Sleep is one of the most fundamental and basic things humans do. Without it, we'd literally die.
But many find it extremely challenging to not only get an adequate and consistent amount of sleep every night, but to do it well.
We turned to an expert — sleep scientist Patrick Fuller, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School — to get some answers.
He gave us the lowdown on what he does to ensure a good night's sleep every single night.
While this routine works for Fuller, it may not be feasible for everyone's lifestyle and schedule. But Fuller says that deviating from this schedule leaves him incredibly unhappy and tired.
Here are seven things he does to ensure a restful sleep every single night.
He wakes up at the same time every morning
The problem many people have when trying fall asleep is that their sleep schedule isn't a schedule at all, but a free for all.
If you wake up at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning and then try to fall asleep later that night to be up for work by 7 a.m. Monday, you're not going to have enough "sleep drive" — or the desire to fall asleep — to hit the hay early enough.
"When people get up later and later, they have less sleep drive and they think, I can't sleep I have insomnia," Fuller said. "Well, no, actually your sleep drive isn't that high."
Waking up at the same time every morning is one of the most important things you can do to get a good night's sleep, Fuller said.
He avoids stimulants past mid-day
At the end of a long work day, it's tempting to turn to that late afternoon latte to power you through. But avoid that espresso machine at all costs.
Caffeine has a long half-life, meaning that it takes up to six hours to wear off, so resist the urge to slurp sodas, coffees, and teas later in the day.
Fuller skips coffee altogether and goes with a much less jolting green tea in the morning, which can have about half as much caffeine as a cup of drip coffee.
"I just prefer tea," Fuller said. "I love the smell of coffee, it just has too much caffeine for me."
He only drinks a little bit at around mid-morning, and never drinks it after noon.
He gets at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise during the day
Exercise is like a magical tonic that can help prevent a variety of ills such as stress, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer, dementia, and more.
It's also great for sleep. Studies have shown that morning and afternoon workouts can increase a person's quality and amount of sleep at night.
But try not to do strenuous exercise right before bedtime, as it can boost your body temperature and activate your muscles, making it harder to fall asleep shortly after.
Fuller said that he tries to get in some form of activity every day, even if its just running stairs or taking a quick jog for 20 to 30 minutes.
"Maintaining some level of physical activity is really important," Fuller said.
He skips the evening booze
Many people find that alcohol is a tempting elixir to help you fall asleep. It relaxes your muscles, calms your nerves, and before you know it you're zonked out.
But beware. Those soporific effects won't last through the night.
"People take booze all the time to go to sleep, and it works, "Fuller said. "But the problem is that the alcohol effects wear off and you're stuck in the middle of the night awake, staring at the ceiling. You're already in withdrawal."
In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, drinking alcohol just before bedtime decreases the amount of time you spend in REM sleep — a deep and restorative phase of sleep.
"It's a bad, bad medicine to use for the purposes of sleep," Fuller said. "If I do have a drink, I try to limit it to one drink. I'll have that closer to dinner time."
He sets the sleeping mood
Fuller wakes up every day at an impressive 5:30 a.m. His goal, then, is to be in bed with his eyes closed by 9:30 p.m.
That's a tall order when there are dishes to wash, Netflixes to watch, and Internets to read. In order to set his body's internal clock to prepare it for sleep time, Fuller begins a ritual of dimming the lights about an hour before bedtime.
"My wife thinks I'm a little weird because I start dimming the lights," Fuller said. "But I really feel like it sets the mood for my sleep."
Low light levels help to ramp up the body's natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep.
He avoids screens an hour before bedtime
Remember how dim lights cause a spike in melatonin production to help you fall asleep? Bright blue light from smartphone and iPad screens completely counteract that effect.
They do this by tricking your brain into thinking it's daytime, causing those sleep-inducing melatonin levels to drop.
Over time, ruined sleep schedules from smartphone light can damage your memory and increase the risk of depression, obesity, and even certain cancers, among other things.
Fuller tries to avoid or at least limit his iPhone use after 8:30 p.m. — an hour before he falls asleep.
He hits the hay at the same time every night
As you can probably tell by now, the secret to getting a good night's sleep every single night involves setting up a routine that you stick to.
In order to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when your alarm clock rings (at the same time every morning, right?) you have to go to sleep at the same time every night.
Getting any more or any less sleep than you're used to can throw your whole routine out of whack.
For Fuller, that means hitting the hay by 9:30 p.m. so that he can be well-rested for his 5:30 a.m. wake up call.
"My wife teases me and calls me grandpa," Fuller said.
And most importantly, he's not obsessive about it
While Fuller does try to stick to this routine every day, he is realistic and does stray from time to time to accommodate, well, life.
"I try not to be neurotic about it," Fuller said. "I try not to be neurotic about anything I do."
But when he does keep up with this routine, he finds that it always pays off.
"As boring as it sounds, I find that when I do this I feel good. I feel happy when I wake up, I feel rested," Fuller said. "If I do have a day where I mess up that schedule, I don't feel like myself the next day. I feel very incentivized to stay on my schedule."
And so should you. Sleep tight!