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Kickstart your zzz’s by following this simple before-bed advice.

Jenny McCoy
July 02, 2018

Good health isn’t built on a balanced diet and adequate exercise alone. The third—and arguably most elusive—ingredient? Quality sleep.

“Sleep is now considered the third pillar of wellness to go along with diet and exercise,” says Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and co-founder of Tuck.com. “Without question, sleep plays a major role in our health and well being.” Just like with proper diet and exercise, adequate sleep is something many of us struggle to achieve. Per a 2016 CDC study, one in 3 American adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis.

While sleep needs vary from person to person (some of us need up to 9 hours a night, for example, while others function best with just 6), there are simple things everyone can do before bed to improve both the ease at which they fall asleep and the quality of their slumber throughout the night.

Here, Fish and three other sleep experts break it down.

Set aside time for a gentle wind down.

Sleep is not an on-off switch, says Michael J. Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist, diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “It’s more like slowly pulling your foot off the gas and slowly putting it on the brake,” he explains. “You have to provide the opportunity for the process to happen.”

That’s why he recommends setting an alarm for one hour before you want to fall asleep. When the alarm goes off, spend the next 20 minutes wrapping up any must-do tasks for the next day, like sending out any final work emails or prepping kids lunches. Then, spend the next 20 minutes after that on hygiene—showering, brushing your teeth, washing your face, and so on. Finally, spend the last 20 minutes doing a relaxing activity, like reading or meditation.

Strive for consistency.

Lack of consistency is the biggest sleep-related problem, says Breus. “People think they can get sleep whenever they want to and whenever they feel tired, but the body is not designed that way.” The more consistent you are with your bedtime and wake-up time, the greater likelihood that your circadian rhythm will function well for you.

Breus recommends going to bed and waking up within 30 minutes of the same time every night and morning—even on weekends.

Curb your caffeine consumption.

The brain chemical called adenosine is critical for sleep, says sleep expert Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic, and caffeine blocks it from working. That’s why he recommends consuming your final cup of coffee (or other caffeinated drink/food) no later than 4 p.m.

But even that may be too late in the day for some folks. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 to 8 hours, explains Breus, meaning that if you have a cup of coffee at 2 p.m., half of the caffeine may still be in your system at 10 p.m., and that can be enough to wire certain people. Pay attention to how your body tolerates caffeine and, if needed, cut it out even earlier in the day.

Resist the urge to work from bed.  

It may be tempting—and incredibly easy—to finish off those last few work emails from the comfort of your bed, but when it comes to sleep, “adults are like big children,” says Teitelbaum. “We all know how important a nighttime sleep routine is for our kids. It is equally important for us.” For that reason, “your bed should be associated with things that are fun and restful—not stressful,” he explains.

Power down your devices.

Many of us are guilty of scrolling through our phones in the hour—and even mere minutes—before we hit the hay. This is a no-no because the light from your phone (and any tech device, for that matter) tricks the brain into thinking it isn't time to sleep yet, which hurts the production of melatonin, a sleep regulating hormone, explains Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo.com. His recommendation: turn off your devices about one hour before bed. Even better—keep them out of your bedroom altogether.

Set the A/C accordingly.

Temperatures above 75 degrees can disrupt your sleep, says Branther, and optimal snoozing temps are in the mid-60s. “While that might be too cold for some, the lower you can stand the A/C, the better sleep you'll experience,” he says.

Dim the lights.

Your body's natural circadian rhythm (AKA internal clock) tells it to start winding down as the sun goes down, explains Brantner. In today’s modern world, though, “we've changed that all up with artificial light,” he says. The solution: an hour before bed, simulate dusk by dimming the lights in your home. “This will signal your body that it's time to start prepping for sleep,” says Brantner.

On that note, if your sleep schedule allows you to sleep past sunrise, installing blackout shades in your bedroom is a must, says Fish. “Our bodies naturally wake to sunlight, so if you can sleep past sunrise, blocking that light will not jar your body,” he explains. You can also try wearing an eye mask, suggests Breus.

Take a hot bath.

As humans, we have two balancing parts of our nervous system, Teitelbaum explains: the sympathetic system, (which produces adrenaline) and the parasympathetic system (which induces sleep). A hot bath shifts us into the latter by relaxing our muscles. For an even stronger effect, add two cups of epsom salt, a powerful muscle relaxer, and a few drops of lavender oil, which triggers relaxation in the brain, adds Teitelbaum.

Declutter your room.

Excess stuff on your bedroom floors and counters—dirty clothes, suitcases, ironing boards, etc.—tends to make our mind race a bit, says Fish. Spend five to 10 minutes after dinner and before your wind-down hour making sure your room is clean and simplified.

Sound-proof your surroundings.

Investing in a white noise machine that you click on as you go to bed will drown out sounds that may otherwise rouse you during the night, says Fish. “Whether your neighbor’s dog is howling at the moon at 1 a.m. or the garbage truck is barreling down your street at 5 am, this little device can muffle those sounds to give you the quality night of sleep that you need,” he explains. You can also consider ear plugs.