If you’ve been struggling with sleep, you’re probably wondering how to improve it or how to sleep better. Sleep is important. The quality of your sleep will affect the quality of your waking hours. More importantly, your physical and emotional well-being is hugely dependent on the quality of your sleep. I hope the following tips for better sleep will help you get the most out of your night as well as your waking hours.
*Disclaimer: All the sleep tips below are based purely on my obsessive research and relentless experiments. They are not medical advice. So, if any of the sleep tips would keep you up at night, it was your call to try them. But, rest (awake) assured that I’ve slept on every single one of them. (Ok, enough of that).
First of all, let me tell you a little bit about why I know a thing or two about sleep. Pretty much my whole 20s I was fascinated by Lucid dreaming (which is a strange sleep state when you’re asleep and dreaming, but you’re conscious of the fact that all you’re experiencing is a dream. Yet, you’re consciously choosing your actions in the dream world as you would in waking life. It’s one of the most extraordinary experiences and truly – out of this world. It feels 100% real, or even better. Let me know in the comments section if you’d like me to write an article about my experiences from the dream world.)
To be able to lucid dream on demand, I needed to become a true sleep hacker. I’ve studied sleep excessively and learned a lot.
Ironically, in my 30s, I’ve been focusing on figuring out how to get the best quality of sleep (so I can sleep less).
Before we get into it, there is one important thing I’d like you to keep in mind. When experimenting with sleep, always listen to your body as it will tell you what works and what doesn’t. Notice that I didn’t say – listen to your mind. “Your” mind can be a lazy bugger and would sleep all day if it could.
Here is what I found… and let’s start with a somewhat controversial one.
You don’t need 8 hours of sleep
There is a common belief that the recommended sleep duration is 8 hours. However, it’s as useful as saying that the recommended height is 6 feet. Yea, great, but we all are not 6 feet high.
In fact, the optimal duration of sleep can vary anywhere between 5-9 hours amongst people. It takes a bit of experimenting to figure out what works best for you.
If you’re tired, you naturally try to sleep more. But, the tiredness may be from sleeping too much.
I found out that when I sleep more, I’m actually more tired and even lethargic during the day. I may wake up like a princess after 8 or 9 hours of sleep, but I’m dragging my body during the day like a zombie.
Through experimenting, I figured that for me, around 6 hours and 15 minutes works best. There are occasional days when I know I’ll need a bit more sleep, e.g. run 20km or manage a whole day workshop.
But, less than six hours and I feel it’s not enough. I’ll be honest, I don’t always feel like singing “Mooorning’s heeeere!” after six hours of sleep, but after a few minutes, I’m fully awake, and I’m kicking ass the whole day.
Recently, I started working with a new client, a young, healthy man who wanted to focus on his energy. It was 3/10. I asked him about his sleep. He was sleeping 10 hours and waking up quite late. We tried to cut it down to 8 and wake up earlier. His energy is now 7/10.
Pro Tip: Experiment with different sleep durations (more about this later).
Keep in mind that the quality of your sleep will reflect during the day, not just in the morning.
Establish a regular sleep pattern
One of the most important things when it comes to sleep quality is regularity. Your body has an internal clock (no, it’s not why you’re always beeping during airport security checks)… It’s called a circadian rhythm. Basically, a complicated daily cycle of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other weird bodily functions. Your body starts preparing for sleep and wake-up way before you do.
If you go to sleep and wake up at different times every day, you’re constantly in a jet-lag state. We all know jet lag is sucks.
Pro tip: Try to go to sleep before midnight. From my experience, when I push past midnight, my sleepiness goes away, and it’s a bit harder to fall asleep.
Sleep Aids and Gadgets
There are loads of different apps and gadgets you can use. Frankly, I think I’ve tried them all. Some are pretty helpful, and some I found to be useless gimmicks.
Mobile phone Sleep apps
The accuracy of sleep apps varies a lot. Essentially, the apps use clever algorithms to “estimate” what sleep stage you’re in based on your movements, heart rate, and body temperature. It’s as close as you can get to analysing your sleep without going to a sleep lab.
(I’m using the apps below in combination with my Apple Watch).
My favourite ones are:
Auto Sleep – provides a really deep analysis of your sleep, including your sleep stages, quality, interruptions, heart rate, readiness, regularity, etc. It’s very nerdy.
Sleep Watch – Similar as Auto Sleep. The interface is a bit easier to navigate through.
Sleep Cycle – A really popular app. Can be used without The Appel watch. It has a great feature where it shows which factors influence your sleep. I find it a bit less accurate and quite buggy lately.
Oura ring – A bit of a James Bond gadget that looks like a fancy ring but is loaded with tech. I have not personally tried it but have heard great things. (My girlfriend said if that’s the first ring I’ll wear, I better not fall asleep!).
Tips to fall asleep easily
Many people struggle to fall asleep quickly.
I’ve trained myself to fall asleep fast.
The first trick is simple. As Bruce Lee said – Empty your mind.
What keeps most people awake is thinking, a.k.a. The racing mind.
Naturally, If you have a lot on your mind, you’ll be thinking about it.
Your mind is a bit like a kitten. If there is something to play with (ideas or worries), it will play with it. You need to distract it or calm it down.
Here are a few tips that may help you.
Let “them” talk you into falling asleep
Our mind is drawn to language and words. If you play a podcast or an audiobook, what you’ll notice is that you’ll listen to it. When your mind is busy listening, it won’t be thinking because you cannot listen and think at the same time.
There is a great podcast called: Bedtime stories where nothing much happens. It’s pretty much what it says. The narrator has a calming voice and tells the story twice. The second time was much slower. Or so she says, I’ve never made it that far.
Audiobooks work really well, too. Just make sure it’s calm and somewhat uneventful. The Power of Now works really well. I’ve struggled to stay awake through it, even in the middle of the day.
Practising meditation, in general, will also help you stop your racing mind when you’re falling asleep because you’ll learn how to dismiss thoughts that come up.
What to do in the hours before sleep
Unfortunately, sleep doesn’t have a switch we could flip on and off (shame, though), but more of a dimmer switch. So if you want to hit the pillow and be out in a couple of minutes, you need to start turning that dimmer down way before you lie in bed (I’m assuming that’s where you sleep).
I was going to make a joke about Baron Dracula sleeping in a coffin but realised that poor sod was a total insomniac. Bad example.
If you start winding down some 3 hours before your bedtime, it can not only help you fall asleep faster, but it will also improve the quality of your sleep.
Try stretching or sleep yoga before bed
but nothing too vigorous as it will get your body all raced up, and you’ll find it hard to fall asleep even though you’ll feel tired. Trust me. Moreover, if you do a heavy workout, your body will be recovering from it overnight rather than getting a rest. Exercising in the morning is much better, plus it will wake you up.
Meditation is great before bed. It helps you calm your mind down and is generally good for you.
I find reading books great for inducing sleepiness. And no, I don’t read boring books. For me personally, ten pages and I’m dozing off.
Write your thoughts and task down
If you have something on your mind, get it out of your head, and write it down. Sometimes our mind is just chewing on ideas and things we need to do because it knows it’s important and doesn’t want to forget it. Writing things down, even as a to-do list for the next day does magic. Try it.
It’s a form of meditation where you follow a particular breathing rhythm. There are many apps you can download that will guide you through it. I highly recommended it.
What NOT to do in the hours before sleep?
Minimise screen time
(TV, computers, phones, tablets, etc.) Screens emit blue light, which will keep your brain awake. Although screens have “night shift” features or you could wear glasses that block blue light, whatever is on the screen (movies or work) will keep you awake.
Be mindful of caffeine consumption
This would include tea, coffee, and energy drinks. The half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours. That means, if you have a cup of coffee that has 200mgs of caffeine at 9am, at 3pm there’ll still be 100mgs of caffeine in your body (half a cup), and 50mgs at 9pm etc. Overconsumption of caffeine during the day OR a late caffeinated drink will make it much harder for you to fall asleep. The impact of caffeine on sleep is well documented so feel free to research more (if you need convincing).
Cigarettes and vapes
Nicotine is a strong stimulant. Many people like to have that one last cigarette before bed. It’s like having an espresso before bed. Would you do it? My mum used to complain that she couldn’t fall asleep – well, she was having a coffee at 9pm and a cigarette. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Don’t try to spice up your sleep
Through all my experimenting, I’ve identified a few things that have a hugely negative impact on my sleep.
Through all my experimenting, I’ve identified a few things that have a hugely negative impact on my sleep.
Especially spicy, hot and heavy food like curries. Which was sad news because I love a good curry.
However, it seems to be really heavy to digest, and I always pay the price for it in the morning as I never feel rested. In fact, I feel terrible.
When you overeat, your digestive system will have to work on processing the food for hours throughout your sleep. Overeating on curry is a killer – you might as well stay awake all night and get some work done as you’ll feel the same in the morning. In contrast with that, I get the best sleep when I’m fasting. Try it out.
There is a lot of research evidence backed up by personal experiences that alcohol interferes with various brain functions. One of them is the ability to fall asleep fully. When you drink, you may fall asleep easily, but your brain is much less likely to fall into the deep sleep. This is one of the reasons why you feel terrible in the morning.
I’m not a big drinker. I may have a shot of whisky once a week. If I have it later in the evening, I can feel less well-rested in the morning.
So basically you need to decide whether you want to have fun or a good sleep. Ha.
How to actually improve your sleep.
It’s quite a few tips and tricks I’ve shared with you.
You may be wondering where the heck should you start, what to try first and what would work best?
Well, you’ll need to experiment with these. Systematically not haphazardly.
Pick one or two of these tips and apply them for a week. Every morning score the quality of your sleep. I always track the number of hours I slept, how I felt in the morning and my energy level during the day. If the tips you’re testing are working (and they will), one or two weeks should be enough for you to start noticing the difference.
Be committed and meticulous with it. Half-assing it will be just a waste of time.
It’s a small price to pay for the benefit you could get from it.
When you improve the quality of your sleep, your whole life will improve because you’ll have more energy, better mood, you’ll get more done and your health will improve as well. Seems like a great trade-off to me.
You have “all” the HOW-TOs and It’s all in your hands now.
(I don’t think I’ve ever signed an article like this before).
If you’d like to work with me and improve various areas of your life, contact me and let’s talk about what the results could look like.