Do you lack energy? Are you considering taking supplements? Do you wear blue-blocking glasses in the evening? Before you get into biohacking quick fixes, try the boring, obvious, and effective thing: get some dang sleep.
On average, most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night. This varies, so you could be a seven- or nine-hour person. Young people typically require more, whereas older adults may be content with less. So, if you're constantly tired, the first question you should ask yourself is, "How much time do I spend in bed?" It's not enough if it's not at least seven hours.
You probably don't get enough sleep if you have trouble waking up on time but easily fall asleep when you're sitting quietly (like watching a movie). And if you know you should sleep more but can't seem to figure out how, here are the sleep hygiene fundamentals you need to master.
The first priority here is to establish a consistent wake-up time. It's important to be consistent here: don't set your alarm for 6 a.m. on weekdays and sleep until noon on weekends. Adjust as needed if you can't be perfectly consistent, such as if you work shifts, but try your hardest.
Setting a bedtime is the next step. Determine what time you need to go to bed in order to get enough sleep before your alarm goes off. Work backward from there to determine when to begin changing into PJs and whatever else your nighttime routine entails. Prioritizing sleep is critical to both steps. If you've been having trouble sleeping lately, give yourself two weeks to make your bedtime and wake-up time (and the nine or so hours in between) the most important appointment on your calendar. Don't go out late, and don't stay up late retaliating for procrastinating. Once you've established a regular sleep schedule, you'll have time for occasional indulgences.
So, what exactly goes into your bedtime routine? You can choose the specifics, but sleep experts recommend including the following:
- At least 30 minutes should be set aside for relaxing. Don't expect to be able to zonk out as soon as you turn off the lights.
- There will be no screens before bedtime. Even with blue-blocking glasses, no way. In any case, those glasses don't actually block much blue light. Videos and social media keep your mind alert and unrested, so they don't really belong in your wind-down time.
- Turn down the lights. It is easier to fall and stay asleep in a cool, dark bedroom.
- Do something soothing. Read a calming book. Take a relaxing bath. Practice some breathing exercises. Whatever suits you.
Sticking to this routine will help you stick to your sleep schedule (you can't be halfway through a movie at 10 p.m. if you didn't start it at 9 p.m.), and it will help you relax before sleeping.
Because your body expects bright lights and meals during the day, providing them at appropriate times will help keep your internal clock on track. In the morning, get plenty of sunlight. You can combine exercise with sunlight by going for a walk in the morning or at lunchtime. However, any type of exercise will benefit you. We also sleep better when we eat during the day; if breakfast fits into your schedule, make it a habit. But of course, avoid eating right before bed.
Caffeine affects you more than you realize because the rate at which we break it down varies from person to person. If you think of yourself as someone who "can have an energy drink and then fall right to sleep," you're probably (a) delusory—hey, you're the one who clicked on an article about getting better sleep—and/or (b) you've built up a massive caffeine tolerance because you drink so much of it to stay awake, which is due to a lack of sleep. Giving yourself a time limit is an easy way to back off. Let's say no caffeine after 5 p.m. Once you've mastered that, move it back to 2 p.m. or noon.
Another chemical that influences our sleep is alcohol. Drinking before bedtime may make you feel sleepy, but it tends to disrupt your sleep quality. If you're still not convinced, keep a sleep diary—on paper if you don't have a sleep-tracking device—and see if you don't get more and better sleep on nights when you don't drink.
A comfortable bed will help you fall asleep faster. Make it dark, if necessary with blackout curtains or an eye mask. If you can't completely silence your surroundings, use a white noise machine or earplugs to make it quiet. Make it a comfortable temperature as well. The majority of people prefer a cool environment, but this varies from person to person.
While the suggestions here are the fundamentals you should at least try, you may not need every aspect to be textbook. I freeze if my room is set to 66 degrees, so I keep the thermostat a few degrees higher and make sure I always have a warm duvet, even in the summer. You may discover that you can break some rules but not others. You can start experimenting with the routine once you're consistently getting a good night's sleep.
And, if you've tried everything for good sleep hygiene and you're still tired all the time, consider seeking medical attention to rule out sleep apnea or another condition that could be interfering with your sleep or energy levels.