Not only does a lack of sleep crush the following day, but it makes it harder to fall asleep on the subsequent nights. If you’re sitting in bed thinking about how much it would suck not to sleep, you’re not going to sleep. At least that is how I felt for most of my adult life. Instead of trying to push through every day without my much-needed sleep, I researched as much as I could in an attempt to counteract whatever potential chemical imbalance or obstacles I was contributing to in terms of lifestyle choices.
In this post I’ll cover a list of the most effective tools you can incorporate into your life now. I’ll also cover the sleep routine I’ve put together for myself to hopefully inspire you as you build yours.
With that, let’s dig in…
Purpose – why does this matter?
Sleep is, by far, the highest leverage behavior a person can affect to improve performance and well-being. Trouble solving hard problems at work? Get some sleep. Irritability dragging your relationships through the mud? Get some sleep. Working hard in the gym, but not seeing the benefit? Guess what? You need some sleep.
Our goal at VRB is to be the best version of ourselves that we can be across the spectrum – physically, cognitively, and emotionally (touchy feely…but true). These lofty goals start with a good night’s sleep to allow us to approach every day with a positive mental attitude and a tank full of gas.
That’s the why. Now for the what.
Method – how do we do it?
Habits, Routines, and Behaviors:
- Get more sunlight during the day[i]. Your circadian rhythm is largely set by exposure to sunlight[ii]. When you get outside during the day you set yourself up for great sleep. One NIH study in older adults found that 2 hours of bright light exposure during the day increased the amount of sleep per night by 2 hours and sleep efficiency by 80%[iii]. Not bad.
- Cut out coffee/caffeine in the afternoon. We stop at 1 pm. Studies consistently show that consuming caffeine even 6-8 hours before bedtime impact sleep quality negatively[iv].
Build a bedtime routine. Consider the following:
- No screens past 9 pm: Studies show blue light tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime. Not good. Cutting out screens has the added benefit of getting your mind out of daytime/work mode into rest mode
- In bed stretching and/or reading by 10 pm
- Consider stretching in the evening. Stretching has been shown to not only put your mind into a relaxed state, but also relieves muscle tension that can contribute to poor sleep[v][vi]. Two for one.
- Avoid alcohol – this can be bummer. We don’t want to be a bummer, but alcohol has been shown to significantly diminish quality sleep by disrupting natural sleep patterns[vii] and negatively impacting your body’s natural melatonin[viii] and HGH[ix] Sometimes we all need a drink, but be smart about when and how often you’re willing to trade a beverage for a good sleep
- No phone in the bedroom. Scrolling social media or taking one last look at your emails before bed is a sure way to rough sleep. Get an old school clock – you’ll be fine.
- Make your bedroom a cave. Black out blinds and ramp down the temperature[x].
- Get up early and workout during the day. Getting up early will help you sleep at night. Duh. Add a good workout regimen and your body will be ready for some rest[xi] when the sun goes down.
- Stop eating well prior to bedtime[xii]. We try to be done with dinner by 8 at the latest on most days. Turns out Nana had it figured out.
- Blue light blocking glasses. Exposure to blue light disrupts the body’s secretion of melatonin – a critical aspect your body uses to know when it’s time to wind down[xiii]. Blue light blocking glasses, along with some of the other behaviors listed above, can go a long way to mitigating that disruption.
- Old school alarm clock. Buy an alarm clock and park you phone in the kitchen – or anywhere that’s not the bedroom – at night. This technique will mitigate blue light exposure near bedtime and help with the social media/email scrolling.
- Phone tools/limits. Modern phone OS’s have great tools to help you get to sleep on time. For example, Apple’s iOS has a “Sleep Mode,” accessible from the “Health” app where you can set a sleep goal, and wind down period, a sleep time, and a wake-up time (with optional alarm if you didn’t put your phone in the kitchen). Once you hit the wind down time, your phone will automatically enable Do Not Disturb so you don’t get any more notifications to interrupt you, darken your phone’s screen, and change your lock screen so it requires a couple of extra touches to unlock. It might seem annoying at first, but making it just a little harder to actually unlock your phone will be a constant reminder that it’s time to put the phone down and head to bed!
- Vitamins & Supplements:
- Valerian root- Perennial flowering plant promotes improved sleep and mood[xiv]
- Lavender - Herb used for millennia to promote healthy mood and sleep[xv]
- Melatonin- A natural hormone made by your body's pineal gland that promotes a healthy sleep cycle
- Passionflower - Species of Passifloraceae plant promotes improved sleep and mood
- CBD & Terpenes – Naturally occurring compounds shown to promote healthy sleep[xvi]
- Shameless plug: We’ve blended these nutrients in just the right ratios for a restful, restorative night’s sleep without the groggy hangover associated with many sleep aids. Learn more here.
These Tools, Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures are the 90%+ solution for getting your sleep (and life) on track. For most folks, this should do it. If you give this a real shot for month or two and are still a soup sandwich in the sleep department – consult a medical professional.
End-state – what does the world look like once I’ve mastered this?
Sleep is the solid rock foundation across which everything we want to be in life is built. That sounds a bit hyperbolic, but it’s the truth. If you want to live life at the highest level you need to think about sleep the way you think about everything else – it’s not cosmic, but there are things you can tweak here and there to set yourself up for success.
Getting consistently good sleep is just as, if not more, important than exercise and a healthy diet. If your routine doesn’t allow for good sleep you are accepting consistent negative effects on your cognitive function, exercise performance, hormone production, and long-term health. You might also be setting yourself up or weight gain and increased risk of disease. Not the look we’re going for.
Bottom line: make sleep a priority and you will not regret it. For most of us, this won’t come easily or naturally, but with a little effort and planning you’ll be sleeping like a baby and enjoying productive, happy days.
Everyone is different and what works for me may not be the silver bullet for you. That said, I’ve benefited greatly from learning about the tools, techniques, tactics, & procedures others use and that’s informed my process. With that, this is the routine I put in place that ensures restful nights and happy & productive days. Use what makes sense for you and ignore the things that don’t!
- Keep bedroom cold and dark. My room is a sleep cave – it’s cold, dark, and feng shui’d out in such a way that just being there makes me feel calm.
- Set a target every day to be done with work. Pencils down - the emails can wait. This time changes often, but I always set a target so work doesn’t bleed into the evening too far.
- Before leaving the office, I write out my plan for tomorrow. This helps me to offload my anxiety onto a page. I lay my head down knowing that I’ve already thought through what I need to do tomorrow to stay on the path.
- Target in bed time. I target being in the bedroom stretching or reading an hour before I want to be asleep. For me, this takes the pressure off getting to sleep and helps me to make sure I’m starting to wind down before bed.
- Read fiction at night. It took me forever to come around to this – I always felt that there were too many non-fiction books I needed to read to spend time on fiction. Big mistake. Fiction is the ultimate wind down tool and, it turns out, super fun to read.
- No screens past 9:30 pm.
- No coffee past 1 pm.
- Sleep with phone in the kitchen. Yes, I have a clock from the 80’s.
- I take ~.75ml of VRB Rest an hour before bedtime. For me, it sets the conditions for a restful and restorative sleep I can count on without the groggy feeling in the morning.