Last week, we discussed the myriad reasons that sleep deprivation sucks. From a single night of restless sleep to full-on insomnia, the effects are likely more severe and farther reaching than most people imagine.
This week, we’ll tackle the topic of how to get more (and better) sleep. Some tactics might seem a little far-fetched or difficult to implement, but I encourage you to keep an open mind.
For a few of you, some singular thing on this list might be the key to unlocking a good night's sleep. But for most, it will actually be a combination of several behaviors that need to be modified before it all falls into place.
#1 | Make Sleep a Priority!
I put this one first for good reason.
For a lot of people, a good night of sleep falls into the “I’ll get around to it” category. Work obligations, chores, socializing, even exercising: you name it, and someone allows it to come in the way of sleep.
If you want to lead a happy, healthy, strong life, you need sleep. And the only real way to get that sleep consistently is to treat it like you treat all of your other priorities. If it needs to be built into your schedule, so be it! If you need to sacrifice some TV time in order to get to bed at a reasonable hour, then that’s what you have to do!
View sleep as a priority, not a hindrance.
#2 | Get Some Exercise!
This one may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s important to note that I’m not talking about smashing yourself in the gym in order to make you crash.
Physical activity—be it walking, gardening, lifting weights, etc.—helps you sleep better and feel more alert during the day. So get up and get moving!
#3 | Let the Dishes Sit
Though physical activity is associated with better sleep and sleep habits, certain activities actually seem to have a negative correlation with sleep habits.
Though correlative studies don’t really show causation, those who let domestic responsibilities (like household chores and childcare) overwhelm them are probably less likely to let sleep be a priority.
There are certainly sacrifices to be made in order to raise children and run a household, but sleep should be affected as little as possible. Protect the rescuer! What good are you to your family if you’re allowing yourself to become chronically sleep-deprived?
#4 | Eat More Protein
Studies have shown that increased protein intake has been associated with better reported sleep quality.
Though the folks in the studies were in the midst of a weight loss protocol, it can be an easy (and inexpensive) enough experiment to run on yourself.
Give it a shot! And besides, unless you're trying to go ketogenic or are already consuming a ton of protein, a slight bump in protein consumption would likely be beneficial for most folks, anyway.
#5 | Cut the Caffeine Early
Caffeine has a different half-life from person to person. While some people might metabolize caffeine completely within just a couple hours, for others it could remain in their system for much longer.
When consumed too late in the day, caffeine can interrupt your normal circadian rhythm and delay the onset of sleep.
Do your own experimentation, but cutting out the caffeine by noon is a good place to start.
#6 | Watch for Hidden Caffeine
If you’re drinking anything other than water, make sure you know if it contains any caffeine.
Some beverages might be a little more obvious than others (like pre-workout supplements), but some might be a little more sneaky. So before you drink that lovely cup of herbal tea or take a pill for your headache, make sure it specifically says “Caffeine Free” on the label.
And as for the caffeine in soda, well...just don’t drink soda. Because blech.
#7 | Try Doc Parsley's Sleep Remedy
I'm not one to promote any products I don't believe in. But when Doc Parsley's Sleep Remedy (formerly Sleep Cocktail) was recommended by one of my favorite trusted sources, I decided to give it a shot.
How it works, to oversimplify it a bit, is that it assists in starting the cascade of hormonal processes that help induce restful, restorative sleep. What that functionally means is that it helps you fall asleep naturally.
My personal experience with the Sleep Remedy was this:
- If ever I woke up in the middle of the night, drinking a serving helped me get back to sleep with ease.
- If I took it before bed, even if I still woke up at some point during the night I would wake up feeling VERY well rested (especially compared to similar nights without the drink).
- Taking it soon before waking up (in instances where I woke up, didn't look at the clock, and took a dose) resulted in absolutely no grogginess or difficulty waking up. I was totally fine.
And unlike prescription drugs, Doc Parsley's Sleep Remedy isn't addictive, doesn't come with any crazy side effects like sleep-driving or diarrhea, and doesn't—to my knowledge—have any drug interaction dangers.
Of course, you should check with your doctor and all that jazz. I'm not a doctor.
#8 | Ditch the Prescription Sleep Aids
To quote Dr. Kirk Parsley again, “Drugging yourself to sleep doesn’t work. You only drug yourself unconscious.”
Prescription drugs—Ambien, for example—are technically categorized by the FDA as "sedative-hypnotic" products. Sounds a little sketchy, right?
Mostly prescribed to treat temporary bouts of insomnia, these drugs work by acting on receptors in the brain that deal with nervous system activity.
In other words, they slow down your nervous system until you effectively pass out.
And it's important to note:
Use of these drugs slows down both REM sleep and your deeper, slow-wave sleep. Not cool.
Prescription drugs are typically addictive and come with a litany of side-effects* that, quite frankly, sound atrocious:
Complex Sleep-related Behaviors
- Sleep driving
- Sleep eating
- Making phone calls
- Having sex
- Angioedema (facial swelling)
- Trouble breathing
- And more!
And before you jump to the "my doctor said it was [safe, effective, totally fine, etc.]" rationale, consider this little tidbit:
Ambien was introduced in 1991. It ruled the market for 15 years before the key ingredient, zolpidem, was approved for use in generics.
IN 2013, the FDA released new guidelines for prescribing Ambien because previous dosages were too high and "new data show that blood levels in some patients may be high enough the morning after use to impair activities that require alertness, including driving."
That's a 22-year gap. TWENTY-TWO YEARS! Ambien was able to vote before the FDA finally went, "Oh, y'know what...we kinda fucked that up." (Probably not a direct quote.)
It really makes you wonder whose best interest is at heart when decisions are made governing prescription medications...
#9 | Keep Your Room as Dark as Possible
Our sleep and wake cycles developed with the sun. When the sun went down, so did we. When it cam back up, so did we.
To put this another way, our circadian rhythms are based on the amount of light outside.
During most of human evolution, we really had only three sources of light: the sun, the stars, and fire. (I guess all three of these are fire, but...you know what I mean.)
Nowadays, though, we have all sorts of artificial lights: household light bulbs, televisions, computers, phones, streetlights, car lights, tablets...essentially, the list of "things what emit light" is much larger than it used to be.
It might not seem like that big a deal until you consider that "Indoor lighting is considerably less powerful than sunlight, but many orders of magnitude greater than star and moonlight."
Check out this nifty chart to get an idea of just how different these sources of light are.
#10 | Get Some Blackout Window Inserts
Unless you live out in the middle of nowhere (which really sounds awesome sometimes), it's difficult to simply close your blinds and have complete darkness.
Even if it seems totally dark at first, a brief moment of adjustment will reveal just how much light is actually getting into your room.
I've tried several different curtain styles, even those that say blackout on them, but I’ve never found a curtain that truly blocks out all of the light in a bedroom.
There are, though, some specialty companies that manufacture custom-built window inserts that are much more likely to provide the pitch-black environment you’re looking for.
Maybe if I talk about them enough they'll send me a free pair to try...
#11 | Get a Sleep Mask
Though a darkened room is best, sometimes it’s more practical get yourself a sleep mask to block out light rather than spending a couple hundred dollars on window inserts.
Invest in a good sleep mask—preferably one with two straps, like the one that I have—to keep out that pesky light.
And another benefit of the mask is that you can take it with you! If you’re ever traveling and can’t control the light in your room, a sleep mask is a great solution.
#12 | Get Some Sun!
With all this talk of how to not disrupt your circadian rhythm, we shouldn’t forget to actively assist it, too.
I won’t go into the details of the 2-Process Model of Sleep Regulation, but suffice it to say that early morning sun exposure helps tell your body “it’s time to be awake,” which in turn helps to later tell it “now we should hit the hay.”
In the same vein, it’s also important to…
#13 | Go to Bed at the Same Time Every Night
In keeping with the sleep pressure/wake drive discussion above, it’s important to control for both of these factors by making sure you go to bed (and get up) at roughly the same time every day.
While I don’t feel it’s necessary to set an alarm or get up at exactly the same time every day, keeping within a short time range can really help keep these rhythms working together.
And not only that, but shifting your sleep cycle over the weekend only to jump back to an earlier morning on Monday makes for a pretty rough start to your week.
Take my word for it - the occasional excursion won’t kill you, but consistency with your sleep schedule makes everything easier.
#14 | Turn Off the Electronics
Unless equipped with a special dim-light feature, most electronics and bright light bulbs emit what's called “blue light.” This blue light has a greater impact on our circadian rhythms than other forms of light, and should be avoided as much as possible in the hours before bed.
Many people like to fall asleep to the TV or by reading on a tablet. Since blue light emission delays and reduces melatonin production, it impacts the quality of the sleep you get when you dose off watching Netflix. Over time, this lack of quality sleep, even if the duration is the same, is basically the same as sleep deprivation.
If you find that you cannot fall asleep without watching TV, it might be time to dig into the root cause of your dependence.
For instance, if you are unable to fall asleep because you’re "not sleepy yet," consider reworking your nighttime routine to incorporate more relaxing activities, like reading or taking a bath.
If, however, you suffer from classic “can’t turn my brain off” symptoms, you might need to start looking into some deeper stress management and meditation techniques.
#15 | Get Some Blue-Blocker Goggles
Some people can get away with replacing (or complementing) their regular light bulbs with red bulbs to reduce blue light exposure at night. Some people can simply turn the lights off, switch off the TV, and light some candles.
For these people, I recommend grabbing a pair of blue blocking goggles to wear around at night.
Are they the fanciest, trendiest things? Nah. But they are effective at blocking blue light as the evening wears on.
You can wear these around the house, or if you have to drive late at night you can throw them on while behind the wheel. (Some people involved with shift work even use them during the day to help them get to sleep when it’s light outside.)
And don’t worry, the chuckles and funny looks from your loved ones eventually subside.
#16 | Download f.lux
F.lux is a completely free, easy-to-use software that downloads to your computer and changes the brightness and color of your screen based on the time of day.
Hooked up to your time zone, it automatically gets brighter or dimmer throughout the day, and it accounts for the amount of blue light coming off the screen, too.
I originally got f.lux to avoid hurting my eyes when I would turn my computer on before all the lights were on in the office. But I quickly came to love its benefits later in the day, too.
What's great is that, even though it changes based on your location's sunrise and sunset, you can still customize to what extent it changes and the overall color. AND you can turn it off for set periods of time if you're doing color-sensitive work.
#17 | Keep the Noise Level Consistent
Most people would go with “keep your room quiet” on this one, but I prefer to think of it in terms of consistency.
If you’ll notice, our senses perceive contrasts far greater than they perceive consistent stimuli. In a fast moving crowd, someone moving in slow motion will stand out like a sore thumb. Heck, a sore thumb stands out more than appendages that don't hurt.
While this adaptation was surely great for surviving a late-night animal attack, it’s less likely that one of your cats mewing in the middle of the night is going to pose a real threat.
Keeping some ambient noise going, like a good fan, can block out some lesser noises that might disrupt sleep while still allowing for more critical noises to break through.
[I’ve tried noise machines in the past, but could never get past the pattern in the 10-20 second loop of sound. It was distracting. That said, I’m sure some machines are better than others.]
#18 | Stay Cool
Ever notice how difficult it is to fall asleep in a hot room?
There's a reason for that.
Temperatures outside naturally fall during the night. Though there are huge variations in this pattern throughout the world, it's important to remember that we humans did not evolve indoors with artificial heating and cooling mechanisms. Our sleep-at-night pattern evolved alongside the Earth's get-dark-but-also-cooler pattern.
Because of this, our body temperature drops at night by as much as 10%.
For me, a good night of sleep starts with the temperature slowly going down starting about an hour before bedtime.
#19 | Reserve Your Bed for Two Things: Sleep and Sex
Sleep is sometimes about mindset (conscious or unconscious).
Bringing extra activities into the bedroom can have detrimental effects whether you notice it (like a suspenseful book or captivating TV show) or not (like with the added stress of doing work or the subconscious association of the bed with "activity").
So make your bedroom a sanctuary. Given enough time and routine, just going into your room could help jump start the brain's sleep activities.
#20 | Just Breathe
More than simply a metaphor for relaxation, breathing can quite literally help you relax.
Well, if done correctly, anyway.
Taking some slow, deliberate breaths can actually help shift your body into a parasympathetic nervous system-dominant state, which helps aid in relaxation.
Give it a try!
What about you? What are YOUR favorite ways to get quality sleep at night?