Nothing is good when you are tired. It is like the world is out to get you and all you can do is put your head down and wait for the day to be over. No bueno.
On top of making you feel awful, sleep deprivation can hurt your performance at work. Not only does it decrease productivity, but it can make it difficult to process new information.
Despite these high stakes, there is a pretty good chance you are not clocking the recommended hours. We get it: when your schedule gets packed, getting a full eight hours a night can feel like an impossibility.
That said, there are a few things you can do to make your time in bed count more. Here are 10 hacks for making sure you get the most out of your shut-eye.
1. Drink milk taken from cows at night.
This sounds like a joke, but it is for real. New research shows milk taken from cows at night contains higher levels of tryptophan, a compound that induces sleep, and nearly 10 times as much melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the circadian rhythm. Both should help you drift into dreamland.
2. Use warm light in the evening and bright light in the morning.
The amount and type of light in your environment helps inform how much melatonin your body produces. Because melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, helps regulate sleep-wake cycles, light exposure throughout the day can impact how well you sleep at night.
To support the production of melatonin and corresponding natural circadian rhythms, try General Electric’s C Sleep Smart Bulbs. These LED smart light bulbs, which can be controlled through an app on your smartphone, have three settings: morning, mid-day and night. The warmer evening light signals to your body it is time to start producing melatonin, whereas the morning setting emits a brighter, blue light that tells your body that it should begin suppressing the production of melatonin.
3. Eat foods that contain melatonin.
Another easy way to encourage drowsiness before bed is to eat foods rich in the hormone. White and black mustard, almonds, sunflower seeds, cherries and flax seeds are all rich in melatonin. And while they do not boast as high a percentage, oats, barley, bananas, ginger and tomatoes also contain the hormone.
4. Sleep in multiples of 90 minutes.
A typical sleep cycle lasts for about an hour and a half. If you wake up in the middle of of sleep cycle, you are more likely to feel groggy. If you do not trust your math, the SleepyTime smartphone app and web application can help you figure out the optimal time for you to go to sleep based on what time you are going to have to wake up.
5. Work out. (During the day, of course.)
Setting yourself up for a good, restorative sleep starts during the day. If you exercise, you will likely have an easier time falling asleep. And you do not need to be training for a marathon to get better rest, either. Brisk walking or resistance training is enough to noticeably improve your sleep at night, according to research from the Stanford University School of Medicine.
6. Put your phone down.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, suppress the urge to check your phone, tablet or laptop. Studies have shown the blue light emitted by these devices delay or suppress the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall back asleep.
7. Listen to sounds of waves crashing.
If you do not live near the beach, fret not. It is easy to generate fake ocean sounds (plus a number of other ambient noises) via sound machines or sound machine apps. If you are struggling to fall or stay asleep, this could be a good solution. The presence of white noise has been shown to help people with “disturbed sleep” sleep more soundly.
8. Don’t smoke.
Add getting a good night’s sleep to the long list of reasons to stop smoking. Cigarette smokers are four times more likely as nonsmokers to report feeling tired, according to research from the American College of Chest Physicians. This may be because smokers experience feelings of withdrawal when they are trying to sleep at night.
“The long-term effects of smoking on respiratory and cardiovascular health are well-known,” Dr. Alvin V. Thomas, president of the ACCP, said in a statement. “However, this study is significant because it suggests that smokers may also be deprived of the much-needed restorative effects of sleep. This study provides yet one more reason to stop smoking or to never start.” Amen.
Related: How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?
9. Write down all of your worries before you go to sleep.
Obsessing over your problems makes it very hard to get to sleep. To keep anxious thoughts at bay as you try to drift off, set aside time earlier in the evening to write down what you are anxious about and how you plan to address the issue.
By doing so, “there is less likelihood of becoming overwhelmed/anxious and greater probability of successfully dealing with sleep-disruptive topics,” Colleen Carney from the Ryerson University in Toronto and Jack Edinger from the Duke University Medical Center said in a study that examines the link between insomnia and anxiety.
To be sure, not all worries have a concrete, direct or discernable solution. In those cases, try to find someone in your life who can serve as a sounding board and help bring some clarity to the situation.
10. Keep your sleep schedule consistent.
The more regular you can keep your sleep schedule, the better your sleep is likely to be. If you get up early during the week, try to avoid sleeping in on the weekends. While it may feel awesome at the time, the discrepancy will mess with your sleep cycle, making it harder to get a good night’s rest come Monday.
In a similar vein, while naps feel good, they can also throw off your sleep schedule, particularly if you take them in the afternoon or evening.
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