Experts recommend getting seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep per night, but difficulty falling asleep or repeated bouts of wakefulness in the night can mean that even if you get into bed at your designated bedtime, you might not be getting enough zs.
“Many people overlook the importance of the quality of their sleep,” explains Certified Sleep Science Coach and Tuck Co-Founder Bill Fish. “Tossing and turning, an overactive bladder, or even something like more serious such as snoring and gasping for air due to sleep apnea are catalysts to sub-optimal sleep.”
To improve the quality of your sleep and feel fully rested, there are a number of factors to consider, all of which will become clearer once you start keeping a sleep log.
What Is a Sleep Log?
It might sound fancy, but in reality, a sleep log is just a record of your sleep habits. You can make it as simple or as complex as you need: some doctors and sleep coaches have ready-made sleep logs you can use, and there are even apps that do the job, but at the end of the day, it's easy enough to make your own with a simple notebook and a pen. The important thing is to be diligent and consistent about recording essential information about your sleep.
What Should I Put in My Sleep Log?
Your sleep log will help you track the duration, regularity, and quality of your sleep.
Consider answering some or all of the below questions every morning upon waking:
- What time did the lights go off?
- Are you currently under a lot of stress?
- What did you eat in the three hours before bedtime?
- When did you last consume caffeine?
- What did you do in the 30 minutes before bed?
- Is your bedroom cluttered?
- Did your partner come to bed at the same time as you did?
- What time did you wake up?
- Did you wake up feeling rested?
- Did you dream? What did you dream about?
- Did you wake in the night? Did you get up? Why?
Our experts recommend keeping a log for at least two weeks before beginning to look for patterns to see what might be affecting your sleep.
Reading Your Sleep Log
Most of the time, after two weeks of keeping a sleep log, patterns will begin to emerge.
“Usually this is where you will see the bad habits,” says Amy Korn-Reavis, MBA, RRT, RPSGT, CCHS, Clinical Sleep Educator at Better Sleep Coach. “Like you change what time you go to sleep at night. You may see that you are having a harder time on days you miss going for a walk. Many times it is things people do not really think about that affects their sleep.”
While everyone is different, here are some common changes that might improve the quality of your sleep.
1. Adjust Your Eating and Exercise Habits
“Caffeine has a really long half-life, meaning it can stay in our system for roughly 5 hours,” explains Rachel Wong, Certified Sleep Coach at Reverie. “That means if you drink a grande cup of coffee (150 mg) at 4pm, by evening you still have 75 mg of caffeine running through your veins.”
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She – and many of our other experts – recommend cutting out caffeine starting at 2pm if you’re having trouble sleeping, and watch out for sneaky sources like chocolate, too. Instead of coffee, consider having a relaxing herbal tea or an herbal supplement. Check out our guide to natural sleep aids to help identify the ones that are right for you.
Exercise can also be a factor in whether you're getting enough high-quality sleep.
“Exercise can help improve your sleep as long as it happens two hours before your regular bedtime,” says Robert Soler, VP of Research at BIOS Lighting, a company producing healthier LED lights. And Erica Voss, Director of Circadian Design at BIOS Lighting, notes that doing your exercise outside will make all the difference.
"A 20-30 minute walk outside can help give your body the proper daytime signal it needs which will help to delineate day from night and can reduce the effects of light a night on your circadian system,” she says.
2. Practice a Consistent Pre-Bed Routine
Consistency is essential in maintaining good sleep hygiene: the time you go to bed should always be within a half hour of one another, even on weekends, to set yourself up for the most restful sleep.
“People tend to sleep in on the weekends, essentially giving themselves jetlag!” says Cassi Friday, ACE Certified Health Coach and Senior Fitness Specialist. “With the Monday morning wake up, it is like you have flown back across the country to an earlier time zone and you can definitely feel it.”
But bedtime is not necessarily the time you get into bed! So many of us fall asleep after staring at our phones, which most folks know is less than ideal. Our experts recommend turning off electronics an hour or more before going to bed, even if you're using a blue light filter.
No sleeping in, no phones – it might seem like this is no fun at all. But instead of thinking of things you shouldn’t do before sleeping, consider all of the fun things you can and should do.
“I think the best way to sleep better is to practice a pre-bed-time routine that relaxes your mind and body,” says Casey Gardonio-Foat, Founder and CEO of Wink and Rise. “Ideally, this consists of activities that have personal appeal, so that you begin to view going to bed as an enjoyable part of your day instead of an afterthought.”
Activities could include having a warm bath or shower, sipping some herbal tea, or reading a book.
“You might also consider incorporating products that make you feel good, such as luxurious pyjamas or sheets, white noise machines to mask disruptive sounds and help you relax, or a soothing weighted eye pillow or mask.”
Make sure your PJs are warm and cozy, too – Wong notes that the ideal room temperature for sleeping is somewhere between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. See a Doctor, if Needed
While many people can fix their own sleep hygiene woes just by changing a few bad habits, some people may find that a sleep log isn't enough. In these cases, especially if you think you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, consider seeing a doctor or specialist.
The good news? Even if this is the case, the very first thing a sleep specialist will prescribe for sleep troubles is a sleep log, so you'll already be well on your way to better sleep.