In this day and age of overtasking and multitasking, lots of people wish they could shave some hours off of their nightly need for sleep. If that sounds like you, unfortunately, your body and brain may not agree with your wish.
Most adults feel best when they get somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. Less than that, and you could experience negative effects from sleep deprivation, such as irritability, a weakened immune system, and memory loss.
The amount of sleep you need varies and is based on a number of factors, including age and genetics. Some people are genetically predisposed to be short sleepers, and only require 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. Others are long sleepers, who feel best when they get 9 or more hours of sleep.
The amount of sleep you need, and how you feel upon waking, may also be clues to your overall health. If you’re worried that you’re sleeping too much, can’t seem to fall or stay asleep, or feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, talk to your doctor.
You can’t change your genes and become a short sleeper, but you can optimize your sleep habits and routine. This isn’t quite the same thing as training your body to need less sleep, but it is an effective way to make the most out of the sleep you get. It will also help you zero in on the exact amount of sleep you need in order to feel your best.
1. Give yourself time to wind down
The goal here is to train your body to fall asleep when you’re tired. One way to do that is by giving yourself ample time to relax at night before lights out. Try turning your home, or at least your bedroom, from a brightly lit, daytime environment to a cozy and restful nighttime one.
Around an hour before you want to fall asleep dim the lights, and begin transitioning to your sleep routine. This might include washing your face, brushing your teeth, and getting out of work clothing into pajamas.
2. Turn off your electronic devices
Anything with a screen should get shut off during your winding-down time. This includes:
The short-wave emissions of artificial blue light that are generated by these devices inhibit the release of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. One exception to this rule are e-ink e-readers, such as the Kindle Paperwhite.
3. Limit alcohol consumption at night
Alcohol is a sedative that can knock you out cold, or at least help you fall asleep quickly. However, it metabolizes in your system over the course of several hours, resulting in sleep disruption and poor sleep quality. Drinking alcohol can also dehydrate you and cause grogginess or a hangover, which affect your ability to wake up refreshed.
4. Avoid caffeine late in the day
Some people can down an espresso after dinner with no ill effects. Others can’t drink coffee after 3:00 p.m. Caffeine stays in your system from 4 to 6 hours. If you suspect that your late-day cola is keeping you up at night, eliminate all forms of caffeine from your diet at least 6 hours before you want to be asleep.
5. Cool down your bedroom
The temperature of your bed and bedroom can affect the quality of your sleep. Being too warm at night adversely affects REM sleep, the period during which your brain is most active. Try turning the thermostat down to around 60 to 68°F (15 to 20°C), or opening up a window to get a better night’s sleep.
6. Reduce noise
External noise, such as traffic or boisterous neighbors, can keep you awake or jolt you awake. If you live in an area where noise is a problem, reduce it by using ear plugs, a white noise machine, or both.
7. Stick to a routine
Dancing till dawn on weekends can be tons of fun on occasion, but maintaining the same sleep and wake times 7 days a week will help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed.
8. Buy a new pillow
Most people hold onto their pillows far longer than they should. The lifespan of the average pillow is 1 to 2 years. Longer than that and they lose their shape, becoming lumpy and unsupportive of your neck and head. This can adversely affect sleep.
Plus, they tend to fill with dust mites over time. Another good reason to treat yourself to a new one, especially if you have allergies.
9. Consider a new mattress
If your mattress is uncomfortable, old, or lumpy, your ability to get a good night’s sleep will be compromised. The lifespan of a mattress varies based on quality and other factors. In general, most mattresses should be swapped out for a new one every 7 to 10 years.
10. Don’t eat a heavy meal late at night
Eating late at night can disrupt your ability to fall asleep, especially if you eat heavy or fatty food, like pizza or cake. If you are hungry or crave a little something, reach for these sleep-inducing foods instead.
11. Take a warm bath
A warm soak in the evening helps your muscles relax, letting you rest more effectively and quickly. Consider soaking about 90 minutes before you hit the sheets.
12. Try aromatherapy
A gently scented room may help you unwind and fall asleep faster. Try these essential oils, which have been linked to better sleep.
13. Read a book in bed
Losing yourself in a good story can help you transition from your day-to-day reality to a restful, slumbering state. Reading helps you reduce stress, letting you fall asleep faster.
14. Get out of bed when you wake up
If you’re addicted to your snooze button, give up those extra 10 minutes to get into a better routine. This may be especially true if you wake up naturally before your alarm goes off. Your body may be telling you that you don’t need any more sleep. You can reinforce that by getting out of bed and starting your day.
15. Change night into day
If you awaken in a dark room, open the blinds and let light in. Natural light will help you wake up, and may reduce your need for more sleep.
16. Create a morning routine
Establishing a reliable morning pattern of behavior can help you feel and be more productive, making you eager to get out of bed in the morning.
17. Exercise daily
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18. Wake up with cool water
A cool shower is invigorating, and can help you wake up energetically. Anecdotally, some people also feel that drinking cold water first thing in the morning helps them wake up more fully. Try having a cold glass of water before you reach for your first cup of coffee and see how you feel.
If you consistently need to sleep more than 8 or 9 hours a night, you may be oversleeping. This can be caused by a number of conditions, including depression, thyroid conditions, and heart disease. Some medications may also cause oversleeping.
Oversleeping is sometimes temporary, and may be your body’s reaction to an oncoming illness.
If you oversleep nightly for a prolonged period of time, it may be time to visit your doctor.
Everyone has a bad night’s sleep every now and then, where you wake up feeling tired or exhausted. If you rarely or never feel rested in the morning, you may be experiencing short periods of wakefulness that you’re not aware of, due to alcohol use, indigestion, or other issues.
If you are unable to change your sleeping habits, and find yourself unable to get out of bed with less than 10 or 12 hours of sleep a night, talk to your doctor.
You should also see your doctor if you always feel tired in the morning, regardless of how much sleep you had.
Chronic insomnia is a medical condition that can be treated. If lifestyle habits are not enough to improve the quality of your sleep, a doctor may be able to help.
It may not be possible to train your body to need more sleep. However, good sleep hygiene and a proactive morning routine can help you get the most out of sleep, and reduce the amount of time you spend trying to fall asleep.