I can predict how I’ll feel at 2pm every single day based solely on how I slept the night before. Less than seven hours, I’ll be drowsy and I’ll crave a cup of strong coffee. Seven or more hours, and I’ll have energy until about 7pm, after which I start to slowly wind down until bedtime.
How well I sleep also matters: if it’s too hot, I’ll toss and turn. If the light from my phone charger is aimed towards my face, I’ll wake up multiple times overnight.
It’s like Goldilocks. Everything has to be juuust right for me to sleep well!
Clearly, sleep is an essential function, and lack of it can impair our decision-making abilities, concentration, and our ability to process memories.
Matt Walker, Founder of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, lays out 6 science-backed tips to sleep better that we can all follow.
1. Go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time every day.
Your brain’s 24-hour circadian rhythm is the master regulator of your sleep-wake cycle. It controls when you feel refreshed and alert, and when you feel tired, ready for bed.
If you work against your body’s natural circadian rhythm, you’re more likely to have trouble falling asleep at night, wake up during the night, or be unable to sleep as long as you want to in the morning.
Now, contrary to what some people believe, we don’t actually adapt to getting less sleep than we need. We might get used to a schedule that keeps us from an ideal number of hours of sleep, so much so that we may not be aware of our cognitive and functional deficiencies because less sleep feels normal to us.
Additionally, lack of sleep has been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease and poor mental health.
So going to bed at the same time every day and waking up at the same time every day is incredibly important to:
2. Keep it cool.
In order to fall asleep and stay asleep, the body needs to drop its core temperature by about three degrees F. It’s important, then, to maintain a cool temperature overnight. The current guideline is 68F.
3. Keep it dark.
Darkness in the evening triggers melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate healthy sleep timing. It’s no wonder that my kids tended to sleep better when we were on vacations away from the city! We naturally had less artificial light around us, and it felt so much easier to get them to bed after the bedtime routine.
Short of moving to the country, Walker suggests that in the hour or so before bedtime, we should shut down our phones and computers, and dim half the lights in our homes.
I actually love to turn off our hallway lights and dim my bedroom lights in the evening. It makes me feel relaxed and drowsy, exactly the way I want to feel before falling asleep.
4. Walk out of your bedroom if you can’t fall or stay asleep.
If it’s been 25 minutes and you can’t fall asleep, Walker recommends that you get out of bed and go do something else until you feel drowsy again. This is because if you continue to remain in bed, awake, your brain will begin to associate your bed with wakefulness rather than sleep. And now, your bed will be a trigger of wakefulness!
By getting out of bed, we break this association, and gradually, your brain will relearn that the bed is a place of restful sleep.
5. Watch your alcohol and caffeine intake.
The guideline is simply no caffeine in the afternoon or evening, and don’t go to bed too tipsy.
6. Develop a bedtime routine.
We know how important it is for us to have a bedtime routine for our kids, but somehow we often don’t have one for ourselves!
Physiologically, we usually can’t fall asleep the moment our head hits the pillow. It takes some time for our brains to reach the state to initiate sleep. We can reinforce this process by following a wind-sown bedtime routine, which should be something that it relaxing, stress-free and away from computer or phone screens.
You know if you’re consistently sleeping well or not. Lack of enough high-quality sleep can have some pretty detrimental effects on our cognition and our physical health. Follow these 6 science-backed tips to sleep better, and evaluate for yourself how you perform over time!
- Go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time every day.
- Keep it cool.
- Keep it dark.
- Walk out of your bedroom if you can’t fall or stay asleep.
- Watch your alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Develop a bedtime routine.