A truly energized, productive day is possible only after a relaxed, restorative night. “Your alertness during the day is dependent on the quality of your sleep and on getting undisturbed sleep,” says Thomas Roth, Ph.D., a psychologist and the director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit. Research has shown that seven to eight hours really is the ideal. Start preparing yourself about an hour before bed, advises Michael Perlis, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “You need to allow yourself to decompress and unwind,” he says. Physically and psychologically, you’ll be better prepared for quality sleep.
Read something calming. Look for the literary equivalent of comfort food: pleasant narratives. Maureen Corrigan, a book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and the author of Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading ($15, amazon.com), recommends the anecdote-filled cookbooks of both M.F.K. Fisher and Laurie Colwin. “My idea of perfect bedtime reading is Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle, a comic novel about two sisters in an English village in the 1930s,” says Corrigan. “For the ideal Pym experience, you should be wearing flannel pj’s and have a cup of tea.”
Use an evening alarm. “Set the alarm on your watch or phone to remind you when it’s time to get ready for bed,” says Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, in Tucson, and the author of The Yoga of Sleep ($20, amazon.com). When the alarm sounds, start turning lights off around the house to let your body know it’s almost time to call it a night.
Create the best sleeping conditions. Experts say the ideal sleep environment is:
- Cool (About 65 to 70 degrees.)
- Dark (Throw a towel over the lights on your LED clock if necessary.)
- Quiet (Try a white-noise machine or ear plugs—helpful for those who sleep with a snorer.)
Learn your rhythms. We tend to assume that “early to bed, early to rise” types are more energetic and productive. Consider Ben Franklin and Keith Richards. Whom do you think of as healthier (though maybe not wealthier) and wiser? But turning yourself into a morning person doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have more energy. The most important thing is getting enough restorative rest, period, says Michael Terman, Ph.D., a clinical professor of psychology and the director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City. (Though it is true, he says, that early birds are less likely to be affected by insomnia and depression, both of which can take the wind out of your sails.)
To find out your circadian-rhythm type—that is, whether you’re a hard-core morning person or better suited for a late bedtime—try Terman’s 19-question online quiz, the Automated Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire, at cet.org (click on Therapeutic Resources & Tools). (It’s based on a paper-and-pencil test designed 50 years ago to determine which workers would do better with morning, evening, or afternoon assignments.) You’ll get a personalized profile with a close prediction of your “natural” bedtime (the time your body tells you it’s ready to turn in). You may not be able to alter your natural circadian rhythms, but you can identify the optimal time to expose yourself to light to fight morning grogginess and make every day a little, well, brighter.