TIME psychology

Get Better Sleep: 5 Powerful New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever have trouble getting to sleep? Or staying asleep? Or you get plenty of shut-eye but you’re not refreshed? Everyone wants to get better sleep. But sleep trouble is incredibly common.

And feeling tired the next day isn’t the half of it. By not getting enough sleep you’re reducing your IQ.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.

And losing “beauty sleep” really does make you less attractive. Seriously.

Want to be miserable? Being tired actually makes it harder to be happy.

Via NurtureShock:

The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

And if that’s not enough, lack of sleep could contribute to an early death.

Via Night School:

The results, published in 2007, revealed that participants who obtained two hours less sleep a night than they required nearly doubled their risk of death.

We need answers before sundown. So I figured I’d call somebody who has them.

Richard Wiseman is professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and the bestselling author of many books including: Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep.

On his YouTube channel he has a number of great videos including this one on sleep tips.

Richard is going to tell you the #1 mistake you make when it comes to sleep, how to take awesome naps, how to get more quality sleep and the surprising secret to why you wake up in the middle of the night. And much more.

If you’re not too tired to keep reading, let’s get to it…

 

The #1 Mistake That’s Screwing Up Your Sleep

If you’re already exhausted, here’s the main takeaway you need from this interview:

Your smartphone is the devil. Your iPad is Lucifer. Your TV cackles with glee when you have insomnia.

They all give off blue light that your brain mistakes for sunshine. And that tells your grey blob it’s time to wake up, not go to bed.

Stay away from them during the hour before you try to nod off. Here’s Richard:

Ten minutes of a smartphone in front of your nose is about the equivalent of an hour long walk in bright daylight. Imagine going for an hour long walk in bright daylight and then thinking, “Now I’ll get some sleep.” It ain’t going to happen. In the middle of the night you wake up and think, “Aw, I’ll just check Twitter, email or Facebook,” and, of course, you’re being flooded with that blue light. You’re not going to be getting back to sleep very easily for the next hour or so.

So your smartphone is the devil? Okay, not really. In fact, sometimes it can be the best friend your sleep schedule has. Huh?

When you’re dealing with jet lag, I encourage you to indulge in all the blue light device bliss you so urgently crave.

They can help shift your circadian rhythm forward. Awesome, right? Your phone has a new feature you didn’t even know about. Here’s Richard:

You can use that blue light to your advantage, because when you’re bathed in blue light you become more alert. To get your circadian rhythm where it needs to be in the new time zone you can stimulate yourself with the blue light from smartphones and iPads.

(To learn the 4 things astronauts can teach you about a good night’s sleep, click here.)

Okay, modern technology is a double-edged sword. What else are you doing wrong?

 

A Good Nightly Routine Is Key

Just like a good morning routine is incredibly powerful, one before bed is a game changer as well. First step?

No booze. It seems like it helps but it’s actually a big no-no. Here’s Richard:

Drinking alcohol an hour or two before you go to bed is not a good idea. You’ll fall asleep quicker, but it keeps you out of deep sleep. In the morning you wake up feeling pretty terrible.

Richard says thinking positive thoughts before you go to bed is helpful and can promote good dreams. One of the biggest things that causes insomnia is thatanxiety about getting to bed.

When those awful thoughts start running through your head at night, try this little game. Here’s Richard:

Just think about a country or a vegetable or a fruit for each letter of the alphabet. You just slowly work your way through and that can take your mind off negative thoughts.

Worrying keeping you awake? Richard says to keep a pad and pen by the bed and write those thoughts down to dismiss them. Mindfulness training can help with this too so give meditation a try. (Here’s how.)

Still can’t sleep? Get up. Don’t accidentally make a Pavlov-style association between your bed and *not* sleeping. Here’s Richard:

The issue is often they’re staying in bed awake for ten minutes or more and they start to associate bed with being awake instead of being asleep. Get up, do something which is not stimulating, and then get back to bed.

(For more science-backed tips on a nightly routine that will bring you amazing sleep, click here.)

So your winding down ritual is in order. What about naps? (Yes, I know they’re amazing.) How can you and I make them *more* amazing?

 

How To Nap Like A Pro

Don’t go down for more than an hour. 20-30 minutes is great — but even five minutes can give you a big boost. Here’s Richard:

Anything over an hour is probably not a great idea, but twenty or thirty minutes of napping is incredibly good for creativity and focus. Naps can make a massive, massive difference. Even five minutes increases reaction time and focus.

NASA found pilots who take a 25 minute nap are 35% more alert and twice as focused.

Via Night School:

Research by NASA revealed that pilots who take a twenty-five-minute nap in the cockpit – hopefully with a co-pilot taking over the controls – are subsequently 35 per cent more alert, and twice as focused, than their non-napping colleagues.

NASA found that naps made you smarter — even in the absence of a good night’s sleep.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

If you can’t get in a full night’s sleep, you can still improve the ability of your brain to synthesize new information by taking a nap. In a study funded by NASA, David Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers found that letting astronauts sleep for as little as fifteen minutes markedly improved their cognitive performance, even when the nap didn’t lead to an increase in alertness or the ability to pay more attention to a boring task.

Worried you won’t wake up in time for something important? Richard recommends drinking a cup of coffee immediately before laying down. The caffeine will kick in after about 25 minutes.

(To learn the 5 scientific secrets to naps that will make you smarter and happier, click here.)

All this is great for getting some sleep… but what about when you can’t stay asleep? Not a problem. Literally.

 

Waking Up In The Middle Of The Night Is Natural

Research shows we evolved to sleep in two distinct phases. So don’t worry. Do something for a little while and then head back to bed for round 2. Here’s Richard:

We’ve evolved to have what’s called segregated sleeping. If you wake up in the middle of the night that’s perfectly natural. Before electric light people would talk about “first sleep” and “second sleep.” In between they’d go and visit their friends or play games. So if you do wake up in the middle of the night, that’s fine. Get out of bed for twenty minutes and do something. Don’t lay there feeling anxious.

Is this fragmented sleep bad? Far from it. Bloodwork showed that the time between the two sleeping periods was incredibly relaxing and blissful.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

The results showed that the hour humans once spent awake in the middle of the night was probably the most relaxing block of time in their lives. Chemically, the body was in a state equivalent to what you might feel after spending a day at a spa…

(For more on the science of why we sleep in two chunks, click here.)

But here’s a problem everyone has had: ever sleep for over eight hours and you still feel groggy and awful? Here’s why.

 

Want To Get Better Sleep? Remember “The 90 Minute Rule”

Your body goes through sleep cycles of 90 minutes. Wake up in the middle of one and you’ll feel lousy no matter how long you’ve been in bed. So plan your sleep schedule in increments of an hour and a half. Here’s Richard:

Sleep scientists all use the “90-minute rule” which is basically a sleep cycle which is moving from light sleep, to deep sleep to dreaming and repeating that again and again. That cycle is roughly ninety minutes. You’re best off waking up at the end of a cycle. Plan your sleep in ninety minute blocks to tell you the best time to be falling asleep. Then you go to bed about ten, twelve minutes before that because that’s how long it should be taking you to fall asleep.

(For more on how to have the best night’s sleep of your life, click here.)

I could use a nap now, frankly. But before any of us nod off, let’s round up what Richard had to say so tonight is a restful one. (And we’ll get one more tip that can help make sure your nighttime habits don’t backfire.)

 

Sum Up

Here’s what Richard had to say about getting more quality zzzzzzzz’s:

  • Avoid smartphones and devices at night. But they’re great when you’re dealing with jet lag.
  • A good nightly routine is key. No alcohol before bed, think positive thoughts and play the alphabet game.
  • Naps are awesome. Just keep them under 30 minutes. Drink a cup of coffee before you lay down.
  • Sleeping in two chunks is natural. Get up and do something for a little while and then go back to bed.
  • Remember the “90 minute rule.” Think about when you need to be up and count back in increments of 90 minutes so you wake up sharp.

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. We stay up surfing the net or watching Netflix. How can we behave better?

John Durant offers a piece of advice I follow: forget the morning alarm clock; set an alarm to remind you when to go to bed.

Via The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health:

A useful technique is setting an alarm clock—not to wake up, but to get ready for bed. Set an alarm for an hour before bedtime. When it goes off, finish up any work on the computer, turn off the TV, turn off any unnecessary lights, and start to wind down for the day.

I wish you great sleep and blissful dreams.

And as Anthony Burgess once said:

Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

5 Scientific Secrets To Naps That Will Make You Happier And Smarter

4 Things Astronauts Can Teach You About A Good Night’s Sleep

These Six Things Will Bring You A Great Night’s Sleep

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