13 Guidelines for Superior Sleep
Strategies and resources for a life-enhancing drug called sleep.
The most common challenge I hear from new readers is their ongoing battle with sleep.
Like exercise, sleep is an all-around life-enhancing drug, delivering benefits to our brain, heart, and metabolism, and boosting our energy, performance, and overall well-being.
But in our fast-paced, technology-addicted, and production-focused world, many of us fall victim to endlessly busy lives, high stress, and poor sleep.
Whether you actively struggle with sleep or just want to get more out of your time in bed, the strategies below will help you break destructive patterns and create the conditions your brain and body need for better sleep.
13 Guidelines for Superior Sleep
Achieving better sleep is the result of creating better conditions for sleep throughout the day and before you get into bed.
The following guidelines are suggestions for you to experiment with.
You don’t need to follow every single guideline every day of your life, but the more you implement, the better your sleep should be.
Guideline #1: Don’t obsess or stress over sleep.
If you get a bad night of sleep, don’t worry about it.
If your fitness tracker gives you a poor sleep score, that’s okay.
If you’re lying in bed awake at night, don’t fret that you can’t sleep and mentally write off your whole next day.
Worrying about the fact you can’t sleep or didn’t sleep well only worsens your situation by sending you into a negative spiral of stress and anxiety.
If you aren’t sleeping well, accept the past — that is over and done with — and do your best going forward to implement the below practices to give yourself a better chance at good sleep.
Guideline #2: Eliminate alcohol.
Don’t drink alcohol.
While it can act as a sedative by putting you to sleep, alcohol is the biggest known impediment to high-quality sleep.
If you’re dead set on consuming alcohol, cap yourself to one drink prior to 6 p.m.
Guideline #3: Stop eating three hours before bed.
Finish eating at least three hours before you get into bed, if not longer.
Try to go to bed slightly hungry.
Guideline #4: Ditch electronics two hours before bed.
Stay off stimulating electronics such as video games for at least two hours before bed.
If you’re going to look at a screen, turn on Night Shift to reduce your blue light exposure. Another option is to wear blue light-blocking glasses for the two hours before your bedtime.
If you’re struggling to fall asleep at night, try abstaining from technology entirely two hours before bed.
Instead, read fiction, meditate, do breathwork, talk to your family or friends, stretch, foam roll, or play a relaxing game with whomever you live.
Guideline #5: Avoid work and other worry-inducing tasks one hour before bed.
A ruminating mind is enemy number one to your sleep quality.
The last thing you need as you get into bed is a brain mulling over work, email, bills, social media, or other worry-inducing areas of your life.
Guideline #6: Get hot to cool down.
If you have access to one, have a sauna or hot tub before bed.
Alternatively, you can take a hot shower or bath.
This will help lower your core body temperature and induce sleep once you get into bed.
Guideline #7: Set your thermostat low.
A warm room can prevent you from falling and staying asleep.
Set your thermostat around 18-20℃ (65-68℉).
You can get warm under the sheets, but your surrounding environment should be cool.
Guideline #8: Make the room completely dark.
If you can’t make the room you’re in completely dark, so dark that you cannot see your own hand in front of your face, use an eye shade.
I’m a big proponent of sleeping with an eye shade and silicone/wax earplugs.
I’m on the move a lot, often changing locations multiple times per week, and these two tools allow me to control my sleeping environment wherever I am.
Guideline #9: Spend enough time in bed.
The biggest realization I had from tracking my sleep with a Fitbit is that eight hours spent in bed is not equivalent to eight hours of sleep.
If you want a full eight hours of sleep, most people will need 8.5-9 hours in bed.
Work backward from your sleep target, ideally 7-9 hours per night, and give yourself enough sleep opportunity (time spent in bed trying to sleep) to hit your target.
Guideline #10: Wake up at the same time.
In a perfect world, your wake-up time should be fixed every day including weekends while ensuring you get at least eight hours in bed every night.
Disclosure: I don’t do this.
I’m super strict with my bed and wake-up times Sunday to Thursday — my family calls me a senior citizen because I’m in bed by 9:30 p.m. at the latest — and get a lot of mental relief in the variation of staying and waking up a little later on Friday and Saturday.
But no matter my wake-up time, I always get at least eight hours in bed.
Guideline #11: Exercise and move every day.
Engage in some form of exercise or movement every single day.
Sleep is easier and feels better at the end of a day that had some form of physical exertion in it.
Guideline #12: View sunlight in the morning and evening.
On a sunny morning, get outside for 5-10 minutes.
If it’s overcast, up the time to 15-20 minutes.
You can use that time to exercise, walk, or journal. It’s important to have your eyes open, so don’t meditate at this time if you close your eyes.
Face toward the sun but never look directly at any light source that causes discomfort or pain.
In the afternoon when the sun is low in the sky, try to spend some time outside, even if it’s overcast.
Viewing sunlight in the late afternoon or evening tells our circadian clock to start the process of winding down for sleep that night.
Guideline #13: Don’t lie in bed awake.
If you find yourself awake in bed at night, as we all do at times, don’t lie in bed.
Get up, go to another room, and do something relaxing.
You can fix a cup of herbal, non-caffeinated tea and read a fiction book that isn’t overly enthralling or exciting. The more boring the book, the better it will be at putting you to sleep.
Whatever you do, it should be something that is enjoyable and serves no productive function.
DO NOT get up and work or pay the bills.
If you give your subconscious a reason to be awake in the middle of the night, it will remember and wake you up in nights to come.
“I’ve tried everything and I still can’t sleep!”
If you have properly implemented all of the above guidelines and still cannot sleep or sleep well at night, you might have insomnia.
Before seeking professional help, try to adjust your bedtime and wake-up time if possible.
There is a chance that you are a night owl who has been forcing yourself to go to bed earlier than your body or brain wants to.
(The vice versa scenario is uncommon as morning people tend to fall into bed with ease when night rolls around.)
But if that fails too, seek Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).
According to Dr. Peter Attia in his book Outlive, CBT-I is often much more effective than sleep medications.
That’s all, folks. Thanks for reading!
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Much love to you and yours,
Sleep Resources: Assess Your Sleep
The MEQ takes 5-10 minutes to complete and helps you better understand your “circadian rhythm type.”
Some of us are morning people and others are night owls.
Neither is better or worse, but having an understanding of your unique sleep chronotype will better enable you to organize your schedule around your strengths.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Science has fantastic resources for assessing your sleep.
Epworth Sleepiness Scale
The Epworth Sleepiness Scale assessment can be used to determine your current sleep quality and identify if you need to get more sleep, improve your sleep practices (i.e., implement the guidelines above), or seek medical attention to understand why you are sleepy throughout the day.
Sleep Apnea: STOP-Bang Questionnaire
Sleep apnea is a serious medical problem.
Not only can sleep apnea be life-threatening itself but it can also have implications for cardiovascular health and dementia risk and shorten your overall lifespan.
Use the STOP-Bang Questionnaire to determine if you might be at risk and seek medical attention if necessary.
Insomnia Severity Index
If you think you may have insomnia, use the Insomnia Severity Index to help you better understand your current condition.
While this is a useful tool, do not use it to self-diagnose. Work with your doctor to understand your current state and carve a path forward.