16 Evening Habits That Make Everything Better

hourearly_intro2Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
From "set your alarm on the other side of the room" to "invest in a coffee pot with a timer," you’ve probably heard a million don’t-hit-snooze tips before. But, unless you're a true morning person, getting up even one hour earlier than usual can feel impossible. That’s largely because early birds and night owls (what is it with birds and circadian clocks, anyway?) have inherently different time settings, says Michael Terman, PhD, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and co-author of Reset Your Inner Clock. A clump of neurons located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) region of your brain’s hypothalamus functions as your body’s timepiece, telling it when to be awake or asleep. And, while your default settings are believed to be largely genetic, you can reset them with a little effort — which is far easier than going through life on a half-empty sleep tank.
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So, if you are trying to wake up earlier without making your entire day miserable, you need to move your get-to-bed and wake-up times by 15-minute increments, says Stephanie Silberman, PhD, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and author of The Insomnia Workbook. Most people forget that to wake up earlier, you also need to go to bed earlier. It’s about shifting your circadian clock, not learning to manage on less sleep.
How long it will take you to adjust to each 15-minute tweak largely depends on your individual circadian clock and how flexible it is. FYI, night owls are actually better at adapting to sleep changes, says W. Christopher Winter, MD, medical director at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center. Dr. Winter works with professional sports teams to optimize their sleep performance.
It’s important to remember, though, that no matter your body's settings — or the time you wake up — it’s completely normal to hate life for the first 20 minutes to half hour after prying open your sleep-crusted eyes. Researchers call that period of time the “sleep lag,” says Dr. Silberman. Basically, it’s the time in which your body goes, Ugh, okay, I guess I really should be awake. So, if you curse the world when your alarm goes off, it doesn’t necessarily mean your bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed efforts have failed you.
Ready to become a morning person? Since your circadian clock is largely set by exposure to light, body temperature, exercise, and food, the following science-backed tips will help you log quality sleep while adjusting to those 15-minute-increment shifts to earlier sleeping and waking times. Your better morning awaits.
hourearly_slide1Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
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Turn off your gadgets at least two hours before bed.
Per the National Sleep Foundation's "Sleep in America" poll, an overwhelming amount of Americans spend time on their electronics within an hour of bedtime, multiple times per week. Tsk tsk. Within two hours of bedtime, your SCN sends a signal to the pineal gland to begin producing melatonin, the hormone that helps control your sleep-wake cycle, Dr. Terman says. And, research published in Applied Ergonomics shows that just two hours of exposure to a bright tablet screen at night can suppress the body’s melatonin levels by about 22%.
Cut out blue light.
If you are going to have your computer open, try using the f.lux software, Dr. Terman advises. It tracks the cycle of the sun in your time zone and latitude, and then adjusts your gadget’s levels of blue light to match. Or, you could dim your device. A recent Mayo Clinic study found that dimming the brightness to about 50% keeps blue light low enough to not interfere with sleep. But, digital gadgets aren't the only culprits; to avoid blue light from your lamps, switch to bulbs that have a low color temperature, Dr. Terman says. Look for 2700 Kelvin bulbs; the rating will be printed right on them.
Keep your curtains closed at night.
Most people assume letting the morning light gradually wake you up is a good thing, but Winter actually advises waking up in the dark — and then opening the curtains. “Your hormone levels make a more dramatic jump to jolt you awake" that way, he says. “The room should go from pitch black at 5:59 a.m. to bright light at 6.”
Soak up light in the a.m.
That said, you want to soak up as much bright light as you can first thing in the morning, to convince your clock it’s time to get up and at ‘em. Go outside for a few minutes, or if it’s dreary out, try a light-therapy box, Dr. Winter says. “Properly timed exposure to bright light after awakening has a pervasive effect across 24 hours and can improve sleep onset on the nights that follow,” adds Dr. Terman.
hourearly_slide2Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
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Take a bath before bed.
This trick is not just to relax. You want to try raising your core body temperature — so that it can plummet when you get out of the tub. The body’s temperature naturally falls come sleepytime, so by exaggerating that temperature change you may sleep more easily, Dr. Winter says. Try taking a hot (like, as hot as you can stand) bath for 15-plus minutes and then get into light PJs.
Keep your bed cold.
Air temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees are best for sleeping, and cooler body temperatures lead to deeper sleep, Dr. Winter says. Feel like you’re sleeping in a hot box? Consider investing in sheets and/or a mattress cover that are designed to keep you cool.
Wear socks to bed.
When you’re about to fall asleep, your body redirects blood flow to the hands and feet. When those extremities are warm (like when you’re wearing socks) their blood vessels dilate to help your body temperature drop more quickly, per Swiss research.
Warm up at wake-up time.
Since you sleep so well in cool temps, either setting your A/C to shut off near wake time or even getting in a few quick warm-up exercises in the morning can help raise your body temperature, Dr. Winter says.
hourearly_slide3Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
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Exercise at the same time every day.
People who regularly exercise sleep better, but if you exercise at the same time every day, you get even more benefits, Dr. Winter says. Your circadian clock uses clues such as when you exercise to determine when you should go to bed and wake up. It thinks, Okay, we’re exercising now, and we go to bed X-number of hours after working out, so let's get ready.
And, do it at least a few hours before bed.
Depending on how hard you hit the gym/streets/court/track/studio, you probably shouldn’t move straight from there into the bedroom. When your adrenaline levels, heart rate, and body temp are high, it can be difficult to fall asleep. Give yourself a few hours before bed so those levels can fall, says Dr. Silberman. Most people, though, sleep better when they’ve exercised, even if it was at night, according to one Journal of Sleep Research study.
Crank up the intensity.
A National Sleep Foundation poll found that people sleep the best on days they exercise vigorously. One possible reason: Intense exercise is believed to cause the muscles to release two cytokines that may trigger drowsiness and help people sleep more soundly.
hourearly_slide4Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
Chow down as soon as you wake up.
Humans have evolved to switch their day-night cycles according to when they eat, suggests research from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Bonus: Eating breakfast fires up your metabolism, and the earlier you get it humming along, the better.
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Eat at the same time every day.
Just like with exercise, your body remembers how many hours there are between dinner and bed, Dr. Winter says. It doesn’t really matter the number, as long as you keep it consistent.
Boycott big meals before bed.
Eating too much too close to bedtime raises your body temperature, which can interfere with sleep, Dr. Winter says. It’s okay to munch before bed, just don’t make it a huge meal that brings on the meat sweats.
Talk to your doc about melatonin.
There are a lot of ways to manipulate the levels of the sleep hormone melatonin in your body. The easiest is by taking a little melatonin tablet when you’re winding down for bed. However, it’s only intended for short-term use to adjust your circadian clock, not to help you drift off every night, Dr. Winter says. As always, consult your physician before you pop any pills — natural or otherwise.
Make your late-night snack carb-rich.
Research published in the journal Cell Reports found that in mice, eating a carbohydrate-rich snack in the evening helped reset the body’s internal clock. Why carbs? Insulin affects the body’s sleep-regulating gene PER2, and since carbs boost insulin secretion, they also help regulate your cycles — so you're drowsy when you should be. Try cereal with milk (this combo is high in carbs and tryptophan, which converts to serotonin and melatonin in the brain), or cherries (which contain both carbs and melatonin), Dr. Winter says.
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