I wrote a post a few years ago on good sleep habits. Then last year I gave a presentation on Timeless Health Habits – behaviors for eating, moving, and sleeping that stand the test of time. When I asked that audience what habits they were most interested in, the top response was: “SLEEP”.
I’ve learned much more about good sleep habits in the last two years. I doubled my deep sleep in the last six months. My resting heart rate went down twenty percent. My heart rate variability increased by fifty percent. Those are significant positive results. Improving my sleep habits enabled those positive changes.
This is the shorter seven-minute version of my How to Sleep Better workshop. If you want to read about any of the topics below that I didn’t cover in the short version, check out the handout for a brief summary. If you know a group that’s stressed out, tired, or can’t sleep contact me to discuss the workshop. Like every single person in this audience, we all struggle with sleep. It gets worse as we get older. Protect yourself before you wreck yourself. With better habits.
Sleep Workshop Potential Agenda Topics
- Stress-coping skills
- Check the basics
- Wake-up routine
- Power-down routine
- A perfect day
- Can’t sleep?
Sleep Workshop Handout
This Sleep handout has a summary of what’s covered in the video and the topics above along with exercises to start improving your sleep.
Top Five Sleep Tips
If you research improving sleep, you’ll find dozens of ideas. I’ve tried most of them. After all that experimentation, I recommend implementing these five actions first to improve your sleep quickly.
|#1 Move||– Walk five miles per day, outside when possible|
– For now, start with an extra mile
|#2 Sun||– Get outside as early as possible, as much as possible|
– Go outside for a minute every work break, even in bad weather
|#3 ||– Skip computers and phones one to two hours before bed|
– Read a book, stretch, watch tv from far away (or try blue blockers)
|#4 Cool||– Set your thermostat to 67°F. Experiment between 62-69°F|
– Try taking a hot bath 1-2 hours before bed to cool your internal temp
|#5 Reset||– After your 9-5 pm routine, change your physiology to destress|
– Ex. shower, exercise, sports, long walk, socialize, Epsom salt bath
Print the Top Five Sleep Actions printout right now and put it by your nightstand or at your desk as a reminder. Small actions create big changes like seeing actionable information repeatedly.
Implement these actions one-at-a-time, then layer on the next. For example, walk an extra mile per day for a week, then add another mile every week until you get to five miles. Keep walking the extra miles and get outside one, two, then three times per day. Focus on the extra sunshine for a few weeks, then put away your cell phone an hour before bed. If you have a thermostat that runs a schedule, set it to 67 degrees an hour before bed and you’re done. The physiological reset is last because it takes more effort, although you can simplify it with a long walk after work and a shower.
- Pillars of Health Chapter 1 – Sleep
- Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
- The Circadian Code by Sachin Panda
- The Biohacker’s Handbook (free sleep chapter)
- Peter Attia podcasts with Matthew Walker (ep1, ep2, ep3, ama1, ama2)
- Rhonda Patrick podcasts with Sachin Panda (ep1, ep2)
- WSJ – Can’t Sleep? Surprising Strategies That Actually Work
- Practice good sleep hygiene – seven to nine hours, consistent wake-up and bedtimes, cool, dark, quiert bedroom, sleep and sex only in bedroom, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and exercise before bed, screens off thirty to sixty minutes beforehand
- Don’t chase sleep – don’t go to bed early, sleep late, or nap
- Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy – your eyes should be droopy
- Don’t stay in bed unless you’re asleep – get out of bed after fifteen to thirty minutes max not sleeping
- Re-establish daily routines – use a morning routine, eat meals at the same times, exercise at the same time, log off work at the same time and take a walk, exercise, shower, reset your physiology, space, and mindset, walking a lot or getting a hard workout in, socializing with someone, and spending time on a project I care about are my best daily routines for feeling accomplished and tired at the end of the day
- Have a bedtime routine – take a bath, read a book, relax
- Stop catastrophizing – stop thinking “I won’t be able to sleep or function in the morning” and replace it with nicer thoughts “People who sleep well don’t think about sleep all the time.” Be nice to yourself.
- Keep a worry journal – write them down when you wake up, at night a few hours before bed, and if you can’t stop your mind when you go to sleep pick up a pen and write down your thoughts until they’re gone or you’re tired
- Practice gratitude – when ruminating in bed, think about your favorite moment from your day and savor it
- Listen to someone else’s voice – audiobooks, podcasts, meditation, I like well-written tv (I’m sure that breaks the no-screen rule but rules are meant to be broken and it works for me)
- Try CBT-I – look it up, find a practitioner
The Oura ring helps me track sleep stats so I know if anything I try helps. Normally I give a new experiment two to four weeks to monitor before deciding whether it helps.
The Chilipad is great for keeping your bed cool but it is expensive. But I don’t wake up overheated anymore.
Blue light blockers are worth it if you have trouble falling asleep, particularly if you’re watching screens or in a room with light at night. Right now I use and Felix Grays in the daytime on my computer and TrueDark yellow glasses an hour or two before bed. I always take these and sunglasses off when I’m out in sunlight before 4 pm to help set my circadian rhythm unless I’m blinded.
The bottom of the list are natural tools which we tend to overlook But turning your thermostat down cooler helps. Getting out in the sun in the first hour of your day helps. Walking more with your feet helps. Hitting the power button on your devices a half-hour to an hour before sleep helps. And taking a cold shower helps me wake up, but maybe skip that one.
I’ve tried all of these. If you have medical conditions, work with your doctor before taking them. And if you don’t have any conditions, remember everything here has potential risk and reward. While they’re over the counter, that doesn’t mean there’s no risk. They’ve helped me and I’ve tried just about everything, so I’m listing them for reference.
- Magnesium Threonate
I prefer using the best quality supplement company possible for safety. I’m less confident in deciding whether the supplement works or the company might have made an ineffective supplement if the company isn’t reputable. Right now I use mostly Thorne, Jarrow, and Pure Encapsulations. I use the minimum amount of these supplements possible to get a significant benefit. I rarely use melatonin, tryptophan, phosphatidylserine or gaba anymore but they helped when my sleep was worse and/or stress was higher. With all supplements I start at a low dose then increase slowly from there and know the limits and research before starting. If they don’t help significantly, I stop. Once things are better for a few months, I try weening off them.
Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health.Matthew Walker
Often overlooked, never far away, sleep presents an opportunity every day to improve your health. As the base of my health-habits-pyramid, I’d focus on sleep first to look better, feel better, be happier.
Think back to that last time you had a stress-free, long night of great sleep. How did it feel when you woke up?
You deserve that feeling more often. Get after it. Happy sleeping.