I live a fast-paced life. Family obligations, long work hours, and an endless list of to-dos seem to fill every hour of my day. When I need an extra hour to finish a project or check email, I cut one hour out of my sleeping time. I understand the importance of sleep, but on those hectic days, cutting back on sleep seems necessary. And I’m not alone. Over one-third of adults get less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. As organized as I thought I was, I wasn’t maximizing my waking hours so that I didn’t need to sacrifice sleep. I can practice healthy sleep habits during the day, to make sure I fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer at night.
Here are ten time-saving daytime hacks that can bring significant sleep payoffs.
1. Power Down At Least One Hour Before Bed
I confess: this was tough to do. My smartphone is practically an extension of my hands! But telling my brain, it’s time for sleep has made a huge difference in my sleep quality. Two hours before bedtime, I put my phone and laptop down to tell myself that work is over for the day. All emails can wait until the morning. It’s tough. But eventually, I learned that scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed or watching hours of funny YouTube videos won’t help my sleep! I jump into some comfortable pajamas and slip on my sleep bracelet to help me fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
2. Turn the Bedroom into a Sleep Sanctuary
The bedroom should be a relaxing sleep environment. I like to think of my bedroom as a shrine for healthy sleep, designed to calm all five senses. To block out outside light (e.g., bright street lamps), I put up thick curtains. Exposure to bright light represses melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleep. I block out the ruckus of the garbage truck or loud neighbors with a white noise machine.
Each night, I make sure the room stays cool between 60 and 67 degrees to keep me from waking up in the middle of the evening. I sleep-optimized the décor in my bedroom to include more soothing colors like greens and blues. I decided to toss my fifteen-year-old mattress and buy a good-quality firm one to better support my back. I keep my electronic devices out of my room now (this was hard but necessary!) to avoid over-stimulating my brain.
3. Create A Bedtime Ritual
It was fun to create a sleep routine that’s tailored to me. Each night after brushing my teeth, I spent about twenty minutes reading a book on the couch. After those twenty minutes are up, I journal for fifteen minutes. In my journal, I express gratitude for the good things in my life. It helps me focus on what’s going well, instead of ruminating on what could go wrong.
Before slipping into bed, I find a quiet corner to sit and meditate for about ten minutes. I listen to guided meditations that help relax my body and clear my mind. By the time I crawl into bed, I feel completely relaxed and ready to get my 7-9 hours of peaceful slumber.
4. Plan for the Week
This tip has transformed my usual rushed mornings into an easy, no-stress time of the day. How did I do this? I reflected on the specific things that made my mornings hectic or caused me to arrive late to the office. Picking out work clothes, packing my gym bag, and preparing my lunch took up most of my morning time. I learned to “automate” my mornings by planning for the week as much as I can ahead of time.
For instance, on Sundays, I pick out my work outfits for the week. Each night, I packed my gym bag or even sleep in my gym clothes, so I don’t need to change. I prep my meals at the beginning of the week by cooking enough food for several lunches. The result: instead of an hour in a half morning routine, it takes me only twenty-five minutes, total to get ready for the day. Planning for the week makes getting more sleep each night much easier.
5. Come into the Light
Everyone has an internal clock that regulates the sleep/wake cycle, called circadian rhythm. Exposure to sunlight and darkness signals the body to either wake-up or fall asleep. Right when I get up, I open the shades to let natural light into the bedroom and wake up my body. I try to get outside several times during the day to help keep my circadian rhythm in check. At night, I do the opposite; I try to block out as much light as possible to tell my body it’s time for sleep. In the winter when mornings are dark and gloomy, I give myself light therapy box to give my body as much light exposure as possible.
6. Stick to a Sleep/Wake Schedule
A stable daily routine benefits everyone from babies to adults. The human brain craves consistency. Having a set sleep/wake schedule helps the body develop its internal clock. Over time, the body “remembers” when it’s time sleep and when it’s time to wake up. I fall asleep around 10 pm each night and wake up each morning at 7 am each morning. I don’t hit the snooze button. Instead, I roll out of bed, open the curtains, and start my now much easier morning routine. After sticking to that routine for several weeks, I found going to sleep and waking up much easier. My body “wants” to fall asleep around 10 pm, which makes it simpler to wind down and relax at night.
7. Find Some Time to Rest Throughout the Day
And this doesn’t mean take a nap. I try to find a few moments of quiet throughout the day to help me relax and sleep better at night. I either shut my office door to close my eyes and meditate, or I sit quietly for a few minutes in the nearest park. Finding relaxing moments throughout the workday helps me process stress before it keeps me up at night.
8. Time Caffeine (and Alcohol) Intake Carefully
Stop drinking coffee at least six hours before bedtime. For me, this means having my last cup of coffee no later than 4 pm. Since I’m sleeping longer and better, this hasn’t been a problem for me. In fact, most days I only drink one cup of decaf coffee in the morning (I like the taste of coffee!).
I’m also careful about when and how much I drink. Although alcohol makes me fall asleep faster, it reduces the quality of my sleep. I find myself waking up several times during the night. The morning after, I wake up groggy and grumpy from poor quality sleep. These days, I have one drink at the beginning of happy hour (5 pm), so my body has enough time to metabolize the alcohol.
9. Workout in the Morning
I used to exercise in the evening when I got home from work. But I found myself unable to fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning. Studies show that morning exercise influences circadian rhythm almost as much as light exposure. Like light exposure, morning workouts help warm and rev-up the body. After a few weeks of sticking to a morning workout schedule, I find myself walking out the door with a spring in my step, ready to take on the day.
10. Eat Dinner Early and Keep It Light
I can’t even count the number of times I ended up ordering Chinese food at eleven o’clock at night. Indigestion from a late-night dinner often kept me awake. It’s best to eat small and healthy meals of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats early and often to help the body maintain a hormonal balance and stabilize blood sugar.
Eating a big meal late at night, especially one that’s high in sugar, fat, or sodium increases blood flow to the digestive tract. After a big meal, the body stays busy trying to digest food instead of relaxing into sleep mode. When I get enough sleep, I tend to reach for healthier foods instead of quick pick-me-ups like candy bars or energy drinks.
Making smart choices during the day make for better sleeping at night. It takes time to establish new healthy sleep habits, but it’s well worth the physical, mental, and emotional benefits!
Author BIo: Felix is part of Philip Stein, a wellness lifestyle company. When he isn’t promoting well-being, he dedicates his remaining time to his son and wife. He is also passionate about painting and has had several expositions around the world.