Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t just a nocturnal pursuit. In fact, perfecting your sleep routine means taking into account everything you do—or don’t do—throughout the day. From the right time to stop drinking coffee to the proper place to store your phone at bedtime (hint: It’s not on your nightstand), here are nine things you can do during the day to get a more restful night’s sleep.
9 Things to Do Throughout the Day for a Better Night’s Sleep
7:30 a.m. — Try to Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day
Yes…even on weekends. According to sleep scientist Matthew Walker, sleeping until noon on Saturday and Sunday won’t actually make up for a week of bad nights. “Sleep is not like the bank, so you can’t accumulate a debt and then try and pay it off at a later point in time,” he told NPR. This means that sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t reset your internal clock. Instead, all it does is hinder your sleep cycle during the week, which benefits from regularity.
9:30 a.m. — Get Outside
Whether it’s too hot or too cold or you’re just feeling lazy, it can be tempting to skip your daily walk around the neighborhood. But exposing yourself to even a few minutes of natural blue light in the morning can be a game-changer, sleep-wise. “Expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning by going for a 15-minute walk,” suggests behavioral sleep medicine specialist Lisa Medalie, PsyD, CBSM. “It improves circadian rhythm and morning alertness, thereby reducing insomnia.”
2:30 p.m. — If You Want to Nap, Now’s the Time
On those days when you need a little afternoon shut-eye, try to limit your naps to ten to 20 minutes between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Why? Dr. Rebecca Robbins, PhD and sleep expert, explains, “Our body temperature dips during these hours, which is one of the factors that happens in conjunction with sleep onset at night, further increasing our urge to sleep in the afternoon.”
3:00 p.m. — Have Your Last Cup of Coffee
We love (need?) our daily coffee—or caffeinated tea or even healthy energy drink—but for many people, cutting off caffeine early enough is necessary to avoid sleep issues. According to Michelle Worley, a registered nurse and Director of Clinical Operations at Aeroflow Healthcare, “For the best possible chance at a good night’s sleep, caffeine drinkers should stop consuming caffeine at least seven hours before they plan to go to sleep.” This time frame varies from person to person, but most experts recommend switching to decaffeinated drinks about four to seven hours before you hope to fall asleep.
6:00 p.m. — Get Your Heart Pumping
You might think that taking a HIIT class a few hours before bedtime will make it nearly impossible to fall asleep, but in general, exercising at night should not mess with your sleep. On the contrary, a 2014 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that performing vigorous exercise 90 minutes before bedtime was associated with falling asleep faster, fewer wake-ups in the middle of the night and improved mood.
7:30 p.m. — Incorporate Leafy Greens (or Tuna or Walnuts) into Your Dinner
Unsurprisingly, what you eat for dinner can have a huge impact on how well you sleep. Dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach and mustard greens, for example, are great sources of magnesium. Studies, like this one published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, have shown that magnesium can improve subjective measures of insomnia like sleep efficiency, sleep time and early morning awakening. If greens aren’t your favorite, here are some more foods scientifically proven to promote better sleep.
10:30 p.m. — Leave Your Phone in the Living Room
Just because keeping your phone in bed with you is common doesn’t make it healthy. Andrew Varga, M.D., a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, explains, “Electronic devices with backlit screens emit a very high percentage of blue wavelength light. Exposure to blue light from any source—including TVs, cell phones, laptops, e-readers and tablets—late in the day has the effect of advancing our circadian phase, meaning it makes it so that one will become naturally tired later in the night.” Invest in an old-school alarm clock so you can leave your phone outside the bedroom.
10:45 p.m. — Do a Quick Stretch Before Hopping into Bed
“A nighttime stretching practice allows your body to release built-up tension and provides [you with] an opportunity to integrate mindful breathing,” Kim Strother, a celebrity trainer and yoga instructor, tells us. “By creating a peaceful mind and a relaxed body, you’ll find the ability to both fall asleep with greater ease and remain in a longer, deeper sleep.” Here are nine stretches to do before you slip under the covers.
3:00 a.m. — Know How to Handle Middle-of-the-Night Wake-Ups
No matter how well you prepare for a good night’s sleep, 3 a.m. wakeups happen. The key is to know how to handle them. First, get out of bed and sit in a chair and read a book or magazine for five minutes, Medalie suggests. This is a technique called “stimulus control,” and it’s an effective strategy for insomnia. Also, normalize the idea of waking up in the middle of the night. Instead of panicking that you're up and can't fall back asleep, take a second and tell yourself that this is totally regular. On average, a sleep cycle is 90 to 120 minutes long, so waking up a couple times isn’t anything to stress out about, Medalie assures us.