Plenty of advice for achieving quality sleep focuses on lifestyle changes that can take days, weeks, or even longer to successfully put into practice. After all, it's hard to just give up your beloved 4 P.M. coffee or establish a new habit. And common sleep-related disorders like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome usually require at least a couple of trips to the doctor before you're able to fully get them under control.
So how can you start sleeping better--and feeling more rested and refreshed right now? Believe it or not, there are plenty of things you can do today that'll increase your odds of sleeping better tonight and waking up refreshed tomorrow. Here are nine simple, science-backed strategies to try.
1. Skip the snooze button.
It's tempting to sneak in 10 more minutes--especially when you're exhausted from not getting enough sleep the night before. And you're not alone: One survey found that more than a third of Americans regularly try to get extra sleep after the alarm goes off.
But when you're tired in the AM, hitting snooze might not be the best move. Those few extra minutes tend to be less restful than your pre-alarm sleep--so when you finally do get out of bed, you end up feeling even more tired. In fact, one study found that high school students with poor sleep habits like hitting snooze ended up doing worse in school, suggesting that extending your time in bed could end up doing more harm than good.
So as painful as it might be, force yourself out of bed on the first try. If it seems impossible, keep your alarm on the other side of your room so you actually have to get up to turn it off.
2. Open your blinds ASAP.
Fumbling around in the dark might feel like a gentler way to ease into your day. But your body's biological clock relies on sunlight to tell you when it's time to feel awake by raising your body temperature and pumping out energizing hormones like cortisol, say National Sleep Foundation experts. On the flip side, it takes darkness for your body temperature to start to drop and release the sleep hormone melatonin.
By staying in the dark after you get out of bed, you end up confusing those signals. The result? You're groggy all morning--and end up having a harder time falling asleep at night.
As soon as you get up, open up your windows and soak in some sunlight. If you have time, enjoy your coffee on the patio or take a quick walk to really soak in some sun and support your natural vitamin D and melatonin levels.
3. Exercise in the morning.
By now, you're probably well aware of the mounting evidence showing that active people tend to sleep better than their sedentary counterparts. And while exercising at any point during the day is probably better than not exercising at all, some research suggests that working out in the morning could be an especially smart move.
One study, conducted by researchers at Appalachian State University, found that people who regularly scheduled a 30-minute sweat session for 7:00 A.M. tended to sleep longer compared to those who completed the same amount of exercise at 1:00 P.M. or 7:00 P.M. And it didn't have to be intense: Moderate exercise, like walking, achieved results.
4. Work near the window.
Remember the part about sunlight being crucial for regulating your body's natural sleep-wake cycle? You don't just need it first thing in the morning. You need it throughout the day.
The solution? Try to get some of your work done near a bright, sunny window. (Or if that's not doable, at least head outside for some fresh air during your lunch break.) When researchers at Northwestern University pitted workers with windows against their windowless counterparts, those with the windows got an average of 46 minutes more sleep per night--and were more productive at the office, too.
5. Eat salmon for dinner.
Omega-3 rich fish like salmon or tuna isn't just delicious--it could actually help you snooze better. One recent British study found that children who get 600 daily mg of the essential fatty acids sleep almost an hour longer per night compared to those who get less, perhaps because omega-3s help your body produce more of the sleep hormone melatonin. Researchers suspect that the same might hold true for adults.
And that's not all. When you pick something light like fish for dinner, you're automatically skipping the heavy, greasy stuff that can tax your digestive system and make it harder to achieve restful sleep.
6. Power down your devices.
Scrolling through Instagram or texting with friends can help you unwind after a hectic day, and it can be hard to ignore the allure of social media. But the blue light emitted by your smartphone, tablet, or computer is basically an electronic form of caffeine that can keep you energized for hours by suppressing your body's production of melatonin.
That doesn't mean that you have to go totally tech-free the minute you walk in the door at night. But to keep your melatonin production humming at its normal, sleep-inducing level, you should try to power down one or two hours before bed, recommend Harvard health experts. After that, try a quieter, less stimulating activity like reading, journaling, or listening to quiet music or audiobooks.
7. Skip the nightcap.
True, a cocktail or glass of wine can make you feel tired--and might even help you nod off. But alcohol can cause you to experience fragmented sleep, which will leave you feeling fuzzy the next day.
How so? One recent review of 27 studies concluded that alcohol reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deep, restorative type of sleep that occurs while we dream. If you feel like sipping on something before bed, try a glass of tart cherry juice paired with sparkling water. The tart cherry juice is actually a natural source of melatonin, and one study found that it could boost sleep time by as much as 90 minutes.
8. Take a hot bath.
A soak in the tub is relaxing--but that's not the only reason that nighttime baths can help you snooze better. Spending time in the hot water naturally raises your body temperature. Which means that when you get out of the tub and back into the cooler air, your body temp rapidly drops. And when that happens, you start to feel calm, relaxed, and ready for sleep.
Skeptical? You shouldn't be. One review concluded that elderly people who take hot baths before bedtime tend to report falling asleep faster and sleeping more soundly. Plan your bath at least an hour before bedtime to give your body time to cool down.
9. Keep your room cool.
Your body starts to cool down as it prepares for sleep--and it needs to stay cool in order for you to snooze soundly. While everyone's preferences are different, the National Sleep Foundation says that the ideal bedroom temperature for sleep is around 65 degrees.
So turn the thermostat down a few notches and experiment to see what's right for you. Regardless of what the actual number is, a slightly chillier temperature will almost certainly help you achieve more restful sleep.
Plan on putting any of these strategies to the test? What do you find helps you get better rest? Leave a comment below.