Let’s talk about how to optimise sleep quality.
Contrary to popular modern (misinformed) wisdom, sleep is actually very important. We seem to think that sleep is an inconvenience that steals our time.
In reality, social media is an inconvenience that steals our time. Sleep is up their with breathing and drinking water, for most fundamental things humans need to do to stay alive. Let alone to thrive.
A failure to properly optimise sleep quality is going to bite you in the ass eventually.
Stop fucking ‘hustling’
The first thing we need to get over is our societies obsession with ‘hustle’.
It’s especially bad in the entrepreneurial world, with people who are trying to further their life.
It’s an irony where the lazy, office drone who eats pizza and smokes weed every evening is probably doing better on this front than people who’re actually trying to do shit with their life.
People watch a Gary V video and think they need to stop sleeping in order to succeed.
You don’t. That’s stupid, and Gary knows how important sleep is…
People need to differentiate between being busy and being productive.
Most of what most people do, most of the time, is unproductive busywork.
Go read Steven Covey again, and honestly assess how much of the work you’re doing is actually important.
Then stop doing all of the bullshit in quadrant 3 and 4; build systems and stop gaps that keep you out of quadrant 1 as much as possible; then come back and read the rest of this post to understand how to optimise sleep quality.
You need to understand that the only thing stopping you from sleeping better is the fact that you haven’t given it attention.
Not that you’re ‘busy’ or ‘don’t have time’/
You will see huge benefits when you optimise sleep quality, but you need to buy into the idea of doing it first. If you don’t become someone who values sleep, and see the benefits, you won’t implement the tactics.
The impact sleep has on your health, energy, and productivity
To really understand sleep and appreciate it’s importance you need to understand some biochemistry about how the body works. Skip this section if you don’t care and just want to be told what to do.
Obviously sleep is important for rest and regeneration; I’m sure you already know that.
However, do you know how important it is to maintain a proper circadian rhythm for regulation of your hormones?
Basically everything the body does, biochemically, works on a circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is your bodies internal clock. It runs on a 24 hour cycle that correlates with light and dark cycles.
Go look up the incidence of all types of illness in shift workers who live out of line with their natural rhythm and you’ll see what kind of impact it has on your health.
You need to live in regulation with your circadian rhythm to be healthy.
That means going to sleep at night, and being awake during the day.
Exposing yourself to sunlight during the day, and avoiding blue light at night.
A lot of people in northern climates (UK, Canada, Northern US, Northern Europe) are depressed and low energy in the winter months.
It’s called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and it’s definitely real. Much could be attributed to vitamin D deficiency, but you also need exposure to light during the daytime to properly signal circadian rhythm to the body.
Circadian rhythm regulates the rise of fall of different hormones such as:
Testosterone (click here to optimise your natural testosterone) :
Which goes in concert with cortisol (stress hormone) :
These hormones roughly oppose melatonin (sleep hormone) :
Serotonin, dopamine, and most other hormones also work on circadian rhythms…
All of this is to say;
Sleep cycles regulate your hormones.
Messing with your sleep cycle will mess with all of your hormones.
You’ll have less energy, be more prone to depression and weight gain, have lower testosterone, higher stress, etc. etc.
So let’s get to the practical side of things. How do we optimise sleep quality and improve our lives?
Building your sleep rhythm
All of this talk of rhythms has a practical application. It’s very simple.
Go to bed, and wake up, at approximately the same times each day. Make those times roughly match nature.
You should start winding down at nightfall, and then wake at sunrise.
Go live in the countryside and you will find yourself doing that naturally. As it is, we live in cities, have artificial lights and everything else to contend with.
You don’t need to live on a farmers schedule, sacrificing your social life, etc. but you should try to get to bed at a decent time, and wake up at a decent time.
I’m anti waking up in the dark – I think it’s stupid, but you don’t want to wake up at midday either.
Tips for winding down & falling asleep
Have a hard cut off time when you stop working
You can’t expect to go from thinking and hustling, straight into sleeping.
Your body is coursing with cortisol and adrenaline, your brain is in high-beta brain waves, and the mind is racing. You have approximately zero chance of falling straight to sleep.
This is why you need to enforce a hard cut off point where you stop working and allow yourself time to wind down before you try to sleep.
You need to relax, let your body rest, and your brain waves drop down a couple of frequencies to fall asleep.
Set a time where you stop working and don’t go beyond it. At that point stop reading emails or messages – they will still be there in the morning.
Put your work phone and computer away and do something else for a little while.
I usually have mine at 9pm. However, I’m a night owl and do my best work in the evenings. You might benefit from having it much earlier.
Have a hard cut off time for caffeine (and possibly food)
I’m a fast caffeine metaboliser, meaning I clear caffeine from my system quickly.
I can get away with drinking a decent amount of coffee / relatively late in the day, and still sleep.
However, don’t believe just because you can sleep that you can abuse caffeine. I 100% sleep better, and wake up with more energy, if I quit caffeine.
But I’m an addict and that is my only vice, so fuck it. It adds more happiness to my life than taking it out would create.
You need to assess your own caffeine consumption, and limit it to not after~ 2pm or so, maybe even earlier, depending on how fast your system clears caffeine.
Some people also don’t sleep well if they’re digesting food, so they need to have a stop time for eating. Personally it doesn’t bother me. I could hypothesise it is a gut health issue, but that’s just a guess – I’ve never looked into it, as it’s not an issue for me.
You will want to eat the bulk of your carbohydrates later in the day, because they release serotonin, which makes you sleepy. Anyone who tells you eating carbs in the evening makes you fat is an idiot and you should punch them in the nose for being so stupid.
Cut out blue light, and as much stimulation as you can
That means no screen time, and nothing too exciting going on. At least for an hour before bed, 2 would be even better.
On your iPhone you can set up “night shift mode” that softens the colours and cuts back on blue light from a time you set. I have mine set to 9pm.
For your computer install F. lux. It syncs your screen brightness with your local sunrise and sunset times. It does the same thing; softening the colours, dimming the screen, and reducing blue light.
Install it at: https://justgetflux.com – it’s free.
Dim the lights in your house, and try to keep as little light as possible. Use candles instead of electric lights if you really want to make the effort.
Keep the bedroom for sleeping only
You condition your body to react in set ways to environmental inputs.
It’s Pavlov’s dogs; or Hebb’s law, if you look at it neurologically.
You need to ‘train’ your body that the bedroom is a place for sleeping. It’s not for work, laptops, or anything else.
You can do relaxation techniques or have sex in the bedroom, aside from that, stay in a different room until you want to sleep.
Along the same principles. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go somewhere else for a little while and don’t return until you’re ready to sleep. Tossing and turning in bed, playing on your phone, is not only keeping you awake that night… it’s training your body into bad habits long-term.
Have an evening routine
To further use this to your advantage, you want to enact an evening routine that you go through.
I recommend making it up of the relaxation techniques I discuss in the next section. You can go through the routine each evening to wind down.
It will help calm the body, bring the brain wave frequency down, and mentally prepare you for rest.
Use relaxation techniques
The following relaxation techniques can be combined to create your evening routine.
- Gentle stretching
- Take a warm bath or shower (add epsom salts to the bath for further benefits)
- Read a book
- Listen to relaxing music
- Complete a gratitude journal
- Spend time with loved ones
- Drink herbal tea
- Take magnesium supplements / spray magnesium oil on the back of your knees
You might also want to light candles, scented candles/oils, and anything else that create a relaxing environment.
I know you probably think most of this sounds a bit girly, but it helps you get better quality sleep, be more energetic and productive during the day, be happier and healthier. It’s worth it.
My current evening routine
Currently I take a warm shower, read, and then meditate before bed.
Sometimes I’ll play relaxing music, and sometimes I’ll have a girl over so I hang out with her.
How to optimise sleep quality
So we’ve covered how to optimise falling asleep. Now let’s look at how to optimise sleep quality when you are asleep.
I use a sleep tracking app on my phone called Sleep Cycle.
You set the alarm for what time you want to wake up, and it analyses your sleep cycles; waking you up at the appropriate time.
You go through different phases of sleep (light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep). If you’re jolted awake out of deep sleep you feel like shit.
Sleep cycles wave in approximately 90-minute cycles, so the app will wake you up at the appropriate time, from a light sleep.
It’ll also spit out some data about your sleep quality, so you can correlate what you’ve been doing with your sleep quality.
I slept very deeply that night measured. It’s actually better to wave up and down between deep and lighter phases of sleep.
Pitch black room
Your sleeping environment should be pitch black. That means black out blinds, turn off any lights outside, and even little standby lights on electronics.
I tend to live in Air BnB’s a lot because I travel and it’s always awesome when I’m lucky to book a room that is pitch black at night.
It helps falling asleep, and improves sleep quality.
You can use a sleep mask if you want, but there is evidence even light exposure on the skin can mess with the light/dark signalling I spoke about at the top of the post.
Keep your room slightly cool for the best sleeping environment.
I guess it wants to mirror the cooling of temperature at night, in nature.
Having fresh bedding improves your sleep quality. I don’t know why, this one is totally anecdotal, but it does.
At the very least make your bed and keep the room tidy. Having clutter around your environment will subconsciously stress you.
Some people like white noise. I have used different white noise generating apps at different points; they’re especially useful if you live on a busy road.
Now I live in hot countries so I always have the air con generating white noise.
Turn your phone off – or airplane mode if you’re using it as a sleep tracker / alarm.
Obviously it ringing/vibrating will wake you up.
Then there is the temptation to look at the damn thing and get a little dopamine hit if you lay down and aren’t asleep in 2 minutes.
Phones are (purposely) addictive as hell and you need to keep it away from you if you struggle with not looking at it.
Finally; phones emit electromagnetic waves, which can mess with your brain waves and stop you getting properly restful sleep.
Airplane mode, or leave it in a different room.
How you wake up is important too.
Getting up feeling great, energetic, and with an enthusiastic start to the day that you can look forward to is going to help you wind down and psychologically look forward to a good night’s sleep.
I’ve covered using the sleep tracking app to wake up; another alternative is to use a natural light alarm (search Amazon) to wake up with natural light.
Then you want to have a morning routine.
Optimise sleep quality: Conclusion
The process to optimise sleep quality is pretty simple.
It’s a set of habits that you can implement, that has basically zero detrimental impact, and you don’t have to go out of your way to do it.
You can implement things one at a time, or overhaul everything to focus on optimising your sleep quality.
I think the latter is a better idea, but any step in the right direction is positive momentum.