As you know, I’m big on sleep and for so many people, it’s a fast away to incredible energy all day. So many people are deprived and silently suffering. They might not even think they’re suffering, but unless you’re sleeping 7ish hours a night, waking up feeling really positive, calm, and ready to go without an alarm, you’re suffering without realising it… see last week’s post The Secret to Incredible Energy Part 1
So, part 2 today, here are six non-negotiables for better sleep…
Hygiene is important. You wash your hands. You disinfect your bathroom. You brush your teeth for oral hygiene. You might even practice mental hygiene to keep you cheery and high-functioning… which is something pretty interesting in its own right, but today it’s sleep hygiene!
Many of the things I am about to say, you’ve heard before. You know a lot of this stuff already, but you’re probably not doing it. If you were, you’d probably have a lot more energy, feel pretty positive about the world, have less stress and look younger… Well, knowledge is only power if you make use of it.
Go to sleep. Go earlier than you think you want to. Remember, things don’t usually actually get better if you stay up. Think about it in evolutionary terms. Animals (don’t forget, we’re still animals…) go to sleep shortly after the sun goes down. For the vast majority of human history, we have too. For a list of consequences of failing to act on this knowledge see Part 1.
- Make it dark, dark, dark.
Your bedroom’s got to be dark. This is really important. Robb Wolf, author of the Paleo Solution, talks about dark so dark, you can’t see your hand in front of your face. He goes on to explain how we’re inundated with artificial light, whether it’s the streetlights outside, the LED on our alarm clock etc. He argues that we’re out of whack enough, given that we tend to stay up later than our pre-electric lighting ancestors and making things extra dark improves the signal of nighttime, so we sleep more deeply, and better.
When I lived in Hong Kong, we had a neighbor who, about 11pm, almost without fail would go up to his roof on the village house next door and turn on his floodlights. There always seemed to be visitors, but my Cantonese never got good enough for me to tell what was going on. Regardless, I had to custom cut opaque plastic sheets to black out our windows. The neighbours’ floodlights practically penetrated the concrete walls. You might be able to get away with regular ol’ blackout blinds or curtains. Chances are you can. Give it a shot, see how good you wake up feeling when your bedroom is reeeeally dark.
- Red, red, red
Ban blue light in the evening. This is related to the dark and operates along the same hormonal pathways. Blue light reduces sleep pressure, tricking the body into thinking it’s getting sunlight. Historically, and prehistorically, the only sources of light available after sundown were fire and moonlight. Moonlight sufficient to do much more than avoid tripping on sleeping hyenas is pretty uncommon and although it has some blue light in it, it just isn’t intense enough to make an evolutionary difference to us. Fire, on the other hand, rarely would have been white hot. We even today imagine a nice fire as being a cheery red and yellow. Those parts of the visual spectrum are great for winding down and settling in for sleep. The infrared probably helps as well.
So, away go the screens, at least an hour before bed. If you simply must use a screen, wear amber glasses to cut the blue, or use a program like f.lux to remove the blue and green light from your screen. It’s not available for iOS, unfortunately (If you find something that does that on iOS, let me know!), but there’s an Android version as well as MacOS and Windows. I’m sure there’s a Linux version as well, though if you’re using Linux, you can probably just program something to do the job.
The slower, red-end-of-the-spectrum light induces melatonin production, among other things, which is why it’s essential for good nighttime sleep.
Your bedroom should be cool. People tend to vary on this a bit more, but in general, a cold room, something like 60F or 15C will be ideal. There’s a whole host of benefits to be had from this kind of setup. Even better if you can wear as little clothing as possible. I saw a documentary on the British special forces and how training works and one of the things that struck me as odd was that they had to sleep in their birthday suit. Puzzled, I did what I usually do and spent a few hours researching the benefits of sleeping nude. There’s a surprising amount of information on it! I found that it improved insulin sensitivity, improved body composition and, there it was, it made for deeper, more restful sleep.
So, in the buff if it doesn’t bother you, and cold.
- Booze, Caffeine and Others
It probably won’t surprise you to find that caffeine and other stimulants impair sleep, but it may surprise you that most depressants, including alcohol, do as well. Although a nice glass of whiskey might seem like it’s relaxing you, helping you get ready for bed, alcohol actually damages REM sleep. People end up mentally fatigued, with poorer memory consolidation and just plain ol’ not as well rested. Alcohol can also precipitate sleep apnea.
This is not saying you shouldn’t drink, but you might want to take some paleo advice and keep the drinks to 5 or more hours prior to bedtime. Think afternoon tipple, rather than nightcap.
You’ve all heard this. The bedroom should be for sleep and sex only. Tricky if you’re a student. Impractical if you have much of a family, but do your best. I don’t reckon our Paleolithic ancestors had bedrooms, but there’s some pretty good evidence that we do learn to associate places with certain activities.
There’s also very good evidence that finding yourself awash in rewarding endorphins in the company of your significant other improves sleep quality dramatically. That said, if things are stressful in life, there might not be much of that happening, but don’t sweat it, get your ducks in order and things will work themselves out.
Keep your sleep times as regular as you can. We’ve probably all heard that sleep timing is important too.
If it’s 9pm to 5am every weekday, don’t mess it up by having a lie-in or a super late night on the weekend. If you do have one or the other, just make sure to keep the timings otherwise regular.
I was out watching a game of T20 cricket last night with some friends I haven’t seen in years. We ate, drank and were merry, but despite a good long walk home to sleep at 1:30, I still woke up at 6am. I’ll be going to bed regular time tonight though, let me tell you…
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
I do generally do all of the things I’ve been recommending here, bar the odd night out, but I’m a dad, my daughter is 18 months old this week, and the past couple of years have not been full of the best sleep. That’s just reality.
Babies wake up.
It’s just part of the deal.
You might get a month of solid 12 hours a night only for it to shatter into 4, 5 or 6 wakes through the night. Teething can be a nightmare. Nerves will be frayed. Accidental sleep-ins will happen, requiring apologies to various third parties. Doubts, promises, frustrations will all come and go while your little one’s sleep systems calibrate and normalize.
If you’re doing everything else on this list, almost all of the time, you’re going to be ok. It might not be comfortable, but you will survive it. I’m writing that as my wife is responding to a plaintive ‘mummeeeeee!’ emanating from my daughter’s room. Pesky molars…
Have you got any tips or tricks to get a good night’s sleep? I’d love to hear about them!
Photo attribution… https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/