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We received an overwhelming response to our call for sleep questions—more than a hundred (and counting). Surprisingly, the vast majority weren’t about falling asleep, but about staying asleep. And many readers wanted advice on how to get to bed when there’s still so much to do (and watch on Netflix).
In this article, we’re providing answers to the most common queries that came up. And rest assured: We’ll explore further insights in future blog posts and guides. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who wrote in for taking such an interest in sleep. Here’s to better nights—and brighter days.
This is a very common issue, and I wrote an article with detailed advice from sleep experts. Start at the root of the problem. If, for example, you’re waking up because you need to use the bathroom, try to stay hydrated during the day so that you don’t need to drink a lot close to bedtime. And if you do end up needing to go, keep the light as dim as safety allows. If something specific is waking you up, try to take care of that, whether the solution involves investing in a white-noise machine to mask the street sounds that jolt you awake or closing the bedroom door so your rambunctious pet doesn’t pounce on you. Also, avoid nightcaps, or any alcohol within two or three hours before bed—drinks make you drowsy at first but then mess with your sleep, so you wake up during the night.
That said, sometimes you just wake up anyway. If so, try to remain in bed; lying down fosters sleep better than standing up. When I wake up in the middle of the night and my mind starts turning over my to-do list (or my should-have-done list), I rely on a “body scan” meditation, which involves mindfully focusing on each part of your body and its sensations. But you have many other options. For instance, Wirecutter’s favorite meditation app, Headspace, has a “Nighttime SOS” section that provides guided exercises for specific scenarios (“After a Nightmare,” “Work Stress,” and so on). There are also mind games you can try, such as counting backward from 100,000, exploring guided-imagery techniques, or picking a color and naming all the things in the world that come in that color.
As a last resort (if you haven’t fallen back asleep within, say, 20 minutes and it’s upsetting you too much for you to possibly drift off), experts suggest going to another room and doing something calming, such as reading or writing in a journal. Just make sure to keep the lights as dim as feasible.
I hear you. By the time I get the kitchen cleaned up and my kid in bed, I have little left for “me” time. One strategy I’ve tried is eating an earlier dinner. I find that if I eat earlier, I clean up earlier, and I get my “me” time started earlier. That means accepting a little help from packaged precut vegetables and premade sauces, or (on occasion) takeout. My mom tackles a lot of pre-cooking on Sundays so that she can eat earlier on weekdays. Something for me to aspire to … someday.
Another strategy that has helped: disabling autoplay in my streaming-service settings. That way, I watch one, and only one, episode—without seamlessly getting pulled into the next.
That used to happen to me, too. Then I finally got honest with myself about what a reasonable bedtime really was. My 10 p.m. alarm simply wasn’t feasible. I constantly ignored it (and blew way past it). Finally, I moved it to 10:30 p.m., and I was able to hit that mark more consistently.
You might also try scheduling your emails for just before or after dinner, and setting up an end time for that. That way, you’re less likely to get sucked in too late. It’s better to stay off devices as you get closer to bedtime, anyway. I always like to remind myself, too, how much clearer my head will be at 7 a.m. after a decent night’s sleep—and how I’ll get twice as much done, twice as well, if I just tackle my task in the morning. If you want to be draconian about it, you could set your Wi-Fi to shut off at a certain time.
As for the laundry, I’ve trained my son to do his part (even if it’s just putting his underwear in a neat-enough pile, back when he was younger). If getting others to take some of the load off isn’t an option, try doing what I do when I still can’t finish: I throw the rest back in the dryer and deal with it the next day. I’ve learned to be okay with some tasks not getting done. No matter what your situation is, it may help to think of sleep itself as a (very important) item on your to-do list—one that’s worthy of prioritization. And remind yourself that you’re seeking progress, not perfection.
How early is early? I only wish I could get up at 4 a.m. and get a bunch of work done before distractions arise. But if you’re getting up too early without feeling refreshed, despite adequate sleep time, first talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions. Then, if you get the all-clear, try some of the techniques outlined in this article.
If you feel adequately rested but simply don’t like getting up that early, try shifting your bedtime. In other words, gradually go to bed later and later each week, in 15-minute increments. That should gently nudge you to wake up at a later time, too. Keep this up until you’re able to wake up at the time you want.
I suggest starting with a visit with your doctor or a sleep specialist, as they should have suggestions tailored to your individual needs and can make sure you’re staying healthy as you shift your sleep-wake cycle.
But broadly, the same sleep-hygiene recommendations for night apply to the day—it just may take more effort. The thing to remember is that darkness promotes sleep, while light (as well as bigger meals) promotes wakefulness. So when you get home from work, keep your dinner/breakfast light and healthy, and ease your home into sleep mode—lowering the shades, dimming the lights, and avoiding devices as much as you can.
If your bedroom isn’t already quiet and dark during the day, use blackout shades or a sleep mask, in addition to earplugs or a white-noise machine (or both). When you wake up, expose yourself to light as soon as you can—wake up to a sunrise alarm clock or a programmed smart light bulb, and if need be, spend some time with a light therapy lamp (you might want to check with your health professional first for options and routines customized to your needs).
And experts often recommend sticking to your sleep schedule even on your days off, if possible.
I have the same issue—and the master bedroom in my small apartment is right off the living room. I’ve asked my husband to turn down the television volume, which has made it easier for me to use a white-noise machine to block out the TV chatter and the sound of the door when he finally comes into the bedroom. Sometimes, when I’m cranky, I demand that he wear a headset paired with our smart TV.
If you wake up when your partner turns in, consider treating yourselves to your own individual blankets instead of sharing one, so they don’t disturb you as they pull on their half of the covers. Also, generally speaking, the larger the mattress, the less you’ll feel your partner’s movements. If you’re bouncing as they plop into bed, you might consider a foam mattress the next time you’re shopping for a mattress. And if you don’t like foam, keep in mind that innerspring mattresses or hybrid mattresses made with pocketed coils also help to isolate motion.
Babies aren’t the only humans keeping parents awake. Kids of all ages can destroy your best sleep intentions, whether it’s by waking you up in the middle of the night (“Monsters!”) or by insisting that you get up with them at 6 a.m. on a Saturday.
To get your child to sleep through the night, we have some useful tips in an article about handling a child’s insomnia during the pandemic. A few of my favorites include making sure kids get a lot of outdoor time, as well as exercise, so that by nighttime they’re tired and ready for bed.
As for the kids who get up super early, some Wirecutter staffers swear by “okay to wake” clocks, which use colors and other signals to teach kids when to stay in bed and when to start their day. Consider setting up quiet activities (puzzles, a coloring book) by their bed so they stay entertained while counting the minutes before they crash into your room.
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and how they’re affecting your sleep. In the meantime, you’ll find advice about dealing with hot flashes in this fact sheet from the National Institute on Aging.
I also have a few ideas about keeping cool at night. Turn down the temperature in your bedroom before bed so that it’s nice and chilly once you’re ready to turn in. You can also keep a fan nearby. If you’re feeling spendy, you might try the ChiliPad, a mattress topper that cools the bed’s surface via cold water streaming through a system of tubes. Wirecutter editor Joshua Lyon tested the ChiliPad with his husband (a night-sweat sufferer) and found that it greatly improved his sleep.
If you happen to be shopping for a new mattress, take “cooling” claims with a grain of salt. Foam mattresses feel inherently warmer than innerspring mattresses, hybrid mattresses, and latex mattresses.
If you’re having a hard time sleeping through the night, you should probably stop napping, especially if that nap is taking place in the latter half of the afternoon. If you must nap, gradually shift it to earlier than 3 p.m. and limit it to no more than 10 to 20 minutes.
In general, keep nighttime snacks small and light. Some preliminary research suggests that kiwi and tart cherries can help promote sleep, but more study is needed. Higher-fiber diets have also been suggested to help promote sleep. With that in mind, you might try a small bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain toast with just a touch of honey or jam.
The number one food to avoid is actually a drink: alcohol. It will make you feel drowsy at first, but it will also disrupt your sleep and cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Foods containing caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee, and caffeinated tea, are also bad news. High-fat and high-sugar foods are typically not good for quality sleep, either.
Probably not. Unlike tablets, laptops, and smartphones, the Kindle Paperwhite and Oasis aren’t backlit, an Amazon spokesperson told me. Instead, they have an adjustable front light that you can customize to be cooler during the day and warmer at night. I also haven’t experienced a difference in my sleep after reading on my Kindle Paperwhite compared with reading an actual book at night.
More relevant: How is your sleep after you’ve read in bed on your Kindle? If you’re able to doze off within 20 minutes, stay asleep through the night, and wake up feeling refreshed, it would be reasonable to stick with your routine. If that isn’t the case—and you’ve been following other sleep-hygiene recommendations—I’d try getting a hard copy of the next book on your reading list and seeing if matters improve.
This article was edited by Connor Grossman and Courtney Schley.
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