Sleep Better and Longer

Improving your sleep quality is the number one thing you can do to improve your health. Nothing else, including diet and exercise, will have such a dramatic effect on your quality of life. But sleep is the first thing to go when our lives become busy. You have that deadline at work? Ok, I’m just going to stay up late finishing this project. Early meeting with an important client? I’m just going to wake up earlier but go to bed at my normal time. House of Cards just came out on Netflix? No brainer. Events like these happen more often than they should and they eventually become habits. Over time, it becomes easy to get 6 hours of sleep or less. This results in being sluggish and groggy the next day. Our thoughts are unclear and we feel physically drained. Our brains will rationalize why we feel this way. We start to tell ourselves “I’m just getting older, aches and pains are normal, other entrepreneurs are burning the candle at both ends I need to do the same to keep up.” This is a mentality that we need to avoid. Once we enter this vicious habit pattern, many of us never escape.

Before we get into the actionable items, I want you to really understand what is happening to your body when your sleep is reduced.

Poor Memory and Abstract Thinking

Perhaps the first thing to go when we limit our sleep is mental acuity. We can all relate to feeling sluggish after limited sleep. The area which can be impaired the most is memory. Specifically, the conversion of short-term memories to long-term ones. Have you ever been out drinking and couldn’t remember parts of the night (or maybe the entire night)? The reason for your lack of memory is alcohol inhibits how your brain stores memories. Sleep deprivation works the same as alcohol in this respect.

When people are tired they have a limited ability to think abstractly. They are limited to linear thinking. The problem with this is that real innovation and change comes from abstract thinking. Without it we become another sheep in the herd.

Emotional Disturbances and Increased Aggression

Who amongst us has not been cranky when they woke up? But is this normal for you? Because it shouldn’t be. If you received a full 7–9 hours of sleep there is no way you wake up feeling in a bad mood. Lack of sleep has been linked to decrease emotional intelligence and decreased interpersonal relationships. In a nutshell, you do not act like yourself and you’re a jerk to be around. Chances are, you are not a moody and distance person, but your lack of sleep is making you one.

Increased Risk of Obesity and Diabetes

Now it gets real. Your lack of sleep is making you fat. Evidence has shown that prevalence of obesity has decreased with an increase in sleep duration. So how does this work? During our sleep cycle two hormones are being regulated: Leptin and Ghrelin. Now Leptin is known as our “I’m full” hormone, it lets our body know when we have eaten enough so we don’t overeat. Ghrelin on the other hand lets our body know when we are hungry and it’s time to eat. The problem with reducing our sleep is our bodies have a decrease in Leptin and an increase in Ghrelin. Effectively we are getting hit from both sides. Our lack of sleep is causing our body to lower the hormone turning off hunger and raise the one that stimulates our hunger. As a result we overeat throughout the day.

Decreased Immune Response and Hormone Secretion

My website is called not get a little worse each day until I am a shell of my potential. And that is just what poor sleep habits will make you, a shell of what you could be. The good news is that improving your sleep quality is simple and the gratification is immediate. Follow the steps below and I guarantee you will feel like a new person. But beware life will try to get in the way of your new habits. There will always be a deadline at work, a new show on Netflix, or an early meeting at work. Make sleep a priority, invest in yourself, and reap the benefits.

Top 10 Sleep Recommendations

1. Block Out Blue Light

Blue light is what wakes us up in the morning and keeps us awake throughout the day. It is essential to help regulate our body’s circadian rhythm (your body’s natural clock). The problem with modern society is once the sun goes down we are still inundated with blue light from various sources including: TV/laptop screens, cell phones, and LED/fluorescent bulbs.

As you can see in the picture above, around 9pm each day our bodies start to secrete a hormone called melatonin. Simply put: melatonin makes us tired. We evolved, as a species, not able to have light at all times of the day. Thus by 9:00 pm it was guaranteed to be dark. Couple the darkness with increased melatonin production and humans would fall asleep. Only to be woken up by the blue light from the sun in the morning. Now, obviously, we have light at any time of the day. What this blue light causes is a decrease in our body’s natural production of melatonin. We sit in front of our laptop until 2:00 am and wonder why we can’t fall asleep when we lay down.

Although technology has wrecked our sleep, new technology is helping to rescue it. There is a program called f.lux that you can install on your computer. You put in your time zone and the program automatically removes the blue light from your computer at the correct time. Download this f.lux. Once installed it does all the work for you. It’s free. Seriously do this now, it is a requirement.

Unfortunately f.lux only works for your laptop. What about all the other sources of sleep disturbing blue light? The simplest and cheapest solution is to pick up a pair of bad boys. Besides the obvious fashion benefits, these simple glasses will block the blue light from all the other sources: TV, cell phone, light bulbs, etc. Put them on about 9:00pm and you will notice the ease that you fall aslep

If you stop reading right now, those two tips will do more than anything else to improve your sleep quality

2. Make the Room as Dark as Possible

By now you know that light ruins sleep. Most of our bedrooms are not dark enough. Think, for 99.9% of our existence on this earth when we went to sleep the world was pitch black. Not just kind of dark, but “oh my god I can’t see my hand in front of my face” dark. Our bodies crave this darkness to get the best sleep quality we can.

This is another problem that has a simple solution. First locate all of the light sources in your room. These include the backlight on your alarm clock, the light that remains glowing when you turn your TV off, and any light from outside your windows. Now simply cover these up. Tip your alarm clock down to hide the light or place tape over the light on the TV. Does it look great? No, but who cares? You can remove them in the morning if you feel self-conscious.

The most important thing you can do to darken your room is to get blackout curtains. Have you noticed how much light your windows let in, especially if you live in the city? Install blackout curtains and the light will disappear from your room. I have tried many different blackout curtains with mix results. Most work well, but not well enough. These blackout window covers are easy to install and can be taken up and down daily. They will turn your bedroom into a sleep haven.

3. Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex

Finally on to some fun stuff! Most people use their bedroom for everything; an office, movie theater, gym, etc. This must stop. Unless you live in a 300 sq. ft. apartment in NYC you can move all those activities somewhere else. Your brain needs to learn to associate your bedroom with sleep only, and some sex too! If you do other things in your room, especially around bedtime, your brain will be too hyper to fall asleep. When you enter your bedroom at night you notice a calming effect come over you. This simple sleep change removed my dependence on Nyquil almost immediately.

You like to watch TV before bed? Great, just watch it in your living room with your blue light blocking glasses. Working late on a project? Glad you’re being productive just do it at your kitchen table. You like working out in the evening? Cool, just do it before 9:00 pm and in your living room-or you could stop being cheap and get a gym membership.

Yes, the only activity you can do in your room beside sleep is have sex. Orgasms alone have been proven to promote greater sleep quality.

4. Limit Caffeine

God I love coffee. There might not be a better tasting beverage in the world. A morning without coffee is not a good morning. Like billions of people in the world I drink coffee in the morning and normally an afternoon cup as well. Regardless of what anyone has told you coffee is extremely healthy for you. The amount of polyphenols alone is extraordinary. Like anything else it needs to be consumed in moderation and at the correct time. Coffee, or anything else that has caffeine, should not be consumed after 4:00 pm. If you have followed the first 3 sleep recommendations, you shouldn’t even need the boost in the afternoon anyways. I won’t dive too deep on this one so all I will say is: caffeine wakes you up, eliminate any use after 4:00 pm and you will sleep like a baby.

Be careful as manufactures like to slip caffeine into many different products. Some to watch out for are:

  • Decaf coffee: I know right? Liars! It’s guaranteed that decaf coffee you’re drinking has some caffeine in it.
  • Over-the-counter weight loss supplements: The only reason they work is that they contain caffeine. Often marketed under a different name. Don’t use these ever, let alone at night.
  • Chocolate: Yes even dark chocolate has caffeine, just eat earlier in the day and limit your amount.

5. Monitor, Monitor, Monitor

There is the old saying in fitness “What gets measured gets done.” This is true for everything including sleep. There are numerous apps and devices out there that can help you monitor your sleep. Frankly it can get confusing pretty fast on which one to get. My advice is just keep it simple. You don’t need to sleep in a laboratory to monitor your sleep. All you really need is something that records how long you sleep and the quality. This is the app I use.

After a few weeks you will be shocked at how little sleep you are truly getting. A month into using mine and I notice I was getting less than 6 ½ hours a night. There were numerous reasons for this, mostly my work schedule required me to only get 5 hours of sleep once a week, but there was no excuse. Seeing the number of hours I slept showed me I needed to change. What gets measured gets done.

6. Pick a bedtime and stick to it

We are creatures of habit. In college you stayed up until 2:00 am every night because you were 20 and your body could compensate. I’m willing to bet you do something similar now. Even though you’ve grown up and have a big person job you probably still haven’t shook the habit.

Our brains don’t like to think. That requires too much mental energy. By staying up late when you were younger, your brain developed the habit of a 2:00 am bedtime. While some people are night owls (most aren’t), and have tricked their body into this habit. The good news is that every habit can be changed.

If you want to go in depth on habit changed just read this book. For the beginner’s guide all habit have a loop and loops are: cue, habit, and reward. We notice some cue, then we complete the habit, then there is some reward. It is 3:00 pm, you eat a cookie, your brain releases dopamine and other neurochemicals to make you happy. The good thing is by just being aware of this habit loop we can begin to make a change.

How can we apply this to sleep? Again, read the above book for more details, but for now just follow this loop. Pick a time you want to wake up. Now subtract 8 hours from that. You now have your cue. Whatever that time is set an alarm on your phone for that time. This will be your cue. Now start your evening routine. Brush your teeth, wash your face, and put on pajamas. Now lay down in bed and go to sleep. The first few nights may be difficult but any new habit is. Stick to it for at least a week. The 7th day will be easier than the first. If you truly want to change the habit do this every night for a month. At the end you might not even need the cue anymore. Your body will prepare itself for rest when it’s bedtime.

7. Limit alcohol consumption

My Achilles heel. The moment my life really started to take off in the direction I wanted was when I got this area under control. I was far from an alcoholic; I only drank on Friday and Saturday nights. But those nights were enough to do some major work on my sleep quality. Amazingly enough drinking heavily and going to bed at 4:00 am is not conducive to good sleep hygiene. Who knew?

I’m not here to tell you not to drink. That’s between you and the bottle. Frankly I believe a fun, social night out on the town with a few drinks can be extraordinary healthy. But that doesn’t mean you should go out of control. Many people won’t think this is an issue for them, including myself for years, but I guarantee it is affecting you more than you know. Look at is this way: how do you feel in the morning after a heavy drinking night? That should tell you all you need to know about alcohol and sleep.

Even light drinking nights will affect your sleep. Many people think alcohol is a sleep aid. A nightcap is an old time remedy to fall asleep. While enough alcohol will put you to sleep it will also ruin your sleep quality. REM (rapid eye movement) and the end stages of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep cycles are commonly referred to as deep sleep. This is the golden phase we shoot for. This is where the repair to our bodies happens. The longer you can stay in this phase the more refreshed you will be in the morning. The problem with alcohol is that it disrupts and shortens the REM phase of your sleep cycle.

All is not lost here are some easy ways to be a normal social being, but not have alcohol mess up your sleep.

  • Limit yourself to less than 3 or 5 drinks: If you’re a lightweight you can only have 3 drinks when you go out. If your liver has the physique of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, stick to less than 5 drinks.
  • Have your last drink around midnight: This may vary depending what time your city shuts down. But have your last drink 2 hours before close and about 3 hours before you go to bed.

8. Keep a cool bedroom

Every study about sleep quality and temperature always confirms the same thing; we sleep better in a cooler environment. Did you have cheap parents that didn’t want to turn on the air condition to save a few bucks? Or have you ever been camping in the middle of the summer with the humidity at 100%? Chances are you have been in a situation where heat has made it unbearable to sleep well. Know these numbers, 68°F or 20°C. This is the maximum temperature your room should be when you sleep. I’m from Michigan where 68°F is a heat wave, but some of you might be used to actual nice weather. 68°F is only the temperature of your room while you sleep. When awake, jack up that thermostat to whatever you want. Plus you have your pajamas and blanket, trust me you won’t be cold.

For the brave out there experimenting with going even lower, I wouldn’t venture down past 60°F. Studies have shown no additional benefit at colder temperatures.

9. Enjoy a Siesta

Naps are amazing. Remember when you were little and refused to take a nap? Who among us now doesn’t envy those little brats. In the United States naps are frowned upon. They are for the weak and lazy. Instead of taking a nap you should just pound a 3rd energy drink or make a 2nd trip to Starbucks.

There’s a biological reason for these cultural norms called siestas (mid-day naps). Around the late afternoon our circadian rhythm actually increases our sleepiness. Your body is literally telling you to take a nap. There’s nothing wrong with being productive but this mid-day nap will increase your productivity by allowing you to work at 100%.

10. Supplement as a last resort

I truly hate sleep aids. If they didn’t exist people would be a lot better off. We often invent these things to help people but in the long run they end up contributing to the disease. I don’t care how bad your insomnia is — YOU DON’T NEED A SLEEP AID. For 99% of the population if you follow the previous 9 recommendations you will never have a problem with your sleep again. Yes it is all in your head. No I don’t feel bad for saying that. You have done this to yourself through years of bad sleep habits. Follow the 9 recommendations and change it now!

For that 1% this is not for you. Feel free to contact me at personally and I will help in any way I can. Certain people do have sleep issues, but most do not. I didn’t want to go into great detail on sleep aids because to prevent people abusing the advice.

For years I had trouble sleeping. I had to take a pull out of the Nyquil bottle almost every night. I binge drank on the weekends, crammed for test and wrote papers last minute, drank energy drinks late at night, and stared at my computer until 3:00 am. I broke every one of my recommendations and I suffered greatly for it. As you can see the 10 recommendations are simple and easy to follow. Most of them you can change immediately. Don’t waste any more time. Follow the recommendations and control this important part of your health.