6 Sleeping Hacks That Work (From Sleep Science)

The best sleep hacks are a clear heart and an uncluttered mind. When we don’t have those, we need practical strategies that work, every time. The six sleeping hacks in this are from sleep science research.

Use them to sleep quicker and wake up refreshed.

Sleep clears out the brain’s trash. Sleeping adequate hours may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Proper sleep strengthens our immune systems and brains, and it allows our bodies and minds to recoup after a day’s work.

On the flip side, losing sleep for even a few weeks can make you obese. Check out some more surprising effects & causes of sleeplessness.

Video by HIP.

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.

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.

CBT can help fix an insomniac person’s faulty thoughts and behaviors that keep them from sleeping at night.

Sleep Hygiene: Train Your Brain to Fall Asleep and Sleep Better

6 Sleeping Hacks For Better Sleep, From Research

We can treat insomnia without medicines. Here are the 6 most practical sleep hacks from science:

1. Set A Sleep Schedule

Maintain a steady sleep routine. Go to bed and get out of bed at the same time every day, even if it is a weekend or a long holiday.

A consistent sleep routine strengthens your natural sleep-wake cycle, called the circadian rhythm. A fairly predictable bedtime increases your sleep quality, allowing you to sleep better and wake up refreshed and invigorated.

Sleeping and waking up at the same time every day also improves your immunity, concentration, and emotional stability.

Set a bedtime that allows you to sleep for at least 7-8 hours. Actually, there are three things to do — go to bed, stay in bed, and get out of bed — all at fixed times.

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Sleeping earlier is easier than you think. For help, set alarms on your phone, and write your sleep and wake times on Post-It notes and stick them on your desk, bathroom mirror, and car dashboard:

I sleep at 11 pm. I get up at 7 am.

We sleep in cycles, and each sleep cycle has 5 sleep stages. We need 7 to 9 hours of bedtime to complete five to six sleep cycles.

Our bodies and minds remain active for most of the time we sleep. The maximum part of our sleep consists of light sleep, which occurs early in our sleep cycle, and REM sleep, which occurs towards the end.

REM sleep, or the 5th stage of sleep, is the time to dream. In REM, there is a loss of muscle tone and reflexes, which prevents you from “acting out” your dreams or nightmares while asleep.

For your waking up fresh, it’s the deep sleep (the 3rd and 4th stages of sleep) that matters the most. Deep sleep accounts for roughly 13 to 23% of all sleep in healthy persons.

As a rule of thumb, the better your deep-sleep, the better your sleep quality. You can record your sleep phases with a wrist-worn sleep tracker.

Set A Sleep-Time Alarm. Rather than a wake-up alarm, set a gentle tune on your phone to remind yourself you are close to your bedtime. Dim the lights and get ready to go to bed as soon as your sleep-time alarm plays.

Unusual sleep hack: A surprising sleep hack from science: this research found that lavender aroma acts as a mild sedative and has a practical use as a nonphotic (or, light-unrelated) way to promote deep sleep in young men and women, and to produce gender-dependent sleep effects.

2. Take Daily Naps

A nap is a short sleep taken during daylight hours. It remarkably improves your physical and brain functions and reduces your stress and fatigue.

Napping is a recovery period for the body and the mind. It is defined as a proneness to sleep in response to the post-lunch dip which is associated with a fall in the body temperature and vigilance and an increase in sleepiness.

Those who take a short nap every day have lower blood pressure and heart rates and handle anxiety better. A 2015 metastudy showed that a short nap was actually associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

This study found a nap that includes the REM phase increases your receptivity to facial expressions of happiness. That is, when you wake up after a dreamy nap, you’re quick to recognize happy faces!

Call it a snooze, siesta, shuteye, forty-winks, or beauty sleep, but giving a brief rest to the brain increases its creativity, intuition, imagination, and ability to solve problems.

A 2020 study found that a 90-minute daytime nap is superior to a 40-minute nap for improving cognitive and physical performance. Find out what’s your best nap length.

“N90 was the most beneficial nap duration for improving physical and cognitive performance, mood states and perceived recovery, and for reducing perceived exertion and muscle soreness and sleepiness.

— Boukhris & Trabelsi, 2020

Learning your lessons soon after a nap equals learning after a full night of sleep. A NASA study of 747 pilots showed those taking 26-minute naps every day made 34 percent fewer errors at work and doubled their alertness levels.

Sleeping on the job is not a good idea. However, there is growing evidence that an afternoon nap might help reduce post-lunch drowsiness. Google and Zappos have installed “nap pods” at their workplaces, and their employees have reported higher productivity as a result of using those.

“Nap bars” are opening up in many places across the world, where a tourist can walk in, pay, and sleep for their chosen time.

However, keep in mind that daytime napping cannot compensate for a chronic lack of proper overnight sleep. A nap is simply a supplement to your regular sleep schedule.

Unusual sleep hack: A short nap finishes before the onset of deep slow-wave sleep. If you enter into slow wave sleep and then fail to complete the sleep cycle, it can result in sleep inertia, which causes you to feel foggy, disoriented, and more sleepy than before napping.

3. Avoid Stimulants After 2 PM

Stop drinking tea, coffee, chocolate, sodas, or nicotine after 2 pm, or at least 4 hours before bedtime.

Did you know that the stimulant effect of caffeine takes up to six hours to wear off?

So, a more favored recent tip is to avoid coffee and other stimulants after 12 noon. Sleep scientist Patrick M. Fuller, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, does himself as he advises: avoid all stimulants after midday.

At all costs, quit the smoking habit altogether. Quit smoking not just for the sake of sleep but also for your health and your genes.

Turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Blue screens on digital devices are potent stimulants that prevent us from feeling drowsy and falling asleep.

Once you’ve banished all stimulants, and you still find it difficult to fall asleep, try a relaxation program such as sleep meditation. Mindfulness meditation can help improve your insomnia.

Unusual sleep hack: Skip the late evening alcohol. Alcohol initially makes you drowsy, as it is a nervous system depressant. So an evening glass of alcohol makes you fall asleep fast. However, as soon as your blood-alcohol drops, it activates your sympathetic system. This makes you wake up from the deep sleep and dream phases of your sleep. As a result, you are groggy the next morning.

4. Make Exercise A Daily Habit

First, not exercising leads to poor sleeping patterns.

Second, an exercise habit reduces the time between lying down and falling asleep.

Third, a regular exercise routine can improve the overall quality and quantity of your sleep.

Here’s why:

  • Exercising flushes out stress hormones (like cortisol) and reduces their total load in the body.
  • Even light exercises, like stretching and yoga, can help you fall asleep faster because of tiredness.
  • Aerobic exercise help insomnia patients sleep better by releasing endorphins, our natural painkillers.

So, get into a daily habit of 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week.

[If you find it difficult to get into a daily exercise habit, read this guide.]

Try this for a start: Get up in the morning and go for a 12-minute walk in the park. A study found those who exercised in the morning before eating anything gained almost no weight. They also burned more fat throughout the day than others in the study.

Remember to schedule your heavy workouts before late evening. Don’t do any strenuous exercise within 4 hours of bedtime. Morning and afternoon workouts are ideal for improving the quality and quantity of sleep you get at night.

Unusual sleep hack: New research suggests you can exercise close to your bedtime without affecting your nighttime sleep. The key idea is to exercise at moderate intensity at least 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime. A 2018 study recommends that you can exercise in the evenings if you take care to avoid any vigorous activity for at least one hour before bedtime.

5. Create Pre-Sleep Rituals

Creating a new habit is hard. But there’s a solution — create rituals. These are specific end-of-the-day habits that prime you for a night of deep, restful sleep.

  • Eat a light dinner, around 3 hours before bedtime, to give your digestive system enough time to work. Moreover, try not to go to bed on a hungry stomach, as it may not let you easily fall asleep.
  • Do some light, fun activities after dinner. Once you’ve finished dinner, put off any serious work or issues until the next day. Read a soothing book (a paper book, not an e-book).
  • Do not touch your laptop, phone, or any other blue light-emitting screen at least 2 hours before bedtime. Blue lights from digital screens depress the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep.
  • Research on a small group of people found that sitting in warm water for 90 minutes increased sleepiness at bedtime, slow wave sleep, and stage 4 sleep, and decreased REM sleep, particularly in the first REM sleep phase.
  • Take a warm shower 1 hour before you hit the bed. Try dimming the lights in your bedroom an hour before bedtime. Low light stimulates your melatonin secretion.
  • Try to switch off all digital devices 30 minutes before bedtime.

Remember that they are not quick fixes for your sleeplessness. However, you only need 3 to 6 weeks of practice to see some surprising results.

Unusual sleep hack: 4-7-8 breathing technique —It is a highly popular sleep hack that encourages breathing in a particular pattern to fall asleep fast. 1. Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound. 2. Softly inhale through your nose till a count to 4. 3. Then, hold your breath for 7 seconds. 4. Slowly exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat the cycle four times.

6. Build Bedroom Habits

Ideally, you should not take more than 20 minutes to fall asleep. For a good night of restful sleep, build up the following bedroom habits:

  • Keep your bedroom clutter-free. Do not let your pets into your bedroom; they disturb your sleep.
  • Banish laptops and smartphones to a separate room. For best results, never install a TV in your bedroom.
  • Do not eat or drink in bed. A US poll found that mattresses, pillows, and even the fresh scent of sheets all contribute to the quality of our sleep.
  • Make sure the bedsheets and pillow covers are clean. Change your sheets weekly. Experts suggest you should replace your mattresses every eight years, by when you would have used around 20,761 hours lying on top of it. So, once again, make sure the bed you lie down on is clean.
  • Close to sleeping time, cut down the bright lights. Shut out all the harsh noise; use earplugs or white noise if you need to.
  • Adjust the room temperature to a comfortable level. Keeping your sleeping room at a temperature around 65 °F or 18.3 °C is ideal. This could be an issue for the Spaniards, as recently, in August 2022, Spain’s government recommended that residents do not set air conditioning below 27°C in the summer.
  • If you are lying awake in your bed for 20 minutes or more, therapists suggest you get out of bed and do something non-stimulating (such as reading a boring textbook) until you start to feel drowsy. When you do so, return to bed immediately.
  • Sleep hack for students: Don’t take up heavy study material around one hour before bedtime. Instead, do some light reading. Of course, do not scroll through your Insta reels before going to bed, or while in bed.
  • To make it easy to get 8 hours of restful sleep every night, use your bed only for sleep and intimacy.

Unusual sleep hack: Reducing your sensitivity to pain may prevent Painsomnia, or insomnia due to chronic pain. This study discovered that 95% of adults missed at least an hour of sleep per night due to pain, and 85% of adults lost at least two hours of sleep due to pain. Back pain was the most frequent condition among painsomniacs, accounting for 56% of adults who slept through the night due to pain.

6 tips for better sleep | Sleeping with Science, a TED series

FAQs

How much sleep do you need by age?

In healthy people with typical sleep, 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, and older individuals between 7 to 8 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

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.

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.

What are the benefits of a daytime nap?

Here are 5 key 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.

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

How Much Are You Sleeping (Sleep Diary)

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.

5 Remarkable 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.

• • •

• Find out what a sleep expert advises on making your baby sleep fast.

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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