Sleep Basics: Tips To Fall Asleep Faster, Sleep Better, And Have More Energy In The Morning
This post is a cheAt sheet to getting sleep basics right: I'm Sharing tips for falling asleep faster, sleeping better, and having more energy in the morning. It's a roadmap to start troubleshooting your sleep issues.
Let's start with story time... I want to tell you about the first time my (then, future) wife spent the night at my place...
Just before we went to sleep, I made sure she was comfortable and had everything she needed for the night. Then I said "OK great. So... I'm just going to put some ear plugs in and slip on this eye mask. If you want something, tap me because I won't be able to hear you. Want some ear plugs too?"
She looked at me a bit funny, politely declined, and that was that.
She thought it was pretty weird, and we laugh about it now. But the point is this: I take my sleep seriously and I don't apologise for it.
I think you should take sleep seriously too
Sleep is the simplest thing. Yet it can be really difficult for many of us to get right. And getting enough good quality sleep is often the first thing we sacrifice when life gets in the way.
In my opinion, basic information about sleep should be required learning for everyone. Do you know enough about it to live your happiest, healthiest, more energetic life? If you want to learn more about sleep, the first book I'd recommend is: "The Promise of Sleep" by William Dement. It's a bit old, but Dement is a true pioneer in sleep research and his book covers all the fundamentals.
Why is Sleep So Important?
Sleep has an absolutely massive impact on your:
- Mood and sense of humor
- Creative thinking
- Ability to burn or store fat
- Cravings for unhealthy, sugary, calorie dense foods
- Energy levels
- Immune system
- Athletic performance and recovery ability
If you're under-slept, all of these aspects of your life will deteriorate. When you get enough quality sleep, they improve. It really is as simple as that.
How Much Sleep Do you need?
I'm sorry to tell you this, cause I know it's gonna cut into your regular work / painting the town red / Netflix binging schedule... The research shows that most adults require 8 to 9.5hrs for optimal mental function, mood, physical performance and alertness.
Your brain and state of mind are the greatest assets you have. If you value creative thinking, problem solving, feeling like the best version of yourself, and being mentally sharp, you should seriously think about how to optimise sleep.
Tips to fall asleep faster: understanding Basic Sleep Hygiene
1. Make sure your room is totally dark. As in, NO LIGHT!
Ever gone camping and started getting tired by sun down even though it's way earlier than your normal bed time? Light is the primary signal to your body about when to be awake/alert vs. tired and ready to sleep. Even when our eyes are covered, studies have shown that our skin cells can detect light to the extent that our sleep hormones (the ones that make you feel tired) are disrupted.
- Eliminate any electronic sources of light (phones, clocks, etc.) Turn your phone over, put a towel over your alarm clock, etc.
- Do you have blackout curtains? You'd better get some.
2. Make Sure THere's No noise in your bedroom
Do you hear buses zooming by outside on the street? What about neighbours in an adjacent apartment who like to practice the drums late at night? You need to deal with the noises that will disturb your ability to fall asleep and the quality of that sleep... Basically, you have three choices:
- Get ear plugs to block sound. Get a 100-pack of the highest rated ear bud from Home Depot.
- Get a white noise machine to drown it out.
- Move to the country.
3. Be consistent
Our bodies like habit and routine. You may have heard of something called Circadian Rhythm. It's basically the body's natural pattern throughout the daily cycle. Any disruption to the daily rhythm is a stress to the body. The more we can be in a routine (sleep and wake the same time every day), the better. You might not be able to get this perfect 100% of the time, but the better you do, the better you'll feel.
4. Cool Down The Temperature
It's natural for the body to cool down at night. Everyone has their own magic temperature, and you should experiment to find yours. Some people have found that the Chili-Pad - while expensive - is a game changer. My brother-in-law is one staunch believer - He wouldn't be without his Chili-Pad because without it he often gets so overheated at night that he wakes up several times drenched in sweat. The Chili-Pad allows you to find - and then predictably set - your perfect sleeping temperature. It's the most expensive item on my list of sleep resources, but they seem to work really well.
5. Some teas and supplements can help you feel sleepy in the evening
- MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENTATION. Can be effective at helping you drift off faster. There are drinks you can take, or you can try topical creams which tend to be the most effective for the majority of people. Poliquin Brand Topical Mag is based on Magnesium Sulphate and this is something I personally use. For me, it works really well. This particular topical magnesium is hard to get outside the US. Another option is Natural Calm, which is a cream based on Magnesium Chloride. At this time, I'm not personally 100% sure if it's as effective as the magnesium sulphate. You can apply it behind the knee where the skin is thin 20-30min before bed.
- HERBAL TEA. According to Tim Ferris, teas like Yogi "Soothing Caramel Bedtime Tea" work well for about 30-40% of people.
- APPLE CIDER VINEGAR AND HONEY. A hot drink with natural apple cider vinegar and honey helps a lot of people. Heat up 1 cup of water. Add 2 table spoons of organic apple cider vinegar and 1 table spoon of organic honey. Mix well. Drink before bed.
- A COLD BATH (ICE BATH). Take 2-3 bags of ice. Put them in the tub. Fill the tub with cold water. Hop in! If you want to measure, the water should be 45-55 degrees or so. Sit for 5-10mins. Do this about an hour before bed so your body has enough time to calm down. If you do it right before bed, it might put you in a state of heightened alertness.
6. play with Food Timing
If you really want to dial in your pre-bed routine, I recommend experimenting with different pre-bed snacks. I haven't found one pattern that works for everyone, so here's what you do.
- For 3 consecutive days, eat a small to medium snack of predominantly protein based food about an hour before bed. See how you sleep. Do you wake up at night? How do you feel in the morning?
- Then, for three days, try a fat based snack.
- Then, for another three days, try a low glycemic carbohydrate based snack.
- Finally, for three days, don't have any snack at all.
Keep a journal over this experiment where you write down to help you determine which eating routine works best for you. Make note of:
- How you felt each night and each morning
- How fast you were able to fall asleep
- How many times you woke up in the night
- How restful your sleep felt
- If there were any other circumstances that contributed to your sleep being sub-optimal
Note: The protein based snack doesn't have to be 100% protein... In all these cases you can combine foods. The point is that it should be overwhelmingly made up of your target nutrient.
how To Sleep better: tips for mastering your Pre-Bed Routine
Take 10-15mins before bed to relax and get set for bed. This routine signals to your body that it's time to sleep, plus it's a time to mentally relax and allow the stress of the day to dissipate.
Prior to your pre-bed routine, 10mins of some of a visual game like Tetris or zoning out and watching a light, episodic tv show can help lessen mental chatter.
So can creating a to-do list for the next day. This kind of brain dump exercise helps you to deposit all the important stuff down (like planning what you're going to eat the next day!) on paper and releases your brain from the burden and responsibility of having to remember it all overnight. Since you can't possibly forget things that're written down, writing lists like this gives you permission to ease up and get rest instead of obsessing over your must-do items while laying in bed. Just make sure you do your brain dump AT THE START of your pre-bed routine so you create some space to simply relax before bed.
A FEW MORE GENERAL SLEEPY TIME TIPS:
- Pick a pre-bed activity that is low stimulation.
- Dim the lights (If I'm reading before bed or doing a crossword, I like to light a couple candles or else I use a headlamp that has a red setting. Red light isn't as exciting to the body, so it's perfect for before bed.
- You'll also want some wind down time that isn't too noisy. Create quiet, or play easy, relaxing music. This is no time for cranking death metal to '11'.
- A lot of people also find these options relaxing and good sleep inducing:
- Easy stretching
- Sauna or a hot bath
- Reading (Note: Light fiction is better than non-fiction, which studies show keeps your mind more active because it leads you to project into your future.)
- Laying on an acupressure mat
- Colouring or doodling
- Journaling - for example, try filling in the PR Coaching Daily Journal
- Writing or thinking through a gratitude practice. Which is a fancy way of say, try to answer these questions:
- What are three things that I was grateful for today? (big or small, get creative and try not to repeat the same items very often)
- What would make tomorrow awesome?
- Crossword or Sudoku
how to feel more energised in the morning
OPEN THE BLINDS
When you wake-up, it's a good idea to expose yourself to sunlight within 30-60mins to get your body primed for the day to come.
Exercise is One of Your Two best Tools to Improve Alertness
If you're feeling sleepy and want to boost your energy, you have two big choices. Sleep. Or exercise. Even a quick 5mins of vigorous exercise can help boost your energy and mental acuity by leaps and bounds. Have an important meeting? Schedule a quick exercise session before hand.
Josh Waitzkin, the chess prodigy who inspired the book and film "Searching for Bobby Fisher" describes using this technique in his book "The Art of Learning." He'd even take a quick break during a critical chess match to run a few sprints outside to refocus.
If motivation is low and you're feeling fried (one of the hallmarks of sleep deprivation), still exercise, but give yourself a break. It doesn't have to be (and, actually, shouldn't be) the hardest workout of your life. But do something. Breathe, sweat and move blood around your body. Then call it a day.
Need the Ultimate Power Nap?
When your eye lids get heavy, there's not much you can do to fight it. Often, you're better off just sleeping a little. For a quick nap, I recommend taking 20mins. That should be enough to leave you feeling refreshed, but not enough to make you feel groggy upon waking. To give yourself an extra boost, slam an espresso just before the nap. By the time you wake-up, the caffeine will take effect and you'll be ready to kick ass!
optimise your Daily Meal Schedule
Consistent meal times help establish a regular Circadian Rhythm. Generally speaking, most people benefit from eating a bit more protein during the day to maintain alertness and even energy levels. Saving your carbs (keep them high quality) for the evening can help you feel a bit more energised during the day and sleepier in the evening.
How to Make Practical Improvements to your sleep that You Can really Stick to
It's easy to say "get 9 hours of sleep every night", but if you're currently living on 6 hours, that's probably not very realistic. I get it. There's only so much time in the day and most of us are already trying to cram WAY too much into our waking hours. We're time poor.
So, what to do?
- Start with improving sleep hygiene. Control your sleep environment and get consistent about timing.
- Find a reasonable target for total hours of sleep and set a consistency goal. First figure out how much more sleep you can get. What would have to happen for you to get to bed 30-mins earlier? What about 60-mins? What's doable for you? Then, commit to doing that a certain number of days per week - let's say 5 days per week. Track your consistency each day, and tally it up at the end of the week. You can even turn this into a competition with a friend or loved one.
- Re-assess each month to see how you're doing and to determine if you can make further improvements.
- Don't worry about the odd time when your sleep routine get's out of whack. Life happens and this is nearly unavoidable for many people. Just get back on track as soon as you can, and try to catch some extra Z's after your busy time is finished.
A FEW Other TAKWAY Tips for how to get more restful sleep
- Avoid caffeine after about 1pm (although this cutoff is different everyone, most people do benefit from a caffeine cutoff).
- If you can't get through the day without a coffee (or caffeine stimulant drink of your choice), recognise that you're dependent on stimulants to get through each and every day. You're masking a problem. It's a good idea to wean yourself off.
- Get outside during the day. Expose yourself to sunlight as often as possible.
- Turn your screens off at night. The blue light from devices is particularly disruptive to your sleep regulating hormones.
- When you're sleep deprived, you will crave sugary, calorie dense foods. Even though they might give you a quick boost of energy, they will just leave you feeling tired. In these situations, it's more important than ever to stick to quality proteins, fats and veggies, and avoid carbs. Use sleep or exercise to give you an energy boost instead.
- If you exercise late at night, i.e. too close to bed, you're putting your body into an excited, stressed out state. It takes time for your body to to come down from that and switch into a relaxed state that's primed for bed. Training in the morning, afternoon or early evening is a better bet.
- Shift work is terrible for your health. So is working overnight, even if you have a regular schedule. If this is your reality, the best you can do is keep nutrition dialled in, get as much quality sleep as possible (following the other advise here), and look for another job in the long term. I wish there was a simple fix, but there isn't. I've seen this too many times, and the bottom line is that shift work leads to people being fatter, in worse shape and less healthy.
- If you try these tips and you still have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you need to do two things: educate yourself (start with the book I recommended near the start of this post), and talk to your doctor and/or naturopath.