We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. But far too often, we settle for the “night’s sleep” part and leave out the “good.” Perhaps this is because we believe that how “good” we sleep is mostly out of our control—but there are ways to optimize your sleep so that your waking hours are even better.
Make and follow a schedule.
You need a schedule, but not just one for sleeping. You should organize your entire day and place more emphasis on habit formation around bedtime. Assume you need to get up at 6:30 a.m. to have enough time to get ready for work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get seven or more hours per night. That puts you in bed by 11:30 at the very least. What you do in the hours leading up to 11:30 is also important.
Try relaxing for an hour before going to bed. Seriously, no work emails—or any emails, for that matter. Unplug everything and put your devices away to the best of your ability. Prioritize your space and ensure that your bedroom is comfortable, with soft lighting, comfortable bedding, or whatever else makes you feel cozy and safe. Every day, try to spend your last waking hour relaxing in your space. Whether that means taking a hot shower, meditating, or spending quality time with your partner.
Try to inform your family that you are prioritizing your sleep schedule and should not be disturbed. Especially beginning an hour before bedtime, unless there is an actual emergency (or, you know, the parenting of small children). You should also limit your caffeine consumption in the afternoon. After 3 p.m., no iced coffee. Every day, even on weekends, go to bed and wake up at the same time.
Find more about sleep cycles.
Find everything you can about sleep. Sure, it’s a fundamental human function, but it’s also complicated—and knowledge is power.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has a helpful guide on sleep stages here. But to summarize, there are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. REM sleep occurs approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. Non-REM sleep is divided into three distinct categories. Non-REM sleep is the brief period when you transition from wakefulness to sleep, as is light sleep before entering deeper sleep. One deep-sleep period transitions into non-REM sleep, and that’s the one you need to wake up feeling refreshed. It happens in longer bursts throughout the first half of the night.
What do you do with information that, when you’re conscious, isn’t even relevant or actionable? When you’re awake, you develop a plan to maximize the time spent in each cycle.
Investing in a wearable is an easy (and admittedly modern) way to figure out your unique sleeping habits. You can track your Sleep patterns using tracking devices such as the Apple Watch. But bear in mind that: Overnight wear necessitates charging in the morning, so you must decide whether you want the wearable to track your sleeping or waking movements. Choose the former for a few weeks while you establish your new sleep routine.
Tracking this type of data is beneficial because it allows people to better understand their health while providing them with accurate, personal insights. For example, that wearable monitors body temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep, and activity to provide users with scores for three different measurements: A readiness score indicates how well they are prepared for the day, the sleep score indicates how well they slept, and an activity score indicates how well they balance activity and rest. The ring will even start giving you “bedtime recommendations” after it gets to know you.
All of this is very high-tech and entertaining, but you can also measure your sleeping success the old-fashioned way.
Take notes on everything.
Try to make a new habit of taking note of how you slept when you wake up each morning. Keep a small journal throughout the day. Make a note of it if you wake up feeling revitalized. If you wake up feeling groggy, put it in the notes. Make a note if you begin to feel tired at 2 p.m. every day. Instead of focusing on the day-to-day fatigue you feel, a pattern will emerge over time, and you’ll be able to see how your sleep is truly working for you.
Keep track of your bedtime, how you felt when you went to bed the night before, and anything major that happens during the day that could impact your restfulness, from a strenuous workout to a major life change. Look for patterns, especially on days when you feel more refreshed and energetic, and then repeat what you did the night before.
If you’re living a healthy lifestyle, drinking water, eating healthy, going to bed at a regular time, and doing everything else you should be doing, but you’re still tired, consult your doctor. Bring your wearable log or notes and ask what they think the problem is. Remember that even if you’re on top of all the factors you can control, issues ranging from your mental health to your thyroid could be interfering with your sleep, so it doesn’t hurt to get a second, professional opinion.