Here in the US, we are now back to standard time. How do you feel about this time shift? Are you now rising with the roosters and trying to adjust to the early sunset?

How do you typically handle that yearly Saturday night when we fall back? Are you the type who likes to stay up late? Perhaps you justify it since you “get an extra hour” and thus squeeze in a little more partying, another Netflix show, or one more load of laundry.

Perhaps you mark the end of Daylight Savings Time on the calendar with glee in anticipation of grabbing that extra hour that you desperately need. Maybe this will be the ticket to feeling refreshed now that you got a solid seven instead of the typical six?

No matter how you handle the transition back to standard time, we all likely can benefit from a few hacks to improve our sleep efficiency. After all, the quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity and there is quite a lot we can do to impact the former on the other 364 days when we don’t gain an hour.

Restorative Sleep vs. Non-Restorative Sleep

Each sleep cycle consists of four stages of sleep. Each cycle is typically about 90-minutes and consists of REM (dreaming) and three stages of Non-REM sleep. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and deep sleep are considered the restorative phases. Early in the night, those 90 minutes cycles consist of more deep sleep, and closer to morning consist of longer periods of light and REM sleep.

Which is more important for our brain health-REM or deep? The answer is both. Both are critical.

In general, deep sleep is the time for growth (muscle and bone), repair of old cells, and a time to strengthen the immune system. This is also the time when the brain shrinks slightly, space opens up, and the brain cleans itself. This glymphatic system facilitates the fluid to move through like a street sweeper to remove soluble proteins and metabolites (the same ones connected to Alzheimer’s).

REM sleep is essential for learning, cognition, and consolidating memories. REM deprivation can lead to poor coping skills, migraines, weight gain, and impaired learning and memory.

Restorative sleep is connected to more than just the time spent in bed. If we wake to feel refreshed and ready for the next day, we likely had adequate and efficient sleep with a good balance of deep sleep and REM. If we don’t feel refreshed when we wake up, then we likely have non-restorative sleep. It may be time to dust off the cape and work on those sleep superpowers!

There is a longer list of suggestions to help with sleep than the one below but to keep it manageable this list is kept to a lucky thirteen! These are sleep-muscle-building tricks that you can implement today, tomorrow, or any day of the year. Your brain, in particular, and your overall health, in general, will be grateful beneficiaries.

Sleep-Muscle-Building Tricks

  1. Keep a schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at approximately the same time daily can help you establish a routine that supports optimal brain health. Yes, even on weekends and holidays.
  2. Get 7-9 hours. Both more or less are connected to shorter life expectancy.
  3. Go to sleep early. The hours before midnight are more productive sleep hours than the hours after midnight. Early in the night, you have longer stages of deep sleep also called delta or slow-wave sleep. Remember we need deep sleep to keep our brain clean!
  4. Wake naturally. If your sleep is cut short by an alarm, you are missing out on essential REM sleep. During the REM stage we are consolidating memories and it is essential for mental health and new learning.
  5. Keep your bedroom cool. Between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit is best for most people.
  6. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. These common drugs affect sleep quality. Caffeine and nicotine may also affect the ability to fall asleep. Each can also elevate the heart rate negatively impacting deep sleep and alcohol additionally reduces REM sleep.
  7. Dark and quiet. Even the slightest light can impact melatonin production. Naturally produced melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that impacts our sleep cycle and helps us heal while we sleep. While sleeping, use blackout curtains and an eye mask. Consider an air filter in the bedroom–it can serve two purposes–cleaner air and ambient white noise.
  8. Stop eating/drinking 2-3 hours before bed. If you are digesting food in the stomach, deep and thus restorative sleep are negatively impacted. While it is important to drink plenty of water to keep the brain hydrated, it is recommended to get it in early in the day and stop 2-3 hours before bed so you are less likely to interrupt sleep by using the bathroom at night.
  9. Dim the lights 2 hours before bed. Melatonin production is impacted by light. If we reduce evening light, simulating the sunset, our body knows to increase melatonin. Wearing blue-light blocking glasses, dimming lights or using red lights in the evening, and avoiding screens (phone, tablets, computer, tv) can make powerful impacts. Try using red lights as a nightlight so you don’t fully wake up if you have to go the bathroom at night.
  10. Check your sleeping position. It seems that we can facilitate the waste removal process of the glymphatic system by the position in which we sleep. Side sleeping and/or elevating the head of the bed may be helpful. Check out Inclined Bed Therapy to learn more as the elevation may reduce the symptoms of GERD and sleep apnea that impact sleep efficiency as well.
  11. Get early morning light and exercise. The morning light sets the circadian rhythm and signals the body to start preparing for sleep 12-14 hours later. Exercise needs to be “Just-Right” for you. Exercise that is too vigorous or too late in the evening can impair sleep.
  12. Create a peaceful space and routine. Try creating a space that you love–clean, clutter-free, and without electronic distractions. Use the time before bed to take a hot bath (followed by a cold rinse), rub your feet with essential oils or write in your gratitude journal.
  13. Check your nighttime oxygen saturation-If you snore or have chronic sinus issues, you may not be getting adequate oxygen while you sleep. If this is the case, you are likely not getting restorative sleep either. You can check this at home or ask your doctor about a sleep study.

If you have a restorative sleep hack that has helped you, please share it below. Taking action one step at a time can be helpful when seeking long-term change and benefits. Seek professional help if sleep is still not restorative after addressing the sleep hygiene and hacks above.