We all know getting a good night’s sleep is important, but too often, we just settle for the “night’s sleep” part and leave out the “good.” Maybe that’s because we think how “good” we sleep is mostly out of our hands — but there are ways to maximise your sleep so your waking hours are even better.
Set and stick to a schedule
You need a schedule, but not just a sleep schedule. You should be scheduling your entire day, more or less, and focusing on habit-building around bedtime. Say you need to be up at 6:30 in the morning to have time to get ready for work. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get seven or more hours of sleep each night, so at the bare minimum, that puts you in bed by 11:30. What you do leading up to 11:30 counts, too.
Try unwinding for an hour before bed. Seriously, no work emails — or any emails, really. To the best of your ability, unplug completely and put your devices away. Prioritise your space and make sure your bedroom is comfortable, complete with soft lighting, comfortable bedding, or whatever makes you feel cosy and safe. Try to dedicate your final waking hour every day to relaxing in your space, whether that means taking a hot shower, meditating, or spending quality time with your partner.
Speaking of your partner, whenever possible, let your family know that you’re prioritising your sleep schedule and shouldn’t be disturbed, starting an hour before bedtime, barring an actual emergency (or, you know, the parenting of small children). You should also set an afternoon time limit for caffeine consumption, too. No iced coffee after, say, 3 p.m. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every single day — even on the weekends.
Learn about sleep cycles
Educate yourself about sleep. It’s a basic human function, sure, but it’s still complicated — and knowledge is power.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has a handy guide on sleep stages here, but to make it simple, there are two kinds of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. REM sleep happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep, and non-REM sleep is broken up into three distinct categories. The short period when you shift from wakefulness to sleep is a non-REM sleep, as is the light sleep before you enter deeper sleep. One deep-sleep period falls into non-REM sleep, and that’s the one you need to feel refreshed in the morning. It occurs in longer periods through the first half of the night.
What do you do with this information, which isn’t even relevant or actionable when you’re conscious? Well, you make a plan when you are awake to maximise the time spent in each cycle.
One easy — and admittedly modern — way to figure out your unique sleeping habits is to invest in a wearable. Devices like the Apple Watch can track your sleep patterns, but be warned: Overnight wear means you’ll need to charge in the morning, so you have to prioritise whether you want the wearable to measure your sleeping information or your waking movements. For a few weeks, while you’re starting your new sleep routine, opt for the former.
Caroline Kryder, who handles science communications for the Oura Ring, a health tech wearable that tracks biometric data, told Lifehacker that tracking that type of information is helpful because it helps people understand their health while arming them with accurate, personal insights. That wearable, for instance, monitors body temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep, and activity to give users scores for three different measurements: A readiness score shows how ready they are for the day, a sleep score shows how well they slept, and an activity score shows how well they’re balancing activity and rest. After it gets to know you, the ring will even start giving you “bedtime recommendations.”
That’s all very high-tech and fun, but you can also measure your sleeping success the old-fashioned way.
Write it all down
Try to get into a new habit of writing down how you slept each morning when you wake up. Keep a little log through the day. If you wake up feeling refreshed, jot that down. If you wake up feeling groggy, into the notes it goes. If you start to get tired every day at 2 p.m., make a note, too. Over time, a pattern will develop and you’ll be able to see how your sleep is really working for you, broadly, instead of focusing on the day-to-day fatigue you feel.
Keep track of your bedtime, how you were feeling when you retired the previous night, and anything major that goes on through the day that could impact your restfulness, from a hard workout to a major life development. Look for patterns, especially on the days you’re feeling more refreshed and energetic, then duplicate whatever you did on the preceding night.
If you’re maintaining a healthy lifestyle, drinking water, eating healthy, going to bed at a set time, and doing everything else you think you should be, but you still feeling tired, talk to your doctor. Bring your wearable log or your notes and ask what they think could be the issue. Remember, various issues from your mental health to your thyroid could be messing with your sleep, even if you’re on top of all the factors you can control, so it doesn’t hurt to get a second, professional opinion.