Research shows that a third of Americans get less than six hours of sleep per night. Getting a good night’s sleep has become a sort of science, with apps available to track our cycle and the idea of “sleep hygiene” storming to prominence. Yet experts believe that our obsession with getting enough rest may also be fueling anxiety and insomnia.
The idea of a sleep tracking app might seem seductive—we live in a time when it is possible to digitize and track almost every aspect of our lives, why not do the same for our shut-eye? Although being able to check up on your sleeping habits might seem like it could optimize your bedtime, there is plenty of evidence that this isn’t the case.
Setting up your sleep tracking app in and of itself can be an issue, as using electronic devices before bed delays your circadian rhythm and makes it difficult to fall asleep. Most apps have not been clinically validated, and some neurologists suggest that using a sleep tracker can cause individuals to worry about their sleep even when they feel well-rested. Researchers have even created a term for an unhealthy obsession with optimizing our sleep—they suggest that “orthosomnia” may lead to anxiety and concerns over sleep quality and duration, and could be due to usage of sleep data devices.
If you’re concerned about your sleep, then switch off your sleep tracker and try these alternative and clinically-tested tips instead:
1. Get some exercise
Exercise is one of the most effective ways of ensuring a better night’s sleep. Whether you choose to take a brisk walk, go for a swim, or do some calming yoga, exercise is one of the cheapest and most natural ways to improve your rest. Research suggests that moderate-intensity exercise is the best method, and that exercise can reduce insomnia by decreasing anxiety and depression, and by raising body temperature. As your temperature readjusts to normal levels (usually a few hours later) then you tend to start to feel sleepy, so time your workout in the late afternoon or evening for optimum effect.
2. Switch off your screens
It’s well-known that using digital devices before bed can impact your sleep. But why is this?
Blue light is a particular wavelength with more energy than most other light colors. The sun is our biggest source of blue light, and its wavelengths are beneficial during daylight hours because they benefit our mood and attention span and help regulate our circadian rhythms. However, computer screens and mobile devices also emit blue light, meaning our bodies can be thrown for a loop when they should be settling down. Research has shown that exposure to blue light before bed may result in lower sleep quality and have a negative impact on mood.
Although some phones now come equipped with night mode, which makes the light emitted from our screens warmer, it may not actually be as effective as some think. Instead, put your phone down a couple of hours before bed and try a relaxing activity such as reading a book or taking a bath instead.
3. Plug your headphones in
Although adding noise to your bedtime routine might not sound like the best way to drop off, clinical studies have shown that music may actually improve the “preconditions for sleep,” causing participants to experience better rest. Relaxing to some laid-back tunes is an affordable and easily-available way to improve your bedtime routine, with slow-tempo music (the ideal is about 60 beats per minute, as Michael Breus, PhD, told WebMD) being the best bet.
If you’re not usually a fan of slow and relaxing songs, then there are plenty of playlists available on streaming services, including some on Spotify with 60bpm tracks only. Just remember to use headphones if you share a bed with a significant other!
4. Practice mindfulness
There are multitudes of costly and complicated ways that are said to improve sleep, but multiple studies have found that one of the ways can also be one of the easiest and most affordable to fit into your daily routine: practicing mindfulness. There are plenty of guides to practicing mindfulness out there, with advice on everything from meditation to breathing techniques. Try out a few different methods and see which works for you and can be best incorporated into your daily routine.
5. Cut down on alcohol consumption
A study of different sleep hygiene practices (including cigarette smoking, caffeine use, napping, and time spent in bed) suggested that alcohol may impact the sleep quality of insomniacs. Although a nightcap has been a classic method for falling asleep more easily, researchers believe that alcohol may interrupt the brain’s ability to regulate sleep, according to Psych Central. It might cause you to fall asleep more quickly, but it also promotes a more disrupted sleeping pattern, causing people to wake up early or in the middle of the night.