How to Sleep More Effectively, Starting Tonight

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”

Sleep more effectively

– Homer

Tired after getting a full nine hours and still feeling exhausted? You sleep the sleep of the innocent – you nod off quickly, don’t have nightmares and have no trouble breathing – and still you can hardly get up in the morning and seldom feel totally awake, no matter how long you slept the previous night. You are suffering from a clear-cut case of ineffective sleep.

The good news is that, starting tonight, you can improve the quality of your sleep. So pull up a pillow and learn how to get more rest while spending less time on your back.

1. Go deep.

It is possible to sleep too long or at the wrong time. In both cases you may be getting enough rest, but you still feel weary. That’s because the amount of time you spend in bed is not as important as maximizing sleeping patterns.

Your sleep consists of five stages, distinguished by different brain activities. Just shortly after falling asleep, you start sinking gradually into a deep sleep. You soon surface from this and enter a dreaming period commonly known as REM sleep. After that, it’s back to several deep-sleep phases, which grow shorter as the night progresses.

To wake up easily, set your alarm to wake you up at the end of a cycle rather than in the middle of deep sleep. A cycle normally lasts at least 90 min., bearing in mind that the first one is somewhat shorter, so you will probably be in light sleep after five-and-a-half, seven, and eight-and-a-half hours in bed (that includes the time it takes for you to fall asleep). If you’re still deep in dreamland when the alarm goes off, add a few minutes to your sleeping time the next day.

2. Surrender to your genes.

As I mentioned, there are three optimal lengths of sleep -­ but that doesn’t mean you can just choose one. A study completed this spring by Washington State University Spokane suggests that our sleep patterns are embedded in our bodies – perhaps in our very genes. Some of us will need five-and-a-half hours of sleep, while others will need at least eight-and-a-half. Most people will manage comfortably on seven hours. Your genes decide for you and you can’t just alter it without paying the price.

There is hardly anybody out there who knows what it means to be fully awake. Studies have found that proper sleeping patterns emerge only after you have caught up with up to 25 hours of missing sleep. To optimize your sleep, crawl into bed half an hour earlier each evening for a few nights. As long as you have a sleep deficit to catch up on, you should have no problem falling asleep. After that, allow yourself as much sleep as you need. If you persistently sleep too little, you run the risk of becoming overweight, absent-minded and ill; a daily sleep deficit of two hours over a period of 14 days is as damaging as a night with no sleep.

Sleeping too much is also a rest buster. If you sleep for longer than your personal optimal period, your sleep will be empty and restless. If you oversleep for many hours, you will fall into another deep sleep in the morning. This will upset your circadian clock and you will wake up feeling absolutely whacked. If this is your problem, you can reverse the situation by keeping your time in bed to the absolute minimum and staying up a bit later at night to prolong the restful deep sleep at the beginning of the night.

3. Worship the sun.

Most people can get away with some wildness in their routines as long as they soak up some bright light at the right time. Normal indoor lighting provides 400 lux of illumination, which doesn’t help much; the sun, however, provides 1 500 to 100 000 lux. So if you spend one hour outdoors before starting work you will be more alert and cheerful during the day.

It’s easier to do in summer than winter but if you can’t manage it at all, you could follow the European trend of substituting your light quota with some artificial sunlight. For a positive effect, you need at least half an hour at 10 000 lux or two hours at 2 500 lux. You can also gradually adjust your preferred sleeping times using artificial sunlight – to party longer into the night, you will have to soak up some light in the evening – artificial light will bring some relief but your sleep and wellbeing will still suffer.

4. Keep the rhythm.

Your body was designed to sync with the cycles of nature – including daylight and darkness. Your circadian, or biological clock, regulates aspects of your metabolism, physiology and behavior. At night, it triggers the supply of the sleep hormone melatolin, and in the morning the wake-up substance cortisol. It also regulates body temperature so that lowest point is reached at about 3 a.m.

Biologically speaking, this is the witching hour and the most inappropriate time to be awake. The prime time for deep sleep occurs in the first five hours of sleep and before 3 a.m. If you’re in the habit of staying up way past midnight, you can forget about quality sleep, even if you’ll sleep till noon.

And don’t even think about going to bed too early because you have to get up early or want to squeeze in an extra workout. This only works if you’re already exhausted and fall asleep instantly; what’s more likely is that you will lie half-awake, start to brood and finally get to sleep tense and restless.

It’s hardly possible to stock up on sleep, so you should rather go to bed at the usual time (observe the cycle) and make up for lost sleep by tucking in a bit earlier the following night. Alternatively, catch a siesta during the day.

5. Watch the time.

To get the most out of your shutdown time, keep regular hours. Go to bed at about the same time every night and ­- even more importantly ­- get up the same time each morning.

Don’t oversleep to make up for a poor night’s sleep. This may sound regimental but the circadian clock is highly sensitive to unstable life patterns. The inner day for most people would be 25 hours long if it weren’t for external time indicators such as sunshine, which keeps the clock ticking over properly. (Depending whether you are a night owl or morning lark, your sleep-wake rhythm may be up to 27 hours, for owls, or shorter than 25 hours, for larks.) If you live an erratic life, your internal clock will be thrown off kilter.

The result: you may want to be functioning when your body temperature is at the witching hour, making you feel cold, sapped of energy and irritable, and trying to rest when your temperature is geared for action. Routine is a simple solution.

Forget about sleeping late at the weekend. The circadian clock reacts immediately to delays in getting up – doing that for even a couple of days can reset your body clock and make it hard for you to get to sleep at night. Rather wake up at about the same time and allow yourself the luxury of a short snooze during the day ­- or go to bed earlier if you are really short on sleep.

Overlooking the single most important thing you can do for your health is easy with all the clamor surrounding various health products in the marketplace. But good-quality sleep goes far and beyond those products when it comes to restoring your health. And best of all, sleep is free. So try these proven techniques and get the rest you need.

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  • Armand says:

    I disagree with this formulation “Worship the sun”. We’re not ancient egyptians to do this…
    But I totally agree with the idea behind it. Sun exposure in the morning is a very healthy thing to do.

    Nice tips.

  • Leon says:

    How should you manage jetlag?

  • Kashif says:

    I always like your well observed and researched posts, About sleep Steve pavlina write few excellent posts.
    I already ready sleep well.

  • Zeno says:

    Yeah, well.. when he said “Go Deep” I don’t think he was talking about running the shotgun bomb. Ever heard of poetic license? A figure of speech perhaps?

  • Ken says:

    Yeah…. but, if you’re an insomniac like me…. all of this advice is useless. It’s easy to say “go to bed a half hour early” if you are able to fall asleep.

  • Sean says:

    All good points. For me I’ve seem to develop a routine of drinking tea, not just any tea but an old chinese type of tea called puerh cha. I guess it’s not unlike people who have a gulp of scotch or a glass of warm milk before bed. Whatever works I guess.

  • Defender of the faith says:

    Yeah, I agree, Armand, that is totally offensive.


    No really, great article.

  • Sun Worshipper says:

    i worship the Sun. His name is Egbert.

  • no says:

    Sun? Screw that. I telecommute full time and work at night. I work about twelve to sixteen hours a day. I wake up around noon and go to bed around 5am. I prefer the night time, because most people are asleep and the world is quiet and lets me get more done.

    I also don’t keep a schedule. You know when I go to sleep? WHEN I AM TIRED. You know when I wake up? WHEN I AM NOT TIRED ANYMORE.

    Seriously. You’re adults. You’re not six years old. You can sleep, eat, wake up and go to the bathroom when your body compels you to do so; not when mommy, daddy or teacher tell you to.

  • Saulo Silva says:

    Very nice tips. I usually sleep 8 hours and am still tired. I’ll had half an hour and see what happens.

  • ShawnM says:

    Is worship the sun offensive because they’re literally telling you that you should be worshipping the sun as a god, or because you are inflexible and too intellectually lazy to distinguish the difference before allowing your emotions to run rampant?

  • jeremy says:

    Excellent article, I just wish my starving artist lifestyle allowed me the time I needed to try rebuilding my sleep structure. Though, I used to sleep only once or twice a week in college, I now sleep everyday and it helps a lot. Who knew there was good quality, and bad quality sleep?

  • After all the years I’ve spent research sleep, the only thing I’ve figured out, for certain, that will help get proper sleep is make sure you’re tired before you lay down for sleep. If you go to sleep every night without being tired, it’s a waste of time. Basically, get off your ass and make yourself tired during the daytime hours.

  • Tony says:

    personally i agree with the sun worship. The sun is our god if u think about it. with out the sun there would be no life on earth. it gives us everything to bare life. good tips though i will keep these in mind. but me personally i just kept track of my sleep patterns threw a diary. after about 2 weeks i came to conclusion that i needed anywhere from 9 to 10 half hours of sleep for me to not be tired all day.

  • Matt says:

    My only question is that I do midnight shifts on the weekends, and thus a night owl those nights, and live in the light throughout the week (unless someone calls off work). I make sure I get my 7 hours of sleep, but it may be broken into two longish naps. I wonder if this could hurt me or is it just not very good, but I could do it if I need to. I mean, when people have infants, their sleep schedules go all whacky and they return to normal when they get the kid on a schedule.

    I guess I am wondering if it will be detrimental to my health to do midnight shifts combined with day shifts. I guess this is the problem with the healthcare industry, you are needed at odd hours.

  • Philip Harrison says:

    The only thing i can say is: Sleep Phase Alarm Clocks. Seriously, it must be the coolest thing since sliced bread. They basically wake you up when your are in light rem sleep. I´m not quite sure who does them more than Axbo. I own one of their clocks and as a short review I can´t say I´m that refreshed just when I awaken(the body is often tired but the brain isn’t), but you get up to speed much faster. It´s just like awakening by yourself, every day. A way to check if you are going up at the right moment is to see if you remember your dreams, if you do, you are good to go.
    Some interesting facts about sleep phases here.

  • passerby says:

    Don’t eat at least three hours before going to sleep.

  • Dee says:

    Cycles or worship, it’s all about the number and quality for me. I took home with the the disposable earplugs and eyeshades offered on transatlantic flights and made use of them at home. Not wanting to gross anyone out, I did buy new ones, and use them all rather religiously. I’ve gotten much better rest since then. It turns out that in my case, as a light sleeper, background noise prevents me from getting a good night’s sleep.

    The only con that I’ve found to using the shades and earplugs is that if I’m having a nightmare those small sounds that once helped me to awaken from them are now drowned out, leaving my mind to play out unpleasant thoughts.

    If you’re on antidepressants you might want to think twice about going this route.

  • Armand is a nub says:

    its a metaphor you stupid gimp

  • 2241 says:

    After this I can see that I need a good power nap.

  • djangone says:

    The glaring omission here is that 20% of the population has at least mild obstructive sleep apnea. I’ve undergone polysomnographic sleep studies and discovered that I’ve probably had apnea since I was 17 years old, graduating to extreme apnea in the last five years. Most nights I wonder if I get three effective hours in eight of trying to sleep. Most insurance covers this diagnosis, and considering the risk of damage to the heart from repeated jolts of adrenaline that the brain dispatches to partially wake the body and avoid suffocation, it’s worth checking out if one fits the profile.

  • Kev says:

    I find I feel rested when I get up around 9am, no matter what time I go to bed.
    I could go to bed at 5 am and get up at nine and be good to go. I could go to bed at midnite and get up at nine and be good to go. If I get up before about 9am I seem to be sleepy throughout the day, no matter what time I went to bed.

  • Gh0st says:

    I’ve worked nights for a year and a half at a job that required some very long nights (imaging going in at 6 or 8 pm and not leaving for up to 16 hours after), and the most valuable piece of advice in this article for me is regularity and amount. Getting onto a schedule and keeping it always produced great results.

    Luckily I’ve been promoted and won’t be working at night any more, but if you work nights, keep these in mind.

  • Pinny Cohen says:

    I’ve read that we need around 30 minutes of sunlight a day to set our circadian rhythm and get our fill of Vitamin D for the day.

    I have a “Manage Your Sleep” post with some additional points over at:

  • Beth says:

    djangone: Thank you! I saw this over at LifeHacker and followed it over here to check to see if this point had been made.

    Don’t assume that sleep apnea is something that only fat old men get (I’m 32, female, healthy weight, and like djangone, have had sleep apnea since my teens. It got significantly worse when I moved to a higher altitude, and I finally got a formal diagnosis and proper treatment about three months ago. I’m still reveling in the sheer decadence and joy of an actual night’s sleep). And it’s not the only sleep disorder that causes chronic, grinding poor sleep quality. These things can be treated. If you’re following all the tips in columns like this one, and still not sleeping well, or waking up fatigued from what should be a good night’s sleep duration, go see a doctor. Really. You’d go see your optometrist if you need glasses, right? Just like suboptimal eyesight, poor sleep quality is an annoying quality-of-life issue that can cause extensive, invisible longterm physical damage.

  • Sheygets Goyishekop says:

    I offer a cheap trick: books on tape (or, now, CD).

    I can make up Just-So stories about why it works (“hearkens back to being read to sleep as a child,” “helps you avoid ruminating,” etc.). The bottom line is, it works.

    Put a cheap boom-box next to your bed. Pop in a story from the library, which’ll have lots of books on tape for free. Turn out the lights. Turn it on. When you wake up in the middle of the night, turn it over or start it again. On bad nights, I’ll listen to the same, initial 5′ half a dozen times. I’ll have missed a full, half-hour of sleep.

    If all else fails, I’ll have rested physically, in the dark, with my eyes closed, and read a good book.

  • Oom Ra says:

    Hey Armand. Some of us do actually worship the sun, and if someone wants to use that phrase, I don’t have a problem with it. I’m not an egyptian either. Don’t be so offensive.

  • Swiftouch says:

    I never and I mean NEVER hear from the professionals about the temperature of the room in which you sleep. Try sleeping at 55 degrees. I feel so much better at that temp than I do when I sleep in 80 degree heat. In fact it’s so hard to sleep at 80 degree heat that I’ll leave the A/C running all night if needs be to get it below 73. Anything above that makes sleeping harder for me.

  • Swiftouch says:

    Some things I agree with and others I don’t.

    First, keeping the rythm going is probably most important. Second, is exercise. Third is not eating at least 2-3 hours before sleeping.

    Screw the time. If you hiked that day or wore yourself out, naturally you’ll probably want more sleep. If you didn’t you’ll probably need less sleep. Think and worry less about genes and let your body do the talking.

    Sunlight and Exercise are good for you and probably help you sleep better but they aren’t necessary for a “good” nights sleep. Just be consistent enough to be tired at the end of the day everyday and leave your worries at the bedroom door so you can and will sleep the whole night…assuming of course you don’t have young kids…in which you’re screwed 🙂

  • Armand says:

    WOW! I can’t belive that in today’s “free” world you can’t have a PERSONAL opinion. What is wrong with you people?
    I know what a metaphor is, and I did mention that “I totally agree with the idea behind it”.

    Take it easy people, don’t react so silly to a simple opinion… 🙂


  • kumar sena says:

    For those talking about the sun, listen to “Omega” by Bruce Dickinson (AKA. the air raid siren)….

    Now it’s Omega-Zero day
    The red star shines its last rays
    The sun that gave us life yesterday
    Is now the sun that takes our lives away

    Beautiful song about judgment day??

  • Thanks for the wonderful information. I’m sure a lot of people will benefit from this.

  • Terri says:

    Great tips. I often sleep too much probably because of staying up late. With this tips, I believe that I’ll be able to have that good night sleep once again. Thank for sharing these useful tips.

  • Rhonda says:

    Nice tips. I agree with each one, especially with rhythm. I’m often unsatisfied with my sleep even if it’s 8 hours, because of staying up late. Now I can plan my sleeping time, thanks to your post.

  • Hope more people sleep better tonight 🙂


  • Excellent, added to my collection of wake up resources 🙂 at

  • joe says:

    lol, you guys seriously are thinking he was using worship the sun seriously lol, its a metaphor, durr

  • Great tips. I am going to use them tomnight! I need that! :))


  • Dave says:

    This is some good information.

  • Rohit Jain says:

    Great post!

    I always lack good sleep and don’t ask me how I feel the entire day.

    Still, being a software engineer I try my best not to let this sleeping syndrome affect the work (thank god, it hasn’t yet). But I am sure, if I am well slept the last night my mind will work faster today!

    Thanks again for putting this topic up.

  • Rohit Jain says:

    Great post!

    I always lack good sleep and don’t ask me how I feel the entire day.

    Still, being a software engineer I try my best not to let this sleeping syndrome affect the work (thank god, it hasn’t yet). But I am sure, if I am well slept the last night my mind will work faster today!

    Thanks again for putting this topic up.

  • What about meditation? Majority of us have sleep problems because we are not able to shut down our mind completely. If you look at the way our ancestors lived, you’ll notice that they always had a smile on their face, a smile of contentment, when they went to bed. How many of us do that now? For what should be a heavenly moment, we just spend worrying and planning about the future.

  • It’s good about watching the time, but you can get obsessive about it which is harmful. The best suggestion is to be aware of your body needs and go to bed when you are feeling sleepy even if it means sacrificing that interesting soap on the television.

  • JohnJones says:

    Leon on Jun 22nd, 2007 said:
    How should you manage jetlag?

    TAKE MELATONIN (pills)

    best way to get to sleep and will help with jetlag

  • Ririan,

    Your info is interesting and well-informed, but whether you realize it or not, the material is mostly or only relevant to people who fall into the category of “relatively normal sleepers.” In other words, each of your tips are valid but usually only for people who don’t really have sleep problems.

    As a sleep specialist for 20 years and the author of a recent book, Sound Sleep, Sound Mind, (see your approach will actually steer problematic sleepers in the wrong direction. That is, they will imagine these tips to be worthwhile, when in fact what they really need, as some of your commentators have indicated, is a more thorough evaluation for physiological sleep disorders.

    Last and most important, embedded in your paradigm is the notion that the number of hours you sleep or the timing of your sleep are critical components to getting good sleep. I would debate that point vigorously and do so at length in my book. SLEEP QUALITY is where it’s at if you really want to deepen someone’s sleep, and there are very specific evaluations and treatments that can best clarify how to deepen someone’s sleep.

    Let me close by saying that most people who undergo such evaluations and treatments attain a level of sleep quality the likes of which they might never have dreamed possible.

    Thanks for your sleep insights and the chance to comment on them.


  • Andrei Radu says:

    Dude i go too sleep at 3h am and i wake at 7h am like a computer, ready for school
    full of energy but this work just when in my room is freezing.
    Can you explain this ?
    And i’m staying just in home expose to artificial lighting.
    Pls explain this…

  • mayank says:

    I fully agree with this article, Especially worship teh sun part , because I ahve seen in my experience, If do the outdoor activites more in the morning time , Iam much more active rather than spending time in INDOOR, but iam bounded becasue my work is purely indoor. I agrree with you

  • Zach Smith says:

    Most of us do not have luxury of 8 hours of sleep. If we are lucky, we can have 6 hours of sleep at night. But the quality of your sleep is far more important than the number of hours you have slept. Even though you are crashing for only less than 8 hours, you should make sure that you are getting the most out of it. Get the right mattress. This can significantly improve your sleep. Many people now opt for semi-firm mattresses as a way to alleviate back pains and pressure points.

  • Orlene Robinson says:

    I would recommend that you get some fresh air and a glass of water before sleep. They are both soothing to the mind.

  • You know what helps me sleep easier? Not spending too much money for a decent bed! That’s why we set up our website. It was tedious searching through many bed websites for best beds and the best ways to get to sleep so now it’s all in one place! Great guide and help to us thanks!

  • Cuzzin Andrew says:

    Want To Buy! :
    Preexisting sleeping pattern

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