If given the choice, would you rather meet a childhood friend for coffee, or get an extra hour of shut-eye? How about read a few more articles online, or go to bed a bit earlier?
It’s all too easy to prioritize personal goals over a good night’s sleep, but the fact of the matter is, sleep isn’t overrated.
Adequate sleep makes us happier, healthier, and more productive. It also recharges our brain and improves our concentration, mood, and mental performance. Many of us don’t realize what our full potential feels like, because we often don’t take the time to recharge our brains. It’s like we’re living on 50% battery.
If you Google ‘How to Get Better Sleep,’ you’ll find science-backed productivity tips far and wide. It can feel overwhelming (and tiring!), to say the least. Which of these tips are most effective? Do we really have to do all of them, all the time, to achieve a better night’s sleep?
To get to the bottom of this, we asked our Chief Behavioral Officer Dan Ariely. His answer was simple, yet actionable:
In other words, rather than stick to each and every tip sleep experts suggest, we should try them and see what works best for ourselves.
Think about it: We each have our own bodies, tendencies, and preferences, and just as a diet that works for your best friend may not work for you, your perfect sleep routine may not be the best method for your bestie. But how can you figure out your perfect routine? The trick is to test out tips from experts, and figure out which ones work best for you and which don’t.
This sounds like a lot of work, so we’ve sourced the best of the best recs from sleep experts, created a simple series of sleep A/B test, and even tried them out on our Lemonade team members.
Here’s the TL;DR of our science-backed tips:
Spoiler alert: Some tips worked and some didn’t – and that’s just the point! Even though sleep experts have figured out certain conditions that improved subjects’ sleep, these individuals are just that – individual.
So without further adieu, here’s how to A/B test your sleep (and Team Lemonade’s results!).
Test 1: Rise and shine!… at the same time
When it comes to a sleep-wake schedule, turns out it’s pretty tough to trick your brain.
Humans have a circadian rhythm, which is a 24-hour internal clock that tells our bodies when to sleep, and when to wake up (among other things). When we’re in sync with our body’s rhythm, we’re awake during the hours our body expects us to be.
To sync up with your internal clock, you have to keep a consistent sleep schedule. You’ll get better quality sleep, and feel much more energized than you would even if you slept the same number of hours at different times of the day.
Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, no matter what.
Choose a time that makes sense for you during the week and weekend (that means no more getting up at 11am, but I promise, you’ll actually feel less tired!). Set an alarm each night, and stick to it for a week.
If this sounds too tough, you can create a half-hour range for yourself (I’ll go to bed between 11-11:30pm, and wake up between 7-7:30am).
“I was dreading this, but I stuck to a 11:15pm sleep and 7:15am wake schedule each day. After quite a few tries, I felt more energized during the day, because I felt like I was waking up when my body wanted me to.” – Silvi S. (me), Content Writer
Test 2: Say no to the (traditional) snooze button
Have you ever gotten a full 8 hours of sleep, but feel tired the next day? It may be because you woke up during the wrong sleep stage.
When humans sleep, we go in and out of light, deep, and REM sleep. If you wake up during REM, you’ll usually feel groggy and disoriented, which can last throughout the morning and even into the day.
That’s is why alarms can be problematic. If they wake you during your REM stage, you’ll be exhausted.
Wake up during your light stage of sleep.
To do this, download an app with an alarm that tracks your sleep (I suggest using the ‘Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock’ app), and use it to set your alarm rather than your traditional alarm app (or clock).
This app will track your sleep cycle, and will wake you up only while you’re in a light sleep stage. It sounds within a 30 minute range you set it – so if you set it for 7:15am, it’ll ring between 6:45am and 7:15am.
“Most days, I woke up before the alarm started (more than a half hour before the deadline). I slept really well even before this study, so I think my body wanted to wake up naturally. I can’t say there was an improvement in my sleep, but it certainly didn’t downgrade my sleep quality.” – Yael O., Office Manager
Test 3: Get physical
Countless studies show that exercise improves your sleep – it helps you fall asleep faster, increases your sleep quality, and decreases daytime sleepiness.
Why? When you exercise, your body temperature goes up, and then drops afterwards. The cooler your body temperature is, the more likely you are to feel sleepy.
In fact, people who exercise frequently are more likely to report good sleep, while people who don’t exercise are the most sleepy, according to an experiment by the National Sleep Foundation.
Try exercising 4-5 times this week, and note how it affects your sleep that night and energy the next day.
For best results, try out cardio, strength training, or yoga, as these are proven to bring you a better slumber.
Btw, most experts say that exercising in the morning is best, but others say that exercising at night brings similar benefits. If nighttime works best for your schedule, try to experiment and figure out what’s best for you.
“Even though I exercised throughout the week, the sleep study didn’t work out too well for me. Having a baby at home isn’t good for controlling variables in your life, as it turns out. But I could definitely see how this would work for other people.” – Dan K., API Team
Test 4: Invest in some natural remedies
Shocking as it may be, certain scents can actually improve your sleep.
Science shows that the smell of lavender slows your heart rate, lowers anxiety, and makes you sleepy. That’s because it increases your GABA levels, which are neurotransmitters that make you feel tired.
Another sleep-inducing smell is jasmine: it’s scientifically proven to improve your quality of sleep by helping you hit more cycles of REM sleep, and stay in this stage longer. That way, you’ll wake up in the morning feeling more energized.
Grab some lavender or jasmine essential oil. Put it on your pillow, or place it in a diffuser each night. Be sure to smell it right before bed!
“I didn’t use the oil, but I grow lavender on my kitchen window (they say it keeps mosquitos away!) so I cut off a few flowers each evening, crushed them slightly, and hung them above my head in the bedroom. A few things I noticed were that I fell asleep more easily – less tossing and turning – and in the morning, I didn’t feel as groggy. Definitely going to keep this ritual going!” – Caroline, Content Strategy & SEO
Test 5: Do a cleanse
You know the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’? Turns out, the quality of your sleep is no exception. Certain foods (and drinks) can actually interfere with your sleep.
The first culprit? Coffee, or any caffeinated drink (shocker there). It blocks something called the adenosine receptor in your body, and therefore keeps you from feeling sleepy.
Since caffeine stays in your system long after its intake, sleep experts say it’s best to stop drinking caffeinated drinks by the early afternoon.
Another troublemaker is alcohol – though it might help you fall asleep faster, it prevents you from fully going into your in REM cycle, which is where restful dreaming happens.
And finally, spicy and highly acidic foods can also harm sleep – since they’re common causes of heartburn, they can interfere with your trip to dreamland.
Stop drinking caffeine (soda, coffee, caffeinated tea) after 2pm, and avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and acidic foods from 7pm on. Yes, you can do it!
That means cutting out things like tabasco, Sriracha, hot pepper for the spice, and tomatoes, ketchup, and raw onions for the acidity. This doesn’t mean you have to cut ‘em out of your diet altogether – just don’t consume these foods after the specified time.
“I tend to drink a lot of caffeine in my day-to-day life, so my challenge was cutting out the caffeine. The mental aspect of depriving myself made me a bit restless, but on a physical level, it was much easier to for me to fall asleep. I took my blood pressure at night as I regularly do, and it was a few points lower than it usually is.” – Ashley D., Customer Service
“I tried to avoid drinking coffee after 2pm and paid attention to my sleep quality, but unfortunately I didn’t notice a change.” – Gal S., Designer
Test 6: Breathe in, breathe out, repeat.
Deep breathing is more than just a modern craze – it’s an ancient and powerful way to tell your body it’s time to sleep.
Why? When you inhale deeply and hold your breath, your body’s oxygen levels increase, which creates a state of calm. You’ll gradually feel your heart rate slow and your muscles relax as your blood pressure lowers.
And as you exhale slowly, you’ll begin mimicking the pace of breathing you adopt when you’re falling asleep. That way, you’ll nudge your body and mind towards dreamland, even before shuteye.
One of the quickest, easiest, and most effective breathing exercises is called the ‘4-7-8.’ Do this breathing exercise right before bed.
First, get in a comfortable position, and close your eyes.
1. Inhale for four seconds.
2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
3. Exhale slowly, for eight seconds.
4. Repeat several times.
“Doing the breathing technique helped me relax and calm down before sleep. I felt like I was meditating.” – Eti P., Growth Specialist
Test 7: Destress before bed
8 in 10 Americans experience stress ‘sometimes’ or ‘frequently.’ It’s no coincidence we have such an issue with sleep.
Why? When you’re stressed, your body goes into a fight or flight response, and releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol creates a jolt of energy within you, leading your body to tense up and your heart to race. That makes it much harder for your body to relax.
Don’t do any stressful activities at least 1 hour before bed, such as working, exercising, organizing your budget, having difficult conversations, or engaging in over-stimulating media, games, or social media. For some, that means putting your phone away an hour before bed (eek!!).
What can you do instead? Take a bath, read a book, listen to relaxing music, or even watch a relaxing TV show. These activities will tell your body to wind down, rather than amp up.
“I felt much more relaxed, for real. I went to sleep earlier and had a better (and longer) nights sleep. Usually, I use my phone up until the moment I feel my eyes shut, so this helped with that.” – Chanan G., Product Designer
Test 8: Write down your thoughts
Have you ever laid in bed, unable to sleep because of racing thoughts? Join the club.
Turns out, this is one of the most common causes of stress before bed and the release of cortisol at night.
To get rid of these thoughts and prepare your body for a snooze, sleep experts suggest writing your thoughts down. This will help you mentally offload responsibility before bed, and free up your mind for sound sleeping.
In fact, researchers found that participants who took 5 minutes to write a to-do list before bed fell asleep more quickly than participants who wrote about tasks they had already completed (eliminating the possibility of a placebo effect!).
Before you shut your eyes, take 5 minutes to write your to-do list for the next day, or random thoughts in your head.
For best results, write in a journal to avoid the potentially stressful effects of your phone. If you don’t like writing by hand, typing your thoughts on a computer is also acceptable.
“I found that writing my to-do list or random thoughts down before bed was helpful in reducing my anxiety level. It allowed me to feel more at peace and ‘complete’ at the end of the day. Although I didn’t necessarily feel more well-rested the next day, I found that I fell asleep faster than I usually do, and didn’t stay awake for long when I woke up in the middle of the night. I felt more organized and relaxed.” – Jen R., Claims Specialist
Test 9: Sleep with your phone outside your room
How many times have you checked the clock after scrolling through pictures of your friends, or oddly satisfying videos on your Instagram feed, only to realize it’s way past your bedtime?
This scenario can spoil your sleep in more ways than you think.
First off, your phone can unexpectedly keep you up later. If this becomes a habit, this may cause your internal clock to readjust, telling your body to not fall asleep until midnight or 2am regularly. Because of that, going to bed earlier might become harder than you think.
The stimulation from your phone can also induce the release of cortisol (ugh, not again!). If you see a stressful Facebook status right before bed, or a picture on your Instagram feed that induces FOMO, you may become too stressed to fall asleep quickly.
Put your phone outside your room before you go to sleep. If you need to set an alarm, invest in a good ol’ fashion alarm clock!
And for the ultimate challenge: Don’t scroll on any feeds before you say bye to your phone. That way, you’ll avoid that moment when you realize you’ve been scrolling for 30 minutes, which’ll take a hefty chunk out of your sleep.
“I fell asleep sooner, because I didn’t have my phone to play with. It also got me to get out of bed in the morning, and helped me postpone dealing with stressful thoughts or activities. But I have to admit – a couple times, I woke up and took the phone with me back to bed.” – Liron K., iOS Engineer
So, there you have it. For about half of my coworkers (including myself), these science-backed tips actually helped us improve our sleep. In fact, some Lemonade team members even plan to continue these practices each day, because the test was so successful! Score.
But for others, the test didn’t work out so well.Dan’s sleep didn’t improve, because as much as he tried, he just couldn’t get adequate sleep with a baby in the house. For Yael, the alarm clock didn’t work out too well, because her circadian rhythm was already in sync.
And although the tests worked or some of us, they weren’t the be-all-end-all solutions for a better nights sleep. Although Jen had an easier time falling asleep, she didn’t necessarily wake up feeling more refreshed. And although I had more energy in the morning, I didn’t necessarily fall asleep faster.
What does all of this mean?
Tips by experts won’t necessarily work for everybody. Some may be totally ineffective, others may have unintended consequences, but some also might just be that thing you need to fall asleep faster, but may not leave you waking up more refreshed.
The key here is figuring out which sleep tricks work best for you, and which to use in combination to make sure you fall asleep quickly, wake up fewer times per night, and arise feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
How to A/B test your sleep
1. Scan this list, and mark off which one of these you already do; if you already exercise frequently, or sleep with your phone outside your room, feel free to skip
2. Choose an order in which you’d like to try these tests (there’s no best practice here – it’s totally up to you)
3. On Sunday of each week, commit to one of these conditions only and try to keep everything else about your routine the same
4. Each morning, fill out this handy sleep tracker (under ‘file,’ click ‘make a copy’ to create your own version)
5. At the end of the week, take note of your results… did this condition improve your sleep quality and energy levels?
6. Repeat steps 3-5, until you’ve tried all of the tests
7. Take a look at your results, and create a combination of these tips and tricks that work best for you
8. Finally become the fully energized version of yourself, and slay it in life 🙂