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How to Sleep Better With the 10-3-2-1-0 Rule

How to Sleep Better With the 10-3-2-1-0 Rule

If you toss and turn night after night, you aren’t alone. Millions of American adults struggle with falling or staying asleep, making bedtime unnecessarily stressful. Even as they shuffle through their days like zombies, they find getting their Zzzs elusive. Insomnia can stem from various causes, but could one simple guideline, the 10-3-2-1-0 rule, help you get better sleep regardless of the reason?

It might. What is the 10-3-2-1-0 rule, and how does it influence sleep patterns? How can it help you beat insomnia? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is the 10-3-2-1-0 Rule?

The 10-3-2-1-0 sleep rule is actually a set of five guidelines of behaviors to stop engaging in before bedtime to encourage deep, restful sleep. Each number corresponds to a different activity to cease. Many sleep experts back the method, and anecdotal reports are full of folks who rave about how effective it is. Dr. Manan Vora, Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine doctor recently took to social media urging those with insomnia to try it for one week, the results are so effective.

The 10-3-2-1-0 rule works like this:

  • Ten hours before bed, stop consuming caffeine in any form.
  • 3 hours before bed, stop food and alcohol.
  • 2 hours before bed, stop working.
  • 1 hour before bed, quit all screens, including your phone and television.
  • The zero refers to how many times you hit snooze in the morning. That’s a big, fat goose egg — none.

The Science Behind Each Step

Here’s why the five guidelines of the 10-3-2-1-0 sleep rule inspire your most restful night’s sleep ever.

1. Caffeine

Research shows that consuming caffeine even six hours away from bedtime can shorten sleep by up to one hour. That’s because you become sleepy when the hormone adenosine builds up over time. However, caffeine blocks your adenosine receptors, making you feel artificially alert.

What’s worse is the effect compounds as you develop tolerance. When this happens, it takes more and more caffeine to make you feel alert. What you truly need is to stay away from the substance long enough to let your natural sleep cycles rebalance themselves, although doing so can take a toll on daily life.

Avoiding caffeine at least 10 hours before bedtime provides enough of a break to deter tolerance and limits how much you consume each day. It also ensures sufficient time for your body to process it, leaving your adenosine receptors free and clear.

2. Food and Alcohol

Your body’s processes can keep you awake. For example, eating a huge meal before bedtime makes your body work harder to digest it. Even if lying down doesn’t trigger gastric reflux, the initial food breakdown process keeps you alert.

Additionally, some foods affect your sleepiness more than others. Anything spicy or high in sugar or fats can disrupt digestion and raise your body temperature, making sleep more difficult, so enjoy your biggest meals earlier in the day. Hunger can also keep you awake, so if you’re running on empty, consider a light snack that encourages sleep, like whole-grain bread with peanut butter and a banana. Sipping chamomile or peppermint tea warns you and relaxes your muscles to encourage slumber.

Alcohol is a tricky vixen, especially if you grew up with the myth of the nightcap. This substance latches to your GABA receptors, your brain’s natural Valium, making you feel more relaxed and sleepy — at first. However, trouble strikes when your brain increases glutamate to rebalance itself, as this excitatory neurotransmitter keeps you awake. As a result, you awaken soon after drifting off. Cutting yourself off three hours before bed gives your body time to process the sauce before sleep.

3. Work

You know how frustrating it is when you’re physically exhausted but can’t sleep due to a racing mind. Work keeps your brain in overdrive, and it takes time to calm itself after exertion. Therefore, wrap up your to-do list or make a conscious decision to stop where you are when you reach this point. You’ll be much more productive and breeze through anything left undone with ease when you get adequate rest.

4. Screens

Blue light from phones, computers and television screens interferes with your melatonin production, acting like the sun’s rays to keep you awake. Melatonin is a hormone that eases you into sleep, but exposure to daylight — or a similar light wavelength — inhibits its production. Even if you try biohacking a workaround like taking a supplement or donning blue-light glasses, the mental stimulation alone inhibits rest.

5. Stop Hitting Snooze

Why should you stop hitting the snooze button? As it turns out, it’s ineffective and may make you feel groggier during the first hours of your day. That’s because snoozing only delays full wakefulness — it doesn’t increase your true sleep time. Sleep inertia refers to a temporary decline in cognitive ability immediately after rising, and one 2022 study found that hitting the snooze button draws out this effect.

Making the 10-3-2-1-0 Rule Work for Non-Traditional Schedules

What if you work the graveyard shift? Worse, what if you’re in retail or food service and pull a dreaded “clopen?” Can the 10-3-2-1-0 rule still work?

Yes, although it requires dedication. All you need to know is when your next bedtime is — not a nap but a time when you can get at least six or seven uninterrupted hours. Count back from there to estimate when you should stop doing various activities. For example, if you lie down at noon to prepare for a 10 p.m. shift, have your last caffeinated beverage at work before 2 a.m.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for catnaps, especially if you work a 4-to-11 shift followed by a 6-to-11 and yet another close the following afternoon. Be strategic. If you know you get a longer break after the evening shift, squeeze in a 30-minute snooze before 4 p.m. but resist the urge for a cup of joe when you awake. If you must have a warm beverage, sip naturally caffeine-free herbal tea — some mushroom versions have earthy tastes similar to coffee and may impart impressive health benefits.

Beyond the 10-3-2-1-0 Rule: Other Methods to Induce Sleep

What else can you do to encourage restful sleep beyond the 10-3-2-1-0 rule? Another activity you might want to put a deadline on is exercise. Vigorous activity can elevate your core temperature and heart rate for up to an hour after you stop, and the psychological “pump” may last even longer. Therefore, you should squeeze in your workout at least 60 minutes before bed, possibly earlier if you notice it keeps you awake.

Additionally, it helps to make your bedroom as cozy and conducive to slumber as possible. If you work an odd shift, use blackout or bed curtains to block exterior light and create an artificial “night.” Noisy roommates? Investigate easy ways to soundproof your room and invest in a white noise machine. Pile your bed with pillows and set a cool temperature — most people sleep best in a room around 65° Fahrenheit.

Other methods that may help you sleep include:

  • Sipping an herbal tea made to relax you. Herbs like chamomile, mint, lavender, valerian and passionflower have longstanding reputations for aiding sleep and relaxation.
  • Using aromatherapy, such as a chamomile or lavender pillow spray or a diffuser, to release scents that trigger receptors in your nose, sending relaxing messages to your brain.
  • Practicing deep breathing and meditation, such as consciously elongating your inhales and exhales as you count backward from ten.

Get Your Zzz’s: Sleep Better With the 10-3-2-1-0 Rule

Experts and laypeople alike recommend the 10-3-2-1-0 rule for inspiring restful sleep. It uses science to tell you when to cease certain activities to prime your brain and body for rest.

Try experimenting with the 10-3-2-1-0 rule tonight. You have nothing to lose and quite possibly your best night’s sleep to gain.

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