One thing that’s taken me nearly 32 years to figure out is that sleep matters above just about everything else. Nothing else has had as positive an effect on my life and overall happiness as fixing my sleep.
A couple years ago, there was a 1.5 year period where I was getting up at 4am every day and working for 6 hours. After each shift, I’d be so wrecked I’d have to take a nap to get anything done. I’d wake up feeling groggy as hell for the entire day, and have zero inclination to go to the gym, or work on my goals, or even have fun with my hobbies. I literally just wanted to doze on the couch some more, and the entire day would basically be ruined. The next morning I’d get up and repeat it all again.
My “sleep debt” built up so much I became a complete zombie. I couldn’t think, I was perpetually stuck in a “brain fog”. My vocabulary took a hit -words would always be “right on the tip of my tongue” but never quite there. Like a disorganised filing cabinet, I could never lookup the words when I needed them. My thoughts were scattered. My brain was mush.
Physically I was weaker, with less energy. Coffee didn’t help. I played less sports, I went on less walks, I spent more time on the couch or in my bed. In the gym, all my lifts went down massively – I’m talking 20-30% from my max strength levels. I also feel more shakey, less stable, less “strong” and just shit overall.
And I did this to myself for 1.5 years. Insane.
Other people aren’t much better. More than 33% of American adults don’t get 7 or more hours sleep each day. People love to be martyrs and brag about how little sleep they’ve had, like some sort of weird badge of honour. I used to be one of them; now I brag about how much sleep I’ve had.
When I’m consistent with my 8hrs sleep, everything is a million times easier. I have motivation that just isn’t there when I’m sleep-deprived. Writing is a joy instead of a grind; words flow effortlessly from my mind to the page. The gym is fun, instead of absolute hell. Talking to girls is easy, instead of a god damn chore.
Everyone who’s been chronically sleep-deprived and then made an effort to fix it can attest to how much more alive you feel on adequate sleep.
So how do we actually get that sleep?
There’s a reason these are on the top of my list – they’re the single-biggest contributor to me getting great sleep. There’s not a single night – ever – that I don’t use them.
We feel sleepy when our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin – known as the sleep hormone. It’s responsible for sending us to sleep, and a lack of it means we’ll stay up much later and have trouble falling asleep. We require melatonin for a healthy sleep schedule.
Melatonin production is severely reduced when we’re in the presence of blue light (such as midday sunlight, which is actually blueish in colour – our eyes just compensate so it appears white). Other things give off blue light as well – phone screens, computer screens, TV screens, many light bulbs, etc. All of these are massively-detrimental to getting a good night’s sleep, as without melatonin, you just don’t get that “I’m sleepy” feeling.
Put them on a couple hours before you’re ready to go to bed, and don’t take them off. Even in a brightly-lit room, or while staring at a phone screen, you’ll find you naturally start getting sleepy over the course of a few hours. They’ve been an absolute game-changer for me, and for all the friends and family I’ve bought a pair for.
You can also download apps for your phone/PC that reduce the amount of blue-light emitted (eg Flux). However, the glasses work better and affect everything that emits blue light; not just your screen.
Turn Down Your Lights Before Bed
A couple hours before you want to fall asleep, start turning down the lights in your home (turning them off is even better). You can also replace any bright/harsh light bulbs with softer (warmer), less bright bulbs – or use a softer room lamp.
The first time you try turning all your lights down (or even better – off), you’ll find you start naturally getting more and more sleepy as the night goes on. It’s extremely hard to stay awake in a dark environment. You can even try this as well: once you start feeling yourself getting tired, turn all the lights in your house back ON. You’ll find within 5 minutes you’ll be wide-awake again.
Bedroom as Dark as Possible
Your bedroom should always be as dark as possible – aim to eliminate all the light you possibly can. The darker your bedroom, the quicker you’ll start feeling sleepy, and the better your REM sleep will be.
- Blackout Blinds:
Blackout blinds go over your windows and completely eliminate all light – they’re bloody brilliant. The ones I use are the “Gro Anywhere Blackout Blind” – I have 2 of them across my windows. Amazon have an even cheaper version here. They have suction caps so you can easily take them down if needed.
- Eye Mask:
You can also grab a cheap eye mask from Amazon/Ebay to cut down on light. Bare in mind it won’t work as well as blackout blinds – even the best eye masks let a little light in around the edges/underneath. They’re also prone to coming off during the night, and you may find it annoying to sleep with one pressing onto your face.
Bedroom as Quiet as Possible
A quiet bedroom is also mandatory for getting a good night’s sleep. If you’re like me and live in the middle of a busy city, ear plugs are a life-saver.
The only ones worth using are wax earplugs – particularly beeswax ones. They’re much more effective than regular foam earplugs, and because they’re mouldable and sit over your ear canal (rather than inside it), you don’t feel them as much when you wear them. These are the ones I use.
Wakelights are the coolest thing since sliced bread. They’re an alarm/lamp that works by slowly getting brighter and brighter over a period of time (usually 20-30 minutes) until eventually your room is as bright as the midday sun. It sounds cute and gimmicky but you’ll find you wake up MUCH more gently than that horrible jarring alarm sound we’re all used to.
Not to mention, once you’re awake, you’re properly awake. Because you’ve woken up gently over 20-30 minutes, your body’s had time to flush away that “groggy” feeling you often feel every morning. You’ll want to jump straight out of bed and get on with your day.
Any of the Philips wakelights are great; I use this one.
No Caffeine/Alcohol Before Bed
Caffeine affects your ability to fall asleep, obviously. Cut out all caffeine 5-6 hours before bedtime. Remember, this includes things like tea, soft-drink (including diet), energy drinks – all of which contain caffeine.
Alcohol should also be avoided before bed. It’ll appear like it’s helping you fall asleep faster (by sedating you), but your REM sleep will be messed up and you’ll wake up feeling groggier than had you gone without.
Go to Bed at the Same Time Each Night
Having a set time you go to bed and a set time you get up each day means your body’s circadian rhythm isn’t thrown out of whack. (You should also aim to keep up the same set schedule on weekends.) You’ll find it much easier to fall asleep, and getting up won’t be so much of a chore – it’ll be an easy habit.
Colder is Better
It’s always easier to fall asleep in a cold room, and you’ll get deeper sleep too. Just keep it comfortably cold – don’t freeze your tits off.
You can take melatonin as a supplement to help you fall asleep faster, and it definitely works – half a pill and I’m out 30 minutes later. They’re super cheap on Amazon, and you only need half a pill (I don’t notice any difference between half a pill and a whole pill).
Just try not to take it every night – you don’t want to use it as a band-aid to cover up shitty sleep habits.
Phone on “Dark Mode”
Many phones come with a “dark mode” which reverses the colours (white becomes black, black becomes white). This means your phone will be emit much less light, making it much easier to fall asleep.
It’s usually found in your phones accessibility settings – for me on Android, that’s Settings > Additional Settings > Accessibility > Colour Inversion.
You should also turn your phone’s brightness to the absolute minimum it can go if you plan on reading in bed. There are apps which can make your phone even darker than the default settings – I use Darker on Android.
Watch this awesome vid from the Joe Rogan podcast with a sleep expert: