I have a confession to make: I’m an excellent sleeper.
Perhaps it’s an odd thing to be particularly proud of past the tender age of two yet here I am, in my early thirties, and still find myself sleeping like, well, like a baby.
I suppose you could say I’ve always valued my eight hours of sleep—just as much as I value life’s other basic necessities. Although I knew that my body functions like clockwork after getting quality sleep, I hadn’t been entirely sure of the why. That all changed when a few months ago while paging through the latest Elle, I came across a book review on “Why We Sleep,” a groundbreaking account from Matthew Walker, a leading neuroscientist and sleep expert at the University of California Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab.
Intrigued, I jotted down the name of his book and promptly bought it from my local B&N (my annual membership definitely has its perks). Always one for self-improvement, even if it’s something I’m supposedly pretty skilled at, I tore through Walker’s book with voracity.
In a refreshingly pedagogical way, Walker delves into the subject of sleep (and dreams) by exploring how we as individuals can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better. Sleep, I quickly discovered, not only enriches our ability to learn, memorize and make logical decisions but also recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism and regulates our appetite.
Whew! Now I know why I’m a glutton for beauty sleep.
So, regardless of whether or not you’re a seasoned sleeper, here I am, about to impart Walker’s scientific wisdom on how to sleep better into 8 easy-to-follow tips:
1. Set your alarm clock—for sleep
It may sound counterintuitive, but Walker says that setting an alarm for going to bed is just as important as setting an alarm for waking up. Sticking to a sleep schedule, aka going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, is crucial to better sleep. (P.S. On the plus side, for all you singletons out there, this provides a fresh excuse for why you have to excuse yourself on a first date that’s not going so well.)
2. Exercise – just not too late in the day
We all know exercise cures (mostly); if you can, try to schedule your barre or spin class earlier in the day. Sneak one in the morning before work or better yet, on your lunch break. The one exception I’ve found? Yin yoga, which actually prepares your body for more restful sleep by providing a serene experience.
3. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed
Although an espresso or a glass of Malbec after dinner is my idea of bliss, resist the urge to indulge before hitting the hay. While caffeine and nicotine act as obvious stimulants, alcohol may initially help to relax you but heavier use robs you of quality REM sleep, which is integral to brain restoration.
4. Nap away — anytime before 3:00 p.m.
Cat-napping has become a favorite pastime of mine and for good reason: it gives me that little boost of energy for later on in the day when I need it most. However, Walker recommends napping before 3:00 p.m. since late-afternoon naps might make it more difficult to fall asleep when it’s time for actual bed. Duly noted.
5. Draw a (hot) bath at night
If you happen to have the luxury of relaxing in a bathtub before bed, consider yourself lucky. Hot baths are found to do wonders for both your muscles and your ability to sleep. Walker reports that the drop in body temperature when you get out of the bath may lull you to sleep faster by helping you to feel more relaxed. Bring on those Epsom salts and essential oils, please.
6. Keep your room dark, cold and gadget-free
Walker recommends doing away with anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep. This could be that heavy down comforter you keep meaning to replace for a lighter one, those blinding street lights that illuminate your bedroom or that Netflix subscription of yours on your trusty old laptop. Say thanks but no thanks—you’ve got some sleeping to do instead. My personal pick? Invest in a sleep mask. It’s the best $15 I ever spent.
7. Wake up with the sun (or a very bright lamp)
Studies show, time and time again, that daylight is the key to regulating our daily sleep patterns. Allowing yourself to get the right sunlight exposure means getting outside for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, try to wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning.
8. Don’t force it
If you often struggle with sleeping soundly and for the recommended amount of time (8 hours, folks!), the last thing Walker says you should do is lie in bed awake. If it’s been more than twenty minutes, feel free to get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy again.
Written By: Rebecca