Simple Hacks for a Perfect Night’s Sleep

The sleeping pill market is worth at least $1.6 billion in the United States alone[1]. The pharmaceuticals industry knows that there is a problem and they are cashing in by offering an expensive solution that merely papers over the cracks and does not offer a long term sustainable solution.

I previously wrote about the science behind poor sleep, and why it is that we struggle to get a good night’s sleep under the stress and strain of the modern world. It’s worth a quick read if you want to get a better understanding of circadian rhythms, sleep stages, and sleep cycles. In summary, the reality is that most of us are not getting an optimal quality and quantity of sleep.

So, what can be done about it to offer a sustainable long term fix? Quite a lot in fact! Improving the quality of your sleep largely revolves around three factors; environment, behaviours and diet (and appropriate supplementation).

The good news is that none of these methods involve any pharmaceuticals and the majority of them are cost effective. You can do them all or pick and choose what works best for you. Go through the sections below and see what works best for you. Track and measure your results to quantify actual improvements.

Optimise Your Environment

The average person can expect to spend twenty five years of their life sleeping. That’s about one third of your lifespan. In your life you are probably going to be spending more time in your bedroom than anywhere else. Therefore, it makes sense that you should set your bedroom up to maximise the substantial amount of time you will spend there. Most people don’t give a lot of thought to this and it’s a terrible mistake to make. Here’s your environment checklist:

  • Install blackout curtains to make your room as dark as possible to allow your body to regulate melatonin levels in line with your natural circadian rhythm.
  • Cover LEDs with dark tape to minimise interference from light pollution from electronic devices[2]. For this and the above, a good sleep mask is also an option.
  • Switch to lamps that emit red spectrum light and eliminate blue spectrum light which has been shown to influence melatonin production and potentially have a negative impact on sleep[3].
  • Body temperature drops when you sleep, so keep your room temperature cool at between 16°C to 20°C, which has been shown to be the optimal range[4].
  • Ventilate, eliminate mold and buy an air filter to ensure you are breathing clean air that will help you sleep better[5]. Also, keep humidity between 30% to 50%.
  • Switch off all of your electrical devices or put them into airplane mode, to minimise electromagnetic interference which. There is evidence that this may disturb sleep[6], so why not take the precaution just in case.
  • Invest in a quality ergonomic mattress made from natural materials, and keep sleep clothes light (or sleep naked) and covers loose to stay cool and unrestricted.
  • A noisy environment is not conducive to restful sleep. Do your best to soundproof your room so you can move through your sleep stages without disruption. A good pair of earplugs is also an option.

These are just some simple fixes that you can make to set light, temperature, air quality, interference and comfort at optimum levels for a good night’s sleep. Take a look at your sleeping environment. How many of the things on this list can you check off? You’re almost certainly missing a few. It does not take a lot of time or money to make these adjustments and this is the most obvious and logical starting point in setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep.

Adjust Your Behaviours

You are about to head off to bed, but you are sat starting at your computer screen with a cup of coffee in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Do you think you are going to get a good night’s sleep? Granted this is an extreme example. However, it’s probably not far off the way that many of us actually do operate on a daily basis. Most people don’t make the logical connection between how we behave and how we sleep. Focus on how you prepare yourself for sleep and habits in and around the bedroom when preparing to go to bed (and waking up). Here’s the behaviour checklist:

  • Get your fill of blue spectrum light during the day to let your body know it’s time to stay awake and alert in order to keep your circadian rhythm on track
  • Decrease exposure to blue spectrum light at least two hours before bed. This means no screens! Or if you must then use blue spectrum light blocking glasses.
  • Exercise during the day to balance your circadian rhythm[7] and improve sleep quality[8]. But no exercise before bed as this raises body temperature.
  • Avoid caffeine[9] and alcohol[10] for a good few hours before going to bed. Ideally no caffeine in the afternoon and no alcohol for at least two hours before bed
  • Keep blood sugar levels in check to minimise the release of glucose regulating hormones when you are asleep. Have your last meal two to four hours before bed.
  • Meditate and de-stress to minimise brain activity and help ease you into your natural sleep cycle much quicker. Practice meditation or breathwork before bed.
  • Respect your circadian rhythm by maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Try going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up as close to sunrise as possible.
  • Wake up naturally as our ancestors would’ve. Most of us do need to set an alarm for work, so look at alarms that gradually increase light or sound to wake you up.

Again these are generally very, very simple things to do. As with most things in life our attitude and actions can have a big impact on the results and it is no different in our quest for a good night’s sleep. You just need to be mindful of what you are doing and the impact that it may have. As with many things in life we focus on short term gratification without considering negative long-term impacts. Focus on connecting your behaviour to your sleep. The positives far outweigh the negatives.

Fine Tune Your Diet

Diet and supplementation can perhaps be considered a subset of our behaviours, but it is important and specific enough that it deserves it’s own section. Much like our general behaviours, most people do not link what they put into their body to how they sleep. Getting the right nutrients can play a big role in improving your sleep. Aim to get these nutrients through natural food sources where possible, only turning to supplements where this is not possible. Here’s the list:

  • Magnesium is an extremely important mineral responsible for hundreds of metabolic reactions in our body[11] and is proven to improve sleep quality[12].
  • Potassium is another very important mineral, and it works well in conjunction with magnesium and can help you stay relaxed during sleep[13].
  • Zinc deficiency is a common problem for many people. Getting correct levels of zinc may improve testosterone levels and can improve quality of sleep[14].
  • Tryptophan is a precursor to both serotonin and melatonin, so getting the right quantities in your diet will help with melatonin production, in turn helping you to sleep better.
  • Theanine is found in green tea and is known for taking the edge off caffeine. It does this by increasing alpha waves which in turn helps with sleep[15].
  • Vitamin D helps to regulate your circadian rhythm (and we get most of our vitamin D from the sun). But, avoid too close to bed as it can disrupt melatonin production.
  • Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha[16] can help to regulate the central nervous system (CNS) and induce restful sleep[17]. This is a very interesting area worth exploring in more detail.
  • Melatonin as we know is extremely important. Ideally avoid supplementation, but it can be useful in resetting your circadian rhythm in cases of jet lag[18].

You can go a long way in improving your sleep purely by modifying your environment and behaviours. However, diet can turbocharge the benefits. One quick note on supplementation. I think it is important to try and get into good, natural sleeping habits. It is inadvisable to come to rely on any specific supplementation. But, I do believe supplementation is value add when used sparingly and appropriately.

Monitoring and Measuring Your Sleep

With the sleep aids market forecast to hit $101.9 billion by 2023[19] it’s worth looking at how technology can help you. The wearables market has exploded in recent years offering people like you and I a whole range of gadgets to collect and analyse data about our health, wellbeing and longevity.

Collecting and analysing this data gives us legitimate insights into whether any amendments to our sleeping environment, behaviour and diet are having a positive impact on our sleep or not. This enables us to pick out trends, work out what works for us and what doesn’t (we are all different), and also give us peace of mind in ensuring that we are undertaking the right actions and getting the right results.

There are quite a wide range of things you can potentially track; heart rate, heart rate variability, brain waves, eye movements, body movements, body temperature, room temperature etc. And there are a multitude of devices that you can use to track sleep from watches and rings through to more complex apparatus that you attach to your head or place under your sheets.

Digging deep into sleep tech and accessories is a topic in its own right. My suggestion is to start with something relatively simple. It is not my intention to promote any one particular option. Develop an understanding of what you want to track and why, and you will no doubt be able to find the most appropriate solution for your needs.

Putting It All into Practice

So, that’s it! If you put even some of the learnings from this article into practice it is extremely likely that you will sleep better and start generating the multitude of health, wellness and longevity benefits that can be derived from consistent, quality sleep. Once you are used to the changes and get into good habits it really is not that hard and the benefits massively outweigh any inconvenience.

How do I know? Well this article is simply an attempt to distill all the knowledge I picked up on my own journey to a better night’s sleep. It wasn’t that long ago that I was living off five or six hours of relatively poor quality sleep. I told myself I was one of those super high powered, productive people, and was lucky that I didn’t need much sleep. Why spend time sleeping when I could be up “winning” at life. I thought I was doing great… until I actually started tracking my sleep.

I was pretty shocked by my sleep data, and I immediately set out to learn how to improve my sleep. Nowadays I get on average of seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Not only am I getting more sleep, but the data also suggests that I am getting a much better quality of sleep, naturally cycling through optimal sleep cycles, and waking up feeling great. Although I’m spending far more time asleep I have also found that I am now far more alert, focused and productive in my waking hours.

And on that note, I’ll wrap up and leave you with some benchmarks to aim for. Try and go to bed and wake up on a regular schedule, aim to fall asleep in less than fifteen minutes, and try to sleep relatively undisturbed for between seven to eight hours. Time spent in each sleep stage will vary from person to person based on factors such as age. However, good benchmarks are to aim for; 50% to 60% light sleep, 10% to 25% deep sleep, and 20% to 25% in REM sleep[20]. And on that note… sweet dreams!