At the end of the night, after you’ve finished dinner and are starting to wind down, it can be tempting to scroll social media just a little bit longer before heading to bed. After all, how much harm can 15 minutes do? But if you’re waking up groggy and not at your best, those 15 minutes of extra Zzz’s may be more harmful than you think — especially if you want to reduce your Junk Sleep.
“Fifteen minutes might not mean a lot as an isolated night. But it’s sort of like your parents telling you, ‘Start your retirement savings early,’ even if you can just put away $20,” says Dr. Chris Winter, neurologist, author of “The Sleep Solution” and “The Rested Child,” and Sleep Advisor to Sleep.com. “In 10 years, the difference is sizable.”
When you start consistently getting 15 minutes more sleep per night, you’ll pick up an hour of shut-eye every four days. Within 28 days, you’ll pick up a night. This small, short-term change can add up to improved sleep and well-being in the long-term — and benefits to be gained along the way to ultimately Unjunk Your Sleep.
How 15 extra minutes of sleep can benefit your health
How much difference can 15 minutes of sleep make? In the short-term, Winter cites benefits such as more energy, heightened concentration and focus, a better outlook, and reduced daytime sleepiness. Some people with an acute change to their sleep might also notice improved blood pressure when they wake up, says Winter.
“The short-term benefits are relatively small, but they can be there,” says Winter. “The long-term is where you’ll see the biggest bang for your buck.”
Most studies tend to focus on the benefits of increasing sleep time by longer increments. However, research supports sleep extensions as a strategy for reducing fatigue. Short-term increases in sleep have also been linked to improvements in insulin sensitivity, appetite, and dietary intake. One study found that college students who increased their sleep time by more than 15 minutes per night reported less daytime sleepiness and lower blood pressure after making the change.
Wondering whether you’ll really be able to notch 15 minutes of extra sleep each night? The college student study also provides a key finding in that department: The change was feasible for a majority of the students who participated.
How to start getting 15 minutes more sleep tonight
Winter posits that sleep problems, like many other health issues, are often overlooked until they become significant. That’s why he recommends small changes over time — like committing to 15 minutes per night of extra sleep — to help Unjunk Your Sleep.
“Think of your mortality as a slope that seems to be doing great if you’re getting eight, not so great if you’re getting seven, and really not great if you’re getting six hours of sleep per night,” he says. “Now, imagine that being a staircase, and each step is 15 minutes. Going from six hours to six hours and 15 minutes of sleep per night doesn’t put you in that ‘eight’ group, but you’re moving up that line of increased health measures and your lessened mortality.”
Whether you’re struggling through daily fatigue, have health problems you’d like to try to improve with better rest, or simply want to better manage your time, here are seven tips to help you get those extra 15 minutes.
1. Design your sleep schedule
“When you’re designing your sleep schedule, the first question is, ‘When do you want to wake up, what’s best for your life?’” Winter says, but he notes that it’s typically easier to adjust your bedtime rather than your wake-up time, and that it’s important to work within the parameters of your individual lifestyle and family schedule. This can mean setting a house-wide bedtime, consolidating TV time into certain nights of the week, and increasing morning efficiency to allow for a little bit more sleep.
Sometimes, that means sacrificing other beneficial elements to accommodate more shut-eye. “Someone might say, ‘The only way I can do this is to cut out some exercise in the morning because I’m awake until 10 p.m. dealing with my teenagers,’” says Winter. “If that’s the only opportunity they have to make the change, I would tend to favor 15 minutes of extra sleep, for the average person, versus getting up to exercise.”
2. Set a reminder or timer
Use your phone, smartwatch, or sleep tracker to set an alarm when it’s almost bedtime. The Sleep.com app has a “bedtime reminder” notification setting; when you enable it, you’ll receive an alert that it’s time to start winding down. You can also program the lights to dim or the television to turn off at a certain time so that your body and mind know it’s time to begin your wind-down routine for bedtime.
Want to eliminate the urge for 15 more minutes of screen time? Try enabling the “do not disturb” function on your phone to rid yourself of pre-sleep distractions.
3. Make your bedroom inviting
Decluttering your bedroom is a tenet of good sleep hygiene and can make your space feel more relaxing, especially if piles of laundry trigger anxiety. Want other tips to make your room more conducive to sleep? Try dimming the lights, cooling down the room temperature by a few degrees (aim for a sweet spot around 65 degrees Fahrenheit), minimizing outside noises or turning on a white-noise machine, and using calming rituals, such as breathing techniques, relaxing aromatherapy, journaling, or stretches, to get into sleep mode.
4. Shift your wind-down routine
If you’re not sure where to find 15 extra minutes, Winter suggests adjusting your evening and wind-down routine. If you’re prone to binge-watching TV shows, allow yourself two episodes instead of three. Setting the intention and sticking to it consistently will help establish the habit of getting to bed 15 minutes earlier.
5. Find an accountability partner
Find a friend who’s also looking to get more sleep. Then, turn to that person when you need extra support or a dose of accountability. Getting buy-in from your partner or roommates is important; communicate your goals so that you can respect each other’s schedules and stay on track.
6. Create a reward system
Set milestones, and incentivize yourself with rewards like a special takeout meal or a new set of sheets when you reach them. “It motivates you to stick to something that, in the moment, might not be something that’s all that appealing,” Winter says.
7. Set realistic expectations
“The hardest part of changing behavior is the first two weeks when you’re initiating the habit,” Winter says. That’s another reason why he suggests starting with 15 minutes of extra sleep, which could be more achievable than adding a full hour.
Assess how you feel after two weeks of consistently getting 15 minutes of extra nightly sleep, but keep in mind that it can take several months to see changes. “Generally, when you make changes related to sleep, three months is usually a pretty reasonable time period to start seeing benefits,” Winter says.
Whether you recapture that sleep by eliminating those 15 minutes of doomscrolling before bed, or you find another way to sneak in a bit of extra snooze time, start Unjunking Your Sleep tonight.