Pretty much everyone says they’re not getting enough z’s, and we can relate: Who’s got time between work, family, and Game of Thrones? But you can get the kind of deep, restful, just plain better sleep that will make your waking hours a whole lot happier. Turn out the lights and prepare to upgrade your downtime
We all know we’re living in a world that is deeply unrested—please join us in rolling your eyes at the phrase “eight hours a night”—but the statistics are overwhelming. One in four Americans suffers from a sleep disorder, says M. Safwan Badr, M.D., president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adding that sleeplessness is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and general dying. “The return on investment of good sleep is incalculable,” he says. Even if you’re stuck with less sleep than you’d like, there are shortcuts to boost quality if not quantity. And no, bourbon before bed isn’t what we mean.
If you have trouble falling asleep, attack the problem first thing in the morning by exercising before work. (At least one study found that those who hit the gym at 7 A.M. had more and better sleep than counterparts who worked out at lunchtime or at night.)
Stop drinking coffee by noon so the caffeine fully wears off, and respect your body clock by eating dinner, like a Boca retiree, before 7 P.M. A postprandial cocktail won’t kill you, which is nice, since you’re probably drinking one anyway, but a boozy nightcap immediately before bed will do more harm than good. You’ll pass out quickly but get less restful sleep.
In terms of your bed itself, memoryfoam mattresses are great but can sleep hot. So if you’re always rolling around to find the cool spot, try one with a gel-foam topper, designed to lower the temp.
Every single expert will tell you the same thing: If you really want to sleep better, keep your cell phone in the other room. The lights and tones stimulate your brain and subtly nag you about all the work you failed to finish. For those of us living in 2014, a compromise might be to keep it across the bedroom, out of thumbs’ reach.
While you’re at it, make sure your TV stays in the living room. “The bedroom is for only two things,” Badr says, “and they both begin with s.”
Another crucial move is to establish a consistent bedtime ritual. “What did you do when you were 2?” Badr asks. “You had a wind-down routine.” Bring it back. Wash your face, dim the lights, curl up on the couch and read Harold and the Purple Crayon —whatever you need to quiet your mind. Only then should you adjourn to the boudoir. If you’re sleeping six hours a night, Badr wants you in your bed no more than six and a half. You’re training your mind to consider the bedroom a retreat.
Just before dozing off, slip on the Jawbone UP24 bracelet, a nifty device that tells you exactly how (read: how badly) you sleep. For instance, the Jawbone will tell you how long it takes you to fall asleep, how much time you spend in deep sleep, and how many times you wake up during the night. A wristband is not a doctor, but it’ll help you audit your sleep patterns—and it’s fascinating to see what your body has been doing all night without your consent.
One hundred percent of humans agree that the worst part of sleep is waking up. But the Jawbone can help you there, too, with what’s called a “smart alarm.”
Here’s how it works: Your body snoozes on a repeating cycle of about ninety minutes, rotating through stages of deep sleep (which restores the body) and lighter, REM sleep (which restores the mind). If you need to wake up by, say, 6:30 A.M., Jawbone will find a moment between 6 and 6:30 when you enter REM sleep, and gently buzz you awake then. The idea is to wake up feeling more refreshed, even if you get a few minutes less total shut-eye.
Finally, and we apologize for how this sucks, keep your sleep routine on weekends. Sleeping in will disrupt your pattern, making Monday morning feel that much more like…Monday morning.