7 Better-Sleep Strategies You Need to Adopt Today

Because quality matters just as much as quantity. 

August 7, 2015
woman sleeping in bed
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Sleep is essential for optimal recovery and performance. For one, too little makes you sick and slow. A tall body of research has found that folks who skimp on sleep (generally defined as fewer than 6 hours a night) are more prone to heart disease, diabetes, depression, weight gain, and, well, early death. A recent laboratory study revealed why. Researchers found that when they had volunteers sleep less than 6 hours a night for a week, key genes started switching on and off. Specifically, genes that govern the immune system, metabolism, stress response, and the sleep and wake cycle were suppressed, while those affecting inflammation were more active. 

Too little sleep = health havoc and poor recovery. Proper sleep = improved performance. In two separate studies, when researchers had athletes (specifically, basketball players and swimmers) extend their sleep to a pro-level 10 hours a night (seriously, many pro athletes sleep nearly half the day) for about 6 weeks, they improved their sprint times, executed tricky moves faster, shot 3-pointers with greater accuracy, played harder, improved their efficiency, and just plain felt better. None of this is surprising when you consider that the two most poweroblems going in, but I learned so much, and I have never slept better since. Here’s what the sleep experts there recommended for the soundest shuteye. 

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More: 6 Slimming Sleep Secrets

Skip the the late-day Starbucks
Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours, so if you have a big Americano with 225 milligrams of caffeine at 3:00 p.m., by 9:00 p.m., you still have an espresso shot’s worth flowing through your system. Ease up your coffee intake well before the end of the day. 

Create a cool cave
Your body temperature naturally drops at night, initiating your sleep cycle. If the room is too hot or cold, it’s disruptive to falling and staying asleep because your body is struggling to stay in its comfortable sleep zone. What’s the right temp? That’s personal, say sleep experts. But most seem to zone in on about the mid-60s. Then curl up under some covers and drift off. 

Kill your television (and iPad, and iPhone) 
As darkness falls, your melatonin level rises, sending you into slumber. If you’re lying in bed staring at a giant screen, or even your iPhone, the light can suppress your melatonin and disrupt your sleep. Get it dark or at least very dim (maybe just a small reading light illuminating a good book) in your room 30 minutes before shuteye.

Dim the noise
During my sleep study, the doctor was shocked at how often I woke up during the night. I thought it was normal. Turns out I just wake up to every little creak and squeak. I got earplugs the next day—life changing. Seriously. I sleep like the dead now. It’s wonderful. 

Be consistent
Your body is like a toddler. It likes routine. Give it regular bedtime and wakeup calls and it will throw fewer fits. 

More: The 5-Minute Yoga Sequence for Better Sleep

Easy on the booze
The second (or third) pinot noir may make your eyelids droop, but alcohol-induced sleep is restless sleep. Too much alcohol before bed lengthens your non-REM sleep and shortens your REM sleep, which keeps you in more wakeful territory when you should be in deep slumber. 

Put the mental junk in the drawer
Your brain waves change as you cycle through the stages of sleep, going from the sleepy alpha waves in stage 1, the light-sleep theta waves of stage 2, the deep, slow delta waves of stage 3, and REM—rapid eye movement—sleep, where you start to dream. You cycle through these stages every 90 minutes until morning. Conversely, you have beta waves, which are your galloping workhorse, problem-solving brain waves. Lying in bed letting those horses run wild, especially at 3:00 a.m., is problematic because your brain can’t get into those restful, restorative stages. The doctor who performed my study recommends that people with night-time monkey brain keep a bedside worry journal. She tells them to write down everything that’s preoccupying them in a list and assign a time to address them the next day. It helps those problem-solving beta waves calm down so you can sleep.

Adapted from The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Women