
Blankets can do more than keep us warm; weighted blankets can help improve our sleep.
With a typical weight of 7 to 25 pounds, weighted blankets provide pressure to individuals as they rest. These blankets increase the user's sense of security because they are more secure thanks to the added weight keeping everything in place.
Another aspect that makes weighted blankets so effective is their ability to relieve anxiety and reduce stress. This impact is partially attributed to the similarities between using a weighted blanket and receiving a hug.12 Studies have found that hugs stimulate the production of feel-good hormones, like oxytocin, and reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone.1314
Finally, weighted blankets help with overall relaxation through deep pressure stimulation. So, if you struggle with restlessness, anxiety or stress as you try to fall asleep, it might be time to try a weighted blanket.15 Recommendations for selecting a blanket are that it should be around 10% of your body weight.16
6. Stop hitting snooze
As previously mentioned, our body relies on our circadian rhythm to lead us through cycles of wakefulness and sleep. Once asleep, we go through approximately four or five sleep cycles.17 Each cycle consists of two main phases: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
NREM sleep occurs first and consists of three stages, from light to deep sleep. We are then brought out of our deepest sleep stage by REM, the dream phase, which ends each cycle.18 Complete sleep cycles are essential for us to wake up feeling rested and restored.
Your alarm going off disrupts your sleep cycle, so any additional short periods of sleep you get after hitting snooze are no longer rejuvenating.19 If you're a chronic snoozer, avoid the snooze button by setting your alarm for when you will actually get up or, as a more creative tactic, place your alarm out of reach so you must physically get up to shut it off.
Take your time creating the ultimate sleep rule book for yourself — your sleep deserves the attention. If setting a strict schedule or changing your room temperature is too challenging, start with simpler hacks like less caffeine and screen time. Then, gradually try different sleep tactics and hacks until something sticks. Eventually, you will find a combination that works for you, and your rested mind and body will thank you.