Most people see a good night of sleep as a luxury; some even wear their tiredness with a badge of honor: “I was up late last night working, so I only slept a few hours. Nothing some coffee can’t fix!”
However, a good night of sleep — at least 7 hours per night — is a necessity. From a health and fitness perspective, a good night’s sleep helps us stay lean by helping to maintain good insulin sensitivity. It cuts the risk of common colds and increases resilience to stress. It also improves memory and performance. Finally, a good night’s sleep is crucial for GH and testosterone levels, which give men and women more strength and vitality.
1. Make the room cold.
For most people, the ideal temperature for sleeping is somewhere between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll have to experiment to find what feels best for you, but the first sign of favorable sleeping conditions is a chilly bed – think about how much you toss and turn on hot summer nights. If you shiver when getting underneath the sheets, this should be a good sign that the temperature will be favorable for staying asleep.
Try this tonight: Set your thermostat to somewhere in the mid-60s. If you can’t control the temperature of your room, aim a portable fan directly at your bed and avoid sleeping with a heavy comforter.
2. Make your room dark. Really dark.
Even a tiny amount of light can interfere with melatonin production and impair your sleep. If you’ve ever stayed at a hotel, you know how easy is to sleep in when the room has those thick, light-blocking curtains.
Try this tonight: Turn off any electronic devices with LEDs or cover the lights with a small piece of electrical tape. You can also try a sleep mask — they work wonders. You can buy them pretty much anywhere, even at your local pharmacy.
3. Control red and blue light.
Quick science lesson: Light waves exist along a spectrum of color. Wakefulness is triggered primarily by blue light, like midday sunshine or what’s emanating from your computer screen right now. A warm red glow, say, from a fireplace, does almost nothing to impair sleep. That’s a good thing.
4. Ditch the cell phone.
Radiation emitted from cell phones can increase the amount of time required to reach deep sleep cycles and decrease the amount of time spent in those cycles. A small 2007 study, found that radiation from cell phones could actually cause insomnia and interfere with deep sleep.
Try this tonight: If you’re using your cell phone as an alarm clock, stop. Replace it with a battery-powered clock and turn your phone off. You’ll get the added benefit of not being distracted by the buzz of an incoming text or email.
5. Make your room as quiet as possible.
White noise like a fan can help with sleep, but exposure to things like traffic noise has been shown to decrease overall sleep quality. It’s difficult to drift off to sleep when people are loud and blaring their horns outside your place.
Try this tonight: Use a fan for white noise. Consider grabbing some earplugs if it is really noisy. If you live with roommates or family, you might want to politely ask them to keep the noise level down.
6. Improve the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR).
A good way to improve your sleep quality is to strengthen the initial spike in wakefulness that occurs in the morning. In other words, the more awake you feel in the morning, the more tired you’ll feel in the evening.
The best way to do this is to expose your body to natural sunlight shortly after waking for as little as ten minutes. Sunlight brings the bonus of increased vitamin D production, which is important for overall health.
If natural sunlight exposure is unrealistic or you’re waking up before the sun rises, artificially simulated sunlight can work, too. For example, there are alarm clocks available that emit light gradually in order to prepare your body to wake up.
Finally, remember that vitamin D is what your body normally produces in response to sunlight and it’s tied into your wakefulness patterns. So if you’re supplementing vitamin D, try taking it in the morning.
Try this tonight: Get some sunlight — or something resembling sunlight — first thing when you wake up.
7. Set a schedule and stick to it.
This one requires some discipline, but it’s worth trying. Wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Your body can’t establish an effective rhythm if you don’t allow it to normalize to a pattern.
If you stay up late, don’t sleep in. Instead, plan on going to bed a little earlier the next night.
Generally, the sleep you get before midnight will be more valuable than the sleep you get after midnight, so always think in terms of making up for lost sleep by going to bed early the next night rather than sleeping in.
Try this tonight: Select a time to go to bed and a time to wake up. Stick to this schedule for at least 2 weeks before altering.
8. Read for 15 minutes before bed.
Avoid intellectually stimulating fare and use this time for light reading. It will reduce mental chatter and allow you to relax and let go of the day’s preoccupations.
Try this tonight: Pick up a book you wouldn’t normally read and read for 15 minutes before bed.
9. Sleep on a good mattress.
A quality bed is one of the best investments you’ll ever make and it doesn’t have to be ludicrously expensive to work. Whatever you do, don’t put up with a lumpy mattress or an uncomfortable futon.
Try this tonight: If you already have a good mattress, you’re all set. If you’re sleeping on something that’s thin, lumpy or too small, take a look at your finances and see if you can set aside some money each month to purchase a new mattress — it’s worth it.
10. Establish a sleep ritual.
Once you find out what helps you sleep the most consistently, make it a consistent ritual so that as soon as you’re an hour away from bedtime you’re already on a reliable path to good sleep.
Try this tonight: Try the other steps in this article and select the ones that work for you. Then practice these every night for the next two weeks.