5 Expert-Backed Ways To Sleep Deeper Tonight & Every Night
Curious to learn what a dietitian eats for dinner to get better sleep? Or how a psychologist calms down mental chatter at the end of a long day? Our sleep series The Wind Down asks wellness experts of all kinds to spill what their precious pre-bed hours actually look like.
These routines are inevitably shaped by guests' respective industries, sleep histories, and personal preferences. But they do share a few key commonalities that you can implement in your own bedroom. Here are some top takeaways from nearly a year of compiling these sleep stories:
We could all use a go-to cortisol-lowering habit
As a dermatologist and psychiatrist Amy Wechsler, M.D., writes in her routine, "I know that we heal in our sleep when our cortisol is at its lowest." If her heart is racing and her mind is restless at the end of a long day, she'll take it as a sign of elevated cortisol levels. To come back to balance, she'll call on a cortisol-lowering routine and do the abdominal breathing exercise demonstrated in the clip below.
Wechsler isn't the only one who keeps a quick cortisol comedown in her back pocket to use as needed. Other popular relaxation techniques among Wind Down experts include foam rolling, journaling to offload negative thoughts, doing the the 4-7-8 breath by Andrew Weil, or meditating using binaural beats.
Tracking your sleep is super insightful
They can also help you identify the amount of time you need in each sleep stage in order to feel your best and plan your evenings accordingly. "My goal is to fall asleep in less than five to 10 minutes and spend 25 to 40% of the night in deep sleep and 15 to 25% in REM sleep. Since I wear a sleep tracker, I know I usually get my best deep sleep prior to 1 a.m. and the best REM sleep from 3 to 6 a.m.... so if I go to bed too late, it will cut into my deep sleep, and if I get up too early, I lose REM sleep," writes functional medicine doctor Jill Carnahan, M.D.
Of course, not everyone is going to enjoy tracking their sleep down to the minute. For some people, these readings can be more anxiety-inducing than helpful. In that case, experts note that it's still worthwhile to track your sleep the old-fashioned way: by writing about how you feel when you wake up in the morning.
Even the best sleepers benefit from supplementation
A handful of experts note that they take supplemental magnesium (an essential mineral) before bed to further support relaxation and help them fall asleep faster. Other sleep supplement callouts include GABA, a neurotransmitter responsible for relaxation and rest, and triphala, an antioxidant-rich Ayurvedic herbal formula.
One thing most of them don't reach for nightly? Melatonin. "Melatonin may be helpful for others, but for me, it just adds to grogginess, so I only take it if traveling internationally to hack jet lag," writes Carnahan.
Want to set boundaries on nighttime work? Set an alarm
From researchers juggling multiple studies to doctors with a full patient list, the experts featured in this series are busy and don't work the typical 9 to 5. While it's best to avoid computer time at night for the sake of sleep, this just isn't realistic for them.
For the nights they do have to work, many Wind Down guests have a smart hack to keep it from disrupting sleep: They set an alarm and once it goes off, they have to log off for the evening. Not only does this boundary help them limit blue light exposure, it helps ensure their nervous systems get at least some time to recover before sleep, notes clinical psychologist Kaitlin Harkess, Ph.D., who is a fan of the practice.
Stay open to the latest tech—but don't forget the basics
Unsurprisingly, some Wind Down routines are packed with the latest and greatest sleep gadgets (case in point: Molly Malloof, M.D.'s "biohacker tool room"). Some recent favorites among featured guests include the ChiliPad smart mattress topper, Apollo sleep wearable, ShiftWave zero-gravity recliner chair, and HigherDose PEMF mat.
But no matter how high-tech these routines get, they always come back to the basics, too: The experts featured note that the best way to improve sleep is simply to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. With sleep, like with so much else, consistency is key.
Here are the stats on the average bedtime and wake-up time from the last 10 routines, in case you're curious:
- Average hours they sleep a night: 6 hours 57 minutes
- Average ideal wake-up time: 5:57 a.m.
- Average ideal bedtime: 10:18 p.m.
Acupuncturist Snow Xia, L.Ac., has an interesting explanation as to why hitting the hay before 11 p.m. can be so beneficial—even for night owls. "According to the TCM organ clock, some of the most important organ systems go through their routine detox and replenishment during the hours of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. So it's best to not eat after 9 p.m. and sleep by 11 p.m.," she writes in her routine.
Sleep is deeply personal, and no two people will have the exact same pre-bed routine. That's what makes it so fun to experiment with new sleep strategies and find ones to make your own. Implement some of these expert-backed ideas tonight to see if they help you at all, and stay tuned for more Wind Down routines on mindbodygreen each Wednesday.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.