We spend about a third of our lifetime asleep—so you might as well make the most of it. Here’s how to ensure you’re doing more dreaming and less tossing and turning.
Do: Budget enough time
“People often don’t get enough sleep because they are going to bed later than their body is telling them they need to, especially when they have to wake up at a fixed time to get to work or school,” says Neomi Shah, M.D., an associate professor of medicine in the division of Pulmonary Care and Sleep at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. Ideally, you should be snoozing a solid seven to eight hours a night, so plan your schedule in a way that ensures you don’t shortchange yourself.
Photo: Ann VanderWiel Wilde
Do: Be regular
Your body functions best when you follow a routine. That means going to bed and waking up around the same time, even on the weekends. “We are all creatures of habit,” says Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., a professor in the department of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and an environmental scholar for the National Sleep Foundation. “Having a predictable bedtime routine will help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed.”
Don’t: Try to pay back sleep debt in one night
Do you enjoy a Sunday morning sleep-in? Feel free to turn off the alarm, but remember you can’t really make up for all that lost sleep during the workweek by snoozing late on weekends, says Shah. “You don’t get the same amount of consolidated deep sleep in just one or two days,” she explains. When you skimp on sleep, a chemical called adenosine builds up in your bloodstream, and your body needs that time each day to clear it out. The more your sleep debt builds up, the more sleep you need. Getting extra sleep on the weekend can throw off your sleep patterns for the coming week, so the whole cycle starts to repeat.
Do: Get your mobile devices out of the bedroom
Using electronics too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep in several ways. For starters, the blue light that is emitted from electronic devices like phones can interfere with your body’s levels of melatonin, the hormone responsible for your sleep/wake cycle. “And when you hold a device like a phone or tablet close to your body, it can make you feel particularly more alert,” explains Dautovich. Plus, fending off a demanding e-mail from your boss or a needy text from a friend can elevate your stress levels, making it even more difficult to fall asleep. Even your Kindle can cause concerns: A 2015 study found e-readers not only suppressed levels of melatonin but also interfered with the total number of REM minutes, the most restorative part of the sleep cycle.
Photo: Jeff Harris
Don’t: Take an afternoon coffee break (or an evening nightcap)
Both caffeine and alcohol can wreack havoc with your sleep patterns. “Caffeine has a way of lingering around in your body,” says Shah. Although it varies from person to person, caffeine has a half life of five to six hours, which means that 4 p.m. latte is still kicking around in your bloodstream at 10 p.m. And while alcohol might make you feel sleepy, it can disrupt your sleep quality. On the other hand, says Shah, a glass of milk does contain enough of the amino acid tryptophan to induce sleepiness.
Do: Limit the bedroom to sleep and sex
Spending hours in bed taking care of tasks like paying the bills or noshing on dessert can make it difficult to actually fall asleep. “Try to get into bed only while you are feeling sleepy,” says Dautovich. “Spending more than 10-15 minutes awake in bed can often make it difficult to nod off when the lights go out.”