How to Hack Your Sleep Schedule and Get Your Full 8 Hours

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

You have so many responsibilities in your life, from work or school (or both!) to raising families and maintaining relationships, and on top of all that, trying to keep yourself in check and stay healthy—and part of that means getting enough sleep. If you’re one of those people who constantly finds themselves wishing there were more hours in a day, you know how much of a daily battle it is to get the recommended full—or even close to it—eight hours of sleep. But, if getting more sleep is on your list of priorities, here are some steps you can take to hack your sleep schedule and get a longer, better night of rest.

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Ease Into An Earlier Bedtime

If you normally don’t fall asleep until well after midnight, for example, switching to a 10 pm bedtime isn’t going to be easy or immediate. And if you’ve ever tried waking up extra early so you’ll get tired earlier, you know that it’s less of a sleep tactic and more of an experiment that often doesn’t work out. A better bet: slowly easing yourself into going to sleep earlier and earlier by a few minutes each night over the course of a week or so until you hit your desired bedtime.

Rethink How You Use Alarms

You use alarms to wake up, but they’re jarring and can leave you feeling even more tired and groggier than you did before you went to bed. To really make your eight hours count, try switching to an alarm that wakes you up more slowly and gently in the morning (some use lights while others vibrate your pillow or slowly increase their volume, so you have options for finding one that works best for you). But aside from that, try using alarms to help you go to sleep in the first place. Set one for shortly before your bedtime and use that to signal when you should start getting ready for bed and winding down.

Create a Sleep Routine

You set that sleep alarm, so now all you need is a nighttime routine to follow when it goes off. There’s the usual steps of brushing your teeth and washing your face, but try incorporating other productive things that can help you relax, too. For example, if showering helps you relax but you normally do it in the morning, try switching your routine up and shower at night. Whatever you do, create your bedtime routine and stick to it—eventually, you’ll get used to it and those activities will signal to your body that it’s time for bed.

Unplug and Destress Before Bed

Part of your sleep routine should definitely involve finding ways to unplug and wind down. Falling asleep with your phone in your hand (I’m definitely guilty of this too, so you’re not alone if you do) isn’t the best thing for a full night’s sleep, and generally speaking, neither is being on your computer right before bed or watching TV. Allow yourself time and space to relax in your bedroom without a bunch of technology in your face, and instead, find something else that can help you unwind. Dim the lights when your sleep alarm goes off, take some time to read a book or a magazine, try meditation—anything that works for you and helps you de-stress.

Write Out Your Thoughts

Rather than lie in bed at night contemplating all the things you have to do tomorrow or the things that stressed you out today, take some time to write down your thoughts—it’s helpful to keep a notebook on your nightstand for this—before you go to sleep. Write down anything that’s weighing on you, whether that’s your to-do list for tomorrow or something bad (or that you need to talk about with someone) that happened that day, things you’re excited about—whatever might be keeping you up at night. You’ll be able to express yourself a little bit and hopefully get some of it out so you can sleep peacefully, and your notes will be there in the morning to help you deal with things productively.

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Drinking coffee in the morning? Totally fine. But drinking caffeine later in the day (AKA too close to when you plan to go to bed) can take its toll on your ability to fall asleep and sleep well through the night. You don’t have to give up coffee, but instead, give yourself a cutoff time and make sure you don’t have caffeine after that point, and you should start sleeping better…even if your afternoons are a little groggier than usual at first. And you should also be aware that alcohol has similar effects—drinking alcohol before bed can interrupt your circadian rhythm, block REM sleep, cause snoring and aggravate sleep apnea. That’s not to say you shouldn’t drink, it’s just something to be mindful of if you think it might be disrupting your sleep.