While you can’t fall asleep on demand, you can control every move leading up to the point when you shut your eyes.
“It’s good to start a wind-down routine around the same time every day,” says Nitun Verma, MD, California-based physician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep spokesperson. “You can’t force yourself to sleep but you can control the hour or so before you go to bed, so that’s what you should focus on.” Follow Verma’s itinerary to get the best possible night’s sleep:
Last call for coffee! Caffeine is the enemy of sleep. Make your last Starbucks run for tea or coffee by mid-afternoon to reduce the risk of sleeplessness.
2 Hours Before Bedtime
Hang out in a chill place besides your bedroom. “The only two things people should do in bed is have sex and sleep,” Verma says. That means watching TV or online shopping from bed, and even reading is a no-no once you’re tucked into bed.
Turn down the TV and music volume. It will decrease noise stimulation that can wind you up.
Switch from overhead lights to lamplight.Light is the most important factor in managing your sleep schedule, Verma says. Use low-wattage yellow light bulbs instead of high-wattage white lights.
Reduce the brightness on your iPhone, iPad, TV, or computer screen. Screens emanate white light with blue light waves that keep you awake by sending signals through receptors in the eye to parts of the brain that regulate the sleep-wake cycle. This revs up your brain into a state of alertness at a time when you should be winding down.
Take your last bites of any spicy or sugary foods. Spicy foods can trigger heartburn and digestive issues that could cause sleep problems, while sugary foods can deliver a boost of energy that you definitely don’t need at bedtime. (So much for dessert :/) “Food just isn’t very useful within two hours of bedtime,” Verma says.
1 Hour Before Bedtime
Power down your devices. Most people don’t think screen light from a phone or iPad is that big of a deal, but it’s actually a pretty big issue: And because you hold devices so close to your eyes, all the brightness gets in, Verma explains.
Stop answering work emails. Thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list isn’t going to help you sleep.
Lower the thermostat. The body temperature drops a little before bedtime because your circadian rhythm controls body temperature. When you control the temperature of your environment, your body takes that as a signal that you should go to sleep. You want to create a cool, dark environment that’s kind of like a cave, says Verma, who likes his thermostat to be set between 66 and 68 degrees at bedtime.
You can also crack a window in your bedroom or the room where you’re relaxing — but only if it’s cool and quiet outside, in which case fresh air can only help you sleep better.
Put down the wine glass. While you might think that alcohol makes you sleepy, the effects wear off in the middle of the night, ultimately affecting your quality of sleep, making sleep more fragmented and you more susceptible to disturbances that wouldn’t otherwise wake you up. Any amount of alcohol that would impair your ability to drive could affect your ability to sleep, Verma says.
Taper off liquids. If you’re super thirsty, by all means, drink up. But the hour before bedtime isn’t the best time to make up for a dry day or even make a cup of tea. Otherwise, a full bladder can wake you up for bathroom runs.
Read, listen to music, or talk. Do anything that relaxes you so long as it doesn’t involve a screen — even tidying up clutter can help. A good rule of thumb: if it’s aggravating (like cleaning up your roommate’s mess), it will be activating.
30 Minutes Before Bedtime
Have sex (or masturbate). “People sleep better after sex,” Verma says.
Bathe. When you go to sleep, your body temperature naturally drops a bit. And when you get out of a warm bath or shower, water evaporates off your body to create a similar cooling effect. Don’t feel like you need to wash your hair — sleeping on wet hair makes some people uncomfortable, Verma says.
When You Actually Feel Sleepy
Turn on a fan in your bedroom. Fans create dead noise that drown out disturbing sounds that can turn deep sleep into light sleep without even waking you up.
Get into bed. If you get into bed before you’re actually tired and try to fall asleep, it’s going to backfire in the form of sleeplessness, Verma says.
Remove your heaviest blanket — but only if it usually ends up on the floor or tangled elsewhere in the morning. This is a telltale sign that you get overheated during the night, and that can wake you up and impact your quality of sleep.
Put a cap on the deep conversations.When you sleep with a partner, turning the lights out can create an aura of intimacy that brings out all the feelings. And while you might think that these heavy, emotional conversations would bring you two closer, they can also make your mind race in a way that’s not conducive to sleep. And sleep deprivation can turn you into a monster, which won’t do your relationship any favors. Instead of waiting until bedtime to get all deep, do it during your relaxation time or, better yet, over dinner.
Lie in your favorite position. Whether you sleep on your side, back, or stomach, now’s the time to assume that position. And if you don’t know exactly how you sleep on the regular, the best person to ask is your bed partner, who can creepily clue you in on which positions you tend to favor (and which ones make you snore, if that’s an issue you want to avoid).
When You Get Home at 11:45 on a Weeknight and This Schedule Is, Like, LOLZ
Relax for 10 minutes in a dim place besides your bedroom… “Ten minutes of relaxation will be more helpful than going straight to bed,” Verma says. “Otherwise, you’ll get to bed 10 minutes earlier but you won’t have as deep of a sleep.”
…Or power down devices and get right into bed. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing like read — real paper, not off a device — until you feel sleepy.