“You should get eight hours of sleep a night.”
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Sure, that is until it’s 3 a.m. and you’ve been tossing and turning for hours, staring at your alarm clock as it chips away at your valuable sack time. In those moments, eight blissful hours seems like an impossible dream.
Sleep shouldn’t be a daily chore, like a burden to overcome. Instead, sleep should be prioritized like the life-changing, mood-lifting, regenerative magic it is. For many a tossing-turner, the key is to take the stress out of hitting the sheets; so we’ve partnered with Sleep Number to find out what habits healthy sleepers never do before bed, and what they do instead, to help you get your best sleep tonight.
1. They Don’t Crank The Heat.
Nothing stands in the way of a good night’s sleep like a toasty bedroom. “I had a client who got so hot he would get up in the middle of the night, unclothed, throw open his windows — even in the dead of winter — and hang his body out to cool off,” says author Hope Gillerman, who specializes in sleep aromatherapy. It’s a pretty common problem (although that’s quite an, er, extreme solution, our naked friend). Science proves that most of us get our best sleep in ambient temperatures between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, so we suggest you dial the thermostat back.
“I like it cold,” says neurologist William Winter, a sleep-medicine expert. “Most people sleep best in that environment.”
Instead, They Take A Warm Soak.
Turns out all of those sleep tips that suggest taking a shower or bath before bed are, in fact, on to something. After all, it worked when you were a baby, didn’t it? The rise in body temperature from a hot bath or shower, and its subsequent cool down, mimics the body’s natural process as it readies for sleep.
“Think of what we do to train babies to learn how to go to sleep,” Gillerman says. “First a bath, then a story with the lights low, voice soft, so the child feels safe and can just let go.”
2. They Don’t Set An Alarm — That Makes Noise.
On those glorious mornings when you don’t have to wake up early, ditch the alarm entirely. “I set an alarm to remind me to go to sleep,” says dentist Mark Burhenne, who specializes in the relationship between healthy sleep and healthy teeth. “I do not set an alarm to wake up.”
“Natural sunlight is probably the best way to wake up, unlike a sound.”Mark Burhenne, dentist
That’s because you’re less likely to stress about falling asleep if you don’t have to be up at a specific time. (Duh.) But, since most of us realistically can’t ditch our alarms on weekdays, how can we have a better relationship with our morning wake-up call? Waking up through gentler methods than an adrenaline-inducing alarm might be the answer.
Instead, They Rise With The Shine.
Using your phone as an alarm is a dealbreaker with sleep experts, who instead recommend gentler wake-up methods, like light or touch. Plus, by now you know (we hope!) that having your phone bedside is a bad idea.
“Natural sunlight is probably the best way to wake up, [unlike] a sound,” Burhenne says. “They do have alarms that have a bulb, and it slowly rises like the sun does, by your bedside. It’s a specific wavelength of light that will literally tell your brain to wake up.”
Plus, you’re likely to feel better rested and more alert when waking up with a dawn simulator.
3. They Don’t Break Bread.
Sure, that starchy, carby Italian dinner of breadsticks, pasta and tiramisu may make you feel sleepy, but it won’t exactly make for a restful night’s sleep. “A very heavy meal will take a long time to digest, and will make falling asleep difficult,” says dermatologist and psychiatrist Amy Wechsler, who specializes in the connection between good sleep and healthy skin.
And that glass of red wine to wash it all down? A 2015 study found that drinking alcohol just before bed caused an increase in alpha brainwave activity, which typically happens during wakeful relaxation with closed eyes — think meditation or daydreaming. This increase in alpha waves disrupts the “deep sleep” delta waves, which are critical to healing and regeneration.
Instead, They Crack Nuts (And Cork It).
Hitting the stack within two to three hours of eating a large meal will make digesting those carbohydrates next to impossible. Plus, the chocolate and dairy in our favorite desserts have been linked to Restless Legs Syndrome, a classic cause of sleeplessness.
You might be better off spending your sack time with a cup of homemade bone broth an hour before bed, which is rich in the sleep-inducing amino acid glycine, Burhenne says. But, if bone broth isn’t exactly your (sleepytime) cup of tea, Winter snacks on pistachios and chamomile tea before hitting the hay.
“Nuts, especially hazelnuts and walnuts, have high amounts of tryptophan and may even contain melatonin,” he says.
4. They Don’t Go To Bed Angry.
It’s a cliché because it’s true — never go to bed angry. “Choosing bedtime to fight with your spouse … is probably not a great idea,” Winter says.
“Sex helps people sleep better.”Amy Wechsler, dermatologist and psychiatrist
But, don’t be so locked into your bedtime routine that you deny yourself and your partner some much needed one-on-one time. Experts agree on the soporific power of sex, which is definitely worth skipping bedtime for.
“It may be that 11 p.m. — when you should be shutting down — could be the first time you get to connect to your spouse or partner,” Gillerman says. “It’s hard to deny that need.”
To put it more bluntly: “Sex helps people sleep better,” Wechsler says.
Instead, They Uncap Calming Oils.
As an aromatherapist, Gillerman experiments with different sleep-promoting essential oils, breathing them either as part of a scented evening bath, or simply off a soaked tissue, stationed at the bedside. “Scent by itself can be therapeutic because it connects to memory and the emotional part of the brain,” she says.
Her favorites are combinations of neroli, anise, sandalwood and frankincense. Because some of those scents can be expensive, she also suggests more affordable oils like lavender, bergamot, orange and chamomile. Lavender has long been promoted to snag a more restful night’s sleep, since it’s been shown to significantly decrease heart rate and blood pressure. Similarly, bergamot has beenlinked to a drop in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
“I am always exploring new techniques and using different oils,” Gillerman says. “Routine is great, but with essential oils it is good to switch to new ones after six months.”
5. They Don’t Pull All-Nighters.
Sleep experts are people, too — and many of them went to medical school — so they know all too well that we’re often constrained to function without sleep. But that doesn’t mean they sign off on it.
“I am really good at staying up for long periods of time and being pretty functional,” Winter says. “But as I have matured, I’ve seen firsthand how much healthier and happier I am when I shut the computer off and go to sleep. Just because you can stay up late and be productive the next day does not mean you should.”
“It was a badge of honor to be able to stay up late and get up early and be productive. I now wear a different badge: one of appreciation and mindfulness toward sleep.”Mark Burhenne, dentist
In the U.S., estimates indicate, 30 percent of adults and 66 percent of adolescents are regularly sleep deprived, which we should not take lightly. Sleep deprivation can lead to learning, memory and mood changes.
“It was a badge of honor to be able to stay up late and get up early and be productive,” Burhenne says of his younger years. “I now wear a different badge: one of appreciation and mindfulness toward sleep.”
Instead, They Take Sleep Seriously.
Prioritizing sleep is one of the best things you can do for your future self. “You have to believe that seven to eight hours of sleep per night is crucial to your physical and mental health, and not optional or extra,” Wechsler says. Do everything you know you need to do before bedtime to make good sleep not only a goal, but a reality.
After all, as Winter says, sleep is “the foundation of all our attempts at being healthier and happier.”