Picture this: You fly from New York to Los Angeles on Friday night and start adjusting to Pacific time. On Sunday night, you catch a red eye and abruptly fly back to the east coast: where waking up at 7 a.m. for a Monday morning meeting feels like 4 a.m. to your body. Sounds miserable, doesn’t it?
Well, if you’re like a lot of people, this is exactly what your body is being put through every time you stay up late on the weekends and then try to adjust to a 9-to-5 schedule on Monday. This concept is called “social jetlag” because it’s often a result of socializing on the weekends, and the impacts of chronic fatigue and drowsiness very closely resemble jetlag.
Our bodies crave consistency, and so they’ll try to establish a solid pattern sometimes even when we ourselves can’t stick to one. This is why it’s rough getting up early on Mondays (and probably not much easier Tuesdays and Wednesdays)—because your body got used to sleeping in till ten or eleven a.m. over the weekend after a night spent up until midnight or one a.m.
The time that you go to bed is one of the few things solidly within your control when it comes to the factors of getting good sleep, and, as it turns out, it’s also one of the most powerful ways to improve your sleep hygiene. If you’re tired of being tired, here are a few tips to bring some consistency to your sleep:
1. Set a bedtime alarm.
You already set an alarm to help you wake up, but you could probably use a good reminder of when to hit the hay, too. A good step toward stellar sleep hygiene is setting aside time in your schedule for sleep. The idea is to set a cutoff point between the busyness of your day and the time you take to unwind before sleep. Use a bedtime alarm set for an hour before bed to help you start this habit.
2. Find a sleep schedule that works for weekdays and weekends.
Ideally, you’ll wake up within a half hour range whether it’s Monday morning or Saturday morning. This may take some getting used to at first, as you’re probably used to gorging on sleep come the weekend, but it is definitely worth it, if only because it will make your Monday mornings go so much smoother.
3. Wanting to get to bed earlier? Do so slowly.
It takes more time to pull our circadian rhythm back earlier in the day than later at night. This is why it’s easier flying West than flying East across time zones. Laying down to sleep much earlier than your body is used to and just trying to force it on the first day is about as effective as someone telling you to relax. Your body will need some time to get used to it.
Just as it is with a good friend, your dependability is treasured by your body. Regardless of whether or not you look like a buffoon while dancing, your body loves consistency and rhythm. The more you stick to a consistent schedule, the less time you’ll spend tossing and turning at night, and the easier you’ll find your mornings.
To many of us, caffeine is like a superhero—swooping in to save us from the drowsy morning or mid-day slump and carrying us through the rest of the day. What we tend to forget in all of our appreciation of the trusty caffeine buzz is that it is a stimulant drug—and a very powerful one at that. While this substance does an awesome job of pumping us up mid-afternoon, it has terrible effects on our sleep later on. But wait!—before you close this page, grab your grande and run, let us tell you why and how you can drink coffee while still protecting your sleep.
Caffeine sticks around in your system for a while. Caffeine has a half-life of roughly five to six hours. What does that mean for you? Say you drink a grande coffee at 4 p.m. (clocking an impressive 300 mg of caffeine), then fast forward to 10 p.m. and you still have more caffeine in your system than if you had downed an energy drink. This is problematic when it comes to trying to fall asleep.
Even if you’re somehow able to fall asleep with caffeine still kicking around in your system, you risk the chance of losing out on restorative deep sleep and decreasing your total sleep time by up to an hour. And the last thing you need is to be getting less sleep!
Holding back sleep
A chemical compound called adenosine is responsible for creating “sleep pressure” in our brains. It works along with our circadian rhythms, it builds all day while we’re awake, and then releases at night while we sleep. When the pressure builds enough, that’s a signal to our body that we’re tired.
Caffeine tricks your body into thinking that it’s not tired by creating a barrier between your brain and the building adenosine. Sleep scientist Matthew Walker in his book Why We Sleep explains: “...caffeine blocks and effectively inactivates…[adenosine] receptors, acting as a masking agent”. He describes it as similar to “sticking your fingers in your ears to shut out a sound”.
All the while, sleep pressure builds up behind this dam of caffeine, and when the dam finally wears down hours later, the big wave of sleep pressure comes in all at once. This process is problematic for people drinking caffeine late in the day, because the dam stays strong long into the night, keeping you from the sleep pressure that aids your brain in initiating sleep.
Last call for coffee
As promised, the sleep-smart way to get your coffee: commit to a strict cutoff time of 2 p.m. for any caffeinated beverages, in order to give yourself plenty of time for the caffeine to wear off before bedtime. So this means you’re good to get your dose of caffeine in the morning if you need a quick perk-up—that’s what caffeine is for anyways, right? However, if you find yourself relying on caffeine to get you through every morning, you may want to examine the quality of the sleep you’re getting every night. After all, the best all-natural way to ensure happy, alert mornings will always be a great night’s sleep!
Families share everything. From their genes down to their sense of humor, children take their cues from their parents. But there’s one personal trait that we may not realize is affecting our families. You guessed it—our sleep habits.
In order for your household to function at its best, sleep has to become a family priority. Let’s talk about the importance of sleep for your family and discuss how you can improve it for everyone.
How much sleep should everyone be getting?
For adults, the recommended amount of nightly sleep is seven to nine hours. For children, it depends on their stage of development. Here’s a breakdown of the number of hours of sleep required per day, including naps:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours
- Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours
- What happens when your family misses its sleep quota?
You know that not getting enough sleep will make you irritable, but one study suggests that sleep-deprivation causes adults to dole out harsher punishments.
As for your kids? On top of the damage it does to their cognitive abilities and physical health, sleep-deprived children are cranky, more likely to behave badly, and often exhibit signs of hyperactivity and lack of focus (sleep deprivation is sometimes confused with ADHD in kids). Combine that with a tired parent’s short fuse and you have a recipe for more family feuds. By making a good night’s sleep a family initiative, you may be able to improve the emotional environment of your home.
FOUR TIPS FOR A HEALTHY SLEEP ROUTINE
1. Put the electronics to bed.
The cues start with you. A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that if a child’s parents slept with one or more electronic device on (e.g., smartphone, tablet) the child is more likely to do the same. The same survey found that both parents and kids sleeping with their devices exhibit poorer sleep quality than those who keep their devices off or out of the room.
Pro tip: Set up a communal charging area in your home where you and your kids can plug in devices for the night. You’ll know they’re sleeping without their devices and getting better rest because of it.
2. Eat dinner earlier.
Young children take more time to digest their food. They need to eat at least two hours before bedtime to sleep well.
3. Enforce your bedtime rules.
Setting rules and sticking to them will make a big difference for everyone. Set a caffeine cutoff for 2 p.m., and set definite cut-off times for television, computers, and video games.
4. Develop a consistent routine.
Getting everyone to sleep at the appropriate time every night is a good start, but following a consistent bedtime routine signals to our brains that we’re going to sleep soon, allowing them to shut down even faster.
Lay out clothes for the next day, brush teeth, and end the night with a wind-down activity such as reading together—which we recommend as both a great activity that’s been tied to academic performance and also as a relaxing activity to prepare the body for bed.
As with everything else in your life as a parent, setting a good example of healthy sleep habits starts with you. It might be a challenge to reverse some bad habits (we recommend trying one new thing at a time) but the payoff is worth it. After all, healthier and happier families is something we can all get behind.
Pregnant? New parent or have small kids? Tired? Get tips and info on our special site for exhausted moms.
Ready to start sleeping better?
For those that struggle with insomnia (or even with milder forms of “I just can’t sleep”), the list of solutions is slim and even dangerous. The most popular treatments are sleeping pills, but the negative impacts of sleeping pills don’t seem to have been widely publicized.
Currently, sleeping pills do not have the ability to naturally imitate sleep. Instead, they more closely resemble a sedative rather than mimicking natural sleep patterns. Put more simply: when people use sleeping pills, they aren’t getting any of the necessary restorative benefits of sleep. And to go one step further: sleeping pills are tied with earlier death across the board.
So where does that leave a bleary-eyed sleeper in the middle of the night, lying awake, tossing and turning?
This is where cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (or CBT-I) comes into the picture.* Right now, it’s being used in medical communities around the country as the front-line treatment plan for insomnia. The best part? No pills necessary.
How does CBT-I work? Well, it’s a collection of behavioral principles for better sleep health, and it’s also built on your body’s remarkable ability to form associations. You want to make your bed a place that you (and your body) associates calm, rest, and sleep rather than middle-of-the-night mind racing. Here’s the short list:
1. Go to bed and wake up at a consistent time.
Your circadian rhythm loves consistency. The more you can get your body into a wake/sleep consistent habit (within an hour, even on weekends), the easier it will be to feel tired when it’s bedtime and alert when it’s morning.
2. Go to bed only when sleepy.
Many insomniacs have trouble falling asleep, which becomes a downward spiral of sleepiness. Although the principle of delaying bedtime until sleepy seems counterintuitive at first, the reason behind this one is simple and goes back to association. If your body isn’t tired when you go to bed, you’re missing out on that clear signal that tired equals bedtime. This principle also uses sleep pressure to its advantage, so the longer you stay awake the stronger your urge for tiredness. We need that sleep pressure to build a bit so you’re body is actually tired when you go to bed and sometimes that might take sleeping a little less than recommended to start.
3. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
If you are lying in bed and your mind starts racing, it’s best to get out of bed. Again: you don’t want to associate your bed with stress. Go to a different room (dim lights, no screens) and do something relaxing like read a book, meditate, or listen to music until you find yourself getting sleepy (at which point, return to bed).
4. “Mentally decelerate” before bed.
Give yourself 30-60 minutes to wind down at the end of the day. Take up a bedtime routine and do everything in the same order each day. The best mental deceleration doesn’t involve TV, reading the news, or scrolling through social media (as these are all very brain-stimulating activities). Do try listening to calming music, journaling, reading books, or even just catching up on the day with your partner.
5. Remove visible clock faces from bedroom.
This one might seem a little odd, but the idea behind it is that you want to avoid the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night and looking at the clock, which just adds stress to the fact that you can’t sleep.
Next time you find yourself in a period of stress and have a few nights of angsty wakeups, try a few of these principles as an all-natural return to better sleep.
*We are not attempting to diagnose or treat insomnia. If you feel you or a family member is struggling with insomnia, visit your health care provider.
Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep, let alone an entire month celebrating it? That's why we're publishing a month's worth of tips to help you sleep better with only minor changes to your daily life. Here's to Better Sleep Month, and to sleeping your best year-round. You deserve it.
Better Sleep Month Tips
Sleep Tip #1:
When sleeping on your back or side, a medium height and slightly firm pillow works best to support your neck and head. On your stomach, a soft, flat pillow is best. Quality pillows are designed to keep your spine aligned while you sleep, which can mean more comfort and more sleep.
Sleep Tip #2:
By mid-afternoon, you feel the crash coming, and you reach for another cup of coffee. Caffeine is a proven stimulant, and that afternoon pick-me-up may be keeping you up longer than you’d like. Limiting your caffeine intake to before 2 pm gives your body time to calm down before bedtime.
Sleep Tip #3:
Falling asleep with the TV on or using your phone while in bed don’t seem like a big deal, right? Wrong, actually. The blue light from electronics suppresses your body’s natural production of melatonin. By cutting off all electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime, your body naturally knows it's bedtime.
Sleep Tip #4:
Set a bedtime routine. Repeating it every night will put your body on a consistent schedule, making it easier to get up and go to sleep.
Sleep Tip #5:
Outside light can shine into your bedroom, preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. Too much light makes your body think it’s time to wake up by interfering with your circadian rhythms. Investing in blinds or curtains that are designed to block out those lights puts you in charge of your sleep schedule again.
Sleep Tip #6:
Our body temperatures naturally decrease at night and produce melatonin, telling us it’s time to sleep. Keeping the bedroom cool helps that process happen faster, which can help you fall asleep faster. Recommended temperature is between 60° and 68°F.
Sleep Tip #7:
Working out during the day gives you the boost of energy to make it through the rest of your day. Doing so in the evening helps tire you out, so long as you complete your workout a couple of hours before turning in. By bedtime, your body is ready for rest. Working out a few times a week may even negate the need for an afternoon nap. But, hey, if you want to take a short nap, obviously, we approve.
Sleep Tip #8:
A small snack before bed isn’t a bad thing if you choose the right one. Greasy foods make you sluggish in the morning. Sugary foods, particularly processed ones, raise your blood sugar and energy levels. Foods like cherries, tomatoes, walnuts, olives, barley, strawberries, and milk contain melatonin, which can help you fall asleep.
Sleep Tip #9:
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary, a place for you to relax and reconnect with your partner. Having distractions in your bedroom (cute as they may be), makes it less peaceful because your focus is not on resting anymore. Cuddling and storytime are great. Working, gaming, jumping on the bed, dog tricks ... not so much. Give yourself the space to retreat, unwind and rest.
Sleep Tip #10:
That middle-of-the- night wakeup call that cannot be ignored, getting you out of your warm bed and then making it hard to fall back asleep. Just like kids are limited on consuming beverages close to bedtime, you should do the same. Uninterrupted sleep is the goal year-round, not just during Better Sleep Month.
Sleep Tip #11:
A hot bath or shower is a good feeling after a long day’s work. The hot water helps relax your muscles and puts your mind in bedtime mode. Doing so about two hours before bed gives your body temperature time to cool down. Adding some aromatherapy can enhance your relaxation.
Sleep Tip #12:
The walls make the room. Bright colors may look nice and energizing, but they don't create the best ambience for sleeping. Your bedroom should be inviting and peaceful. Painting in neutral, calming colors can promote sleep.
Sleep Tip #13:
Sleeping with your socks on may not sound alluring, but it could help you fall asleep faster. Warming your limbs increases dilation of the blood vessels, telling your body it's time for bed. Wearing socks that aren't too thick and are made from natural fabrics works best.
Sleep Tip #14:
Chamomile has many health benefits, but the most common is for sleep. It is a relaxing, non-caffeinated herb. Drinking a small cup of chamomile tea before bed can help ease pain and get your body ready to sleep.
Sleep Tip #15:
That cocktail or glass of wine before bed may help you get to sleep, but it may also be the reason you can't sleep through the night. Alcohol can disrupt your REM cycles. Avoid drinking any alcohol 3-4 hours before bed and drink more water instead. Don't drink any beverages right before bed, though, as noted in Sleep Tip #10 above.
Sleep Tip #16:
Aromatherapy uses the healing powers of scents to balance your mind, body and spirit. Pure essential oils are diffused into the air or rubbed on pressure points to help you relax, relieve stress, and promote better sleep. Some popular scents with calming effects include lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, and jasmine.
Sleep Tip #17:
In with peace. Out with drama. Meditation sounds easy enough, right? Thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list or worrying about a problem can keep you awake night after night. Being able to completely clear your mind can help you sleep better. Find a quiet place where you can spend time meditating before you go to bed.
Sleep Tip #18:
Smoking has quite a few health risks, and your sleep is one of them. Because nicotine is a stimulant, smoking throughout the day keeps nicotine in your system, making it harder to wind down and stay asleep through the night. The only good news on this subject? From the moment you stop smoking, your body goes into healing mode.
Sleep Tip #19:
Living in a city can be nice and convenient. And loud. Or maybe you have an air conditioner blasting outside your window or a snoring spouse. Noise interferes with sleep. Listening to the sounds of nature can be relaxing and helps to block outside noise without disturbing your sleep. You can also try soft music or white noise.
Sleep Tip #20:
“Five more minutes,” she says as she hits the snooze button. Those five extra minutes can be doing more harm than help. If you fall back asleep, when the alarm goes off in five minutes, you will be groggier than you were before. And if you set it repeatedly, you're robbing yourself of extra sleep for those minutes. Set one alarm and get into the habit of getting up as soon as it goes off.
Sleep Tip #21:
Scary, suspenseful or emotional movies or books should be avoided at bedtime. Leave the thrillers and murder mysteries for earlier in the day or a weekend afternoon. Not to mention, lighted screens are bad for sleep, as noted in Tip #3. Instead, find a book that is a lighter read (or a book you’ve already read), so it's a little easier to put down at bedtime.
Sleep Tip #22:
Naps. Just the word brings joy. But most of us struggle with knowing how long is too long. If the nap is too short, you wake more tired than before. If it's too long, you may be too awake for bedtime. 30 is the magic number. A 30-minute nap can help you feel refreshed and get you through the rest of your day.
Sleep Tip #23:
The arrangement of furniture and objects in your bedroom can affect your quality of sleep as well as your energy when you wake. Following the principles of feng shui can help you relax and also change your perception of your bedroom into one of a peaceful retreat.
Sleep Tip #24:
As you sleep, your body works to regulate your body temperature. All- natural sheets allow better circulation. Organic sheets are also all-natural but made to higher, healthier standards. There are many fakers trying to imply they're organic, so look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) seal. Sheets made with synthetic fabrics tend to trap heat and sweat, which can breed bacteria and lead to sleeping hot.
Sleep Tip #25:
Wearing a sleep tracker to bed can tell you how many times you tossed and turned, plus how long you were awake throughout the night. Tracking your sleep is easy, with many trackers on the market to choose from, and can help you make the necessary changes to get a full night’s sleep.
Sleep Tip #26:
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but less invasive. It involves applying pressure on the body or massaging certain points to help with various ailments. Practitioners believe it balances energy and health, helps with circulation, and relieves pain. Using essential oils during acupressure can enhance its effects and the experience, too.
Sleep Tip #27:
It's not fair when your partner is fast asleep and you're wide awake because of his or her snoring. We have a solution that is better than kicking them out of the bedroom. Sleeping at an angle of 7°-8° or higher helps with snoring. Elevate with pillows or an adjustable power base. This position is also good if you have acid reflux.
Sleep Tip #28:
Going to bed with tomorrow’s to-do list and other things that are stressing you out can keep you up at night. Writing things down can help you let them go or remember what needs to get done tomorrow. Keep a journal near your bed so you can write everything off your mind and sleep peacefully.
Sleep Tip #29:
There are many natural remedies that are thought to improve sleep, though more study is needed to conclusively prove cause and effect. Other than chamomile, herbs that may help you get some shuteye include valerian root, lavender, lemon balm, hops, passion flower and St. John's Wort.
Sleep Tip #30:
A messy bedroom is the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see in the morning. Cleaning your bedroom can be therapeutic. Having a space that is clear of clutter helps you avoid the stress caused by visual overload, helps you to feel like your room is under control and puts your mind at ease.
Sleep Tip #31:
Better Sleep Month has been all about giving you a month's worth of useful tips to help you sleep better. Sometimes, though, poor sleep can be the result of an underlying medical condition. Speaking with your doctor can help diagnose the problem. The sooner you find out what is wrong, the sooner you can be on your way to getting the great sleep you deserve.