Here’s Your Plan for the Best Damn Sleep of Your Life
Even when you try to settle down for the night, the world never seems to quit buzzing around you. From bosses that don’t know the meaning of “boundaries” when it comes to email, to the endless stream of stimulation from social media, to a Netflix binge too gripping to quit -- a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by.
Dreamland doesn’t have to be out of reach though, and Thrillist has enlisted science’s snoozing experts to help you develop habits and get the best sleep ever. From making your bedroom into the coziest of caves to giving that smartphone the boot, the tips you’ll find here will help you pave the way to some sweet, deep slumber.
Good sleep starts before you get into bed
Yes, sleep is exciting and you want to just drift off to dreamland as soon as you hit the mattress. According to Dr. Nitun Verma, MD, a sleep physician at Crossover Health, you may be doing yourself a disservice by trying to hit the brakes on the day so quickly. “The most important thing: Set an alarm an hour before bedtime,” Dr. Verma advises. “This reminds you to start winding down. Dim screens, dim lights, and focus on relaxing. Begin rituals that help you relax each night before bed, like drawing a warm bath or enjoying a light snack.”
Banish those electronics to the living room
What’s that about dimming screens? Turns out staring at a bright screen in a dark room is not good for you. Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral and social scientist who specializes in sleep at the RAND Corporation, says that the average person is overstimulating themselves at exactly the wrong time.
“Social media, work, and video games are far too stimulating,” Troxel says. “Exposure to light from electronic devices can directly suppress the hormone melatonin, which signals sleep onset.”
Those backlit screens from your smartphones and tablets are actually more harmful than the average incandescent light bulb, as well, since LED screens emit “blue-light wavelengths” that can have damaging effects on melatonin levels. Those emails and tweets can wait, people. Just log off.
Routine is your friend
As a living, breathing human you’re walking around with a giant clock inside you. Part of maintaining that clock is doing your best to get into a routine, so try to fall asleep and get up around the same time every day whenever possible.
“This is the single most important cue to set our internal biological clocks, which in turn is critical for setting us up for sleep success that night,” says Troxel. “Inconsistent wakeup times, including sleeping in on the weekends [Ed. Note: GASP], has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns and is associated with health consequences.”
Yes, you really need 8 (or 7) hours
Are you envious of those people who can run on nothing but a cup of black coffee and 3 hours of sleep while you get drowsy despite going to bed at 9:30? Take heart -- apparently the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead crowd” might be getting their wish sooner than they bargained for.
According to research conducted by Dr. Clete Kushida, director of the Stanford Center for Human Sleep Research and president of the World Sleep Federation (yes, that’s a thing), “Some of the repercussions of sleeping less than 7 hours on a regular basis is a higher likelihood of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, and an increased risk of death.”
Gulp. So next time that overachieving somniphobic friend of yours brags about how little shuteye they need, show them the video of Dr. Kushida dissecting their argument piece by piece with the cool demeanor of a man who has slept exactly seven hours every night for the last 60 years. (This is just a guess.)
Keep your cool
We’ve all had this moment: You get into your hotel room, crank the AC to “meatlocker,” and see if you can get a nice frost on the windows like a White Walker with access to room service. Luxe though you may be, you’ve also apparently tapped into one of the secrets to a good night’s sleep. There is something so cozy about falling asleep in a chilly room and apparently the science backs that up. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “a cool room, somewhere around 65 degrees, makes for the best sleep. If it's too hot, it may interfere with your body's natural [temperature] dip and make you more restless through the night.”
This is especially true if you’re one of those folks that run a little hotter than most. “Individuals who struggle with sleep onset may have warmer core body temperatures to begin with and this may lead to sleep onset difficulties,” writes Dr. Christopher Winter, a sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Solution. “The temperature at which an individual sleeps becomes very important as the ability to shed heat and feel cool can influence how successful an individual will be in terms of falling asleep.”
Ditch the naps
You’ve probably heard those passionate nap advocates like Arianna Huffington go on about the power of a midday snooze, but, according to some experts, those afternoon naps might actually be messing with your sleep patterns. Colin Espie, director of the Glasgow University Sleep Centre, says that people who struggle to get a full night of deep slumber might “feel tempted to catch up on sleep by taking naps.” That logic has the potential to be self-defeating, Espie claims.
“Unless you’re feeling dangerously sleepy (while driving or operating machinery, for instance), this usually does more harm than good,” he wrote for the UK-based Mental Health Foundation. “It makes it more difficult to sleep at night.”
Distract yourself to fight those sleepless nights
Even with all the right prep work, everyone has been a victim of those nights where you simply can’t shut your brain off and get some shut eye. Maybe it’s an interview. Maybe it’s a big presentation. Maybe it’s those nine slices of pizza you chowed down on right before bed. Regardless of the cause, Wendy Troxel says that the best way to get some sleep when you can’t drift into a deep slumber is to just do something else completely.
“If you’re not sleeping, get out of bed,” Troxel says. “Go do something relaxing but distracting like reading a book. The idea is to get your mind off the fact that you are not sleeping, so you reduce frustration and actually increase the chances of getting sleepy again, so you can return to bed and fall asleep.”
Pick something relaxing to distract yourself. Dr. Verma warns against trying to tie up any loose ends at work in bed. “Don’t stay up late working on the computer,” he says. “It prevents us from being able to ‘wind down’ and fall asleep.”
Isn’t that great news? Now when your boss asks why you didn’t answer that email at 2am, you can just say, “It’s doctor’s orders.”