6 Scientific Sleep Hacks For Adults That Actually Work

— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.

This one article will tell you how to optimize your sleep.

Sleep is non-negotiable for your health and well-being. Regularly sleeping a full 8 hours a night can even help ward off brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

Quality sleep often takes a back seat in today’s social-media-driven, algorithm-addicted world. We keep scrolling through short video clips on our bed, thinking, “Just one more.”

These six science-backed sleep hacks will help you want to fall asleep. They are the most effective ones out there according to sleep experts.

These are 6 Sleep Hacks For Adults That Actually Work, From Research:

1. Set A Sleep Schedule And Stick To It.

Consistency is the master key to your sleep schedule.

Ever wondered why you feel groggy on weekends, even after a long sleep? It’s because your body loves routine. Consistency in your sleep schedule is the cornerstone of better sleep quality.

Why Consistency Matters

  • Syncs with Circadian Rhythm: A consistent sleep schedule aligns with your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), enhancing sleep quality.
  • Boosts Immunity: Regular sleep patterns can improve your immune system.
  • Enhances Focus: Consistency in sleep leads to better concentration and emotional well-being.

How to Nail It

  1. Set Fixed Times: Aim for 7–8 hours of sleep, and set fixed times for hitting the bed and waking up. Yes, even on weekends.
  2. Use Tech Wisely: Leverage your smartphone to set a “sleep-time” alarm. This is your cue to wind down and prepare for bed.
  3. Visual Reminders: Use Post-It notes with your sleep and wake times and place them where you’d see them—your desk, bathroom mirror, or car dashboard. Like, “I sleep at 11 p.m. I get up at 7 a.m.”

Science Behind Sleep Cycles

  • Sleep Stages: We sleep in cycles, each cycle of 5 stages. You need 7–9 hours to complete 5–6 cycles.
  • REM Sleep: This is your dream stage, and it’s crucial for mental restoration.
  • Deep Sleep: This stage is the real game-changer for waking up refreshed. It accounts for 13-23% of your total sleep and is crucial for physical restoration.

Pro Tip

  • Track Your Sleep: Use a wrist-worn sleep tracker to monitor your sleep stages. The better your deep sleep, the higher your sleep quality.

So, are you ready to master your sleep schedule? Set a sleep-time alarm, and a wake-time alarm, and maintain this routine like a boring discipline every day of the year.

Proven Sleep Tips | How To Fall Asleep Faster
Proven Sleep Tips From A Doctor | How To Fall Asleep Faster

2. Take A 15-20 Min Daytime Nap.

Take the Power Nap and recharge your brain in just 20 minutes.

Ever felt that afternoon slump and wished you could hit the pause button? A power nap might be your secret weapon for peak performance. Here’s the lowdown:

Why Napping is a Game-Changer

  • Boosts Brain Function: A quick nap can sharpen your focus, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
  • Enhances Mood: Studies indicate that naps, including REM sleep, make you more receptive to positive emotions.
  • Improves Health: Regular short naps can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. This study showed that a short nap was actually associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

Boukhris & Trabelsi (2020) say that naps improve “physical and cognitive performance, mood states and perceived recovery, and for reducing perceived exertion and muscle soreness and sleepiness.”

Dutheil & Danini (2021), confirm that “daytime napping in the afternoon improved cognitive performance with beneficial effects of early nap.”

How to Do It Right

  1. Time it Well: Aim for a 15-20 minute nap to avoid grogginess.
  2. Create a Nap Environment: Dim the lights, keep it quiet, and make yourself comfortable.
  3. Find Your Sweet Spot: Identify the time of day when you naturally feel a dip in energy—usually after lunch. Find out what’s your best nap length.

Science Behind Napping

  • Optimal Duration: NASA’s study on pilots found that a 26-minute nap can reduce errors by 34% and double alertness.
  • Workplace Naps: Companies like Google and Zappos have embraced the power of napping with “nap pods,” reporting increased productivity.

Pro Tip

  • Nap Bars: These are popping up globally, offering tourists and locals alike a space to recharge.

A Word of Caution

While napping offers numerous benefits, daytime napping cannot compensate for a chronic lack of a full night’s sleep. Consider napping a supplement to your regular sleep schedule, not a replacement.

So, are you ready to supercharge your day? Begin today the power nap routine.

Proven Sleep hacks for adults that work - 6 Scientific Sleep Hacks For Adults That Actually Work - 1

3. Avoid Stimulants After 2 PM.

Cut off brain stimulants much longer before bedtime.

  • Cut The Caffeine

Caffeine can linger in your system for up to six hours. So, if you’re sipping on coffee or munching on chocolate in the afternoon, you’re setting yourself up for a restless night.

Science suggests ditching the caffeine-containing stimulants like coffee, tea, and sodas by 2 p.m.

This study found that consuming caffeine six hours before bed disrupted sleep, even though the participants did not feel the effects of the caffeine and could sleep.

Sleep researcher Patrick M. Fuller from Harvard Medical School even recommends avoiding all stimulants after midday/noon.

The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping caffeine intake to 400 mg a day, or four cups of coffee.

  • Quit Smoking

if you’re a smoker, the best thing you can do for your overall health is quit.

There’s another reason to quit: nicotine is a stimulant. Stopping the nicotine habit will not only improve your sleep, but also benefit your overall health.

  • Block Out The Blue Screens

Brain stimulation is not just about what you consume, it’s also about what you’re exposed to.

The blue light emitted from your phone or laptop is another stimulant that upsets your sleep hormones.

Make it a rule to switch off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before hitting the bed.

  • Try Mindfulness Meditation

Still tossing and turning from the after-effects of caffeine you didn’t know you took?

Consider winding down with a relaxation technique like mindfulness meditation. It’s proven to improve sleep quality and can be the missing piece in your sleep puzzle.

By being mindful of what you eat and expose yourself to, you set the stage for a night of quality sleep. So, make these changes and watch your sleep—and your life—transform.

4. Make Exercising A Daily Habit.

Exercise in the morning sun every day for better sleep.

Exercise isn’t just for building muscle or losing weight; it’s a game-changer for your sleep quality. Here’s how:

  1. Quickens Sleep Onset: Exercise helps you fall asleep faster, reducing the time you spend tossing and turning.
  2. Enhances Sleep Quality: Consistent physical activity deepens your sleep, making it more restorative and refreshing.
  3. Stress-Buster: Physical activity flushes out stress hormones like cortisol, setting the stage for a peaceful night’s sleep.
  4. Light Exercise Works Too: Even activities like stretching or yoga can tire you out enough to help you fall asleep quicker.
  5. Endorphin Boost: Aerobic exercises like running or swimming release endorphins, lifting your mood and preparing you for a good sleep.
  6. Sunlight Bonus: Exercising outdoors during daylight helps regulate your circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep at night. Stick to morning or afternoon sessions for the best sleep results.

For those struggling with insomnia, aerobic exercises can be very helpful. They release endorphins, your body’s natural mood lifters, making it easier to fall and stay asleep.

Action Plan: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week. If you’re new to this, start simple. A 12-minute morning walk can kickstart your day and improve your sleep. One study even found that morning exercisers gained almost no weight and burned more fat throughout the day.

Try some light activities like stretching or yoga before bedtime. They can tire you out just enough to help you drift off faster.

Note: Avoid heavy workouts close to bedtime, as they can rev up your system when you should be winding down.

5. Create Pre-Sleep Rituals.

Make a list of rituals to do before bed every night.

Struggling to make sleep a habit? The secret key is in the rituals.

Make these pre-sleep rituals your go-to actions that signal your body it’s time to wind down for a quality night’s sleep.

  • Eat Smart Before Bed: Aim for a light dinner about 3 hours before you hit the sack. A growling stomach can be as disruptive as a heavy meal when you’re trying to sleep.
  • Do Something Relaxing After Dinner: Once you’ve eaten, steer clear of heavy-duty tasks. Opt for light, enjoyable activities. How about reading a physical book? It’s a classic for a reason.
  • Shut Down The Blue Screens: Seriously, keep your hands off that phone or laptop at least 2 hours before bedtime. Blue light messes with your melatonin levels, making it harder to fall asleep. Here’s the science behind it.
  • Warm Up to Wind Down: A hot shower an hour before bed can do wonders to relax you. Research shows it can increase sleepiness and improve sleep quality.
  • Set the Mood With Lighting: Dim your bedroom lights about an hour before you plan to sleep. Lower light levels kickstart your melatonin production, helping you fall asleep faster. Check out this study for more.
  • Digital Detox: Make it a rule to turn off all electronic gadgets 30 minutes before you plan to sleep. Your brain will thank you. (Do you know what are the worst ways to detox your body?)

Remember, these rituals aren’t quick fixes. You have to make them a habit with discipline and consistency.

Stick with these rituals for 3 to 6 weeks, and you’ll notice an improvement in your sleep quality.

6. Have A Sleep-inducing Bedroom.

Optimize your bedroom for sleep success.

Ever heard of Sleep Onset Latency? It’s the time it takes to go from fully awake to asleep. The goal is to keep it under 20 minutes.

To achieve that, you need to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Here’s how:

  • Declutter Your Space: A messy room can mess with your sleep. Keep pets out; they’re cute but not sleep-friendly.
  • Tech-Free Zone: Laptops and phones have no place in your sleep haven. Here’s why you should also skip the bedroom TV.
  • No Food or Drinks: Eating in bed is a no-go. Your mattress and pillows play a big role in sleep quality.
  • Cleanliness Counts: Fresh sheets make for better sleep. Change them weekly and consider replacing your mattress every eight years.
  • Dim the Lights: Lower light levels signal your body it’s time to wind down. If noise is an issue, consider earplugs or white noise.
  • Temperature Matters: Aim for a room temperature around 65°F or 18.3°C. Here’s more on why that’s important. Note for Spaniards: Don’t go below 27°C.
  • Can’t Sleep? Get Up: If you’re tossing and turning for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something boring until you feel sleepy.
  • Student Sleep Hack: Avoid heavy study material an hour before bed. Light reading is your friend. And no, scrolling through Instagram doesn’t count.
  • Bed is for Sleep and Intimacy Only: Keep it that way to ensure you get a solid 8 hours of restful sleep.

Unusual Sleep Hacks From Research

  1. Beat Sleep Inertia: Keep naps short to avoid entering deep slow-wave sleep. Failing to complete a sleep cycle can lead to feeling foggy and even sleepier than before.
  2. Lavender Aroma: According to research, the scent of lavender acts as a mild sedative, promoting deep sleep in both men and women.
  3. Skip Late Alcohol: While alcohol can make you drowsy, it disrupts deep sleep and dream phases. The result? You wake up groggy. More info.
  4. Evening Exercise: Contrary to popular belief, moderate exercise 60-90 minutes before bedtime won’t ruin your sleep. Here’s the study.
  5. 4-7-8 Breathing: This technique involves a specific breathing pattern to help you fall asleep quickly. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and exhale for 8. Repeat four times.
  6. Combat Painsomnia: Reducing sensitivity to pain can help you sleep better. A study found that 95% of adults lost at least an hour of sleep due to pain, with back pain being the most common culprit.
6 tips for better sleep | Sleeping with Science, a TED series

10 Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Military Method sleep hack, and does its success depend on individual factors?

The Military Method is a sleep technique designed to help you fall asleep in 2 minutes. It involves a series of muscle relaxation and breathing exercises. While it’s effective for many, its success can vary based on individual factors like stress levels and overall health.

The 4-7-8 method involves inhaling for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. It’s designed to calm the nervous system and promote sleep. Compared to other techniques, it’s easy to remember and quick to perform, making it a popular choice.

3. Could Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) serve as a form of exercise, or is it solely for relaxation before sleep?

PMR is primarily a relaxation technique, not a form of exercise. It involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups to reduce physical tension. While it may not replace your workout routine, it’s highly effective for calming the body before sleep.

4. Could incorporating specific foods into your diet improve your sleep quality?

Yes, certain foods like cherries, almonds, and turkey contain sleep-promoting hormones and nutrients. Incorporating them into your diet can help improve sleep quality by boosting the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

5. Could changing your sleeping environment make a difference in your sleep quality?

Yes. Factors like room temperature, lighting, and noise levels can significantly impact sleep quality. Making adjustments like dimming lights, reducing noise, and setting a comfortable room temperature can create a more sleep-friendly environment.

6. How much sleep is less sleep?

Our sleep requirements change as we get older. But we all know that human adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night on average. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night is insufficient and unhealthy. According to the National Sleep Foundation, we should sleep for 1 hour for every 2 hours we are awake. However, according to a 2012 British survey, 63% of people are unhappy with the amount of sleep they get.

7. What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene includes our healthy behaviors and habits, as well as environmental aspects that we can adjust, to help us sleep well. It refers to practices that help us fall and stay asleep, as well as improve our sleep health. Sleep hygiene is a crucial part of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for insomnia, the most effective long-term treatment for those suffering from chronic insomnia. It can help with an insomniac’s faulty thoughts and behaviors that keep them from sleeping at night.

8. How much sleep do you need by age?

According to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Neonates should sleep between 14 and 17 hours
  • Infants between 12 and 15 hours
  • Toddlers between 11 and 14 hours
  • Preschoolers between 10 and 13 hours
  • School-aged children between 9 and 11 hours
  • Teenagers between 8 to 10 hours
  • Young adults and adults between 7 to 9 hours
  • Older individuals between 7 to 8 hours.

9. How many sleep cycles do you need per night?

An average adult needs five to six sleep cycles every night. This translates as 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night. A full sleep cycle normally takes about 90 minutes to complete, from sleep stage 1 to sleep stage 5. At the end of a sleep cycle, one wakes up briefly, tosses or turns a little, and goes back to sleep again. An inability to fall asleep again after waking up briefly is a type of insomnia.

10. What is insomnia?

Insomnia or sleeplessness is a clinically recognized disorder in which there is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, causing less quantity or poor quality of sleep. It disrupts our circadian rhythm and can affect any adult at any age.
Insomnia can be caused by internal factors like stress and overthinking, or outside factors like bright lights or loud noises.

11. What are the benefits of a daytime nap?

  1. Recharging your batteries: An afternoon nap for an hour or so does wonders for your body and mind, keeping you running at peak performance levels while minimizing your risk of burnout.
  2. Making up for a sluggish night’s sleep: This is more of an ’emergency’ nap — if you’ve had a sleepless night for whatever reason, you can counteract the bad effects on your body and mind by getting a few more Zzz’s.
  3. Staying alert in the evening: If you want to be active in the evening after a full day of work, napping is ideal. It will keep you alert and energized, helping you to maximize your waking hours.
  4. Refocusing your attention: Workplace obligations can be hard, especially during a pandemic. A short snooze will help you stay on top of your job and operate at your best capacity.
  5. Helping the body’s natural rhythm: Our circadian rhythm controls our sleeping pattern, causing a drop in hormone levels late at night and early in the afternoon. As a result, we suffer from the dreaded “post-lunch dip.” Taking a short afternoon nap can help us get over it and allow the body to respond positively.

12. How to find out how much sleep you’re getting?

You cannot fix your insomnia until you know how much sleep you actually get.

To find out, record your sleep and wake-up patterns for two weeks. Mostly, it comes as an unpleasant surprise when you realize you are sleeping far less than you should. A sleep diary can help you with this.

The NHLBI suggests you print and use this sleep diary to record the quality and quantity of your sleep; your use of medicines, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks; and how sleepy you feel during the day. You can then bring the diary with you to review the information with your doctor.

Download the NHLBI Sleep Diary (PDF) here.

13. How does sleep affect mental health?

A lack of sleep can cause stress, anxiety, overthinking, confusion, indecision, inattention, irritability, micro-sleeps, and mental fatigue.

Poor sleepers are twice as likely to struggle with productivity, three times as likely to struggle with concentration, and seven times more likely to feel helpless (Great British Sleep Survey, 2012).

Total sleep deprivation, or going without sleep for multiple nights in a row, can trigger hallucinations, like hearing voices and seeing ghosts.

Sleepless people realize what is the real issue, but they can’t seem to solve it. Simple things like going to bed at the same time every night can maximize your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Sleep and Mental Health

Further Reading: 5 Best Books on Sleep

  1. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams — Matthew Walker
  2. The Sleep Solution – Why Your Sleep Is Broken And How To Fix It — Chris Winter
  3. Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes — Tom Rath
  4. The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night – Guy Meadows
  5. The Effortless Sleep Method: The Incredible New Cure for Insomnia and Chronic Sleep Problems
    Sasha Stephens

Final Words

[• Download a PDF of this article: 6 Science-Backed Sleep Hacks]

Honestly, ever since the debut of the electric light bulb over 140 years ago, the world has never stopped working. That was when we first began to cheat on our body’s internal clocks and skip sleep.

There is no doubt that you must make time to sleep better and longer. A good night’s sleep can make you feel upbeat and productive. It keeps you in a good mood and raises your positivity.

You can’t live a healthy life until you get enough sleep, whether you’re a night owl or an early bird. Mind the words of Aldous Huxley, author of the 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World:

“That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all natural graces, sleep.”

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