A good night’s sleep starts almost the moment you wake up.
To sleep better, start your day with exposure to bright light, then time your naps and caffeine intake, and start a bedtime routine in the hours before bed. Follow these tips to get the most out of your nightly shut-eye.
12-16 hours before sleep: Get some light
The key to a good night’s sleep is to sync up your lifestyle with your circadian rhythm — the internal body clock that regulates when you’re alert and when you’re sleepy. Exposure to bright light (sunlight is best, but artificial sources will also do the trick) in the morning and throughout the day won’t just help wake you up, but will put you on track to sleep soundly at a corresponding point later in the day. One 2016 study indicated you need 6.5 hours of light exposure during the day is needed to offset the damage wrought by screens that emit blue light.
About eight hours before sleep: Take a nap
Naps are incredible, but timing is everything. Firstly, try not to nap longer than about half an hour during the day. Secondly, time your nap for the midpoint in your circadian cycle — which, for people who wake up around 6:30am and go to bed around 10:30pm, will be somewhere around 3pm. Avoid napping from about four hours before bedtime or taking very long naps, which could interfere with getting a solid night’s rest.
Two to three hours before sleep: Eat dinner
Try to time your last meal of the day so that you have enough time to digest it before you hit the hay — that means around two to three hours before bed. That’ll have the benefit of keeping you full, reducing the temptation to tuck into late-night snacks. Not to mention that studies indicate the food you eat late at night is more likely to be stored as fat, likely because of its effect on your metabolism and hormones.
Two to four hours before sleep: Dim the lights
Bright light helps you wake up in the morning, so it’s logical dim light helps you wind down in the evening. A 2014 study demonstrated that reducing exposure to light two to four hours before bedtime can less “circadian misalignment” — that is, it’ll stop your body clock going out of whack.
One to two hours before sleep: Finish your workout
While some people swear you should never work out right before bedtime, there’s actually not a lot of science backing that just yet — if your best time of day to exercise is immediately before tucking in, go for it. That said, experts advise against exercising in the hours leading up to bedtime, just as they advise against other “stimulating activities” like spirited discussion, working, and even playing video games.
90 minutes before sleep: Switch off smartphone and devices
One kind of light is particularly damaging to sleep: blue light, which blocks production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Blue light is emitted from most sources of artificial light, and one of the worst culprits is your smartphone’s screen — which you’re likely to spend hours staring at in the hours before you go to sleep. While wearing tinted glasses that block blue light can undo some of the damage, experts recommend switching off one to two hours before bed.
90 minutes before sleep: Take a bath or shower
Many people swear by a pre-bedtime shower or bath, and scientific research indicates they’re onto something — although, as with naps, timing is key. Your body nods off best when it’s cooling off, so the ideal window to have a shower or bath is about an hour and a half before going to sleep: that will raise your temperature and start the cool-down process just as you’re slipping under the cover.
An hour before sleep: Wind down TV time
Not only do TV and movies count as the kinds of “stimulating activities” that should be avoided right before bedtime, television screens are also likely to emit the blue light that has the potential to disrupt your sleep. But that’s not the only reason you should wean yourself off TV before bed: research shows it encourages poor “lifestyle choices” — that is, staying up later and later to watch just one more episode is bad for your sleep routine.
30 minutes before sleep: Start your bedtime ritual
A solid routine is a boring-but-important foundation of good sleep. Experts recommend performing the same activities before bed every night. Laying out your clothes for the next day, brushing your teeth or your hair, meditation. And so on — will signal to your body that it needs to start relaxing because you intend to go to early, helping you wind down.
Immediately before sleep: Get into bed
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but the point is that you should attempt to make your bed only a place. Try not to read or watch TV in bed before sleeping. Which will train your body that getting under the covers means it’s time to shut down.