New Year's resolutions to help you sleep better in 2022
"New year, new me"? How about "new year, new sleep" instead.
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New Year’s always seems like the best time to make big changes to your life—whether it’s tackling eating healthier or implementing a new exercise routine. While huge changes are more glamorous, small, easy shifts to other parts of your life, like your sleep, can have an equal—if not greater—payout.
Consider these sleep-related resolutions you can make—and hopefully maintain—that will help you achieve even better zzz’s in the new year.
Leave your phone and electronics outside of the bedroom overnight
Ah, the simplest yet somehow toughest struggle of them all: Freeing yourself from your phone. Smartphones are widely thought to be bad for your sleep—from stress-provoking social media to literally disrupting you all night as they ding and buzz with notifications. And that’s not to mention the blue light that screens emit, which can throw off your circadian rhythm—the 24-hour, wake-rest cycle your body’s designed to follow that’s based largely on natural light. Under normal circumstances, your brain starts to release melatonin, a hormone that causes drowsiness, about two hours before you go to bed. Continuing to expose yourself to blue light from screens in the hours leading up to bedtime disrupts that natural process and can lead to prolonged wakefulness and lower quality sleep.
If you really can’t be without your phone overnight, try capitalizing on the sleep-friendly tech settings available on your device. One of the easy and subtle settings you can use is called “Night Shift” on iOS or “Blue Light Filter” on Android. This feature helps decrease your exposure to blue light from sunrise to sunset, on a custom schedule, or at your whim (though it’s more of a hassle to open your settings each day to enable it). The efficacy of these settings has yet to be proven in research, but it’s a small change to your lifestyle and tech use with the potential to be a boon to your sleep and rest.
To take it a step further, enabling Do Not Disturb is a solid halfway point between decreasing your phone’s blue light output and leaving your phone outside your room. Do Not Disturb stops your phone from sending notifications throughout the night. But there’s a nifty loophole for those who fear being totally unreachable: The setting can be customized to allow notifications from certain contacts, or to ring if someone calls twice within, say, one minute. Your phone won’t keep you up, but it also gives you the extra security of knowing people can get in touch if they really need to.
Set aside time to wind down each night before bed
There are plenty of day-to-day stressors—from the 24-hour news cycle and “doom-scrolling” to disagreements with partners and work deadlines. Even watching a scary or suspenseful TV show can work you up. But stress and sleep don’t jive well, so it’s best to use the time before you go to bed to find ways to slow your roll.
Try soothing activities that will help you relax. Reading a book, for example, or having a quiet conversation with your partner about the personal victories of each of your days are both good options. Consider gratitude journaling, wherein you write a down things you’re grateful about on a daily or weekly basis, which is thought to improve sleep. You could also get in the habit of listening to sleep podcasts or stories in the evening. Curling up on the couch with a weighted blanket—like our favorite from Gravity Blanket—can be soothing, as the blankets trigger the same feel-good hormones, oxytocin and dopamine, as when you receive a hug, thus helping you settle down before bed.
Better yet, build the different elements of your wind-down into a full nightly routine, in which you sequentially incorporate activities that you find relaxing and that aren’t stimulating, as well as necessities like brushing your teeth. You could consider using an essential oil diffuser, like our favorite by Airomé, to train your body to associate a certain scent with sleep and relaxation. (Lavender may be a good starting point, it’s often thought to elicit relaxation.) Eventually, your body will come to associate your new habits with the end of the day and sleep, so simply starting the routine may help you feel sleepy as bedtime approaches.
Spend some time outside everyday
Sure, sleep mostly happens in the bedroom, but little things you do throughout the day can change its quality. As mentioned, sunlight informs your body’s natural circadian rhythm and is one of the biggest external signals that helps your body differentiate day and night, sleep and wake. Getting daily exposure to natural light can help keep your circadian rhythm humming along.
If you want to go to bed and wake up earlier, you can manipulate your circadian rhythm by intentionally timing light exposure. A few short bursts of intense outdoor light early in the day can shift it earlier. One easy way to do this is build outside time into your work commute. Consider parking your car a couple blocks away or at the far end of the parking lot, or getting off a stop or two early from public transit, and walking the rest of the way. For folks who work from home, a quick stroll around your neighborhood with your morning coffee can mimic a regular commute and help you start the day on the right foot.
The inverse is true as well: Exposure to bright light too close to bedtime inhibits melatonin production and can make it harder for you to doze off. In one study, people who used a backlit e-reader in the four hours leading up to bedtime took longer to fall asleep and felt less alert the next day. It’s also good to dim your home’s ambient lighting at least an hour before you plan to retire for the night. Using your TV’s sleep timer or setting a smart plug or smart bulb with a living room lamp to shut off at the same time every night can serve as a great reminder for when it’s time to darken the rest of the house.
Make your bedroom something worthy of dreaming about
It’s not surprising that your sleep environment can have a major impact on the quality of your rest each night. Your bedroom’s lighting is paramount and, for sleep, darker is better. Blackout curtains are one option, but they’re pricey and won't help if you have a partner who stays up reading when you’re ready for some shuteye. A sleep mask like our favorites, the Nidra Deep Rest contoured mask and Alaska Bear mask, in contrast, are an affordable godsend for personal shade.
Temperature is another major player in quality sleep. The general consensus is that it’s best to sleep in a room that’s in the mid-60s. If you have a programmable thermostat, it’s easy to manage: Just set the temp to drop about an hour or so before bed. The best thermostat we tested, the Google Nest Learning Thermostat, is easy to use and learns your schedule so you save energy.
Even if you don’t have climate control, you have options. If it’s cooler outdoors than in, cracking a window can reduce your bedroom temperature. Your body’s circadian rhythm also changes your overall temperature. In the time leading up to bed, it naturally undergoes a gradual drop. Taking a warm shower in the evening hours can contribute to the change—the shower itself heats you up, but as soon as you step foot outside, your body temperature will start to lower. If you’re accustomed to sleeping in warmer rooms, bumping the thermostat down (or cracking a window) a small increment at a time every night for at least a week may be easier than a drastic change. Sudden changes to sleep environment can present their own challenges, so taking it slowly should give your body a few days to settle in.
If your space is loud due to a partner’s snoring, dogs barking outside, or passing traffic, you’re all too familiar with noise being a real foe of great sleep. Fortunately, addressing sound can be as simple as buying a great pair of earplugs. You may also consider a white noise or sound machine, which drowns out other sounds and helps you sleep by covering up random noises that might crop up during the night. Our favorite, the Sound+Sleep High Fidelity Sound Machine, offers 10 soothing sounds to choose from—ranging from rainforest to waves, and even waterfall. If that’s too loud for your partner, there are in-ear options that muffle external noises, like the Bose Sleepbuds.
Another best practice is limiting bedroom activity to two fundamentals: sleep and sex. That means you should avoid working on a computer or watching TV in your bedroom, for example, to help your brain build a positive association with the space and restfulness, as opposed to stress and wakefulness.
Get yourself on a better sleep schedule
Quantity isn’t always quality… except when it comes to sleep. And in the U.S., one in three American adults isn’t getting the recommended minimum seven hours of shuteye a night. Sleeping enough has obvious benefits, like increased energy, better mood, and clearer thinking. Meanwhile, not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and impact your immune system’s function. Consistently cutting your nights short will even lead to a “sleep debt” that’s virtually impossible to catch up on.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, if you make sleep a priority. Step one is to aim to give yourself enough time at night—don’t go to bed at 1 a.m. if you need to be up at 6 a.m., for example. If you’re the sort who loses track of time before collapsing into bed, use a routine to remind yourself that bedtime is imminent.
Another suggestion: Try to keep your schedule consistent. Going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day (even weekends) will help you maintain your circadian rhythm. One study found that having an irregular sleep schedule led to insufficient and poor quality sleep among university students. You may think that sleeping in on the weekend is a good way to play catch-up on sleep deprivation, but it may only serve to disrupt your sleep schedule if you can’t get to bed at your desired time on Sunday.
Sleeping during the night will always be the gold standard, but it’s not the end-all be-all. For some, like parents with young kids or a baby, naps are an option to recoup lost shuteye and help you feel your best for what’s left of the day.
Eat your way to better sleep
Even the food you eat can change your sleep. One study found that eating kiwis can improve your sleep onset and duration. Other researchers concluded drinking tart cherry juice improved the sleep of older adults with insomnia.
Unfortunately there aren’t many foods that help your sleep—the conversation is more often about those that harm it. Coffee and caffeine are among the biggest culprits in sleep disruption. There’s debate on the specifics, like how much coffee you can have, when you can drink it, how late in the day, and so on—but there’s no ignoring the fact that it’s bad for your sleep. Drinking caffeine within six hours of bedtime is thought to reduce your sleep by as much as an hour. Even relying on caffeine throughout the day can impact your nights. Researchers found that dependence on caffeine correlated to waking up more throughout the night, feeling worse during the day, and decreased sleep quality overall. So set aside the coffee mug well in advance of when you want to hit the hay.
Alcohol may make you feel as though you’re sleeping better, but it causes more harm than good. Moderate to high consumption of alcohol decreases REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, which is thought to be important for memory. Of course, it’s not a problem to have an adult beverage every so often, but in general you’ll rest better if you keep alcohol at bay.
Other things to steer clear of at night include high protein or large and rich meals, as well as foods that are spicy. Aside from that, you know the drill—eat healthy foods throughout the day—and your sleep (and the rest of you) will thank you.
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