How to maximise sleep even when you can't get 8 hours

Kristine Tarbert
·Features and Health Editor
·5-min read

Getting more sleep at night in isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but there are a few things you can do to get the most out of the zzz that you do get.

A good sleep is vital for both physical and mental health but sometimes getting the recommenced eight hours just isn’t a reality. 

getting enough sleep
Let's be honest. Getting eight hours of sleep every single night can be tough. Photo: Getty

Whether it’s the kids, the cat, or a good old dose of night owl status, Dr Kieran Kennedy has shared his health hacks with Yahoo Lifestyle that can can up the quality of how we’re sleeping even if the quantity stays the same.

Your bedroom temperature matters

Temperature at night is more than purely for comfort, it impacts how well the brain sleeps as well. It’s often surprising to people that science shows we sleep best when the surroundings are cooler, but if you think about where and how our early ancestors slept it makes a lot of sense. 

In the hour or two before bed, try and cool things down, it helps the brain start to gear up for good sleep. Similarly, the bedroom and sleep space should ideally be on the cooler side and (regardless of how long you’re down for) this can bump sleep quality up.

breakfast at tiffanys
Cat stopping you from sleeping? Photo: Paramount

Stick to a solid bedtime/wake-up routine

Sleep is one of our strongest bodily rhythms and it runs alongside and through our circadian clock. So it is key to know that sleep quality improves the more routine and regulated it becomes - even if we’re sleeping the same amount of hours overall. 

Look to aim for a bedtime that’s similar (within 20-30 minutes) each and every night, and try to do the same for morning waking up. While a late night and sleep in on weekends is tempting, research shows that sticking to your usual weekly rhythm actually helps keep sleep quality higher overall.

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Let the light shine in

Quality sleep actually starts while the brain’s still awake, and so helping the brain shift into wake up mode in the morning is actually a helping hand for better sleep later that night as well. 

Getting up and getting some bright (ideally natural) morning light is super helpful in this regard - it helps lock in circadian rhythms, prime the body clock for better sleep later on (always a win) and helps wake us up faster in the morning too.

Happy woman in white nightwear sitting in bed awakened from enough and healthy sleep feels good
Getting up and getting some bright (ideally natural) morning light is super helpful for sleep. Photo: Getty

Avoid that afternoon coffee

An after-lunch coffee is common and for many, a post-dinner cuppa isn’t out of the question too. Whether it’s coffee, tea or even a gym pre-workout, keeping caffeine levels down and ideal out of the picture from midday onwards can go a long way toward improving sleep. 

In much the same way as alcohol, even if we can fall asleep with caffeine in the system that doesn’t mean our sleep is at its natural best. While we sleep, caffeine in the brain works to disrupt our normal rhythms and means we’re not getting the best bang for our sleep buck. Look to cut down caffeine intake overall, and (especially) try and curb having any more in the six to seven hours before bed.

Wind down before bed

Research shows that the more settled the brain and body is before bed, the faster, sounder and deeper we’ll end up sleeping after. Sleep involves the whole brain, and it’s a process that’s actually linked heavily to what’s happening while we’re awake and (in particular) the few hours before we hit the lights. 

Encouraging the brain to get into sleep mode and start winding down well before we actually close our eyes can go a long way when it comes to getting better quality sleep even with the same hours. Dimming the lights to get circadian rhythms and chemical shifts on our side is really helpful here, and it’s recommended we do these even a few hours before bedtime if we can.

The Apple Watch is really great for setting a sleep schedule, and before your allocated bedtime you'll be 'prepared' for sleep with a wind-down. Then It uses motion to detect your sleep time and your sleep will be tracked without you having to do anything.

Relaxed young woman leaned on couch closed eyes putting hands behind head enjoy fresh air, freelancer resting from work in modern cozy living room alone, daydream day nap, fall asleep or pause concept
Winding down before bed is so important. Photo: Getty

Get off your phone

During your winding down time, stay off any electronic devices - in a 21st-century world, this has to be sleep 101. Phones, TVs and tablets emit a whole lot of brain food that stimulates things to stay in wake mode rather than wind down. 

Key as well is blue light from things like phones and screens that hit key areas of the brain powerfully to stop sleep-inducing neuro chemicals like Melatonin being released. While night mode for screens has been shown to help, this strategy - or blue light blocking glasses for that matter - isn’t as strongly evidenced as often made out. 

Where you can, aim to have the phone away and the laptop closed at least 30 minutes before bedtime and ideally at least an hour before.

Limit your alcohol consumption before bed

Alcohol metabolises in your body over a number of hours so if you’re drinking before bed you could be in for a restless night. 

While it’s common (and legitimate) to feel that having a drink helps us fall asleep faster, alcohol in the brain actually changes how we sleep while we’re at it and this leads to a shallow, broken and non-refreshing sleep that’ll leave us feeling tired even after a full night’s kip. The best way to change this is to have more alcohol-free evenings, drink moderately and earlier in the evening.

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