If your night time ritual consists of browsing the news on your phone or eating a late-evening snack, you might not be doing yourself any favors when it’s time for sleep. Eating when you should be sleeping and infusing your brain with artificial light at the wrong times can cause you to be out of tune with your natural rhythms, which in turn affects the quality and quantity of your sleep. 

Sleep is regulated by an internal biological clock that is in turn regulated by cycles of light and darkness. This 24-hour period is known as your circadian rhythm, and it  controls when you sleep and when you’re awake based on light changes and food intake.  Being aligned with this internal cycle is crucial for optimal health, but modern society with its light-emitting devices and demanding work schedules makes that a challenge. Social jet lag (varying sleep schedules during the week vs the weekend) and shift work (working when you would normally be sleeping) make us fall out of sync with our internal clocks, which may lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Luckily, there are things you can do to be more in sync with your circadian rhythm, such as developing a consistent sleep/wake schedule, eating at regular times daily, and avoiding artificial light at night. If you are a shift worker, you can help your circadian rhythm by eating your meals at home, exposing yourself to light at the beginning of your shift, and using glasses that block sunlight in the morning so you are able to sleep when you get home. Below we bring you some tips and challenges to help you regain control of your sleep in 2021, whether you’re lucky to work during the day or not.  We start with some challenges to help you build good night-time habits, and end with some activities based on what science says you should do to get more sleep, including exercising, practicing mindfulness, and listening to calming music.

These tips and challenges are designed to help you fall asleep. “If [you have] trouble staying asleep, it usually means you have an underlying sleep disorder, [such as] sleep apnea,” says sleep doctor and founder of Singular Sleep Joseph Krainin. If you find yourself waking up at about the same times every night, we recommend getting tested for sleep apnea and to consult with a sleep doctor. 

Let’s begin!

Woman sleeping with a sleep mask on her eyes in the bedroom
Block artificial light in your bedroom using blackout linings and a sleep mask.

Download a visual calendar of the challenges here.

Friday, January 1st- Aim for a pitch black bedroom

To get better sleep in 2021, start by making your bedroom completely dark. Artificial light can activate your internal clock and make your brain think that it’s daytime. Dr. Krainin recommends covering your windows with blackout linings, putting away your light-emitting electronics, and using a sleep mask to achieve total darkness. This is especially important if you work the night shift. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible and use ear plugs or listen to white noise

Saturday, January 2nd- Save your bed for sleep (and sex) only

Eating, reading, watching TV or working in bed weakens the mental association between your bedroom and sleep. “If you’re lying in bed watching TV, checking Facebook, etc, your brain is going to think of your bed as a multimedia entertainment center,” says Dr. Krainin. Tonight, try keeping these activities out of the bedroom. Make your bedroom a sacred place where you go to rest.

Sunday, January 3rd- Don’t be a bedtime screen zombie

Dr. Krainin recommends avoiding blue light-emitting devices, such as cell phones and tablets, 2 hours before bed. Blue light suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that your brain secretes naturally to tell your body to get ready for sleep.  Phones and other screens can also increase your stress levels. “The stimulating nature of clicking on the next post or getting to the next level of the game can ramp you up when you should be winding down,” says Dr. Krainin. If you can’t help yourself, turn on the night mode in your device, or wear blue light-blocking glasses at night.

Monday, January 4thReplace your morning and afternoon coffee with herbal tea 

It’s the first Monday of the year and you’re probably looking for your caffeine fix. However, keep in mind that caffeine delays the release of melatonin, the hormone your body makes at night in preparation for sleep. Caffeine also shortens slow-wave sleep, the deepest phase of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep that is associated with memory consolidation. Even if you’re able to fall asleep after drinking a cup of coffee, your sleep “won’t be as deep as it would have been and not as refreshing,” says neuroscientist and sleep expert Joe Winer. Today, try limiting your coffee intake to the morning hours, or drink herbal tea instead. Another great substitute energy booster is a morning run, preferably outside. If you are someone who can’t live without your late-afternoon coffee, drink it decaf or try a darker roast with less caffeine. If you work the night shift, have some caffeine before work, but avoid it 3-4 hours before you go to bed.

Tuesday, January 5th- Go to bed only when you’re tired

Your bed was made for sleeping, not for obsessing over your inability to fall asleep. Pay attention to how much time you’re spending in bed tossing and turning. If it usually takes you 2 hours to fall asleep, try going to bed later when you’re actually tired. This will help you associate your bed with falling asleep quickly.

Wednesday, January 6thPractice the 20-minute rule

If you are in bed tossing and turning for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something unstimulating (like reading a boring book) and go back to bed once you feel sleepy again. Don’t watch the clock to see how long you’ve been awake, though. “Most patients who have issues [with sleep] are obsessive clock watchers,” says Dr. Krainin.  Turn the clock around or completely cover it, and if you estimate that it’s been more than 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you get sleepy.

Eating by the sunlight can reduce risk of weight gain and insulin resistance.
Eating with the sun can improve your sleep and reduce your risk of weight gain and insulin resistance.

Thursday, January 7th – Eat with the sun

A master biological clock in your brain gives your body a natural circadian rhythm, helping you be active during the day and letting you rest at night. Keeping your food intake limited to sunlight hours (or eating with the sun) will help reinforce your natural circadian rhythm, as both sunlight but also food availability set your internal clocks. This is also called time-restricted eating – and it can lower blood pressure and regulate your blood sugar levels. Finish eating your last meal at sunset or by 7 pm if it gets darker earlier where you live. 

Shift work is known to disrupt your circadian rhythm, which can affect your weight and heart health. If you work the night shift, you can help your circadian rhythm by following this advice from Dr. Cecily Clark-Ganheart:  Don’t eat during your shift and have your meals at home. At work, drink water, coffee or tea, and/or bone broth. Have your breakfast at home in the morning and go to sleep. This way you avoid eating during the night when digestion is slowest. Another alternative is going to sleep immediately after you get home. When you wake up, have your first meal and then eat again before your night shift.

Friday, January 8th-  Eat at the same times everyday

A master clock in your brain controls when you sleep and when you’re awake. But all of your other organs, like your pancreas, liver, and heart, have their own clocks that respond to when you eat. For example, the clock in your pancreas programs itself to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels, at your usual mealtimes. When you eat at regular times every day, you’re keeping your pancreas clock in sync with your master clock and your body’s other natural internal rhythms. But if you have your meals at random times during the day or night, your peripheral clocks get thrown off! This causes a disruption in the natural rhythms of your metabolism. This disruption is known as circadian misalignment and it impacts the ability of your body to control your blood sugar. Your body becomes unsure of when it should be prepared to handle food, which also impacts your ability to fall asleep. Try to eat at regular times each day, even on weekends!

Saturday, January 9th- Have a consistent sleep schedule

Today, make a resolution to keep a more consistent sleep-wake schedule. That means going to bed and waking up around the same time every day – yes, even on weekends and holidays! Sleeping in on weekends might seem like a good fix for poor quality sleep during the week. However, waking up later on weekends may cause you to fall asleep later Sunday night, which can lead you to sleep less and to feel more tired Monday morning. 

“Monday morning, fatigue levels often are highest because individuals have slept in later on the weekend…, delaying sleep on Sunday night and increasing day- time sleepiness and fatigue, the so-called Monday Morning Blues” Elfering, et al, 2020

Sunday, January 10th- Practice deep relaxation 

Practice this deep relaxation technique to help you sleep better tonight. This practice consists in directing your attention to different body parts, starting at your toes and ending at your head. 

  1. In bed, relax your whole body, progressively focusing your attention on your toes, followed by your feet, calves, knees, thighs, hips, waist, and so on, until you get to your head. 
  2. Let your body collapse on your bed as you let go of all tension.  

Monday, January 11thGo to bed with no expectations

Wanting to fall asleep can be overstimulating for your brain, which might cause you to sleep less and to have lower-quality sleep. Try going to bed as relaxed as possible. Take a warm bath, listen to music, or read a book under dim light. This might help you avoid being worried about wanting to sleep and might help you quiet your mind as you get ready for bed. 

Beautiful young african american woman over isolated background smiling with hands on chest with closed eyes and grateful gesture on face. Health concept.
Practice being kind to yourself.

Tuesday, January 12th- Be kind to yourself

Constant self-criticism and dissatisfaction with your achievements can cause you to sleep less and wake up more throughout the night. Regret, guilt, and shame over past events can also interfere with your sleep. If these negative thoughts always appear when you’re in bed, try closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. When you notice other thoughts popping into your mind, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Repeat until you fall asleep. 

Wednesday, January 13th- Have an early dinner

Allowing your gut to rest for a few hours before you fall asleep can help you sleep better. Late night meals make you sleep less, and sleeping less often causes you to consume more calories, especially at night. As if ruining your sleep wasn’t enough, late night meals can also cause your body to burn less fat during the night, because your body will use your late-night snack to generate energy while you sleep. So, fast before bedtime to sleep best!

Thursday, January 14thPractice yoga!                                   

Studies have shown that practicing yoga improves sleep quality in older adults and in women suffering from type-2 diabetes. Yoga has also been shown to increase sleep duration and reduce fatigue in men and women suffering from insomnia.

Learn how to get started with yoga here.

Friday, January 15th- Enjoy a warm bath!

An hour or two before bed, enjoy a warm bath – perhaps with your favorite bath bomb, soothing lavender or eucalyptus essential oils, or muscle-relaxing epsom salts. A recent meta-analysis shows that a 10-minute warm bath might help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep, although not for the reasons that you might think. To fall asleep, your core body temperature needs to drop by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. A warm bath helps your body release heat by bringing your blood to your palms and feet!

Beautiful millennial girl listening to musing using big earpohones
Listen to classical or new age music to help you fall asleep.

Saturday, January 16th- Listen to music!

Music lowers the stress hormone cortisol and the awakening brain chemical noradrenaline. Listening to relaxing music in bed can help you fall asleep faster and can take your brain from operating in alpha waves (relaxed, but awake), to operating in theta waves (deeply relaxed and asleep). Today, spend a few minutes listening to music before bed. Music that helps you sleep includes classical or new age music, or any other tunes that have a tempo of no more than 80 bmp, a low-pitch, and a repetitive rhythm without a lot of percussion or syncopation. To promote sleep, keep the volume at 30 dB (the equivalent of a nearby whisper). 

Sunday, January 17th- Enjoy the morning sun

This morning, spend 20 minutes outside to infuse your brain with daylight. If it is raining or snowing, enjoy some bright light through your window. Your body stops making melatonin (the sleep hormone) as soon as it detects bright light and realizes that it’s daytime, which tells your brain that it’s time to wake up. Bright light essentially resets the timer on your body’s cyclical (or rather, circadian) production of melatonin. When you get exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light earlier in the morning, your body starts to produce melatonin earlier in the evening, which helps you fall asleep faster. To fall asleep more easily, go outside and enjoy the sunshine this morning and tomorrow morning!

If you work the night shift, expose yourself to bright artificial light at the start of your shift and wear light-blocking glasses in the morning during your commute to help you fall asleep faster. Orange-tinted glasses work best for improving sleep. 

Monday, January 18th- Keep your bedroom cool

Increases in nighttime temperatures worsen sleep quality, so it’s important to keep a cool bedroom to prevent high temperatures from waking you up. Turn down your thermostat before you go to bed and keep a fan by your bed if necessary.

Tuesday, January 19th- Write down what’s on your mind

If you can’t help worrying and planning for the next day when you’re trying to sleep, start setting aside a few minutes one or two hours before bedtime. Use this time to write down the things that are on your mind so that you can put them “on hold” until tomorrow. You don’t need much detail – just enough so that you can remember. Add a note to yourself about what the next step is, or some different options if you’re trying to make a decision. This can help you put your worries on hold until tomorrow. Your brain does not work so great late at night, so you’re not likely to be as productive as during the day. Instead, allow yourself time to sleep so that you can return to the problems tomorrow when you’re refreshed.

Wednesday, January 20th- Take a break outside

Infusing your brain with daylight in the middle of the work day can help you beat any drowsiness you might feel during the day.  When you get exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, your body starts producing melatonin earlier at night, which helps you fall asleep faster.

Thursday, January 21st- Have your last drink an hour before bed

This might save you multiple bathroom trips during the night and will keep you from losing precious sleep time. Stay hydrated during the day, especially if you are fasting! But try to stop drinking fluids an hour before bed.

Friday, January 22ndWatch your alcohol

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not help you sleep. According to the National Sleep Association, after an evening of drinking we tend to wake up more during the night and the quality of our sleep suffers. This is because when you drink at night your liver and kidneys work hard to remove the alcohol while you sleep. A 2013 study showed that a group of light social drinkers aged 18-21 had reduced REM sleep and woke up more often during the night when they consumed alcohol before bed. To maximize your sleep quality, limit yourself to one or fewer alcoholic drinks at night.

Saturday, January 23rd- Get your lavender incense ready!

Lavender might serve as a mild sedative to help you fall asleep. A study found that those who sniffed lavender oil for two minutes at three, 10-minute intervals before bedtime showed increased deep or slow-wave sleep (SWS) and  increased stage 2 (light) sleep. All subjects reported having higher energy the morning after. 

Sunday, January 24th- Breathe!

Practice the 4-7-8 breathing method to help you sleep tonight.

  1. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  3. Slowly breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds.
  4. Repeat this process until you fall asleep.
Young man sleeping in nature.
Meditation can help you wind down and quiet your mind before it’s time to sleep.

Monday, January  25th- Meditate!

Today try to meditate for at least 10 minutes. If you’ve never meditated before, get started with mindful breathing. Focus on and even count your breaths, letting your mind explore all the sensations of your breath – at your nostrils, in the expanding of  your chest, in the tension and relaxation of your muscles. If your mind wanders to other thoughts or worries, bring it gently back to your breath. Meditation during the day or even before bed improves sleep, sleep expert Joe Winer explains. He says that meditation can help you clear your thoughts and leave the stress of the day behind. Meditation, or taking a warm bath, can be a way to wind down before bed. “Having sort of a nightly ritual to clear your mind has been shown to be really helpful,” Winer said.

Tuesday, January 26th- Exercise!

Good quality sleep makes you more likely to exercise and eat healthy. On the other hand, exercise helps you sleep better by physically tiring you out and relieving anxiety. Although the benefits of exercise for getting good quality sleep are well known, exercise can be overstimulating for your brain if you work out too close to bedtime. Vigorous physical activity — defined as being unable to hold a conversation during exercise —  within one hour before bed appears to have a detrimental impact on sleep. Exercise during the day today to get better sleep tonight. If you can’t do it in the morning, give yourself more than an hour between your workout and bedtime. 

Wednesday, January 27th- Picture a pleasant scene

Try visualizing a peaceful, pleasant scene while you are in bed, or imagine yourself taking a walk in a beautiful place. A study showed that patients with insomnia who were told to picture a pleasant and relaxing scene fell asleep faster compared to those who received no instruction. This type of mental imagery keeps you from worrying or thinking negatively before you fall asleep. 

Thursday, January 28th- Relax!

Set the mood for relaxation one hour before it’s time to sleep. Read a book under dim light, practice meditation, or take a warm bath. Try to not think about the things you have to do tomorrow and just take some time for self-care. This might help you turn your mind off and wake up more energized the next day.

Friday, January 29th- Eat magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium intake has been shown to increase the sleep hormone melatonin and to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. It can also increase the amount of time you stay asleep. Today, include magnesium-rich foods in your diet, such as avocados, nuts and seeds, whole grains such as barley, legumes such as beans, dark chocolate, and leafy greens.

Saturday, January 30thDrink caffeine-free tea!

Caffeine-free green and chamomile tea are known for their sleep-inducing and stress-busting properties. Theanine, the most abundant amino-acid in green tea, is thought to increase production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, which reduces the activity of nerve cells and is beneficial for sleep. Apigenin, one of the components of chamomile tea, promotes sleep by making your nerve cells more sensitive to the effects of GABA. Enjoy a cup of either chamomile or caffeine-free green tea tonight!

Sunday, January 31st- Eat foods rich in Omega-3s

Oily fish have been shown to improve sleep quality. Fish are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n3-PUFAs), which reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and help the brain get rid of harmful proteins while you sleep. Enjoy some salmon, mackerel, oysters, or caviar. Nuts like flax seeds and walnuts also are high in omega-3 fatty acids. 

You made it! If you followed along with all or most of these challenges, send us an email at learn@lifeomic.com and tell us how it went and how it helped you- We’d love to hear from you!

The above is not medical advice. Prior to participating in any wellness challenge, you are encouraged to consult a qualified health professional.