As someone who loves sleep but doesn't do it nearly enough, I often wake up exhausted, bleary-eyed, and wondering what time I finally fell asleep. This month, though, I decided enough was enough and reached out to a few sleep experts for advice on how to change my sleep schedule, get deeper sleep, and find the elusive REM sleep everyone is always talking about.
The tips are mostly obvious—go to bed earlier, use a comfortable mattress, and don't keep your electronics near your pillow (I'm certainly guilty of that). But the reasons for each were new to me. Did you know that even though alcohol may initially help you sleep it actually leads to interrupted, poor quality sleep later in the night? So, no, that nightcap wasn't doing me any favors. Here are the five rules I've been adhering to for better sleep and why they work.
Go to Bed Earlier
It seems obvious, right? But it's more important than you think. According to Parinaz Samimi, "We have 90-minute sleep cycles and our REM stage sleep cycle happens earlier in the morning. If you have to wake up early, you may not have enough time to hit the REM stage of sleep before your alarm goes off."
Meet the Expert
- Parinaz Samimi, MPH, MBA, is a certified yoga instructor and sleep and wellness expert. She is also a brand ambassador at Tulo, a mattress company.
- Adam Tishman is a co-founder at Helix Sleep. Previously, he was Director of Marketing & Business Development at Sheets Brand, a line of dissolvable oral energy and sleep strips.
Have a Regular Bedtime Routine
"Our bodies are on a 24-hour cycle and do best when we have a consistent circadian rhythm. Train your body with a reliable, habitual bedtime ritual so the appropriate hormones (cortisol and melatonin) get released in response to the light and darkness," explains Samimi.
Adam Tishman agrees: "Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Having a regular sleep schedule will help increase REM and the overall quality of your sleep," he says.
"Whether it’s using a sound machine to block out other noises or wearing a sleeping mask to keep you from waking up, limit the distractions you allow in your bedroom," says Samimi. "As a bonus, using pink noise (a gentler version of white noise) has been shown to improve memory in older adults."
Tishman adds: "Relax and wind down. Take some time to focus on yourself before bed. Get off electronic devices (the blue light emanating from them disrupts circadian rhythms), wash your face and brush your teeth, get a few chores done around the home. Maybe even take a hot bath—the heat and then immediate cool-down afterward will help lull you to sleep. Once you’re in bed, stay off your devices, relax, focus on your breathing, and if you’re feeling up to it, try meditating."
"Choose a mattress that suits your unique sleep needs, such as sleeping position and regulating body temperature. Both are essential to getting quality rest," says Samimi. "Sleeping on a mattress that is too soft or too firm for you," says Tishman, "sheets that are too warm, or a mattress that is old and sags all prevent you from maximizing deep restorative sleep. Try getting a mattress that is custom-made for your needs and preferences to help with falling and staying asleep. Plus, you won’t wake up with any sleep-related pain the next morning."
Be Aware of What You Eat (And Drink)
"Avoid eating foods to which you have an intolerance, such as spicy foods or dairy," suggests Samimi. "Tart cherry juice before bed has shown to improve your sleep quality." In fact, a 2012 study showed that drinking tart cherry juice increased melatonin, sleep time, and sleep quality.
Tishman recommends "no alcohol or caffeine too close to bedtime. Caffeine and alcohol interfere with your natural sleep process and having either of these too close to bedtime disrupts your natural body chemistry and can keep you awake. And even though alcohol helps you fall asleep, it disrupts your typical sleep cycle and decreases the overall quality of your sleep."
Colrain IM, Nicholas CL, Baker FC. Alcohol and the sleeping brain. Handb Clin Neurol. 2014;125:415-431. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-62619-6.00024-0
Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012;51(8):909-916. doi:10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7