Elizabeth Saenger, PhD

Did you ever race your partner to see who could get to sleep first? Whether you suffer from one kind of insomnia, or just find getting to sleep boring, these tips can help you get to sleep faster.

I find going to sleep at night as exciting as watching the grass grow. To make life more interesting, I sometimes say to my husband, “Let’s have a race to see who can get to sleep first.”

However, if you want to win a sleeping race with your partner, it is best to start before bedtime with these tips.

  • Take naps no later than 1 or 2 pm. As soon as you wake up in the morning, the sleep chemical adenosine begins to build up in your body. The longer you stay awake, the more adenosine builds up. That usually means that by bedtime, you feel ready to fall asleep.

However, if you take naps in the late afternoon or evening, much of the adenosine will disappear. It is as if the chemical gets used up by the nap, leaving little to make you sleepy when you might want it most.

  • In general, caffeine excites the central nervous system, while adenosine inhibits it.

    Watch your caffeine intake. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain, getting rid of the sleepiness you have been building up during the day.

  • Keep a regular schedule. Having a regular schedule also prevents “social jetlag.” Social jetlag occurs when you feel tired or irritable because your inner clock conflicts with the demands of work, school, or a night on the town.
  • Keep the light out of your bedroom, preferably with curtains (vs blinds). Before we had artificial light, sunsets gave us the unmistakable message to get ready to go to sleep. Now, light from buildings, headlights, and so on keeps us awake.
Light from above goes through the pupil, and hits the cells at the bottom of the retina. These cells carry a message to the inner clock in the hypothalamus. That message causes the pineal gland to secrete less melatonin.

When light hits these cells, the cells carry a message to the master clock in the hypothalamus in the brain saying it is not time to go to sleep. The pineal gland then reduces its production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.

  • Understand your chronotype (the extent to which you are an owl or an early bird). A chronotype describes the extent to which you are a night owl or an early bird when it comes to sleep and activity.

If you are a night owl, and you go to bed several hours before your body is ready to go to sleep, you are likely to lose every sleeping race to an early bird partner unless you serious prepare.

Fortunately, CET can help you understand your situation with a curated collection of articles on chronotypes. Topics covered include:

  • how to find out what your chronotype is using a free, confidential online self-assessment
  • why you have that chronotype
  • how to change your chronotype if you want to.
Perhaps the fault lies not in our stars, but in our chronotype.

Extreme night owls who have insomnia because their bedtimes occur several hours before their bodies are ready to go to sleep will find What is delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD)? especially helpful.

So remember, if you want to win that race with your partner, use this information to plan ahead! And for more tips, please read Sleep Like a Champion! 

Selected Reading

Artificial Light: The Next Global Crisis?

When the Light You See is Not the Light You Want

Bedtime for Children

When Do Children and Teens Need Protective Eyewear to Get a Good Night’s Sleep?

When Do You Need Protective Eyewear?

Does Counting Sheep Work? And What Can You Do If It Doesn’t?

Sleep Like a Champion!