How to: Sleep Better at Night

Why We Sleep: Book Review

Prioritize Sleep

If someone told you there was a magic pill that would reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and cancer, reduce stress and anxiety, help you lose weight, and make you more attractive, wouldn’t you take it?

“the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.”

Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep

Work culture – especially in America teaches that the road to success and happiness is paved by the grind of a 50+ hour work week, 3 side hustles, and a 2 week “working vacation.” But I promise you this is a recipe for burn out.

While working from home, I’ve found it difficult to create a delineation between my work and private life. Somedays, between my work schedule as an engineer and my passion projects, it feels like I’m constantly working from when I wake up to when I fall asleep. I’ve always had trouble quieting the thoughts in my mind when it comes time to sleep, but bringing work home has dramatically increased this challenge.

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

I’ve tried meditation, but this never really clicked for me. Strategizing my daily schedule to optimize my sleep every night has been the most transformative habit in my overall productivity and wellbeing.

We all have a natural rhythm to our energy levels throughout the day, over the course of a month and year. If you are trying to force yourself to do something when you naturally have low energy, you will be unproductive. When you do something is instrumental to the quality of your work.

Working with the natural flow of my day helps me get more out of the day and feel happier since I don’t often feel like I’m fighting against my body’s natural rhythm.

Part of understanding this natural energy cycle is working with your natural sleep patterns. Creating the space in your day to shrug off the sleepiness in the morning and wind down from your day in the evening.

In doing so, you boost your productivity throughout the day and increase your sleep quality at night, which has the added benefit of enabling memory consolidation, allowing habit formation, and sprinkling a magic dust of health benefits over your life.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker had some fascinating background on human sleep habits from an evolutionary perspective – but if you want the short version and to know how you can get better rest at night, here are some action steps you can take.

How it Improved My Life

When I’ve been getting enough sleep, my emotional reasoning is …semi-logical, I’m better at handling my emotions as they come and act constructively. In other words, I’m less likely to last out at people when I’ve had a good night’s rest.

“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”

Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep

Achieving my emotional zen has two components.

  1. Doing activities throughout the day that add value to my life
  2. Refuel my batteries through sleep and constructive alone time

These two practices help me to be in a mental state where I can manage the challenges life throws at me.

This year has reminded me how much pleasure we can take from simple things. Taking a walk with family, brewing a cup of tea, or reading your favorite book can be the highlight of your day. I have become an overall happier person since I have learned to appreciate the little things even when many of the yearly events I typically look forward to were canceled.

The added stress of events in 2020 and the new challenges of work from home made the rest and relaxation part of my routine challenging.

I’ve been struggling to “turn off my mind” when bedtime rolls around. In a way this is good because I’m really excited about the projects I’m working on, but walking around like a sleep-deprived teenager isn’t improving my work.

It can be challenging to create a divide where our professional life ends. Our personal life begins especially when you’re like me and have side hobbies that require additional focused computer work after you’ve finished with your 9-5.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker helped me to engineer space in my day to effectively wind down, sleep better at night, and feel recharged in the morning.

Top Tips for getting better sleep

Don’t Exercise Too Late in the Day

For my fellow desk job junkies I’m sure you have had days where your exercise consists of walking to and from the fridge … let’s just say working from home has been challenging on my mental state and my waistline.

So I started ramping up my workout routine in response to stay-at-home orders … running, doing mat pilates, and walking on the treadmill as I write. Exercising regularly has definitely helped me sleep better at night as I’m physically and mentally exhausted by bedtime.

If you are trying to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine I suggest that workout in the morning as it wakes me up faster than caffeine.

Avoid Caffeine & Nicotine

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

You know who you are if you are addicted to caffeine – and yes, I am certainly a member of the coffee addict club. Typically, I can get through the morning with two cups of coffee… but there have been many days where two cups turn into three or four, and then I’m lying in bed at night till 1 am because the caffeine is still pumping through my system.

“Caffeine has an average half-life of five to seven hours. Let’s say that you have a cup of coffee after your evening dinner, around 7:30 p.m. This means that by 1:30 a.m., 50 percent of that caffeine may still be active and circulating throughout your brain tissue. In other words, by 1:30 a.m., you’re only halfway to completing the job of cleansing your brain of the caffeine you drank after dinner.”

Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep

If you have plans to fall asleep at 10 pm I suggest having your last cup of coffee by noon. Then the coffee will have worked its way out of your system by bedtime.

Avoid Large Meals and Beverages Late at Night

Like drinking caffeine and working out, eating and drinking late at night can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. Food is the primary source of energy, and you don’t want to be injecting energy into your system when you’re about to fall asleep. I’ve been trying out intermittent fasting lately, so I generally stop eating around 6 pm. If you want me to make a video about my intermittent fasting experience, let me know in the comments sections below.

Leave Time to Relax Before Bed

Rituals can be transformative. Creating systems around habits enables me to create positive change in my life. To sleep better at night, I have scheduled my favorite relaxing activities in the evening to prime myself for a good night’s sleep.

I call the last two hours before I go to bed “monk mode.” At this time, I’m not allowed to be on my devices to limit my exposure to blue light and do some deep work on my highly important fantasy reading. This is probably the biggest secret I have regarding how I read so many books throughout the year. I carve out time every day to plunk myself on the couch and cuddle with a book. 90% of the time, this is also the secret ingredient in my sleep schedule… but every once in a while, I run into a book that keeps me up well into the morning … but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Stick to a Sleep Schedule

If you are in your professional career or at school, it’s very tempting to try and cram a week’s worth of sleep into your weekend. For most of my life, I’ve forced myself to get up early during the week, so I could be “productive” and slept in most weekends to catch up on my sleep.

Unfortunately, this means that by the time Monday comes around, the last thing I want to do is wake up for the early bird shift. I typically end up lazily working through my morning half asleep, hoping the caffeine will start to kick in around my third cup of coffee.

As part of this experiment, I have been trying to keep my sleep schedule more consistent. I’m hoping that this new alarm clock will do the trick. I will report back to you after I have had a chance to test it out.

Ideally, it helps you gently wake up by gradually increasing the light’s intensity, creating an artificial sunrise in your bedroom aligned with your sleep schedule. Winters are pretty dark and sad where I live, so bringing in some sunshine to my bedroom, even if it’s artificial, has helped my morning moods.

So, far I love it! It’s a gentler way to wake up that the traditionally annoying alarm clock which has made it a lot easier for me to maintain my early wakeup time on the weekends.

Have a Dark, Cool, Gadget-Free Bedroom

“Why we sleep” really emphasized sleeping in a cool room. This will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer… as a bonus sleeping in a cool room helps produce melanin, which has lovely anti-aging benefits (although I’m not sure I’ve seen any noticeable effects from that).

Worth the Read?

There is a lot of information in this book about the origins of human sleep patterns from an evolutionary perspective. While this was interesting, it didn’t truthfully add value to my quality of life. My take away from this book were the strategic practices to help get better sleep. I will be making a video on my YouTube channel showcasing how I’ve incorporated these into my daily routine. I hope you found this helpful!

Sweet dreams everyone 😘

2 thoughts on “How to: Sleep Better at Night

  1. We also enjoyed reading this book. We are big fans of sleep and it is something we do not compromise on. Love the two components you mentioned. For us, bedtime routine really helps, plus keeping everything dark early so the mind and body knows sleep is coming soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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