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  • Writer's pictureNick Allen

Tips for excellent sleep

Sleeping well isn’t just about not being tired the next day; quality sleep is truly essential to our health. One particular set of studies really made me change my habits and stop settling for 6 or even 7 hours of sleep at night. These studies showed that, each year following the spring daylight saving time transition (where everyone loses an hour of sleep), heart attacks and fatal car accidents are significantly increased. If a single hour of sleep loss can be this detrimental, I want to be sure I’m getting 8 hours just about every night.


Reserving an 8 hour window in your schedule can be difficult, but this is an aspect of health that cannot be overlooked. Adequate sleep must be a priority every single night. Additionally, laying in bed for 7-8 hours is not sufficient. When we discuss this time goal, we want a minimum of 7 hours actually asleep. It sounds simple, but very few Americans reach this benchmark. Here are some tips that might help:


1. Keep your sleep schedule consistent


This point is number one for a reason, and we’ve discussed it previously. It is essentially impossible to get quality sleep when experiencing significant swings in your bedtime and wake time. On the other hand, when you are going to bed and waking up at a consistent time, your body benefits greatly. I’ve found that falling asleep is much easier and waking up is more natural. I’ll often wake up without an alarm at almost the exact time I had intended.


One of the biggest struggles for me is managing to keep my sleeping window consistent throughout the weekend. Friday and Saturday nights can be disasters that mess up your entire routine if you try and push a bedtime that’s normally 10 pm to 2 am, only to revert back to 10 pm on Sunday night. My solution has been to bend my sleeping schedule slightly, but to really avoid late nights if at all possible. I’ll usually shift from a bedtime of 10 pm during the week to 11 pm on the weekends, and mirror this shift with my wake-up time. If possible, it’s best to ease this transition by shifting halfway (about 10:30 pm in my case) on Thursday night, and remaining slightly later (again 10:30 pm) on Sunday night. Keep in mind, though, that this also means pushing your wake-up time later.


2. Set the environment


There are multiple things to consider here, aside from the obvious points of sleeping somewhere dark and quiet. First, it’s really best not to get in the habit of doing work, watching TV, or scrolling on your phone in bed. It sounds inconvenient, and I have trouble following this policy too, but quality sleep comes much easier when your brain recognizes your bed as a place for sleep and sleep only.


Additionally, your body needs to lower its core temperature significantly during the first couple hours of sleep, so a cool environment is important. A room temperature in the range of 60-67°F is recommended, and there are many products that allow you to cool your bed directly.


3. Transition to bedtime properly


While an entire “bedtime routine” may not be realistic for you, there are little things you should know that can help or hinder your ability to get to sleep. One of the most important is eating. You should avoid eating anything significant within an hour or two of bedtime, and the last thing you want to do is have a carb-heavy meal. Remember you need your core body temperature to drop to sleep well, and carbs can interfere with this process.


Hydration is very important, but you don’t want to chug water (or any liquids) before bed. Waking up to pee is an interruption in sleep that you want to avoid if at all possible. For this same reason and more, alcohol is harmful to sleep. We discussed how alcohol, caffeine, and naps have the potential to interfere with sleep in our post on sleep pressure.


If you have the time, there are a few things you can do to shorten sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and improve overall sleep quality. Hot showers or sauna sessions can actually help your body transition to a cooler sleep temperature, and are generally considered beneficial before bed. There is also evidence that orgasm can help people fall asleep faster.


Whatever you do before bed, it needs to be relaxing, consistent, and ideally non-electronic. Something like reading a book or meditating, even for just a few minutes, can provide a cue to your brain that it’s time to fall asleep. The more consistent you are with this practice, the better results you will have.


4. Don’t rely on so-called “sleep aids”


Unfortunately, many of the things marketed as sleep aids make you think you’re sleeping well without actually improving the quality of your sleep. There’s a difference between being asleep and unconscious — when someone gets knocked out in a fight they’re certainly not sleeping well. The same is true for many so-called sleeping pills. Alcohol has a similar effect, as we’ve detailed previously in our newsletter. You may crash faster, but your sleep is of much lower quality. There really is no shortcut to quality sleep.


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