Getting Better Sleep


Sleep is regulated by two biological systems: your internal body clock and your sleep drive.

Your internal body clock tells you what time to wake up and what time to go to sleep. It sends you alerting signals throughout the day until it’s time to go to bed. The alerting signals return shortly before you wake up.

Your sleep drive builds up your appetite to fall asleep from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. When the alerting signals from your internal body clock decrease, your sleep drive takes over and puts you to sleep.

Most insomnia is caused by interfering with this self-regulating system. Here are some things you can do to get out of your own way and sleep more soundly.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day. Don’t change your bedtime or wake up time by more than about 45 minutes. If you go to bed late, try to get up at the usual time the next day. This will prevent you from interfering with your body clock and sleep drive.

Have a brisk wake up

Limit snoozing and get up quickly. Snoozing diminishes your sleep drive. Make sure to get natural light within 1 hour of waking. This reinforces your internal body clock.


  • Napping. Napping diminishes your sleep drive. It’s like snacking between meals. If you have to nap, sleep no more than 20-30 minutes, and do it early in the afternoon.
  • Caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of 4-5 hours, meaning that if you have a cup of coffee at 5pm, your body will still be metabolizing half of the caffeine from the coffee 4-5 hours later, when you might be going to bed. It’s hard for your sleep drive to compete with caffeine.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but it makes you sleep less soundly.

Create a bedtime buffer zone

Dim ambient light about 1 hour before bed time. This encourages the release of the hormone melatonin, which makes you sleepy. Turn off devices, too – they have too much light and can be unnecessarily stimulating.

Use your bed for sleep and sex

Do you know that you can inadvertently teach your body to be awake in bed? Keep activities besides sleep and sex out of the bedroom so that you don’t condition yourself to be awake when you’re in bed. If you can’t sleep, get up after 20 minutes and do something relaxing or boring until you feel sleepy again, and then return to bed.

Don’t “try” to go to sleep

Trying to sleep is like trying to fall in love. There’s no way to force it to happen, and trying to fall asleep can make you more awake. Get up and do something relaxing and boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed.

Don’t stress about sleep

People usually overestimate the effects of one night of poor sleep. Start with the assumption that you will be fine. If you get one bad night of sleep, don’t try to compensate. Go to bed and get up at the regular time the next day. Remember to let your sleep drive and internal body clock do their jobs.

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