You probably spend lots of time thinking about, and constantly refining, your workouts. And if you’re going to spend all that time exercising, we’re betting that your diet is dialed in, too. But when was the last time you gave the same kind of consideration to your sleep?
If the answer is, “Uh, never,” that’s a problem. Because lack of sleep not only makes you grumpy and drawn-looking, it jeopardizes your heart health, blood pressure, BMI, cognitive abilities, and more. And chances are you’re not getting all the sleep you need. Sixty-nine percent of us are sleep-deprived, research shows. “The worse part about it is that you think it’s OK,” says Andrew McHill, a circadian-disorder researcher at Oregon Health & Science University. “You forget what being well-rested feels like.”
You probably know a lot of this already. But what you don’t know is how to fix the problem. This is about to change. We’ve reached out to the world’s top sleep experts to create a systematic way to determine what’s preventing you from getting the nightly rest you need. Think of it as a kind of elimination diet. After all, if you suffered from chronic digestive problems, you’d painstakingly go about finding the culprit—purging your diet of dairy, gluten, red meat, citrus—then reintroducing them slowly to find out what foods are tripping up your GI tract.
In the pages that follow, you’ll learn how to take the same approach to sleep. We’ve identified the factors most likely to create sleep problems and created 10 rules to address them. Go down the list and try as many as you can for two weeks. Make your room darker, put away your devices, exercise in the morning, stop drinking at night. (We never said this would be easy.)
How to Do It
First you’ll need an idea of how much sleep your body needs, says Jennifer Martin, a sleep psychologist at the University of California-Los Angeles. Go to bed early on Friday and sleep as late as you can on Saturday. Repeat the next night. You’ll emerge with a rough idea of what a full tank feels like. Then set a goal of how many hours a night you’d like to get. (Most adults need from seven to nine hours.)
Now you’re ready. Begin to institute these sleep rules, as many as you can, for two weeks. Track the hours of sleep you get. “The idea of an elimination is a truth discovery,” says Chris Winter, a neurologist and author of The Sleep Solution. Do you really have only a few drinks a week? Is checking email at midnight an anomaly? You may realize you have these habits only after you’ve put them under a microscope.
Some rules are a hassle. After two weeks, ease up on those. But if your old ways make your sleep suffer, you might decide to change your habits. (You’ll probably find it’s easier to fall asleep if you haven’t played Call of Duty for 45 minutes right before bed. Shocker.)
Be diligent and you’ll feel more energized, patient, and happier. It’s hard to form new habits, but it’s easier when can you feel the results.