I’m basically a professional sleeper. I try to get at least nine hours a night and I nap whenever I can. I can fall asleep whenever, wherever—I’ve fallen asleep on a couch at HealthyWay HQ and in the passenger seat of a car on a 10-minute drive, and I always curl up in my airplane seat and doze off as soon as I sit down. Despite getting what some people consider an insane amount of sleep, I still used to find myself fatigued. After doing some research, I learned that it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that matters; the way you sleep does too. Now, I’m a professional sleeper who actually feels refreshed in the morning (well, most days). Here’s how I do it.
Cool down your room.
Research has proven the necessity of thermoneutrality—a state of balance between you and your environment—in sleep. A 1994 study showed that the ideal temperature for sleep is 16° to 19° C (60° to 66° F) if you’ve got pajamas and a light sheet. That means you should seriously cool down your room to get the best sleep. Trust me, there’s no better feeling than having your A/C blasting at 64° while you’re snuggling under a cozy blanket.
Put the phone away.
Blue light is the nemesis of sleep. At least that’s what this letter from Harvard Medical School says. Blue wavelengths, like those emanating from our screens, are seriously disruptive to melatonin secretion and circadian rhythms. So the best thing to do is limit your interaction with screens. But it’s 2018 and that can feel pretty impossible (no judgment: I work on a computer all day long). So the next best thing is to make use of your phone’s blue light filter or download a dedicated app, like Flux, which will make your screen’s light a little warmer, eliminating some of the blue light issue.
Chill on the caffeine (and alcohol and cigarettes).
It’s both a blessing and a curse that caffeine doesn’t seem to affect me too much—I don’t honestly see too many benefits, but it doesn’t keep me up late either. For many other people, though, that’s not the case. If you find yourself struggling to sleep, start tracking your caffeine intake after noon and consider cutting back—it could be affecting you more than you know. And while you might be inclined to go for a nightcap if you’re feeling particularly restless, that 1994 study pointed out that although alcohol can act as a “relaxing, sedative agent” if you drink right before bedtime, you might wake up more in the night or not get the quality rest you need, thanks to its activation of your sympathetic nervous system. As for nicotine, you already know you need to quit—I won’t harp on about it. But as it relates to sleep, the same study said that at high concentrations, it inhibits sleep. (It also said that at low concentrations, it leads to sedation, but I hardly think the risks of nicotine are worth it.)
Make your room a sleeper’s paradise.
This might mean calling in the big guns: blackout curtains, eye masks, white noise machines, ear plugs, fans, and more. Here’s why.
A 2000 study in the journal Neuron found that sound stimulates our auditory cortex when we’re awake and during non–rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. (Remember that REM sleep is the really good stuff.) But while some parts of the brain were less activated during sleep than while awake, other parts of the brain were still activated by noise. This led the researchers to believe that even while we’re sleeping, our brain can process noise stimulation. In order to reduce this brain activity, try employing a white noise machine. A 2005 study from Sleep Medicine showed that “mixed frequency white noise” prevented people from waking up because it masks the difference between normal background noise and any other loud noises.
It’s important to get outside during the day to keep your circadian rhythm regulated, but when it comes to bedtime, shutting the world out is key. A study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that light in a bedroom suppressed melatonin levels and made subjects’ bodies “think” that night is shorter than it is, meaning they didn’t get as much sleep as they could’ve (or should’ve). The National Sleep Foundation recommends using dim lamps, blackout curtains, and even eye masks when you sleep. This will force your body to fall asleep—and stay that way.
Get your mind right.
My last sleep tip is my favorite tip: Do your nighttime skincare routine. Or pick something else that’s relaxing to you. That might be reading a book or journaling (next to a low-wattage lamp, of course), meditating, taking a warm bath, or doing a light yoga flow. It’s a trick new parents the world over quickly learn: Having a bedtime routine is an easy way to signal to babies that bedtime is imminent. And while we are grown women who don’t have people tucking us in bed at night, we can still trick the cavewoman parts of our brains into getting ready for sleep by engaging in the same rituals night after night. Slow, steady, and calm… And then we drift off into dreamland. Sweet dreams, ladies.