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It’s a beautiful cycle: “Sleep can enhance performance and performance can enhance sleep,” says Alan Schwartz, MD, adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and distinguished visiting professor at the University of Lima Peru.
In other words, if you sleep well, you’ll be less prone to injuries and you will perform better physically and mentally. Here, what to do in order to facilitate that process.
Stick to a sleep schedule.
Yup, that includes Saturday morning. “People should maintain a consistent wake time to help stabilize their circadian clock,” says Molly Atwood, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry in the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. It’s so important that you can now set up your sleep schedule in Apple Health and lock in your alarm in the Clock app.
Rise and shine—literally.
“Get exposure to natural light first thing in the morning,” says Atwood. A study published in the journal Sleep Health found that workers who sought out light first thing slept better at night. And, they reportedly felt less stressed and depressed than those who didn’t see (literally) the light.
Work out in the morning.
Double down on the above tip by exercising outside when you wake up. But if you’re not a morning person, lunchtime or late afternoon work too; just avoid being too active in the hours before you plan to hit the hay. “What exercise tends to do is jazz you up a little bit by getting the adrenaline and blood flowing,” says Schwartz. It also raises your core body temperature which sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to wake up. “So you want a literal cool-down period to create a buffer between the day and your sleep,” he says. In fact, you may have heard that a hot bath is a good idea right before bed but Schwartz deems that a myth: “Hot baths or warm showers immediately before bedtime can also get adrenaline flowing and tend to wake people up,” he explains.
Limit naps to 30 minutes.
Naps are research-proven to improve things like mood, fatigue, and even logical reasoning but that doesn’t mean you should start logging two-hour afternoon siestas. (Sorry.)
“Taking long naps too close to bed can interfere with sleep at night by lowering sleep drive,” says Atwood. “Naps should be limited to morning or early afternoon and should last no longer than 30 minutes.”
Choose evening screen time wisely.
Screen time before bed isn’t necessarily bad, says Zeitzer. “If you get enough light during the daytime (especially outdoor light), the light emitted from screens will be insufficient to directly impact your sleep.” Phew, so you’re cleared to cue up The Queen’s Gambit in the hour or so before bed, right? Not so fast. “The content appearing on these screens can have a major impact,” Zeitzer says. “For example, binge-watching your favorite show might make you forget just how late it is and cause you to be unable to get enough sleep.”
Social media and games have also been designed to keep your eyes on the screen, not to mention the fact that the former can cause its own kind of stress. The key is to be aware of your habits and how they impact your sleep. Maybe certain types of TV lull you to sleep while other shows stress you out; scrolling through Instagram may be soothing but your Facebook feed is anxiety-inducing. “If watching a show or checking out your social media account relaxes you, great,” says Zeitzer. But know this: “More often than not, these things will unwittingly stress people out.”
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Create an evening ritual.
“We encourage people to maintain a 30- to 60-minute window between their daytime activities and turning out the lights at night,” says Schwartz. “It’s an opportunity to turn down the jets a little bit and chill, and get into a frame of mind where you can put some distance between your day-to-day concerns while you’re awake and your ability to clear your mind and go off to sleep.”
During that time you should do things that are relaxing and mellow. Maybe screen time works for you and that can be part of your pre-bed routine. If not, consider journaling. “Processing the day’s events decreases the likelihood that these thoughts will intrude into sleep,” Atwood says.
Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary.
Set your thermostat to 65 degrees, which experts agree is most conducive to solid shut-eye. Invest in black-out curtains or a sleep mask since light at nighttime, even dim light, has the same impact it does in the morning—making you feel more alert and awake. Cue up some white noise to filter out any environmental noise that could rouse you from your slumber: “This can be achieved by running a fan, setting the TV between stations, or using a specially designed ‘white noise’ generating device,” Atwood says.
Finally, leave the d*mn phone in the kitchen or living room! “One of the big disruptors to sleep is people waking up and checking their phone,” says Zeitzer. “Everyone wakes up multiple times each night, but the anxiety and stress that are associated with checking one’s phone can often lead to much longer awakenings from which it is difficult to reinitiate sleep.”