It’s finally 2021, and if you want to get better, more restful sleep this year, there are tons of easy things you can do to catch as many zzz’s as possible. Things like work, stress and other daily habits impact your quality of sleep, so we talked to experts to find helpful tips and tricks so you can take on the new year fully rested.
Adults not only need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but they also need to get quality sleep by staying asleep long enough to transition through full sleep cycles, including deep sleep, says clinical psychologist and author Whitney Roban, who sits on the advisory board of the American Sleep Association.
“It is during this stage of deep sleep that our brain consolidates and processes information from the day, which is very important during stressful times such as the coronavirus crisis,” she says. “The biggest cause of impairment to our quantity and quality of sleep is stress and anxiety. Our brain and our bodies need to be relaxed in order to fall asleep and stay asleep. Our bodies release cortisol in times of stress, which leads to lower melatonin levels and trouble falling asleep as well as interrupted sleep.”
And, Roban adds, as so many of us are living in close quarters, trying to figure out teleworking and home-based learning for our kids amid feelings of worry, it’s more important than ever to remain sound in mind and body. “Healthy sleep is a critical factor in doing so,” she says.
We asked experts for advice on getting a good night’s sleep, which not only repairs and recharges but helps benefit our physical and mental wellness, according to Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and host of the “SuperCharged Life” podcast.
“Sleep is crucial for us to be able to make good decisions, regulate emotions well, be in a better mood, boost immunity, improve attention and memory, lower blood pressure, maintain healthy weight, reduce diabetes and keep our heart healthy,” she says. “We need all of the above to be able to withstand the uncertainty that comes with this pandemic.”
Here are tips from sleep experts that may help you rest easier tonight.
Put the phone away
“With all the stress and unknowns regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of people are understandably glued to their phones right now, constantly checking news outlets and talking to family members,” says certified sleep science coach Matthew Ross, co-founder and COO of The Slumber Yard. “However, constant contact with your phone can hinder both productivity during the day and your sleep quality at night.”
Beyond the negative aspects related to blue light, having your phone next to you can make you feel anxious, he adds. “When your phone is within arm’s reach, you’ll be tempted to check news outlets and think about the current crisis, which will obviously cause stress.” He suggests charging your phone in a different room at night. Another way to ensure you won’t be reaching for your phone when you should be sleeping: a phone safe.
Personal Combination Lock Box ($28.28, originally $29.99; amazon.com)
This clear personal storage box allows you to store the family’s devices away, making them only accessible by using a three-digit combination lock. Having to undo the lock will make you think twice before accessing your device.
Custom Engraved Unplug Box (starting at $54.95; etsy.com)
This wooden box will keep your phone out of sight while you get ready for bed. Plus, you can get it engraved with your name or initials.
Cell Phone Box ($30; etsy.com)
This small box will keep your phone safe and secure while you sleep, and it comes in white, gray and rustic barnwood.
Stretch before bed
Ross recommends doing some light stretching exercises about 15 to 30 minutes before lying down. “It’s often difficult to fall asleep when your muscles are tense and tight, which can happen during times of extreme stress,” he says. “If you go to bed tight, you’ll likely end up tossing and turning frequently in order to find a comfortable position. Stretching will help loosen up your muscles and get your body in a relaxed state for sleep.”
Premium 6-Millimeter Print Reversible Extra-Thick Yoga Mat ($34.98; amazon.com)
Roll out a new yoga mat, like this highly rated one from Gaiam, in your bedroom to get in a few stretches before bed.
AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller ($15.49; amazon.com)
Or use a foam roller — like this one, which is easy to stash in a corner when not in use — to get some of the kinks out by lying on it or rolling it over sore spots.
Cork Yoga Wheel ($65; uncommongoods.com)
If you’re looking for something new to ease that laptop-induced neck and lower back tension, you might give this cork yoga wheel a whirl. It comes with suggestions for six poses, but there are tons of tutorials available online as well.
Ho agrees that exercise is very important for getting good sleep. “Be creative around the house,” she says. “Dance, exercise to a YouTube video, clean the house at a fast pace to music… Do this earlier in the day — before early afternoon — if you want to improve sleep rather than disrupt it.”
Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands ($9.95, originally $12.95; amazon.com)
These exercise bands from Fit Simplify are an easy and compact way to stretch out after a long day. This pack comes with five different resistance levels so you can tailor your stretch to your needs.
Theragun Mini ($199; theragun.com)
After a stressful day, there’s nothing like a good massage. With a Theragun, you can get all the benefits of a massage from the comfort of your home.
Wear an eye mask or earplugs
Certified sleep science coach Jason Piper, founder of Build Better Sleep, agrees that while sleep is important all the time, getting proper high-quality sleep during a pandemic will help you to keep your immune system in tip-top shape, handle stress better, improve your mood and be more resilient.
“There are a lot of unknowns right now, and being able to flex and bend instead of break will allow you to come out of this better,” he says. Sleeping in a completely dark room helps lead to maximum melatonin production, according to Piper.
Manta Sleep Mask ($29.99; amazon.com)
Piper’s favorite mask is made by Manta Sleep. This mask touts 100% blackout capability, and fans swear by how well it stays on throughout the night.
Mack’s Ultra-Soft Foam Earplugs ($9.89, originally $10.79; amazon.com)
“I also use earplugs to block out any stray noises,” Piper says. “By blocking out light and sound, you control two environmental factors that interrupt sleep.” This tub of Mack’s earplugs is a bestseller, and we love them for how comfortable they are to wear.
Asutra Silk Eye Pillow for Sleep ($19.99; amazon.com)
This mask is not only silky soft, but it also contains flax for a soothing weighted experience, and lavender, which has been found to be calming and soothing.
Therapedic Weighted Eye Mask ($14.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)
The highly rated Therapedic Weighted Eye Mask is said to block light, soothe headaches and even ease sinus pressure.
HoMedics Sound Spa ($20.07, originally $24.99; amazon.com)
Roban also recommends using a sound machine to “drown out loud sounds such as snoring bedmates, noisy neighbors and any other distracting external noises that may interfere with sleep.”
Soothing Bath Salts Blend (starting at $11.69; etsy.com)
Soothing aromatherapy products, such as these bestselling lavender, eucalyptus and rosemary bath salts or a chamomile-scented candle ($19; etsy.com), “are calming to the mind and body before drifting off to sleep,” says Roban.
Write in a gratitude journal
Certified sleep expert Martha Lewis, founder and CEO of the Complete Sleep Solution, says taking a few minutes to reflect on your day and think about what you’re grateful for can improve sleep. She cites an English study of 400 adults that found gratitude increased the quality of sleep, decreased the time it took to fall asleep and lengthened how long people slept.
“Since gratitude activates our hypothalamus and our hypothalamus controls our sleep, when we are thankful it makes it easier for us to fall asleep,” she says. She recommends using gratitude journals to write down three things you’re grateful for every day.
‘Good Days Start With Gratitude’ Journal ($6.99; amazon.com)
This highly rated journal is a 52-week guide for writing down what you’re thankful for.
‘A Life of Gratitude’ ($13.36; amazon.com)
Or, if you need a little help getting started, reach for this journal filled with prompts and projects to remind you of moments of joy, both big and small.
‘The Three-Minute Gratitude Journal for Kids’ ($6.99; amazon.com)
Get the kiddos involved with a gratitude journal made just for them, with fun things to fill out and prompts to brighten their perspective.
Try blue-light-blocking glasses
Lewis says the blue light from screens and lightbulbs suppresses melatonin, your sleepy hormone. “Wearing glasses that block that blue light can encourage melatonin production in the evening before bed so you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep all night,” she says. “Since they’re available on Amazon for $10 a pair [or $16.13 for two pairs], it can’t hurt to give them a try if you have a hard time falling asleep at night.”
Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses, 2-Pack (starting at $16.13; amazon.com)
This bargain option has loads of positive reviews and comes in a handful of color options.
Swanwick Night Swannies ($69; amazon.com)
Another brand that’s highly rated is Swanwick, known for blocking blue-light exposure. These glasses can be worn when the sun is up as well as after the sun goes down.
Quay Australia I See You 51-Millimeter Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses ($55; quayaustralia.com)
These glasses from Quay Australia — with a cool vintage tortoise pattern vibe — are made to block harmful light from screens and devices.
Follow a routine
“Try to follow a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up approximately the same time each day,” Roban advises. “Our bodies thrive on consistency, and a consistent sleep schedule promotes healthy sleep.”
She recommends following a brief and consistent bedtime routine every night. “Do something that relaxes you — yoga stretches, deep breathing, journaling, reading a nondigital book, listening to relaxing music — every night before bed. A consistent bedtime routine will signal to the brain and body that it is time for sleep.”
Be sure to take part in both productive hours and relaxation hours, Ho adds — but try to keep them separate.
“It’s very easy right now to just mix work and pleasure in all areas of the house,” she says. “Make sure you have hours for work — and locations within the home associated with work — and mimic the idea of leaving work where you stop working by early evening or late afternoon and go to the other areas of your house associated with relaxation.”
LBell Wake-Up Light ($39.99; amazon.com)
With your phone locked up (see above), you may need a new alarm clock to help keep that regular schedule. The bestselling LBell Wake-Up Light simulates sunrise.
Flip + Alarm Clock ($39.90; amazon.com)
Lexon’s minimalist Flip + Alarm Clock literally tells when it’s off or on and comes in a bunch of vibrant and muted colors to coordinate with almost any bedroom.
Capello Round Time Table Clock ($13; target.com)
This popular — and pretty cool-looking, if we do say so ourselves — alarm clock comes with three adjustable brightness settings.
Once you’re awake, Ho says to make time for sunlight. “Depending on your skin type, aim for 10 to 20 minutes of sunlight in the morning, even if it is indirect, such as via a windowsill,” she says. “This helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, which is important for sleep.”
Upgrade your sleeping arrangements