So I used to be a TERRIBLE abuser of sleep. With little kids and a business, I found myself often trying to get a second shift in after the family went to sleep. And I would not infrequently work all-nighters.
My family and extended family constantly were on me about this.
Finally Taking It Seriously
Once I started listening to Peter Attia, I was introduced to Matt Walker, basically the sleep expert that everyone refers to.
Matt wrote the book, Why We Sleep, and that has some really good tips in it. He’s also got his own podcast but you’ll see him on pretty much everybody’s podcast in the health & longevity space.
With my inclinations away from medicines/supplements and in an effort to try to do things affordably, these are a collection of tips that I’ve got from Attia, Walker and a variety of people in an order that makes sense to me.
1. Keep a regular sleep pattern
Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop.
Establish a regular bedtime and wake time routine. You can’t achieve a healthy sleep routine if you are always waking up at different times.
Pick a wake-up time and stick with it, even on weekends.
2. Start with and increase bright light exposure during the day
Sunlight helps your body manage your internal clack (your circadian rhythm).
Get sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning for at least 10 minutes if you can. This improves daytime energy and helps nighttime sleep quality and duration.
Get outside for at least 30 minutes per day.
3. Exercise regularly (but not before bed)
Regular exercise also helps with sleep.
In some studies, exercise reduced time to fall asleep by 55%, total night wakefulness by 30%, and anxiety by 15% while increasing total sleep time by 18%.
Don’t perform it too late in the day or too close to bedtime though. Exercise increases alertness and hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline.
4. Reduce irregular or long daytime naps
Long or irregular naps during the day can negatively affect your sleep.
Sleeping in the daytime can also confuse your internal clock.
5. Don’t consume caffeine late in the day
Caffeine has numerous benefits but when consumed late in the day, caffeine stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night.
Try to avoid caffeine up to 6 hours before bed.
6. Don’t drink alcohol
At this point, it’s been proven that no amount of alcohol has health benefits.
One of the worst things alcohol, especially too close to bedtime, does is impair sleep. It can cause sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns as well as alter nighttime melatonin production.
Try to limit alcohol and not to drink within 3 hours of bed.
7. Don’t eat late in the evening
Eating too close to bedtime can also impair sleep.
Avoid late dinners and minimise fatty or spicy foods.
8. Don’t drink any liquids before bed
Try to get your hydration needs in early in the day.
Drinking too close to bedtime can cause nocturia (medical term for excessive urination during the night).
Try to not drink any fluids 1-2 hours before going to bed. Also, use the bathroom right before going to bed if you can to try to decrease your chances of waking in the night.
9. Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
Exposure to light during the day is beneficial, but nighttime light exposure has the opposite effect.
This is because of its effect on your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. This reduces hormones like melatonin which help you relax and get deep sleep.
Avoid blue light from electronic devices like smartphones and computers. You can do a bunch of stuff like wearing glasses that block blue light, use an app like f.lux to block blue light on your laptop or computer.
I think the best thing to do is avoid your phone and turn off any bright lights a couple hours before bed.
10. Disconnect Devices in the Hour Before Bed
In addition to the blue light issues, phones, computers, tablets keep your brain active, making it hard to wind down.
Best to develop a habit of disconnect for an hour or more before bed. Never hurts to read (book or Kindle with their alternate screen technology)
11. Optimize your bedroom environment
Make sure your bedroom is set up to facilitate sleep with regard to temperature, noise, lights.
External noise and light can cause poor sleep.
If you can get rid of light sources and keep your room really dark, that is great. Some folks have success with eye and ear masks. Attia likes the Alaska Bear Sleep Mask & has tons of them so finding one is never an issue. Tim Ferriss has been a big fan of the Sleep Master Sleep Mask as it covers both your eyes and ears (though I think he’s switched to WAOAW). He also wears ear plugs.
I use a mask at times but luckily we live out in the boonies with nobody around us.
12. Set a cool bedroom temperature
So I split this one off from environment because I think it’s so important.
Basically, you need to drop your core body temperature by two to three degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and then to stay asleep. That’s why it’s easier to sleep in a cold room than a hot room.
Ideally, bedroom temp should be 65-68°F (18-20°C).
One of the things I do is always do a hot shower before bed to help with this process. Brings the blood to the surface. And when our body surface is warm, it dumps the heat from the core of our body.
Attia, Tim Ferris and pretty much everybody in the longevity space sleeps with a cooling mattress or mattress cooling pad. In the old days, people started with the ChiliPad by Ooler (now sleepme). At this point, most people have moved to a mattress or pad from a company called Eight Sleep. It’s expensive. These devices can vary the temperature of the bed by person and at different times (allowing you to dial in your ideal preferences). They also track sleep data like an Oura ring or a Whoop.
I haven’t pulled the trigger on one of these yet but something I’m thinking about.
13. Try a pre-sleep routine to relax to wind down
Listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath, meditating, deep breathing, and visualization are all things that can be effective.
14. Take a hot bath or shower
I mentioned this above but I think it’s a good separate strategy.
In addition to relaxing oneself, it helps cool the body’s core temperature. It warms up the extremities, getting more blood supply into them. This draws blood away from your core and allows your core temperature to drop
15. Reserve Your Bed for Sleep and Sex Only
Don’t linger in your bed. If you do, you’re training your brain that your bed is not only for sleep. You want your brain to have a strong mental association between your bed and sleep
This also means, get out of bed in the morning. And if you can’t fall asleep (for 20 minutes or more), get out of bed & do something relaxing in low light. Come back when you’re tired.
16. Keep a Sleep Diary
Some folks find keeping a daily sleep journal beneficial. It can help you to identify factors that might be helping or hurting your sleep. This is not really my bag but it can help.
17. Consider supplements
So I prefer to try to do things other than pharmacology first but I’ve listed some things other folks recommend. I do take magnesium and electrolytes daily.
- Glycine – Attia takes 2 grams. Some studies call for 3. It inhibits motor activity during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The hope is that it is calming the central nervous system.
- Ashwagandha – Attia takes 600 milligrams. It reduces activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal access and the cortisol release.
- Magnesium L-threonate – Attia takes roughly 2 grams. Matt Walker talks about a correlation with insomnia & magnesium deficiency.
Some other stuff:
- Melatonin – A lot of people recommend this. Attia does not. It down regulates melatonin receptors in the brain so the brain gets sort of desensitized to it and can interfere with natural melatonin efficacy.
- Ginkgo biloba – A natural herb that may aid sleep, relaxation, and stress reduction. Evidence is limited.
- Valerian root – May help you fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
- Lavender – Can induce a calming and sedentary effect to improve sleep.
- Attia also takes a couple of drugs called Pregabalin & Trazodone.