Ten Commandments for Good Sleep

Photo by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash

Sleep deprivation is a form of hell on earth. Every moment of wakefulness — even the most enjoyable — is spoiled by the desire for sleep. Wanting sleep so badly and not being able to obtain even a moment perpetuates this form of hell. Like a man dying of thirst in the desert, walking towards a mirage, relief appears to be insight by simply resting on a bed, but the bed provides no solace.

For those going through a bout of insomnia, things can seem hopeless. But there are many things — some of them unintuitive — that contribute to a good night’s sleep. The following are the ten commandments for good sleep.

#1 — Get Early Natural Light Exposure

We all have a little clock in our brain that tracks what time of day we should be awake and asleep, known as the circadian rhythm. The clock’s start time is influenced by the amount of light — particularly natural sunlight — we receive when first waking. Going for an early morning outside walk (without sunglasses) is a great way to regulate the circadian rhythm.

#2 — Don’t Drink Caffeine After Noon

Caffeine works by binding to adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is a chemical produced by the body; low adenosine levels signal to the brain that it is time for sleep. However, with caffeine blocking the adenosine receptors, the brain does not get the message.

Another interesting fact about caffeine is that it has a half life of eight hours. That means that if you were to consume a cup of coffee — containing around 100 mg of caffeine — at 2pm, there would still be around 50 mg of caffeine in your system at 10pm. To get a good night’s sleep, either kick the caffeine completely, or avoid it late in the day.

#3 — Get Exercise

There are many benefits to exercise from cardiovascular fitness to emotional well-being. An often overlooked benefit of exercise is improvements in sleep. In a meta-analysis of several studies, exercise has been shown to increase total sleep time and other positive sleep metrics like delayed REM onset.

#4 — Meditate

Meditation is usually thought of as a way to reduce stress. Another lesser known benefit is better sleep. Anecdotally, establishing a Vedic meditation (also known as TM), took my sleep to the next level. On days when I miss my 20-minute morning mediation session, I usually suffer from late onset insomnia — waking up around 2am and not being able to fall asleep. On days when I meditate, I have much deeper continuous sleep.

#5 — Avoid Alcohol

Caffeine often gets all the blame for sleep-disrupting substances. There are many other food and drinks that can disrupt sleep. One of the most common is alcohol. Alcohol gets broken down into a compound called acetaldehyde by the liver. Acetaldehyde has been shown to disrupt the sleep-wake cycle in rats.

#6 — Avoid Screen Time Before Bed

Just as natural light in the morning signals the body to start the circadian rhythm cycle for the day, darkness as night signals the end of the cycle. Bright light — like those emitted by screens — signals to the body that it is not yet time for bed. If you want to get quality sleep, avoid light towards bedtime. If you must use a device, make sure to enable a blue light filter or use blue light blocking glasses.

#7 — Sleep in a Cool, Dark Room

The human body core temperature drops by 1–2 °F during sleep. In fact, the body temperature starts to drop in preparation for sleep. Sleeping in a warm room makes this physiological sleep response more difficult. Sleep should be done in a room at a temperature of 65–68 °F.

#8 — Use a Sauna or Warm Bath

A warm bath or sauna an hour or two before bedtime has been shown to help with sleep onset. When the skin in exposed to warm temperature, blood flows to the periphery to help dissipate the heat. So, although the skin warms, the core temperature actually drops after leaving the sauna or bath leading to improved sleep onset.

#9 — Keep a Consistent Natural Sleep Schedule

There are two primary factors that affect the circadian rhythm: wake/sleep time and light exposure throughout the day. Having variable sleep times throws one’s circadian rhythm out of wack. Having unnatural sleep times — staying up all night and sleeping all day — also has a deleterious effect on sleep and overall health. One study showed that nurses working night shift had over a 20% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

#10 — When All Else Fails, Seek Professional Help

Both physiological and psychological factors influence sleep. Tweaking diet and daily patterns of exercise and light exposure are usually enough to balance physiological factors in favor of better sleep; psychological factors are harder to deal with. Working through psychological issues, often require the help of a trained professional.