4 Ways to Get a Better Night's Sleep, According to an Expert
We spoke with sleep expert Michael A. Grander, Ph.D., M.T.R., about tangible ways to improve our sleep duration and quality—and that starts with waiting an hour to drink your morning coffee.
Many of us are resolving to *actually* sleep better, since it could do wonders for more than just the bags under our eyes. Getting the recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours for adults, according to the Sleep Foundation) on a regular basis can improve our mental health, energy levels, immunity, weight management and more.
We chatted with Michael A. Grandner, Ph.D., M.T.R., director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, to see what we can be doing to help facilitate improved sleep quality in the new year. He provided some fascinating insight into how our everyday routine affects how we sleep. Here are his four tips on how to sleep better.
How to Sleep Better at Night
1. Hold Off on Your Morning Cup of Coffee
We know this one might sting a little—but Grandner advises holding off an hour or more after waking to drink coffee for a real pick-me-up.
"Many people caffeinate first thing in the morning to assist with their 'waking up' process, but this typically happens naturally," Grandner says. "We have a process called 'sleep inertia' which makes us very sluggish as soon as we wake up. But this should fade quite quickly if we get up and moving, maybe 10-30 minutes. If you are drinking coffee right away, you will start to feel better, not because of the coffee, but because of the natural decline in sleep inertia."
Grander also noted that caffeine takes 20-40 minutes to produce its effects, so utilizing coffee for an instant pick-me-up is more of a placebo effect than anything else. He says waiting until late morning—around 9 or 10 a.m.—before pouring yourself a cup of joe will kick in right when you're having an afternoon dip and clear up before it could interfere with your bedtime.
2. Consider Intermittent Fasting
Not only could drinking your coffee later in the morning help you get proper sleep, but waiting to eat your breakfast could as well. But it doesn't have to be as rigid as some of the intermittent fasting techniques you may have heard of.
"The evidence is emerging that we should keep our food intake to a 10-12 hour window from first bite to last bite," Grandner says.
While the popular 16:8 intermittent fasting method—where one eats within an eight-hour window and fasts for 16 hours—is vastly different from the way most of us eat, it wouldn't take too much effort to fit your eating within 10-12 hours each day. This might mean eating dinner a little earlier than usual or closing the kitchen instead of relying on midnight snacking. Lisa Valente, M.S., RD, adds, "This doesn't mean wait until noon to have your first meal. A 10 hour window could be 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., which you may be close to doing naturally."
"Most Americans snack at night—this is a problem for a couple of reasons," Grandner says. "First, the foods we get cravings for often tend to be high-calorie, less-nourishing foods. This is especially problematic because calories at night are more likely to disrupt metabolic processes and lead to weight gain. Also, heavy foods at night can cause reflux and possibly interfere with sleep for other reasons."
Related: 9 Foods to Help You Sleep
3. Avoid Alcohol Late at Night
Having a glass of wine at dinner shouldn't be a problem—in fact, it could be healthy for you—but Grandner advises to be done with alcohol closer to bedtime.
"Alcohol can help you fall asleep, but it decreases the quality of sleep and can even cause shallow sleep and awakenings. This is more pronounced in people sensitive to alcohol's effects or people who have more than 1-2 drinks close to bedtime."
Sound familiar? It's common for our favorite vino to lull us to sleep, only to leave us in a fitful sleep or cause us to wake up much earlier than usual. You're actually better off without alcohol before bed, bump up your evening drink to earlier and stick to water closer to bedtime.
4. Find a Morning and Nightly Routine That Is Sustainable for Your Lifestyle
According to Grandner, achieving a good night's sleep starts the minute you wake up. He advises getting up and starting your day immediately upon waking—no lingering in bed or playing on your phone. Grandner's rule of thumb is that your bed should be for sleep (and sex) only. Looks like the snooze button has been an enemy in disguise the whole time.
Following a regular schedule is important for keeping your circadian rhythm the same every day. Besides getting out of bed right away each morning, Grander advises getting plenty of natural light and movement when the day allows, along with giving yourself time to wind down before getting under the covers.
"One of the biggest mistakes I see is people not giving themselves enough time to wind down. The more busy we are during the day, the more time we need in the evenings to wind down and prepare for sleep."
Starting a healthy sleep routine could mean putting your phone away 30 minutes before bed and cracking open a good book instead of scrolling through social media or emails. You could also take some time to stretch while you watch one episode of your favorite show on Netflix—instead of five.
The Bottom Line
Caffeine and alcohol seem to play major roles in how well we sleep, and adjusting our morning cup of coffee or nightcap are two easy steps towards sleeping better. Additionally, creating a sleep schedule with a streamlined morning and nighttime routine can seem daunting at first—especially if you have irregular work hours or a family full of varying sleep schedules to care for—but research shows it can have some major benefits for our overall health.
When it comes to intermittent fasting, it's important to find eating habits that are truly sustainable for your personal lifestyle. Eating within a 12-hour window could be a good option if you're prone to snack late at night or have a similar daily schedule, but don't beat yourself up over eating dinner an hour or two later. Focus on nourishing your body with healthy foods, since many of the nutrients—like magnesium—will help regulate your sleep.