The number 1 sleep improvement habit

What’s the single most impactful thing you can do to improve your sleep?

This is THE question I get asked in every TV interview, podcast, and company webinar I’m invited to.

You’re probably thinking:

  • Not looking at screens after 7 pm
  • No caffeine after 2 pm
  • A meditation or wind-down routine an hour before bedtime
  • Breathing exercises in bed
  • Listening to sleep stories

Well… it’s none of the above!

Most people are getting it wrong

We always focus on bedtime activities… but the best time to improve your sleep is actually first thing in the morning!

The chain of events that makes you sleepy, helps you fall asleep, and keeps you asleep through the night is driven by your circadian rhythm.

Targeting your circadian rhythm is the best way to impact your night. It’s how we manipulate people’s sleep-wake cycles. In fact, it was central to the work I did for NASA when we were adapting astronauts to Mars’ 25-hour day (will tell you more about this another day).

So what is the one thing I recommend?

Wake up at the same time every morning… (If you don’t work shifts, in which case things are a bit different). Aim to get up as soon as possible after your alarm rings.

Repetition is key

This single action will help your brain’s sleep patterns and adjust your circadian rhythm, which will improve your evenings and nights.

A word of caution…

Don’t expect deep changes after just a couple of days!

Just like you wouldn’t expect to become muscular after a couple of gym sessions, you need to wake up at the same time every morning for at least a couple of weeks to see benefits.

I know it’s not easy. Often, you’ll want to lie in after a terrible night or to recover. But each time you do, you’re dysregulating your sleep-wake cycle. In reality, that extra snooze isn’t very beneficial.

Stay consistent, be committed, and be regular, and you’ll see your nights gradually improve.

Will this single-handedly fix your sleep problems and turn you into a good sleeper?

Probably not… but it will improve the quality of your sleep and reduce the time you spend awake.

8 Responses

  1. Hi I very often wake a 4 or 5 am. I I get up at these times I can’t function during the day as I’m so tired. This is not a time I would like to start my day. How can change to to wake and get up at 7am?
    Many thanks. Liza

    1. Hi Liza, you would need to teach yourself a new sleep program, which is what we do at re:sleep. Whilst this article explains what the biggest influence on our sleep is, it is not saying that it can fix an entire broken sleep pattern all by itself. However, a good place to start is still ‘starting your day’ at the same time each day. If you want to start your day at 7, do so. Its unhelpful to start your day at sporadic times based on when you ‘wake’. Rather, a sleep opportunity should always be the same, even if you are only using it for resting. It also doesn’t mean you have to lie in bed worrying, but there is a huge difference between partaking in restful activities in a darkened room such as reading, and starting your day with coffee/light/movement. These different activities send powerful signals to the brain. Our behaviour does not need to change just because our sleep does, and you will feel better for it, even on a bad night’s sleep.

  2. Does taking melatonin tablets help with this/ If so when is the best time to take and what dosage/

    1. Hi Jane, thanks for your question. Melatonin is not an evidence based tool to fix insomnia. It is used to help with those who have genetic issues with the timing of sleep in very specific individuals and not for use of broken sleep in the general population (it is rare to see these conditions unlike what we are describing which is very common). I understand, because its a lot easier to take a pill then to make some changes to your habits over time, but no pill (as we know of yet) can correct chronic insomnia. You may find some medications give you some respite or improvement int he short term, but this is short lived, often accompanied by side effects and not tackling the cause of the problem.

  3. Ok so for months now, I go up at 10.30, sleep by 11, wake up at 4.30-5.30. I need more sleep but this is all I get. I’m waking ip like semi fresh but overall I feel the loss. It’s a bad habit I’ve got now.

    1. I’m sorry this has been happening to you Bianca. This is really common and a type of insomnia. Thats exactly what we help you correct on our program. Its not going to be just 1 thing to fix a whole broken sleep program, and we can teach you how and help keep you going.

  4. Hi I’m 72 years old although the lack of sleep ages me feel like 102!!!
    I go off to sleep OK but wake any time between 3 am and 5am .I toss and turn sometimes going back to sleep but not consistent. I’m going to bed at 10.30pm /11pm and aiming to wake up for 7amIf I wake at 5am ido I get up a d go downstairs or can I read in bed or just practice deep yoga breathing . Any help I’m feel very tired during the day and hardly get anything done Thankyou so much for your help
    God Bless

    1. Hi Alison, This is a very common insomnia you describe. It does require sleep re training if the pattern is not working for you and affecting your daytimes. Whilst as we get older, it is harder to control the second half of the night, its also true that with sleep re training you can reduce sensitivity to outside triggers of wakefulness and just increase your sleep drive so you feel more awake during the day, and sleepy during the night instead of the other way round. This is what we do on the program with an adaptive model so we can make sure its tailored for you. Hope this helps.

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