Trouble sleeping? Beat insomnia and other sleep problems with this easy timeline to a better night’s rest.
There are many things you can do every morning, afternoon, and evening to greatly increase the chances that you’ll sleep deeper and longer at night. After talking to sleep experts about the best “sleep hygiene” practices, we put together the following easy daylong timeline. The more you can follow it, the better you’ll sleep tonight.
7:00 a.m. Wake up and open the shades
Expose yourself to bright light within 15 minutes of waking up. This stops the production of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone), and gets your body and brain going. Outdoor sunshine is best, but if that’s not possible, switch on a full-spectrum bulb.
7:05 a.m. Make your bed
Then clean up any of yesterday’s clothes that might have hit the bedroom floor. And while you’re at it, sweep all that junk off the nightstand and into drawers—books, mail, watches, loose change—because clutter makes it harder to relax. “You want as little in the bedroom as possible,” says Joyce Walsleben, PhD, an associate professor at New York University’s School of Medicine.
7:10 a.m. Do Some Exercise
Time-pressed? A five-minute stretch sequence may be all you need. For those in less of a rush, pencil in 30 minutes for a full stretching and strengthening routine or a walk around the neighborhood. This offers multiple benefits: It gets your formal exercise out of the way, it boosts mood and productivity, and it’ll help contribute to a feeling of tiredness this evening.
7:45 a.m. Eat a healthy breakfast
Focus on slow-burning energy foods high in complex carbohydrates and protein: eggs, oatmeal, whole-grain cereals, even peanut butter on wheat bread or a banana. Studies show that by starting the day with a healthy breakfast, you increase the chances of eating well and maintaining energy levels all day long. You’ll also reduce a reliance on coffee. Though sensitivity to caffeine varies, three or more caffeinated beverages for most people seems to be a tipping point for many people, making sleep trouble more likely.
12:30 p.m. Take a walk after lunch
Getting exercise in the sun can help keep your body’s circadian rhythms calibrated. You need about two hours of daily exposure to bright sunlight to keep your body in sync with nature.
1:00 p.m. Pour Your last cup of joe
And no more caffeinated soft drinks either. For many people, caffeine lingers in the system for longer than they realize. Even small amounts may keep you up late because it blocks a chemical in the brain called adenosine that helps us feel drowsy and fall asleep. The older you are, the more sensitive you become to caffeine because your liver becomes less effective at filtering it out of your system.
2:00 p.m. Consider a nap
This is the ideal time for a few reasons. Our bodies are programmed with a “biphasic sleep pattern,” which means they cycle through two periods of drowsiness per day, says James Maas, PhD, psychology professor at Cornell University. That biorhythm—not a big lunch—is the reason you get so tired in the early afternoon. If your life gives you enough flexibility to nap, just make sure you limit it to 20 minutes. This ensures you dip into only the two lightest sleep stages—enough to refresh you for the rest of the day but not enough to disrupt nighttime slumber.
5:00 p.m. Last call for exercise
If you haven’t exercised today, take a post- or pre-dinner walk or do a light workout. Experts consider 5 to 7 p.m. the ideal time to exercise, as your body is then at its optimal physical performance. But wrap it up no later than 7 p.m. Exercising within three hours of bedtime can interfere with your sleep cycle for some people.
5:30 p.m. Take 15 to relax
Stress is awful for your sleep. We all need time to decompress after the efforts of the workday. So take 15 minutes and put on some quiet, joyous music, breathe deeply, try progressive muscle relaxation, or positive visualization, or whatever it takes to put the stress and frustrations of the day behind you.
5:45 p.m. Have your drink
If you enjoy a daily serving of alcohol, have your wine, cocktail, or beer now, before dinner. A late-night cocktail might help you fall asleep at bedtime, but as the alcohol wears off, you’re more likely to have a light, easily broken sleep. And remember: just one drink per day!
6:00 p.m. Eat a light dinner
One filled with plenty of veggies. Heavy meals mess up your body cycles by drawing blood away to your digestive system, leaving your sleepy in the early afternoon—when you want to be alert and active.
Also be sure to avoid any food that gives you indigestion. People with chronic heartburn are much more susceptible to insomnia and other sleep disorders, studies show.
8:00 p.m. Dim the Lights
In particular, turn off halogen and fluorescent lights throughout the house and flick on softer 45- to 60-watt lamps to promote the production of sleep-inducing melatonin.
9:00 p.m. Turn down the volume
Any noise louder than 60 decibels (the equivalent of a normal conversation) will stimulate your nervous system and keep you up. If you can’t quiet the traffic or the neighbors, mask the sounds with a continuous low hum from an air-conditioner, fan, or radio tuned between stations (you can also download white noise to your iPod). Or turn on some light classical music—one study showed it can increase the length and depth of sleep by as much as 35 percent, Maas says. Just use an automatic shut-off, so the noise doesn’t rouse you later.
9:15 p.m. Take a hot bath
A study published in the journal Sleep found that women with insomnia who took a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime slept much better that night. The bath increased their core body temperature, which then dropped once they got out of the bath, readying them for sleep.
9:30 p.m. Adjust the thermostat
Experts say that 65 degrees is the ideal sleeping temperature. Anything warmer can spark neural activity and induce nightmares, while a colder setting will prevent your body from relaxing as it tries to protect your core temperature.
10:00 p.m. Off with the computer!
And off with the television! Off with the iPad! Off with your clothes (and on with your jammies!). It’s time to transition your brain and body to bed. From to 10 to 10:30 p.m., relax, read, listen to music, write in your journal, do some yoga, or have a pleasant conversation with a loved one.
10:15 p.m. Have a cup of chamomile
This calming tea is known to help sleep. And while it’s better to have finished your day’s food intake three hours before bedtime, consider a small serving of walnuts, a glass of skim milk, or a banana as a final snack. Each one is a great natural source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid.
10:30 p.m. Start your final bathroom routine
Brush and floss, tend to your skin, nails, and hair, and give yourself a good look-over. Take plenty of time to tend to your personal needs. It’s relaxing, self-affirming, and just plain healthy. It’s also a daily ritual that triggers your mind to get ready for sleep. Studies show that consistent nightly routines improve sleep.
11:00 p.m. Complete darkness
That means turning your digital alarm clock toward the wall and turning off your cell phone or BlackBerry. They emit light that can keep your brain awake. Plus, if you wake up in the middle of the night, you won’t start watching the minutes go by, which just makes you more anxious and aroused. Now, off to dreamland.