How to Master a Sleep Routine That Actually Works

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Are you low on energy? Thinking about taking supplements? Wearing blue-blocking glasses in the evening? Before you get into the biohacky quick fixes, how about you try the boring, obvious, and effective thing: getting some dang sleep.

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, on average, each night. This varies, so you might be a seven-hour person or a nine-hour person. (Young people usually need even more; older adults may be okay with less.) So if you’re feeling tired all the time, the first thing you should ask yourself is: How much time do I spend in bed? If it’s not at least that seven hours, it’s not enough.

If you have trouble waking up on time but easily fall asleep when you’re sitting quietly (like watching a movie), you probably just don’t get enough sleep. And if you know you should sleep more, but you can’t seem to figure out how, here are the basics of sleep hygiene you need to master.

How to stick to a sleep schedule

First priority here is setting a wake-up time that you can stick to every day. Consistency is important here: don’t set the alarm for 6 a.m. on weekdays and sleep until noon on weekends. If you can’t be perfectly consistent—such as if you work shifts—adjust as needed, but try to do your best.

Next comes setting a bedtime. Figure out what time you need to hit the hay to get enough sleep before your alarm goes off. Then work backward from that to figure out when to start changing into jammies and whatever else your nighttime routine involves.

Crucial to both steps is prioritizing sleep. If you’ve been having trouble getting enough sleep lately, give yourself a couple of weeks to make your bedtime and wake-up time (and nine or so hours in between) the highest priority appointment in your calendar. Don’t go out late, and don’t stay up revenge procrastinating. There will be time for occasional indulgences once you get your sleep schedule fixed.

Include these things in your bedtime routine

Okay, so what goes into that routine? You can decide on the specifics, but sleep experts recommend that you include the following:

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 refrained from starting it at 9 p.m.), and it will help you get into a relaxed mood for sleeping.

Do awake things at awake times

Your body expects bright lights and meals when it’s daytime, so providing those things at appropriate times will help keep your internal clock on track.

  • Get plenty of sunlight in the morning. (In the winter, a light box may help.)
  • Exercise. You can combine this with sunlight by going for a morning or lunchtime walk. But any type of exercise will help you to sleep better.
  • Eat meals. We sleep best when we eat during the daytime; if breakfast fits your schedule, consider making it a regular thing. But at the very least, don’t eat right before bed.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evenings

Caffeine keeps you up, and it lingers longer than we realize. If you have a 200-milligram cup of coffee at noon, you may still have about 100 milligrams in your system at 5 p.m. and 50 at 10 p.m.

The speed with which we break down caffeine varies from person to person, but in general: It’s affecting you more than you realize. If you think of yourself as a person who “can have an energy drink and then fall right to sleep” you are probably (a) in denial—hey, you’re the one who clicked on an article about getting better sleep—and/or (b) you have built up a massive caffeine tolerance because you drink so much of the stuff to stay awake, which in turn is because you don’t get enough sleep so you’re tired all the time. Do yourself a favor and break the cycle.

An easy way to back off is to give yourself a cutoff time. No caffeine after 5 p.m., let’s say. Once that’s part of your routine, walk it back to 2 p.m. or noon.

Alcohol is another chemical that affects our sleep. Drinking before bed may make you feel sleepy, but it tends to disrupt the quality of sleep. If you aren’t convinced, just start keeping a sleep diary—on paper is fine if you don’t have a sleep-tracking gadget—and see if you don’t get more and better sleep on the nights you don’t drink.

Make your bedroom a dark little cave

A welcoming, cozy bed will help you get to sleep faster. Make it dark, with blackout curtains or an eye mask, if needed. Make it quiet, with a white noise machine or earplugs if you can’t completely silence your surroundings. And make it a comfortable temperature. Most people prefer a cool environment, around 66 degrees, but again this varies from person to person.

Comfortable sheets and pillows can help. If you’re always tossing and turning, try to figure out if there’s something that physically bothers you. (A new mattress might not be in the budget, but a firmer or softer pillow is an easy fix.)


While the tips here are the basic things you should at least try, you may not need every single aspect to be textbook. I freeze if my room is set to 66 degrees, for example, so I keep the thermostat a tick warmer and I make sure I always have a warm duvet, even in summertime.

You may find that you can bend certain rules but not others. I always have a crappy night’s sleep if I’ve been drinking, but late meals don’t bother me. Once you’re getting a solid night’s sleep on the regular, you can start playing with the routine.

And if you’re doing everything you can for good sleep hygiene and you still feel tired all the time, consider seeking medical help in case you have sleep apnea or another condition that could be affecting your sleep or energy levels.


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