The perfect sleeper avoids screen time before bed; journals and decompresses before crawling under crisp, clean sheets; and falls asleep in about seven minutes for a good seven to nine hours each night. In reality, most of us don’t check all those boxes before bed. Life has a sneaky way of making it difficult to consistently get quality sleep each night.
As a psychotherapist, I know how important sleep is to our mental health. But if you must clock less than six hours of sleep, it doesn’t have to mean life as a zombie or an espresso fiend. With some advanced planning, you can make the most of whatever time you have to get a good night’s sleep.
01. Factor in the Time It Takes to Fall Asleep
We often forget to factor in the time it actually takes to fall asleep. Unless we’ve had a particularly exhausting day, most of us don’t fall asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. On average, it takes between ten and twenty minutes to fall asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
When you are planning your bedtime, factor in that time, known as sleep latency. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s a real game changer to actually get in a full eight hours. Minimizing stress is key to getting a good night’s sleep, and this is a tiny but powerful trick to keep your stress levels down in the crucial minutes before you snooze.
02. Cater to Your Sleep Cycle
Sleep is a progression of different stages where your brain and body are engaging in the varying levels of activities and functions, including rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). Each sleep stage plays an important part in helping your body and brain recover, so it’s best to experience all stages of sleep.
Adults typically experience a ninety-minute sleep cycle. Use this knowledge to your advantage when you are looking at sleeping less than seven hours. For example, if you plan to fall asleep by midnight, set your alarm for 6 a.m., knowing that your alarm should wake you up just as you are wrapping up your fourth ninety-minute cycle. Waking up at the end of a cycle is far less jarring than waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle. Use this bedtime calculator to easily figure out when you should plan to go to bed or wake up according to how many sleep cycles you can squeeze in.
03. Make Your Bedroom as Cave-Like as Possible
The National Sleep Foundation describes the ideal environment for sleeping as a cave: quiet, cool, and dark. Set your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees to help you fall asleep faster; the low temps will give you a sense of coziness. Darken your room by turning off all lights, using blackout curtains, turning your alarm clock around, and avoiding screens. And consider using a white noise machine (there are free apps, too) to help mask any sharp noises that might jar you awake.
Photo Credit: Belathée Photography