How to Get Better Sleep—Without Giving Up Your Nightly Binge-Watch
It doesn’t have to be hard.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:00 AM
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Getting enough z’s sounds dreamy, but scrolling through Instagram late at night and keeping your caffeine buzz up through the day are probably preventing you from falling asleep at a reasonable time. What if we told you there’s an easier way to snooze the night away? Believe it or not, you can actually improve your sleep hygiene without having to nix that second (okay, third) cup of coffee.
Healthy sleep hygiene involves more than just going to bed earlier and praying to the sleep gods that you’ll magically dream for eight hours straight. According to the National Sleep Foundation, good sleep hygiene is all about creating certain habits (i.e., nighttime and daytime rituals) that not only result in high-quality slumber but also better enhance your mental and physical health.
While sleep hygiene practices might help you experience a better night’s rest, it might not be realistic to dramatically change your schedule to incorporate these bedtime habits. So we tapped Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, to find out how you can improve your quality of sleep the easy way.
If you just can’t give up your nightly viewing of The Office…
Let’s be real: When it comes to picking between getting eight hours of undisturbed rest or rewatching that fire drill episode of The Office (you know the one), you can bet your bottom dollar that the latter of the two will always win.
While there’s nothing wrong with sneaking in an episode (or two) before you go to bed, Kennedy stresses that you want to make sure you’re watching a show on an actual television screen instead of on a handheld device. “[This] will limit your exposure to blue light, which can delay sleep by inhibiting melatonin. Be mindful of content, too. It’s best not to watch violent or disturbing shows right before bed because they can trigger adrenaline in the body,” she notes.
But if your Netflix queue does involve a scary viewing, Kennedy says you can up the snooze factor by turning a few pages before you call it a night. “It’s always a good idea to read a book at the end of the bedtime routine—even if [it’s] just for a few minutes. It helps the mind to settle down and lets the body’s fatigue take over,” she explains.
If you RSVP yes to a birthday party that starts past your bedtime…
“Staying out late occasionally is not going to destroy [your] sleep [cycle],” says Kennedy. “After a night out, allow some time to unwind and settle down before trying to sleep, even if it means—in theory—getting less sleep. If you try to go straight to bed, it will likely take longer to settle down and fall asleep, often triggering anxiety and making for a very frustrating night.”
To better your chances of waking up with a little more pep in your step, Kennedy also recommends limiting your alcohol intake and setting your alarm at the usual time for the next day. “It’s better to have a short night and deal with fatigue during the day rather than throwing your entire schedule off by sleeping late,” she says. “It’s easier to get back on track quickly if you stick to the same schedule.”
If you don’t want to give up that late-night nightcap or sugary dessert…
We’ll take any excuse to squeeze in a post-dinner frozen treat or an occasional two-finger pour. Just make sure to have either one at least an hour before you go to bed to lessen your chances of accidentally pulling an all-nighter. Kennedy explains that giving your body time to process sugar or alcohol will reduce its chances of disturbing your sleep.
But when push comes to shove, she also emphasizes that it’s never a bad idea to “keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks with the usual habits and then experiment for a week or so of giving up the indulgence.” That doesn’t mean all your vices have to go out the door—it’s best to pick and choose what works best for you to make the most out of your nighttime routine.
If you can’t get through the day without your 3 p.m. latte…
Maybe you’ve tried to break up with you midafternoon caffeine pick-me-up but keep coming back for more—we can’t blame you. With a jam-packed schedule and a subpar sleep routine, you simply don’t have the energy to end this codependent relationship. Just try to get your fix a little earlier: Kennedy warns that drinking a caffeinated beverage after 4 p.m. is asking for trouble. “Caffeine stays in the system for several hours. Even when it doesn’t keep you awake, [it] can affect sleep quality,” she says.
If you don’t want to give up that nighttime social media scroll…
While your daytime routine might have you glued to your phone, it’s imperative you keep things kosher when it comes to your nighttime routine. “Phones keep us plugged into the day in a multitasking mode. The brain needs time to transition out of that kind of activity before settling down to sleep,” says Kennedy.
That means setting a firm cutoff time with an alarm on the phone to alert you when to stop checking that puppy Instagram account you love so much. “Start with 30 minutes before bed and try to increase it to one hour. It will be hard at first, but the more you stick to it, the easier it gets to ignore the urge to check [your social media accounts],” she adds.
If your Google Calendar is filled with back-to-back deadlines…
Dramatically improving your sleep hygiene could fall flat when your to-do list is 10 pages long and you’re coming home at 9 p.m. every night. While you might not have the ability to eliminate anything from your schedule, Kennedy says you can “find a bedtime routine that works to help you unwind quickly and reliably.”
But what exactly does that entail when you maybe have 30 minutes to spare? “Maybe a three-to-five-minute breathing meditation followed by reading until you can’t stay awake,” says Kennedy. “It’s also helpful to [have] an activity journal to keep track of everything you’re doing. When it is written out in front of you, it’s easier to determine whether anything [on your to-do list] can be [simplified].”
See more sleep tips: The Magical Mineral That Can Improve Your Sleep and Energy What Happens to Your Body When You Take Naps Every Single Day? Apparently, Eating Candy Can Help You Stress Less and Sleep Better