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How Perfecting Your 'Sleep Arc' Can Help You Fall Asleep Faster

You might already have a bedtime routine. Maybe it consists of brushing your teeth and washing your face. Perhaps you enjoy a brief face massage with an oil or cream, followed by a few minutes scrolling on Instagram. Or, perhaps you spend your evenings refreshing your social media feeds or consuming stimulants—two of the habits that can affect how well you sleep.

Maybe this works for you, but you might also benefit from some adjustments that work to transform your basic bedtime routine into the perfect preamble to restful sleep.

Read on to find out how to perfect your 'sleep arc' to help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling refreshed.

What is a 'sleep arc'?

Basically, your sleep arc comprises everything the happens in the lead-up to sleep. Your ability to fall asleep and have good sleep is affected by the sensorial stimulation you are exposed to beforehand. A shot of black coffee right before you turn out the light is an obvious example of what not to do, but other factors—like fluorescent lighting and intensely minty toothpaste—can also disrupt your sleep mojo.

Neil Parikh is the co-founder of US mattress company Casper, and extolled the virtues of perfecting one's sleep arc at a recent virtual event:

"A lot of people will drift asleep, and then realise, 'Well, I want to now brush my teeth before I go to sleep,'" he said, according to Well+Good. "Then you go into your bathroom and turn on the bright lights. You're actually waking yourself back up and then you're probably going to have a mint toothpaste, which is going to get you even more energised. So it's reversing the cycle of drifting asleep."

5 steps to a perfect sleep arc

To design a sleep arc that works for you, it's all about the things you can control. Think about what might have affected your quality of sleep in the past, and imagine what the ideal version of you—the one that somehow only makes healthy decisions—would be doing before bed. Read on to discover five steps to a perfect sleep arc.

1. Make a "What Not to Do" list. Think about how you've been sleeping lately, and make a list of everything you've done in the few hours leading up to sleep that might have affected your ability to fall asleep or decrease the quality of your sleep. Maybe you've stayed a bit too long on Instagram chatting to friends, maybe you've been doomscrolling, maybe you've fallen asleep after a few glasses of wine without having brushed your teeth. Writing down these behaviours could help you to avoid doing them again, and at the very least you'll be more aware.

2. Make a "Can Do" list: Write down all of the activities that help you feel relaxed. Maybe it's reading a chapter of a book, maybe it's sipping on a herbal tea with honey, maybe it's meditating. Try to write down as many items as you did in step one, and in future you may find it helpful to replace one of those with one of these. Instead of a wine, make a tea. Instead of refreshing your social media feed for the hundredth time that day, read a few pages of a book. All sounds easier said than done—especially when you're tired and impulse control is lacking—but having these lists on hand could make things easier.

3. Make a "Must Do" list: These are the things you must do before bed each night, such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, taking your pet outside, locking the doors and turning off the lights. Keep this list on hand, and remember to tick each of these tasks off early on in your sleep arc. If you leave any of these must-dos too late, could end up reversing the cycle of drifting to sleep.

4. Set a bedtime alarm. Make it for an hour or two before you'd ideally like to be asleep, and treat it as your official signal to commence your bedtime ritual. Choose one of the gentler alert tones on your phone, or figure out a way to assign a song you find particularly relaxing—giving yourself three or four minutes to complete that first activity (such as brushing your teeth, or making a tea) could be more effective than a quick alarm sound. What you do during your sleep arc may vary from night to night, but it could help to be consistent about the very first activity you do at the sound of your bedtime alarm—it may even create a pavlovian response over time, making the wind down to sleep feel even more effortless.

5. Update your space. With many people working from home more often, the lines between work and rest continue to blur. If you're doing your job on a laptop in your bed, making the mental shift into sleep mode can be challenging. If you can, designate another part of your room or home to work, and use all the strength you have in the daytime to avoid recoiling into the comfort of your bed to work or virtually socialise. Make sure that your bed is free from clutter and is conducive to relaxation. As soon as that evening alarm goes off, you'll be grateful.

Enjoyed this? We asked an expert to explain the difference between magnesium and melatonin in improving sleep.

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