You spend about a third of your life sleeping, so improving your sleep quality is no joke.
And even if comfort and restfulness during the night didn’t matter, improper sleep will result in fatigue that can haunt your every waking moment, affecting everything from your health to your career. We take sleep very seriously here at DayoftheHuman.com.
– Morning fixes –
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My optimal wake-up routine always, always involves coffee, but if this is your solution, you don’t need a reminder to drink coffee every morning. Your caffeine addiction will do that just fine. So here are the best ways to wake up, with or without coffee:
1. Let the light in.
Open your curtains in the early morning, or sleep with them open if you can without compromising privacy. Your eyes, even when closed, recognize the increasing sunlight from dawn to day as a signal that sleep time is ending and the daytime part of your circadian cycle has begun.
Paired with the nighttime recommendation (see below) of limiting your light toward the end of your evening, this will keep your circadian rhythm set the way you want it. If you work the night shift or live somewhere with unreliable sunlight (we’re looking at you, Portland), an artificial option may be in order.
2. Go for a quick walk.
If you’re not a morning person (and you’re not, because you wouldn’t be reading this), then a morning run is an idea too awful to contemplate. You have no energy or motivation to do much besides hit the snooze. All you want to do at 7 or 8AM is be in bed.
But even a quick 10-15 minute walk will help wake you up without tiring you out. The Telegraph gives the details of a study which shows that people who exercise more sleep less. And exercise is anything that gets your heart rate up; it doesn’t have to be jogging or lifting weights. Walking quickly in the morning before your day begins should wake you up and keep the need for a midday nap at bay.
Sunlight and fresh air also stimulate my brain into a more functional state. So to wake up I prefer to walk outside rather than on a treadmill. Also, nature. Our brains like nature walks.
3. Drink enough water.
Those of us who don’t eat breakfast might forget the need to hydrate. Dehydration causes a million problems, but two of them are sleepiness and general crankiness. Neither of them help you feel good about being awake. If you’re a breakfast eater, pour yourself a glass of water and make sure to finish it. If you’re a wake-up-and-go type personality, grab your water bottle for the commute to work.
4. Take a cold shower.
Or even just a quick (and shivery) 10 seconds at the end without your luxurious hot water to finish off your shower.
Once you get used to doing it your body should take it as a sign to get up and get going. Also, hot showers – especially really hot ones you like the most – can change your blood pressure in ways that definitely do not wake you up. In addition to increasing alertness and not screwing with your blood pressure the way hot showers do, this has the added benefit of being better for your skin.
5. Eat breakfast.
Eating even a small breakfast can help you blood sugar and energy levels. But you don’t want just any breakfast. Tempting as they may be, pastries and other sugary foods will spike your blood sugar now but fall sharply as the day goes on, leaving needing a nap when they wear off.
Try an apple, some quinoa, eggs, or one of my personal favorites, Greek yogurt with some fruit and honey. I’ve personally found that foods higher in protein give me a much more stable energy level during my work day.
If you’re in a hurry and running for the door, have some prepared snack bags of dark chocolate and almonds for the road. I don’t generally leave myself a lot of extra time in the morning, and having an easy, already prepared snack is very helpful. Don’t do the more sugary milk chocolate! Keep it to dark chocolate, preferably 70% or over.
– Night fixes –
Some problems are best solved before they occur. You can help yourself immensely by practicing good sleeping habits, or sleep hygiene.
6. Don’t look at your phone or computer.
At least for a couple hours before bed. Light a scented candle, read, do something relaxing.
Your brain takes light, blue or white light especially, as a cue to stay awake. Now, personally, I can’t follow this guideline to the letter. I need my phone, and if you disagree you’ll have to pry it from my cold, lifeless hands. But I can still hold to the spirit of the recommendation by:
- Turning the brightness of my screens down. Don’t strain your eyes, but turn it as low as you can while maintaining legibility as you browse the web, read emails, etc.
- Using the blue filter option on your phone to limit the blue light that hits your eyes. Any decrease in blue light is a win for sleep quality.
- If you use white lighting, dim it for a few hours before bedtime. Most people focus on phones and computers as the culprits in circadian-rhythm disruption, but with the increasing popularity of white LED lighting it’s likely you could also benefit from dimming your lights at night to let your brain realize it’s actually nighttime.
7. Go to sleep at the same time every night.
Getting good sleep consistently is dependent on you treating your circadian rhythm with care. You should signal your body it’s time to sleep by putting away devices and lying down the same time every night. If you don’t, your circadian rhythm will be confused and your sleep more restless.
8. Keep the bedroom between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
This results in the best sleep every night. This doesn’t make sense for everybody, since we don’t all have air conditioning. Those of us who don’t have it might want a fan to help keep cool at night. It’s also worth looking into cooler mattresses and bedsheets.
9. Don’t use your bed for work or vegging out.
No working or web-surfing! It’s easy to lie down and surf Facebook or Pinterest for 30 minutes (or, well, forever), but this can lead to a more tenuous connection in your mind between your bedroom and sleep.
If you know you could be working, you’ll have a harder time not thinking about working, and quieting your mind for the sleep you need when you’re actually at work tomorrow. If you train yourself to use your bed for sleep and not work or vegging out, your brain will learn to accept more easily that it’s time to rest. It becomes less difficult to leave the planning and those anxious nighttime thoughts for tomorrow.
By which time, if you’re like me, you’ll have forgotten them anyway. Win, meet win.
10. Avoid alcohol three hours before you plan to sleep.
Drinking will put you to sleep faster, yes, but alcohol sneakily comes back around during the night to make you more restless and reduce REM sleep.
There’s a ton of research that’s been done on this. So even though you may have noticed the fact you go to sleep faster, trust me that you will wake up more tired in the morning than if you went to bed without the nightcap. If you want to drink something to make you sleep better, try a natural supplement like melatonin.
If you’re at a party, or a bar, or that bottle of wine is calling to you within a few hours before you sleep, make sure you eat before you drink. This keeps your blood alcohol level from getting as high as it otherwise would and also helps your body get rid of the alcohol faster. This should help you eliminate some disruptions in the second half of your sleep cycle and increase your REM sleep. Not to mention it helps in avoiding a hangover, the ultimate morning downer.