Getting some five-star sleep does way more than make you feel rested the next morning — it’s got a slew of health benefits, too. “Your ability to concentrate, make decisions, exercise and handle stress, just to name a few activities, is dependent in part on your sleep quality,” says Natalie Dautovich, PhD, Environmental Scholar for the National Sleep Foundation. But when it comes to getting a solid night’s rest, actually being able to fall asleep is just the tip of the iceberg. “The beginning stages of sleep are physically restorative, but most of your mental repair happens later in the night,” says Michael Breus, PhD, a board-certified expert in clinical sleep disorders. Here’s how to make every minute count — and maximize your snooze potential.
How to Sleep Better, Starting Now
1. Work Out — and Work Out Often
“Exercise is the easiest way to sleep better,” says Dr. Breus. Although doctors aren’t exactly sure why workouts help you snooze, they believe it comes down to two factors. First, since exercise physically tires you out, your body will look to refuel itself with deep rest post-sweat session. And second, because working out releases feel-good endorphins which reduce stress, you’ll also sleep better — and worry free. (As if you needed another benefit from crushing it on the treadmill anyway.)
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2. Freshen Up Your Bed
You know how you change your sheets every week? That same line of thinking should be applied to your entire bed. You should be changing your pillow every 18 months or so, according to Dr. Breus. “You have an eight-pound head on top of your pillow all night long. The pillow’s structural integrity will diminish over time,” he explains. He recommends spending between $40 and $60 on a pillow. While that may seem expensive, Breus justifies the cost as a worthwhile investment in your health. As for your mattress, kick it to the curb every seven years. “The best mattress for [an individual varies], but over the years, your body will have different support needs. You have to figure out what you need from a mattress perspective as time goes on,” says Dr. Breus.
3. Pump Up the Volume
Of a noise machine, that is. “Unfamiliar sounds can rouse you from the deeper, restorative stages of sleep,” says Dr. Dautovich. “You can camouflage noise through the use of a sound conditioner.”. But thanks to ever-evolving technology, you don’t even need to go out and buy one: Websites like My Noise offer tons of options, such as white noise and rain falling on a tent, to soothe and keep you sleeping.
4. Nix That Nap (Sorry!)
Lazy Sundays — or even brief respites in your daily schedule — shouldn’t automatically call for mid-afternoon naps. “You need to be active and avoid or limit napping during the day in order to increase the drive to sleep later on,” says Dr. Dautovich. But if you can’t completely wean yourself off naps, try these tips for making sure they’re quick recharging sessions that don’t spiral out of control.
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5. Set a Consistent Schedule
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day helps regulate your circadian rhythms, including ones responsible for when you get tired as well as when you wake up. ,”We cycle through different stages of sleep multiple times [throught the night],” says Dr. Dautovich. “If you’re awakening during the end of a sleep cycle, during the lighter stages of sleep, it’ll be easier to wake up without feeling groggy.” When you have a sleep schedule, your body learns to predict that timing and prepare to wake up during a lighter stage of sleep. Just keep away from the snooze button, which can confuse your circadian rhythm and leave you feeling even more tired, says Dr. Dautovich.
6. Put a Cork in It
It’s tempting to unwind after a long day with a bottle of vino, but wrap it up (and use a cute stopper to cork it) after one (OK, maybe two) glasses. Having too much alcohol in your system is akin to a bouncer in front of Club Good Sleep who keeps you from entering deeper sleep cycles, says Dr. Breus. It reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, according to a 2013 study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, which is far from ideal. REM sleep is when you dream as your brain works on memory and other cognitive functions — pretty important stuff.
7. Cool Things Down
Whether you’re a fan of steamy summer temps or you’re more of a cold-weather creature, stick with sleeping in a cool room to maximize your snooze time. “Your body temperature drops as you fall asleep,” says Dr. Dautovich. “We suggest keeping your bedroom between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit to mimic that.”. As a bonus, a 2014 study in Diabetes shows sleeping in a room that’s 66 degrees can help increase your levels of metabolism-revving brown fat.
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8. Enter the Darkroom
“Light can stop the production of melatonin and have a big effect on both your ability to fall and stay asleep,” says Dr. Breus. Melatonin is a hormone that aids in regulating your circadian rhythms, helping you fall — and then keeping you — asleep. In addition to not looking at your phone or computer screens for at least an hour before bed, consider swapping your bulbs for these from LightingScience. “They don’t emit as much blue light, which seems to stop melatonin production,” says Dr. Breus, who uses them in his own house as well.
9. Skip the Afternoon Coffee Run
You probably never sip coffee right before bed (and if you do, we hope it’s decaf!), but mainlining a PM cup of joe can practically have the same effect. “Caffeine can stay in your system for eight to 10 hours. If you want to get a good night’s rest, one of my biggest recommendations would be to stop drinking coffee by around 2:00 p.m.,” says Dr. Breus. Instead, try a natural energy bar with wholesome ingredients to help you power through that afternoon slump.