By now, you’re likely well aware that late-afternoon cups of coffee, pre-bedtime Netflix binges, and late-night email refreshes don’t do you any favors when it’s finally time to shut your eyes. The trouble is, when you’ve grown so accustomed to marathoning Bridgerton or poring over the news while you’re snuggled up in bed, breaking these habits can be tough. Tough doesn’t mean impossible, though, and sleep aficionado Arianna Huffington contends that conducting a sleep audit on yourself can help you make better choices and ultimately snag more restful sleep.
“Spend time identifying where on the spectrum your sleep quality and quantity might fall, and what beliefs, behaviors, and mindsets might be driving your sleep habits,” Huffington recently wrote for Well+Good. “Taking the time to list them out might create new awareness and ideas so that you can implement the microsteps you need to get better sleep.”
Basically, conducting a sleep audit requires you to give your sleep schedule a once-over so you can improve it. Below, cognitive neuroscientist Kimberly Fenn, PhD, director of the Sleep and Learning Lab at Michigan State University, offers step-by-step instructions on how to do just that.
How to conduct a sleep audit on yourself in 3 easy steps
Step 1: Diagnose your sleep quality and quantity.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night—but that really just answers the question of quantity. To determine the quality of rest you’re reaping, it’s important to take note of when you wake up feeling fully recharged… and when you feel like rolling over and hitting the snooze button.
One way to cross-reference what habits and sleep durations optimize your mental health is by keeping a sleep journal where you write down how you feel, how much sleep you got, and what you did before bed. For example, maybe you identify that you feel the perkiest when you read before bed and sleep for eight hours.
Step 2: List out the beliefs, behaviors, and mindsets that drive your current sleep habits.
“From a psychological perspective, it is important that your bedroom is associated with only two activities: sleep and sex,” says Dr. Fenn. “In a sense, your bedroom should cue your body to sleep. There are many behaviors that may negatively affect your sleep if performed before bed, in general, but performing these activities in your bedroom compounds the negative impact.” You may identify a host of you-specific things that bar you from drifting off, but here are a few of the most common no-nos to scratch from your pre-snooze routine.
- Working right before bed: One of the biggest sleep interrupters that Dr. Fenn sees is working close to bedtime, which may trigger a stress response that’s basically the opposite of a sleep aid.
- Screen time before sleep: “All light can suppress melatonin production, but blue light has an exceptionally strong impact on melatonin. As such, when we use screens prior to bed, we are, in a sense, telling our bodies that it is daytime, and it is not time to sleep. This can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Dr. Fenn.
- Consuming alcohol right before you turn in: Anyone who’s felt sleepy after one glass of red wine knows that alcohol can make your eyelids droopy. The problem is, that same glass also suppresses REM sleep. Meaning, you’re less likely to reach that deep, delicious sleep cycle that makes you feel so good the next day.
- Drinking coffee right before bed: “This one is pretty obvious, but on the molecular level, the longer one is awake, there is increased production of a neurotransmitter called adenosine. One of the effects of adenosine is to increase sleepiness and to help initiate sleep. Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist, meaning that it blocks adenosine and decreases the ability to fall asleep,” says Dr. Fenn. I know, I know: The afternoon slump is a bummer—but don’t treat it with a double espresso.
- Getting amped up before bedtime: This tip’s on the broader, more personalized side, but Dr. Fenn warns against doing anything that gets you too worked up before bedtime. That could look like watching scary movies, arguing with your partner, or trying to Kondo your closet in the twilight hours (just don’t do it).
- Staying up too late: “Although seemingly innocuous, each night that we do not get sufficient sleep impacts our cognition, mood, and even underlying physiology the next day,” says Dr. Fenn. Furthermore, your body loves creating new habits—which is why closing your eyes out at the same time every single night can be an effective way of upping your sleep game.
Step 3: Create a checklist to overturn sleep-sacrificing habits in 2021.
Once you’ve jotted down everything standing between you and a solid night’s rest, the next step of your sleep audit is to write down a checklist that will keep you on track for replacing those behaviors with sleep-friendly ones. “Choose a bedtime that is eight hours before your wake time. Then, move backward from there,” says Dr. Fenn. Your checklist may look like this:
- Set your alarm for 10 minutes before your intended bedtime so you have time to wash your face and brush your teeth. (____ p.m.)
- Turn off all your screens one hour before ____ p.m.
- Stop drinking alcohol three to four hours before ____ p.m.
- Stop drinking coffee six to eight hours before ____ p.m.
- Stop working at least one hour before ____ p.m.
Once you’ve weeded out these behaviors, you can dream up the sleep routine that you want to close out your day. “Some people like to take a bath to relax before bed,” says Dr. Fenn. “Others may read a novel or practice meditation. It is important that there is a time when you allow your body to relax and prepare for sleep.” Yes, you’re striking many factors from your sleep schedule—but you’re also adding R&R. Something we all need at the start of a new year.
A Well+Good editor tried $3,400 worth of sleep gear—here’s what gear was worth its weight in golden sleep:
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