51% of adults are getting less sleep than they need according to a study by princess cruises in 2018.
Getting your sleep right is, along with nutrition and exercise, one of the three pillars of self-improvement and a better quality of life. Low energy, lack of motivation, stress, impaired memory, troubles falling asleep, and lack of alertness are only a few of the problems caused by too little sleep.
Thankfully, fixing your sleep isn’t as hard as it sounds. This article goes over everything you need to know to fall asleep quicker, wake up earlier and have more energy every day.
A fixed sleep schedule can already work wonders. All you have to do is go to bed and wake up at exactly the same time each day. This allows your body to adjust its natural rhythm.
When I first got adjusted to a regular sleep schedule, I noticed that I wasn’t only falling asleep quicker and waking up on time; I was also dreaming much more than before.
Your schedule should be important to you. Don’t keep watching YouTube videos, browsing Reddit or doing anything else when you should be sleeping. You’ll only be more tired the next day and have less energy.
It’s a loop of staying on your phone, getting less sleep, having less energy and more stress the next day, and staying on your phone to build off stress again. You’ll feel much better once you drop the habit of using your phone in bed.
Social activities like parties can get in the way of your schedule sometimes, but try to keep exceptions to a minimum. We’ll look at ways to fix your schedule after a night out later in this article.
Before you can create your sleep schedule, you must find out how much sleep you need:
How much sleep do you need?
The following graphic shows some recommendations for hours of sleep:
The National Sleep Foundation suggests answering the following questions to determine the right amount:
- Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear?
- Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease?
- Are you experiencing sleep problems?
- Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Do you feel sleepy when driving?
If you’re not exactly sure how many hours you need, start with 8. You can then try changing it in increments of 30 minutes and see whether 7:30 is enough or if you need 9 hours. Genetics and the amount of activity during the day play a major role in the needed amount of sleep.
How to establish a new sleep schedule
1. Start by setting your times in stone
Write the exact time you want to go to bed and the time you want to wake up at down. This time should be the same for weekdays and the weekend. Sleeping in on weekends will mess up your natural rhythm and you won’t need it if you get enough sleep during the week.
2. Set a single alarm for your wake-up time
Using multiple alarms is a bad habit and encourages you to oversleep. You’ll associate the sound of the alarm with “I can sleep a bit more until the next one” and not with “I need to wake up now”.
Using a single alarm for the first time might be scary. But the anxiety of oversleeping will usually get you up right away.
3. Fast for 16 hours
Look at the time you want to wake up at and count 16 hours back from it. For example, if you want to wake up at 5:30 am, that would be 1:30 pm the day before.
On the first day of adjusting to a new schedule, start fasting at that time and eat nothing until you wake up in the morning. Prepare your breakfast in advance so you can eat as soon as you wake up. If you struggle with eating in the morning, try something like a protein shake or fruit. You only need to do this once to adjust to your new schedule.
The fasting will reset your biological clock, as your body is programmed to be awake for eating and will adjust to the times you eat. By fasting and then eating as soon as you wake up, you can reset that mechanism.
How to fall asleep
Falling asleep quickly is a problem for many people. While having a set schedule helps a lot, there’s still more you can do:
Have a screen-free hour before bed
Falling asleep is the process of your body and mind winding down after a stressful day. You can decide whether that process starts an hour before you go to bed, or whether that process only starts after you put your phone away one hour into laying in bed.
Looking at screens like your laptop or smartphone strains your eyes and prevents your body from producing Melatonin, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle.
Instead of browsing the Internet, use that hour for relaxing activities. You can read with dim light, draw, meditate, write or do something else that helps you calm down. Give your body a chance to wind down so you can fall asleep quickly.
Control your breath
Use breathing techniques to breathe slower. This helps tremendously with calming down and will impact how quickly you fall asleep. You can follow the 4-7-8 routine:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
If you are not getting enough air, try it with 4-4-4 seconds first.
Count backward from 200
This is a simple but effective technique. Mentally count from 200 backward with your eyes closed. Counting sheep is a great alternative to this and great for boring yourself to sleep.
The act of focusing on something that’s calming prevents yourself from getting excited because you’re thinking about doing things. Research shows that just thinking about an activity like playing tennis is enough to raise your blood pressure. Thinking of mundane and calming scenarios that don’t involve yourself moving is best for calming down.
Use the 2 minute technique
The US military developed this technique to allow jet pilots to fall asleep quickly between missions. It works like this:
- Relax all the muscles in your face, including tongue, jaw and the muscles around the eyes
- Drop your shoulders as far down as they’ll go, followed by your upper and lower arm, one side at a time
- Breathe out, relaxing your chest followed by your legs, starting from the thighs and working down
- Spend 10 seconds trying to clear your mind before thinking about one of the three following images:
- You’re lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but a clear blue sky above you
- You’re lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room
- You say ‘don’t think, don’t think, don’t think’ to yourself over and over for about 10 seconds.
If you get used to this technique, meaning that you use it every time you fall asleep for multiple weeks, it’ll start working like magic.
I calm my breath down with the 4-7-8 technique for 5 breaths, then I start with this 2-minute routine. If that’s not enough, I’ll either start counting from 200 backward or get up and try again after 15-20 minutes.
Working out during the day helps you fall asleep much more quickly. as it uses up your energy In turn, you will sleep more and end up with more energy the next day. That’s the reason regular exercise increases the energy you have available in the long run instead of using it up.
If you’re not into sports, you should still at least take a walk or do some lighter exercising.
Watch your nutrition and caffeine intake
Caffeine affects your body for 4-12 hours after ingesting it. This means that having a coffee at lunch can impact your sleep, even though they are quite a bit apart.
Eating can have just as much of an effect on your sleep. Try not to eat anything in the last 2 hours before going to bed. You can still drink some water if you need to.
Getting the right nutrients has major effects on your life so it is always worth sorting that out. If you want to learn the basics of healthy nutrition, check this article out.
Improve your sleeping environment
Is your room too warm? Does light get into your room at night? Is there a lot of noise coming in from outside? What about your pillows and your mattress?
All these factors impact the quality of your sleep and you should look into all of them. Sleep takes up roughly one-third of your day and will continue doing so for the rest of your life, so it is worth optimizing.
Generally, an optimal sleep environment is:
- Only used for sleep or intimate relations
Look into other factors
Stress, kids, drugs/alcohol, sleep apnea, insomnia, and other issues can have a major effect on your sleep. All of those things affect your energy, mood, happiness, and productivity.
Seek help for these kinds of issues. Home remedies and techniques can’t fix everything and there are people who work on these things professionally.
How to wake up
Waking up in the morning can be challenging, especially if you didn’t quite get enough sleep. Here’s a list of things you can do to make sure you get out of bed:
- Have only one alarm. Multiple alarms only encourage you to ignore them and make you more likely to oversleep.
- Use the 5-second rule. As soon as you hear the alarm you go 5-4-3-2-1 (out loud or in your mind) and you get out of bed. Don’t give your mind time to convince you to stay in there.
- Get out of bed. Getting out of bed is usually the hardest part, but as soon as you’re not in there anymore it is much easier to stay awake.
- Have a morning routine. I always drink a glass of water right after waking up, then I take a cold shower. A set routine can help override the emotional part of your brain.
- Turn the light on. Light tells your body that it is daytime and helps ease the sleepiness.
- Use a smart alarm clock. There are lots of different models of clocks that need more than just a press of a button to turn off. Whether you need to solve a puzzle first or go to your bathroom to take a picture, they’ll usually wake you right up. (I use the free app Alarmy for this)
- Make staying in bed uncomfortable. You can achieve this by opening the window blinds or turning the heat on automatically each morning so bed gets too warm.
After a few days of adjusting to your new schedule, you should be able to wake up even without a clock most of the time. If you oversleep a lot, you might need to adjust your sleep time and add half an hour.
Other tips for sleep
- If you can’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes of laying in bed, get out and do something else for 15 minutes, then try again.
- Some people focus better in the mornings; others function best in the evenings. Adjust your schedule accordingly.
- If you work from home or don’t have many social distractions, it might be worth looking into polyphasic sleep. Polyphasic sleep is about sleeping multiple times a day (taking a nap is the most common form of polyphasic sleep) to reduce the time spent sleeping while maintaining energy levels.
- The best positions for sleep are flat on your back or on your side. Depending on circumstances, some others might work well too. Sleeping on your stomach is generally considered the worst position, as it puts a lot of pressure on your body and strains your back.
- Calming sounds or white noise can help you fall asleep. There are lots of websites or apps that allow you to play forest sounds, rain, or static noise.
- About 3% of the world’s population possesses a gene that allows them to function just fine with only 6 hours of sleep. Research into whether this really is healthy doesn’t seem complete yet though.
What to do when you miss your sleep schedule
Sometimes life gets in the way of sleep. There are two ways of getting back on track after.
If you’re only running one or two hours late on your schedule, go to bed and try to get the most out of it. You can work on the accumulated sleep debt by adding half an hour to your sleep for the next couple of days if you need it.
However, if you missed more than half of your sleep, try to stay awake for the whole night. Then treat your sleep time as if you were adjusting to a new schedule. Fast for 16 hours before your next wake-up time or at least try to skip dinner. Have a coffee in the morning so you can stay awake during the day.
I’d also recommend adding at least 30 minutes to your sleep for the following week to get rid of the sleep debt.
That’s it for this article. I hope you could learn some tips and tricks to work on your own schedule. Please share your sleep hacks and experiences in the comments down below!