It’s all the rage nowadays. Everywhere you turn experts are telling you that you need 8 hours sleep. But who has time for that? Not to mention, when we do get to sleep, it’s of poor quality. Tossing, turning, getting up to go to the restroom…and before you know it, it’s already time to get up!
But what if I told you that it is not the quantity of the sleep that you are getting but the quality?
Sleep experts are now starting to believe that better sleep is a greater ally than more hours of sleep. We did the homework to help you get a better night’s sleep and need less sleep in the process. Here’s how.
The First Step Towards Hacking Your Sleep
Before we get started with our “hacks” lets get one thing straight: You need sleep, and more likely than not, you are not getting enough of it. This article will show how you can improve the quality of sleep, so you can get by on less, but it will be useless if you don’t know how much your body needs.
To be frank, the whole “8 hours” of sleep thing is more of a guideline than a rule. Each of us is different and in fact some recent studies are pointing out that too much sleep can be bad for you.
What’s more important than the amount of sleep we get is the quality of the sleep we get. Getting fewer hours of good quality sleep might be better than getting more hours of bad sleep, experts say. So how can you get a more efficient and less disruptive night of sleep? Follow this guide for tips based on sound research from sleep experts.
The first step towards hacking your sleep, is to get on a good sleep schedule. No matter how much sleep you are going to decide on getting, you must go to bed at the same time. Whether it is 10pm or 1am it helps to maintain regularity. Ditching your dysfunctional relationship with sleep is the first step to achieving better quality of sleep and getting your body to function on less.
You Probably Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep
Just so we’re clear: everybody needs sleep, and most people don’t get enough. Although the intention of this guide is to help you get better quality sleep so that you can function with less, it’s important for you to understand how much sleep you should be getting in the first place. As we mentioned above, the “8 hour rule” is not one size fits all, and each person, depending upon their age, sex, activity level, or overall health needs a different amount of sleep. Research has even shown that getting too much sleep can create health problems, so it’s especially important to figure out the amount of sleep that works best for you.
If you are having a hard time falling asleep at night, take a look at this section. In order to benefit from the rest of the guide, you need to be in some sort of sleep routine. The first step in improving your sleep quality is to get yourself on a consistent sleep schedule. This might take several weeks of steady sleep to allow you to feel a difference, but it’s worth the effort. The following tips can help you to create a routine that involves good sleep hygiene:
Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening. When you have a cup of coffee after dinnertime, the caffeine stays in your system until late at night, which can keep you up when you’re trying to fall asleep. Although alcohol is a depressant that can make you sleepy it also depresses your entire system, which isn’t good for your REM sleep. Avoid alcohol so you can reach this important sleep phase.
Alter your body temperature. When you first fall asleep, your body temperature drops. You can help trick your body into getting sleepy by arranging this temperature shift yourself. When it’s cold out, take a hot shower or bath before bedtime so that your body temperature will cool down right as its time to go to sleep. You can try taking a cold shower when it’s warm out. Even though it’s not as desirable, it will help to make you sleepy.
Get rid of outside distractions. It’s important to get rid of anything that would hinder your ability to fall asleep. Wear earplugs or use a white noise machine to drown out loud sounds and wear a sleep mask to filter out light from a TV or window. While you’re at it, it’s best to skip bright lights in the hours before you plan to go to bed. Watching TV, using a cell phone or sitting on a computer before you go to bed can signal your brain that it’s time to wake up, not go to sleep. If you have to use these devices before bed, make sure to turn the brightness all the way down.
Eliminate naps. Eventually, adding a power nap to your day can help you to feel more energized, but when you’re first starting out, it’s best to skip the nap. It will help you to go to sleep when you’re naturally tired rather than later in the evening.
Create a good sleep environment. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that signals “wake time,” including your television, laptop, and take-home work. It’s important that your body and brain associate your bed with sleeping.
While all of these things will help you to get a good night’s sleep, it’s also important to figure out how much sleep your body actually needs. The best way to do this is to make your bedtime about 15 minutes earlier every night until you begin to wake up naturally before your alarm sounds. Once you begin to wake up before your alarm on a regular basis, you can safely come up with the perfect sleep time for your body. As a side note, it will feel amazing once you start to consistently wake up before your alarm!
Why Better Sleep Instead Of More Sleep Is The Way To Go
Now that you’ve got yourself on some kind of sleep plan, you can work on improving the quality of the sleep that you get, which may end up allowing you to sleep a little bit less and yield the same, or even better, results. Although we know that not getting enough sleep – in general, less than 8 hours – can weaken the immune system, cause more accidents, and lower life expectancy, we don’t often think about the dangers of getting too much sleep. Studies that looked at the relationship between an individual’s amount of sleep and their risk of developing heart-related issues discovered that both too little and too much sleep can cause serious issues like heart disease and stroke. So, it’s clear that quality of the sleep that you’re getting is probably more important than the amount of sleep that you’re getting.
This is why it’s important to really analyze your current sleep schedule and figure out the perfect number of sleeping hours for your body. This way, you won’t be getting too little or too much, and you’ll be on your way to making the most out of the sleep you do get. One way to learn about your body’s sleep needs is to track your sleep and come up with the ideal time that you should go to bed.
Using Technology to Track Your Sleep
Using a sleep tracker can give you good information about the way you sleep and help you to figure out what you need to be doing to make improvements. An affordable way to track your sleep at home is to use a sleep tracker app on your phone. Sleep Cycle for iOs, which costs $1, and Sleep Bot Tracker for Android, which is free, are two good options. These apps work when you set an alarm and put the device underneath your pillow at night. The apps will monitor your movement while you sleep and come up with information to determine the phase of sleep you’re in. When it sense that you might be in a lighter phase, and it’s nearing the time that you need to wake up, the app will use a gentle alarm that slowly sounds until you turn it off.
While these apps give you a bit of information about how you sleep at night, they don’t offer that much analysis and sometimes lack accuracy. They are certainly a good option if you’re just starting out and need something that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Another way to track your sleep is to use an actual sleep-tracking device, which might be more accurate and give you more data, but will also be more costly.
Whichever you go with, sleep-tracking devices are great for providing you with information about how well you sleep at night and how many hours might be best for you. But the data only goes so far. It won’t be able to tell you, specifically, which strategies work for you and which don’t. That comes from trial and error. So you have to know how to use the data to determine what kind of changes you need to make.
It might be a good idea to create a sleep journal and record how your nights go in relation to various lifestyle changes you make. For instance, you might try eliminating sugar, gluten, or dairy from your diet for one month and record how you sleep during that time. You also might try incorporating more exercise, letting in less light, cutting back on caffeine, getting rid of screen time before bed, or changing the temperature of your bedroom. Try a variety of things that could help your sleep and record the findings in your journal so that you have a good idea about what works for you and what doesn’t.
Determining Your Ideal Bedtime
A trick for determining the best bedtime that works for you is to count back 7.5 hours from the time that you typically wake up. People typically have 5 sleep cycles that last 90 minutes each, which is why it’s a good idea to start with 7.5 hours. If you’re waking up within 10 minutes of your alarm for at least three days, then that’s probably a good bedtime for you. If you’re not waking up within 10 minutes of your alarm, try moving your bedtime back 15 minutes every three days until you end up waking before your alarm goes off in the morning.
Better Quality Sleep, How To Get It…
So, as we’ve mentioned, it’s useless to get 8 full hours of sleep if you spend those 8 hours tossing and turning, or if you’re waking up several times throughout the night. Just because you start to go to bed earlier doesn’t mean that you’ll end up getting better sleep. You have to actually learn which habits to change in order to get the best sleep possible.
Hacking your sleeps hinges on 3 concepts that we call P.E.S.
Preparation, Environment, Schedule. These three important things determine your success in optimizing sleep:
In order to get good quality sleep at night, you have to prepare throughout the day. You can do this by forming good habits that will promote better sleep.
- Exercise. It’s a good idea to get yourself into a regular exercise routine. The National Sleep Foundation says that when you exercise in the afternoon, you can achieve a deeper sleep at night. It might also help you to fall asleep easily. Be sure to avoid exercising right before bed, though, as that might keep you awake.
- Change your alarm. It’s best to get rid of your loud, blaring, alarm clock and replace it with something a little bit gentler. An alarm clock that uses peaceful sounds or music can help you wake up more naturally.
- Cut out alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes. It’s been shown that although alcohol might help to make you feel sleepy, it can interfere with your sleep cycles later on so that your sleep quality is poor. You also might end up waking up throughout the night. Caffeine has affects on your sleep cycle as well, but in this case, it actually lengthens the 2nd This is helpful for napping, but not for achieving a good deep night sleep, especially since caffeine shortens other phases of your REM sleep. Lastly, although cigarettes can relax you, they can also keep you awake at night.
- Ditch the bright screens. It’s been revealed over and over that bringing your cell phone, laptop, or iPad into bed with you keeps you awake at night. This isn’t necessarily because they provide a distraction, though. It has more to do with the brightness of their screens. When you stare at those right screens in the 1-2 hours before you go to sleep, you can confuse your brain into thinking that it’s time to wake up when it’s actually time to go to sleep. Even though you might eventually fall asleep, that sleep won’t be very deep.
- Practice meditation. When your mind is active and racing, it can be hard to get to sleep. It’s a great idea to unwind after a long, busy day working and thinking and conversing. Practicing meditation is a great way to do just that. You can even try and focus on a dream you’d like to have that night.
- Work on your evening routine. Having a good evening ritual is crucial to letting your brain and body know that it’s going to be time for sleep soon. You’ll want to make sure you start eating your dinner earlier in the evening so that your stomach can digest the food ell before it’s time to go to sleep. It’s also a good idea to do something a little bit active after you eat dinner so that you don’t fall asleep too early. Find a relaxing activity that might stimulate your brain enough so you don’t fall asleep, but that doesn’t get you too stimulated where you’ll be up all night. Reading a book for fun might be a good idea. Stay away from bright screens. Don’t get yourself bothered by take-home work or bill paying. Try lowering your body temperature by taking a hot shower that will cool your body down right before bed. If you end up lying awake at night, don’t torture yourself forever. Try returning to a peaceful activity for a few minutes and returning to your bed when you feel more tired.
If you don’t have a comfortable sleep environment, you likely won’t be getting the quality sleep that you need. Pay attention to a few crucial changes you can make so that you’re sleeping in the best possible place for you.
- Ensure you have a comfortable bed. You spend a lot of time in bed. You don’t want to “save money” when you’re buying a mattress, pillows, sheets, or blankets. This is an investment that determines your daily well being. If you don’t have the right mattress, you should work on determining what kind of mattress would work better for you. There are also several different kinds of pillows that are made for different kinds of sleepers. Figure out your sleep position and change your pillow if you need to. You want your sheets to be soft. You want your blanket to keep you warm enough but not too warm. Figure out what works and doesn’t work for you in this area and make some changes, even if it involves spending some money. It’s worth it.
- Change your room temperature. Studies have revealed that the best sleeping temperature for typical adults is between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. When it’s too warm in your room, it can keep you lying awake. Use that temperature range as a guideline, but figure out what works best for you. Even adding a fan to your room can make a world of difference.
- Cut the lights. Like we’ve mentioned, it’s best not to take your electronic devices into bed with you to avoid shining bright lights into your face before sleep. You should also make sure there are no lights shining elsewhere in your room. This includes any lights from the TV or cable box, an alarm clock, or any other electronic devices you have in your room. Cover those up with tape. Invest in some room darkening curtains or get a good quality sleep mask.
- Eliminate distractions. Put your phone away and turn off its sound so that calls, texts, emails, and reminders don’t wake you up. You also might try using a white noise machine or get some earplugs to filter out any unwanted noise that might wake or distract you.
It’s a good idea to pay attention to the time that you go to sleep and wake up every day, and try to make those times consistent. This means that even on the weekends when you’re able to sleep in, you would go to sleep and wake up at the same time that you do during the week. You can add in a nap on the weekends if you want to get some extra sleep, but it’s important to keep yourself on your regular schedule of bed and wake times.
Get Expert Help If you still have trouble falling asleep at night, or if you’re feeling exhausted throughout the day, even after making all of the changes we’ve discussed, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about undiagnosed sleep disorders. There are many chronic problems that could be causing your sleep issues, including insomnia or sleep apnea. Here are some of the most common sleep disorders:
- Insomnia, or an inability to fall or stay asleep, can be caused simply by jet lag, stress, illnesses, or daily habits. It can usually be resolved without medical intervention as long as you’re able to identify what causes it and make the necessary changes.
- Sleep apnea, on the other hand, is much more serious. This sleep disorder causes you to stop breathing temporarily during the night, during which you awaken. You may not be aware or remember these awakenings, but they will make you tired throughout the day. Because sleep apnea can be potentially life threatening, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you think you might have it.
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS) causes you to repeatedly move your legs or arms throughout the night. This need to move typically occurs when you are at rest or lying down, and it can cause a lot of discomfort, achiness, and tingling in your limbs. You can treat RLS through medical intervention, but also through many remedies you can do yourself at home.
- Narcolepsy causes extreme, debilitating fatigue during the day that may even make you fall asleep. This sleep disorder is caused when a certain part of the brain that controls sleeping and waking isn’t working properly. It can cause you to fall asleep abruptly in the middle of speaking, working, or even driving. There is no cure for narcolepsy, but there are many medical interventions that help to control the symptoms.
The Final Secret, A Little Help
If you need a little boost to your night time routine, there are a some ingredients that can help. Yes, we know that there are a lot of supplements, promising this and that but here are some ingredients that have stood the test of time. Adding any of these may greatly boost your new sleep hygiene routine.
Let’s go over them:
1. Magnolia Bark – Working as an anxiolytic, Magnolia Bark helps reduce anxiety, lower stress and alleviate depression. It also acts as a natural sedative to facilitate sleep
2. L Theanine – An amino acid naturally found in tea leaves, L-Theanine boosts alpha brain waves and promotes alert relaxation
3. Vitamin C – Proven to be a crucial nutrient to lower elevated cortisol levels
4. Organic Holy Basil – Revered for thousands of years in Eastern medicine, the holy basil plant works as an adaptogen (a natural substance which helps your body adapt to stress and promotes mental balance)
5. Zinc Orotate – This mineral salt naturally exists in the human body and has be shown to improve the quality and duration of sleep in humans, as well as the ability to recall dreams
6. Paba – A naturally occurring amino acid which promotes a calm, relaxed state
7. Pantothenic Acid – Critical for healthy adrenal function and awesome for reducing stress and anxiety
8. P5P – Also known as B6, P5P is a nutrient which provides deep relaxation by boosting serotonin and dopamine levels, increasing your natural melatonin production
9. Magnesium Taurate – Supports healthy adrenal function and is critical in helping your muscular system relax properly and enduring bouts of stress
Editors Note: As of the time of the writing of this article there is one product out there that we can recommend for those looking for an all in one sleep support supplement. Relax PM by Dr Ian Stern. He’s done a lot of research in this field, click here to see it.
Once you figure out what’s keeping you from sleeping at your best, either through the help of sleep professionals or just the tips in this guide, you can really determine the amount of sleep that you need in order to feel your best. What we mean by this is that if you’ve been having to sleep more – 9, 10, 11 hours for example – in order to feel like you’ve gotten rest, you can use this guide to tweak your sleep habits and figure out how to get better sleep in just 7 or 8 hours, or whatever number works for you. Not only will you feel better, but it will also give you added hours during the day to get things done or enjoy yourself.