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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

Forget 8 Hours: How to Make the Most of the Sleep You Can Get

person sleeping
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Like pretty much any other normal human being, I love sleep. But, I also can never seem to get enough of it.

As much as I may intend to get those recommended eight hours each night, life gets busy. Something has to give, and—rather than miss a deadline or skip a social event—my sleep schedule is usually the first thing to hit the chopping block. Put simply, I exist in a state of being perpetually tired.

I’ve accepted that a solid night of shut-eye likely isn’t going to happen for me anytime soon. So, with that in mind, I had a different thought: Are there any ways that I can make the most of the sleep that I can manage to get? What can I do to leverage that time so that I wake up feeling a little more rested?

Here’s what I found out.

1. Don’t Eat Too Much

Stuffing your face might make you feel sluggish. But, as it turns out, eating too much right before bed can actually lead to interrupted sleep.

According to an op-ed for The New York Times by physician Jamie Koufman, laying down right after a large meal can mess with the way your body processes food. As a result, you can experience all sorts of unpleasant symptoms—from indigestion and acid reflux to plain ol’ discomfort—which can either make it difficult to fall asleep or wake you up throughout the night.

Additionally, eating tons of food usually also leads to drinking a lot of liquids—meaning your bladder is bound to give you at least one wakeup call in the wee hours (pun intended).

If you need a snack before bed, try something like cereal or some cheese and crackers. Research says those can help you have a more restful night.

2. Reduce Your Screen Time

If you’re anything like me, it’s tempting to let your Instagram feed or mindless YouTube videos lull you to sleep. However, screen time right before bed throws off your circadian rhythms (which is just a fancy term for your body’s clock).

Basically, that artificial light tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime and makes it much more difficult for you to fall asleep.

So, rather than keeping your eyes glued to your phone or your iPad, try listening to calming music or a podcast (Muse writer, Stacey Lastoe, swears by this one for falling asleep!), meditating, or reading a book.

3. Keep Your Room Dark

Obviously, the sooner you can fall asleep, the more time you’ll spend snoozing. Fortunately, making sure your bedroom is completely dark can help you doze off much faster.

According to The Sleep Foundation, Daylight “inhibits the release of melatonin” in your brain—a hormone that is released in your blood and helps your body feel much less alert.

So, by keeping your bedroom as dark as possible when it’s time to hit the hay (invest in some dark curtains or even a sleep mask if you need to!), your body will naturally relax—making sleep that much more inviting and attainable.

4. Take a Bath or Shower Before Bed

Taking a hot shower or bath before bed is not only a great way to signify the end of your day, but it also regulates your body’s temperature—which is essential for better sleep.

An article in Greatist says that when you submerge yourself in or stand underneath warm water, your body temperature rises. But, when you turn off the water and step out, your temperature plummets. That decrease in metabolic activity signals to your body that you’re ready for sleep.

The lower your body temperature, the better you’ll sleep. With that in mind, it can also be helpful to lower the thermostat in your bedroom. Many experts say that somewhere between a chilly 60 and 67 degrees is the perfect temperature for snoozing.

5. Take Naps

Your goal might be to squeeze a little more sleep into your daily schedule. But, there’s no rule stating that it needs to happen all in one interval. While naps won’t replace inadequate nighttime sleep, a 20 to 30 minute sleep session will help to boost your mood, performance, and alertness.

So, if you have a bit of downtime between the end of your workday and your evening activities, for example, don’t hesitate to stretch out on the couch and take a quick power nap. Making the most of your sleep means you should catch some zzz’s whenever you can!

There are never enough hours in the day. And, when something has to give, it usually ends up being what time you get to bed.

You might never be able to implement that classic advice and make time for eight hours a night. But, fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make the most of the rest that you can manage to get by falling asleep sooner and improving the quality of your snooze.

Put these tips to work, and you’ll increase your chances of waking up feeling well-rested—rather than like your alarm clock is your worst enemy.