The following sleep hygiene tips represent the easiest habits to implement and have the most significant potential for impact.
Tip #1: Turn Off All Screens Two Hours Before Bed (& Develop a Power-Down Routine)
Our circadian clock (or circadian rhythm) is mostly responsible for helping us feel alert during the day and sleepy at night . This clock is mainly regulated by light exposure.
Our circadian clocks are most sensitive to light in the evening (dusk), night, and early morning (dawn). Therefore unnatural light exposure during this time can disrupt our circadian rhythm and inhibit our natural melatonin production (a hormone that helps regulate our sleep/wake cycles) .
The truth is, many of us are unknowingly disrupting our circadian rhythm and harming our sleep by not paying attention to our light exposure. Consider all the unnatural light exposure we often get in the few hours before bed:
Sending those few extra emails
Scrolling our Instagram feeds
Reading under LED lights in our bedroom
These activities might feel like “winding down” before bed, but in reality, they turn on circadian alerting signals and turn down melatonin production. This combination makes it difficult to feel sleepy when we need to go to sleep. Instead of a 10 pm bedtime, we don’t fall asleep until midnight or later, capping our sleep opportunity to six hours.
Putting Science Into Practice:
By controlling our light exposure, we can restore our natural circadian rhythm, which will help us feel ready to go to bed when we need to go to bed.
First, determine your ideal bedtime by working backward from your wake up time. If you need to wake up at 6 am to get the kids to school and make it to work on time and you want to give yourself an eight-hour sleep window, you should strive to be asleep by 10 pm.
Then, set an alarm to go off two hours before your ideal bedtime. In this example, that would be 8 pm. When the alarm goes off, turn off your TV, close your laptop, get off your phone, or all three at once because that’s how many screens you usually have in your face two hours before bed.
Instead of pacing around waiting for 10 pm to roll around, reward yourself with a power-down routine — a sequence of soothing rituals that prime you for sleep.
Healthy options include:
Meal prep for the next day.
Take a warm shower or bath.
Drink herbal tea or a warm beverage that helps down-regulate the nervous system.
Do some light reading. This is a great time for that guilty pleasure fiction you’ve been depriving yourself of. If reading is too stimulating, listen to an audiobook.
Connect with someone. Play a card game with your kids, touch-in with your partner or call your parents (as long as talking with your parents won’t rev you up).
Try some relaxation practices. Meditation apps like Calm, Headspace, Ten Percent Happier, and Oak have tons of guided meditations specifically to support sleep. It’s OK if you’re not into meditation. Many of these apps have other tools like “sleep stories” or simple breathing exercises to help you relax and transition into sleep.
Tip #2: Get Sunlight Exposure Within One Hour of Waking Up
Getting natural sunlight shortly after we wake up is another way of using light exposure to optimize our circadian rhythm. However, with this habit, we’re using our sensitivity to light to our advantage by getting a healthy dose early in the day.
Light exposure after waking triggers our circadian signals. They slowly build throughout the day, peak approximately 16 hours after our first light exposure, then quickly fade giving way to sleepiness. The earlier we get that clock ticking, the better chance we will catch the low point of the circadian wave and align it with our bedtime.
Putting Science Into Practice:
Spend 2-10 minutes outside within the first hour of waking. Cloudy? No problem. Regardless of the weather, there will be enough sunlight to activate your circadian clock.
The trick with this habit is to anchor it to a solid part of your morning routine.
Review your current morning routine and identify the first 3-5 things you do immediately after waking up.
Identify the best spot to insert some outdoor time. This is called your “habit anchor.”
Create an implementation intention and set (ideally visual) reminders. For example, grab a sticky note and write “after I start the coffee, I’ll walk around the block” and post it on your coffee maker. Alternatively, you can identify something you already do inside that can be done outside (such as yoga, stretching, or meditation).
Begin with two minutes of outdoor exposure. Initiating a new habit with the minimum effective dose will make it easier to do.
Tip #3: Replace Your Afternoon Coffee With Decaf
It might feel like caffeine gives us superpowers, but too much of it too late in the day can mess with our sleep.
Here’s how caffeine works:
The neurotransmitter adenosine accumulates in our brains throughout the day and functions like a sleepiness signal.
The greater our adenosine levels, the sleepier we feel, and the easier we can fall asleep.
Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain. According to Matthew Walker, this is like “hitting the mute button on sleepiness.”
Contrary to how we feel, caffeine doesn’t technically “give us energy.” Instead, it just numbs us to whatever natural levels of fatigue we’d normally feel.
Unfortunately for our sleep, that numbing effect doesn’t wear off for a long time. Caffeine has a half-life of roughly five hours and a quarter-life of about 10 hours.
So, if we drink a full cup of coffee at noon to make it through the afternoon slump, a quarter of that caffeine is still in our brain at 10 pm. That’s equivalent to drinking a quarter cup of coffee at the time we should be getting into bed.
This may be a non-issue for those who are genetically less sensitive to caffeine. But for the rest of us, giving up that afternoon caffeinated cup of joe might need to be a non-negotiable if we genuinely value our sleep.
Putting Science Into Practice:
You don’t have to ditch your coffee...just ditch the caffeine.
By switching to decaf coffee, we can honor our afternoon ritual and enjoy the same health benefits of regular coffee without interfering with our sleep .
And with Kion Decaf, you can enjoy the same smooth, delicious Kion brew without the buzz.
Alternatively, you can take this opportunity to try something new. From herbal teas to mushroom extracts and adaptogens, the market is full of health-promoting, caffeine-free beverages that can lift you up without messing you up.
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