I do not often listen blindly to expert “knowledge”, common “wisdom”, or consensus advice. Instead, I prefer to think about things for myself. That is why, after reading Matthew Walker’s excellent book, Why We Sleep, rather than trusting the National Institute of Health’s 12 Tips for Healthy Sleep which he recommends, I am creating my own guide to get better sleep. Make no mistake, my understanding of sleep has been for the most part informed by Walker’s book. All I am doing is taking what I have learned from him and in the past and designing my own set of self-recommendations, overlapping with but significantly different from the NIH’s.
I have long thought that around 7 hours of sleep was enough for me. After reading Why We Sleep, I am convinced that giving myself closer to a 9 hour sleep opportunity for 8 hours of actual sleep is probably best and that I am much better off sleeping more than 8 hours than even a little less.
I previously wrote about how to live longer and healthier and mentioned fasting, exercise, and nutrition as the primary tenets. After reading this book, I am convinced sleep is as powerful a factor in determining a person’s healthspan as any. As such, I am determined to systematically improve the quantity and quality of my sleep for life. Here is my guide based on my current thinking about sleep:
The first change I am going to make is to get in bed a little earlier and out of bed a little later. I will aim to be asleep in the 10’s and get up in the 7’s. If I fall asleep at 10:59 and wake up at 7:00 that is 8 hours and 1 minute of sleep minus any interruptions in the night. 10:30 to 7:30 is 9 hours minus interruptions. The latter is closer to where I will aim to be. I should note that going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is the top recommendation offered by both Matthew Walker and the NIH.
I am a big believer in Peter Drucker’s old saying, “What gets measured gets managed.” In order to manage my sleep for the sake of improvement, I must first find a way to measure it and to quantify that improvement. As such, I have ordered an Oura ring to help track my sleep and plan to get an Eight Sleep bed once I am settled down somewhere and sleeping in the same place more than 80% of the time again (currently writing from an Airbnb in Charleston). These two products, depending on your circumstances, seem like the best two options to me. (Click here if you want to listen to my podcast with Eight Sleep’s Founder & CEO, Matteo Franceschetti)
In order for a person to optimize their sleep, it is clear to me now that they would eliminate caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol entirely. For better or worse, I like all three of these things. That said, I have already been conscious about consuming them in moderation (in lower quantities and less often). In addition to maintaining moderation in my consumption, I am going to stop having coffee after 10am on the day or two per week that I do have it. If I ever had serious trouble sleeping, one of the first things I would do would be to cut these substances entirely for a few weeks and see how that helps. Do not underestimate the consequences of coffee or alcohol just because most people drink both. Most people also do not sleep as much or as well as their health could greatly benefit from doing.
Make your room colder than you think you should – 65 degrees if you are well covered with clothes and a blanket, a couple degrees warmer the less covered you are but no higher than 69. Also related to body temperature, an underrated thing that may hurt your sleep is exercising within a couple hours before bed. An underrated thing that may help your sleep is taking a hot shower or bath before bed.
I will make my room as dark as possible by removing all light sources and using blackout shades or a sleep mask if need be. I will not have any screens in my bedroom except for my Kindle (importantly not an iPad). I will also put my phone and laptop away by 9pm. After considering them for years, I am finally going to order blue light glasses to wear after sunset whenever I am looking at screens and maybe just generally as night glasses.
I am going to continue napping more often, usually for between 20 minutes and an hour, usually not after 3pm, and especially after nights when my sleep tracker says I did not sleep as well, when I feel tired, or otherwise not 100%.
Lastly, there are a few things that I either do anyway or that are not relevant for me that I will note in case they may be relevant for you.
- Exercise for 30 or more minutes everyday
- Get outside for 30 or more minutes of sunlight everyday
- No late night eating
- No alarm clocks unless needed and no snooze button or multiple alarms regardless
- No prescription medications before bed that could interfere with sleep (ask doctor)
In closing, I have written the above guide not to be followed by myself or others in its entirety, but rather as an informal (and I should note, unprofessional) resource for myself and others to turn to if and when we want to improve our sleep from its existing state, regardless of what that state may be. I am already going to be dedicating more time to sleep itself so I do not want to spend a ton of additional time beyond that thinking about sleep and worrying about what to do to get more of it. For whatever it is worth, I think that constantly thinking about all of this stuff, especially once in bed, could probably be counterproductive in the same way that thinking about all the aspects of your golf swing while you do it can end up with your ball in the bushes. That said, I am excited to start experiencing the benefits, conscious and otherwise, of allowing myself to sleep more in general. I am also excited to start tracking my sleep with an Oura ring and eventually an Eight Sleep bed. I am going to sleep at a colder temperature, keep my screens out of my room, nap more, see if I like wearing blue light glasses at night, and consider some of the other tips that I listed above if I ever find myself wanting to do more to improve my sleep. I will also continue keeping an eye on the things that could compromise my sleep most such as a warm bright bedroom, caffeine, or alcohol.
I want to share one final message based on a valuable takeaway from Walker’s book which offered dozens that I have not mentioned above and which, if it is not abundantly clear, I highly recommend — Do not drive drowsy. It can be just as bad and even worse than driving drunk and it is often deadly. I have powered through the highway drowsies myself in the past. It is not worth it. Just don’t do it.