Canada is the third most sleep-deprived country (tied with the U.S.), according to a survey released last fall by U.K. researchers, but it doesn’t have to be that way, says Dr. Atul Khullar, medical director of the Northern Alberta Sleep Clinic in Edmonton. “There are things you can do the entire day that will improve your sleep at night.” And it starts from the moment you wake up.
6:45 a.m. Ease yourself awake
There’s no need to start the day with bells and flashing lights — Japanese researchers found that forcing yourself awake with an alarm can spike your blood pressure and heart rate. Instead, try an alarm app that wakes you gradually. Some apps gauge the depth of your sleep and wake you accordingly, says Khullar. “You’re less groggy if you wake when your body is in a lighter sleep cycle.” Get up within an hour of the same time every day — weekends included— so you don’t mess with your internal sleep clock. And don’t be tempted by the snooze button. Experts say the sleep you get after hitting snooze isn’t restful and only makes you feel worse when you finally do roll out of bed. Once you’re up, expose yourself to a healthy dose of daylight.
7:30 a.m. Fill up on oatmeal
Breakfast kick-starts your metabolism and prevents you from eating more later in the day, which can throw off sleep, Khullar says. The secret is to factor in fibre. Last year a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that low fibre, high saturated fat and sugar intake throughout the day lead to less restorative sleep and more wake-ups.
11:00 a.m. Spread out stress
Khullar recommends a staggered approach to stress. “Take 10 minutes here and there to relieve stress and you’ll sleep better.” Go for a walk, sneak in a sun salutation or make time for a calming activity you enjoy.
1:00 p.m. Get outside
If you want to sleep well, you need to accumulate sleep pressure throughout the day, says Reut Gruber, director of the Attention, Behaviour and Sleep Lab at the Douglas Mental Health Institute in Montreal. Sunlight, fresh air and exercise regulate your sleep/wakefulness system. “Spend at least 30 to 45 minutes outside every day — it’s good for your mood too,” she says.
3:00 p.m. Enjoy your last cup of joe
“People say, ‘Oh, caffeine doesn’t keep me awake,’ and it might not,” Khullar says, “but it will lighten your sleep and make it less restful.” Limit coffee to two cups a day and none after 3 p.m.
5:00 p.m. Get moving
Researchers at Oregon State University say 150 minutes of activity a week can lead to a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. “Physically stressing the body is important as it recovers from that stress by sleeping,” says Dale Nault, a registered respiratory therapist at Vancouver Sleep Solutions. Some experts advise against exercising at night, but the results are mixed.
6:30 p.m. Keep it light
Heavy meals take the blood flow that allows for sleep from the brain to your stomach, says Khullar. “The change in your body’s blood glucose also throws off sleep.” Taper calories as the day progresses, and time your last tipple for at least three hours before bed. “While alcohol might help you fall asleep, it could mean your body misses out on restorative REM sleep altogether,” Nault says.
9:00 p.m. Power down
The biggest barrier to quality sleep is technology. The problem, says Dr. Eleni Giannouli, director of the Sleep Disorder Centre at Winnipeg’s Misericordia Health Centre, is that we’re always accessible. “Texting, Facebook and emails are all associated with increased fatigue and lower sleep quality.” It helps to put your phone on silent and dim screens to minimize the effect of blue light on melatonin production, but Giannouli says it’s better to just shut off. “Subconsciously, we sense something ‘important’ might come in, which increases arousal in the brain and disrupts sleep.”
9:30 p.m. Prep your space
The best temperature to help you feel tired is 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, says Khullar. Aside from a cool bedroom, the most important thing is a comfortable mattress, says Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director at Calgary’s Centre for Sleep and Human Performance. (They don’t stay comfy forever and should be replaced every five to seven years.) Next, block out all noise and dim the lights. “Your body reacts to natural cues in the environment, and light is key,” says Gruber. “The brain responds to darkness by producing melatonin, which prepares your body for sleep.”
10:30 p.m. Breathe in, breathe out
Samuels is a big fan of meditation before bed. Researchers at UCLA found mindfulness meditation classes once a week led to less insomnia, fatigue and depression. Try an easy 4-7-8 exercise: Inhale through your nose for four counts, hold for seven, then exhale through your mouth for eight, repeating for four full breaths.
10:45 p.m. Flip the switch
“Most of us are slightly sleep deprived,” Khullar says. He recommends shifting your bedtime 15 minutes earlier. “Just an extra 15 minutes is often all you need to feel more rested.” Then, when the sound of that alarm app kicks in the next morning, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready.
Hack your nap
A recent NASA study proves that cats had it right all along: Scientists found a 26-minute nap improved pilots’ performance by 34 percent and upped alertness by 54 percent. Here’s how to reap the benefits of your power nap.
Timing is everything: Aim to nap for 10 to 30 minutes, so you stay within the first two stages of light sleep. If you’re on a regular sleep schedule, the prime time for a snooze is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Add espresso: It sounds counterintuitive, but a quick hit of caffeine before you nap will take effect toward the end of your siesta, so you won’t wake up feeling groggy.
Make plans: Create a to-do list before you rest so you wake with purpose. Include natural light, or a daylight lamp, and outdoor activity in your plans to help reduce sleep inertia.
Originally published August 2017; Updated December 2018.