Fitness + Well-being

Learn how to sleep better with this simple hourly guide

mens-health

When it comes to scoring a good night’s sleep, you know the obvious rules: no bright screens in your face before bed. No coffee with dinner. (Here’s what happens when you drink it for dessert.)

But it’s not just what you’re doing during the evening hours that could help you nod off promptly into dreamland — or keep you tossing and turning. Every hour — from the minute you wake up to the time your head hits the pillow — can impact how well you sleep.

The good news is, there are things you can do in that long stretch of time from getting up to turning in that can seriously help your sleep. Snooze better tonight by implementing these sleep-friendly, hour-by-hour daytime habits into your schedule.

YOUR 7:00 A.M. SLEEP TIP
Your first move once your alarm sounds should be to drink 16 ounces of water, said Michael J. Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert.

During the night, you can lose about one liter of water just by breathing, he says. As a result, you can wake up less than optimally hydrated, making you feel tired, easily irritable, and even headache-y.

Pounding a 16-ounce water bottle will rehydrate you keep you from feeling groggy, which can help you kick-start your morning.

Related: Here’s how much water you should drink before, during, and after a workout

Then? “Seek light,” suggested Men’s Health sleep advisor W. Christopher Winter, MD, author of “The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It.” This provides a strong signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up.

Simply pull open your shades to let the sunlight in. If your home is more the cavernous type — or your wakeup call is well before the sun peeks out — you can use a product like Philips Wake-Up Light to illuminate your room.

For a double whammy, combine exercise and sunlight, Winter said. If you don’t have time to get your full workout out, as little as 15 minutes should be enough to rev your body up for the day.

“Exercise provides a rush of [energizing] serotonin, suppressing [the sleep hormone] melatonin — a circadian marker that this is where your day begins,” he said.

YOUR 8:30 A.M. SLEEP TIP
A donut might look good in the moment, but refined carbs that offer quick energy boosts lead to crashes later in the day.

For breakfast, aim for something high in fiber with protein and healthy fats, said Dana Hunnes, PhD, RD, a senior dietitian at Ronald Regan-UCLA Medical Center. Think a high-fiber cereal or oats with flaxseeds, chia seeds or walnuts with a little fresh fruit and some Greek yogurt.

Related: Top nutritionist reveals the ultimate breakfast—and you’ll be shocked at what he says

Protein in the morning promotes wakefulness, says Winter said. That’s because it keeps you fuller longer, providing even, long-lasting energy.

Healthy fats help keep inflammation — which can hinder sleep — at bay, Hunnes noted.

As for fiber? It keeps your GI system running smoothly, so you don’t wind up with uncomfortable gas later in the evening.

“It’s usually best to eat higher-fiber foods during the first half of the day, so that your digestive tract does not have to deal with digesting too much fiber while sleeping,” she said.

YOUR 10:00 A.M. SLEEP TIP
Consider holding off your coffee until mid-morning,  Breus said.

When we wake up, our levels of the stress hormone cortisol are very high, he says. So if you drink your coffee before they even out — which generally happens a couple hours after waking—you might not be feeling the most energizing effects of it as you can be. But waiting to caffeinate until your cortisol levels fall provides more of a jolt. (If you must start your morning with coffee, go ahead and have a cup when you wake up. Just make it decaf, Breus said. That will give you the coffee taste you crave, with a tiny bit of caffeine. Then save your caffeinated cup until mid-morning.)

Related: Why coffee makes you poop

At the office, stay as close to natural light as possible, Winter said.

One small 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people who had windows in their offices slept, on average, 46 more minutes than those who worked in windowless offices. Those without windows also suffered more sleep disturbances.

“If you don’t have a window, periodically walk around to areas that do, or sit outside for a few minutes so you’re maintaining that nice light that reminds your body it’s day time,” Winter said.

Indoor light boxes you can set up in your office can also mimic sunlight if you’re confined to the great indoors.

YOUR 12:00 P.M. SLEEP TIP
Come lunchtime, fuel yourself with protein, vegetables and complex carbs to avoid an afternoon slump, Breus suggested. This will keep you body full of the nutrients you need to maintain energy without allowing blood sugar levels to spike and drop.

Related: 5 healthy and quick lunches you can make for $5

Your lunch hour is also a good time to cut off caffeine consumption, Hunnes said.

Research suggests drinking caffeine within six hours of bedtime can screw with sleep hormones like melatonin. Cutting yourself off before then gives your body time to process the stimulant before it can mess with you more, she said.

YOUR 1:00 P.M. SLEEP TIP
If you have the opportunity to nap, post-lunch is a good time to squeeze in some shuteye, Winter said.

Here’s why: For every hour you’re awake, more and more adenosine —a chemical that makes us sleepy — accumulates in your body, he explained.

“If that was the only process involved in sleep, we would all be incapacitated by lunchtime,” Winter said.

Fortunately, it’s not. Around midday, the circadian process — the chemical system that properly times our body functions, including sleep —kicks in, keeping us alert until around 10 p.m., when we give in to the buildup of adenosine and fall asleep.

But by around 1:00 p.m. or so, that second process hasn’t kicked in yet, and you’ve already accumulated enough adenosine to feel tired, Winter said.

A well-timed 20- to 30-minute nap can be restorative, clearing your brain of that adenosine without negatively impacting your next night’s snooze, he noted.

You don’t necessarily need to sleep to reap the rejuvenating benefits either. A middle-of-the-day meditative session using a device like Muse, a brain-sensing headband that offers guided meditations, can help, too, he noted.

YOUR 2:00 P.M. SLEEP TIP
Post-lunch, step outside. This will help you bypass the “biological siesta,” which is when your core body temperature drops between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., Breus said. That drop in temperature is a cue for your body to release melatonin, but going outside into the sunlight can help turn off or delay that signal.

Some slight exercise — even two laps around your office building — will also rejuvenate you to get you through the rest of the afternoon, Winter said.

A study published n The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that people who took a 30-minute afternoon walk felt more enthusiastic and relaxed than those who didn’t.

YOUR 6:00 P.M. SLEEP TIP
Crashing on the couch after getting home from work is a big no-no, Winter said. That’s because sleeping too close to bedtime can screw with your nighttime sleep — and confuse your body as to when bedtime actually is.

Evenings should instead be focused on diminishing light. You want an environment that mirrors the sunset outside.

Match that by investing in dimmer switches, lightbulbs that mimic the time of day — like SORAA’s helia bulbs, which remove harmful blue light at night — or simply turning off harsh overhead lights, Winter suggested.

YOUR 7:30 P.M. SLEEP TIP
Dinner should be light, Hunnes said. “Nothing heavy, nothing fatty, nothing spicy, and nothing with too much garlic, like broccoli, or other gas-inducing food, which can disrupt sleep.”

She explained these foods can lead to acid reflux, which is when stomach acid flows back up your esophagus, causing heartburn, pain and discomfort — waking you up if you’re asleep and making it harder to fall asleep in the first place.

Go for something like whole-grain pasta with a red sauce, a salad with a light-vinaigrette, and some lean protein or plant-based proteins, she said.

This will get the tryptophan — an amino acid often associated with turkey — pumping and may help put you to sleep, Hunnes said.

Put your last piece of food in your mouth no later than two hours before bed, she added, noting that this timing reduces the risk of acid reflux. Plus, the physical act of digesting a meal closer to bed can also keep you up.

YOUR 9:00 P.M. SLEEP TIP
Give yourself an electronics curfew of one hour before bed, Breus suggested. That means your phone, your tablet, and your TV. Not only can the blue light emitted from your devices halt the production of sleep-inducing melatonin, but screens also can be too engaging for a brain that’s trying to relax.

An hour or so before bed is also a good time for a hot shower or bath, Winter noted. And make it a warm one.

Temperature is a key aspect of the circadian rhythm. As the night goes on, our body temperature drops, prepping for sleep. But some studies find that 20 minutes of boosting your body temp — say, by a shower or bath — an hour or so before sleep can actually help you snooze better.

A shower or bath will heat you up temporarily, leading to more of a contrast in body temp when you cool down. So you’d notice the sleep-promoting drop more.

And remember: No nightcaps. “Alcohol is disruptive for restorative sleep,” Hunnes said.

If you’re going to drink, cap yourself at one drink a few hours before bed so that your body has time to metabolize the booze.

YOUR 10:00 P.M. SLEEP TIP
Sip a glass of water.

A study done on mice published in the journal Nature found that animals who hydrated before bed were able to prevent the natural dehydration that sleep brings about. That can help you feel more energized when you wake up.

A glass of water is the human equivalent to the amount of the mice drank in the study — that shouldn’t trigger you to wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Go overboard on the liquids before you sleep, though, and you could be messing up your sleep for pee breaks. (Plus, eating less of this can stop you from waking up to pee.)

First published on MensHealth.com