My Sleep Routine: Tips For Improving Your Sleep Quality For Next-Day Energy was originally posted on CapitolStartup.com
Even though the post covering my morning routine of meditation, water and fasted workouts was written almost two years ago, it still remains one of my most post popular posts. And yes, I still follow that routine almost every morning. But I've learned that no matter how well my morning routine is designed and how closely I follow it, getting to and sustaining a high level of productivity -- at least for me personally -- really requires restful and rejuvenating sleep.
Before even getting into what works for me, I need to insist on the same disclaimer as in the morning routine post- we're all wired differently, and since you know your own body best, take the time to maybe try a few of these things and just be aware of how they change the way you feel throughout the next day. Even if you find something that works, if you're not cognizant of the variables you're changing and how they are affecting you, then none of this will help- so it makes sense to start practicing being aware of your overall energy and productivity levels now. Plus, I'm not a doctor, so what the heck do I know except that these things did seem to improve the quality of my own sleep as well as my energy levels and productivity for the following day. However I will try to cite sources where possible.
With all that being said, hopefully this can be a good starting point for you to figure out what does and doesn't improve the quality of your own sleep.
Reduce blue light exposure before bed
According to Harvard neuroscientist Anne-Marie Chang, light is the most powerful cue for our body on when to be awake and when to go to sleep. Specifically, it's actually short-wavelength light, or blue light, that regulates melatonin, the hormone that plays a large part in our sleep cycle. So in theory, strategically adjusting your exposure to light, and especially blue light leading up to bedtime, should help you get a more restful sleep and lead an overall healthier life. But it's not just theoretical- studies have shown that night-shift workers and people exposed to light at nighttime are at a higher risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
So how can we reduce our exposure to blue light leading up to bedtime? Here are three ideas-
Download F.lux to automatically adjust screen brightness
F.lux is a program for your computer (and app for your Droid) that automatically adjusts the brightness and tint of your screen to mimic the sunrise and sunset of wherever you're geographically located. For instance, during the day the screen is bright and the colors are normal, but when sunset rolls around, the screen dims and starts to take on a red-ish tint because it stops emitting blue wavelength light -- just like the natural sunset. It looks very strange at first and takes a few days to get used to. The adjustments are 100% natural to me now and I don't even realize it's running until someone else looks at my phone and asks why the screen is so dark and red.
Set alarms to remind yourself to shut off lights and electronics
Because light affects our sleep-wake cycles, you might think the only solution is to avoid all electronics and screens once the sun goes down in order to return to a more natural sleep cycle. The good news is that there's no need to completely avoid our electronics once the sun goes down- just two hours before we plan on going to bed. This is why I set an alarm on my phone for two hours prior to when I plan on heading to bed, which is my reminder to shut off any lights that I don't absolutely need on, shut off the TV and my computer, set my morning alarm and then put the phone down for the night. These final two hours in the day are reserved for reading, showering, cleaning up or cooking.
Wear UV-blocking sunglasses two hours before bed
If you really want to take your blue light exposure seriously and don't care about social norms whatsoever, you could wear sunglasses for the two hours leading up to your bedtime. There are orange wrap-around UV sunglasses on Amazon if you need something to fit over your glasses or want complete protection, or semi-looking normal orange sunglasses as well.
Experiment with tea and ZMA
Sometimes we need a little help to get our sleep routine back on track, since bad sleep seems to be a negatively reinforcing cycle. While chamomile tea is usually the go-to bedtime tea, I've found that Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime Tea has the most noticeable effect on me personally- thanks Tim Ferriss for the recommendation! I also found that taking a magnesium supplement on an empty stomach before bed -- especially ZMA, a blend of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 -- gives me a great night sleep with very vivid dreams. As with any supplement, I prefer to only use them when I absolutely need them and never take them too many consecutive days in a row -- however with these two, I'm not sure cycling on-off is entirely necessary.
Keep your bedroom cold
According to Nick Littlehales, the sleep coach for Cristiano Ronaldo and Tour de France athletes, the ideal bedroom temperature for quality sleep is 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit (16-18 degrees Celsius). It's also been shown that keeping your feet and hands warm can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, so it also might be helpful to wear socks to bed as well, especially if you decide to keep your bedroom temperature on the chilly side, as recommended.
Get a comfortable mattress or mattress topper, sheets and pillows
We all know it's so much easier to fall asleep if you're comfortable, so it's always worth putting some thought into the items that make up your bed. Luckily, you don't necessarily need to pay up for quality. Here are my favorites that worked REALLY well for my bed-
The Signature Sleep 6-Inch Memory Foam Mattress has been perfect in terms of firmness, and it's thin enough to allow room for a mattress topper if you choose.
The bamboo cover with hypoallergenic alternative down by veteran-owned company ExceptionalSheets is seriously worthy of a five-star hotel and an affordable way to sleep in luxury.
I'm a fan of these basic alternative down pillows, although this shredded memory foam pillow with bamboo cover gets crazy good reviews and might be worth a shot.
I prefer microfiber AmazonBasics sheets simply due to the price, but these 100% rayon bamboo sheets from Royal Hotel are excellent as well, especially for the really hot summer months.
Clear your head before bed
One of my many flaws is that I'm rarely able to "turn off" my brain from thinking about projects and goals that I'm currently working on, and this include while I'm laying in bed trying to fall asleep. For others that share this particular personality trait, you know very well that it can be a huge contributing factor to overall stress levels and definitely a main cause of insomnia. Being able to strategically distract your mind and temporarily "turn off" your thought processes, especially before bed, has been very beneficial in helping me fall asleep faster. I'm sure there are a number of activities that could get this job done, but these three have been the most effective for me so far-
Reading fictional novels before bed
Reading a novel before bed has become one of the most enjoyable changes I made to my sleep routine recently. I'm usually a fan of nonfiction since I love learning new things, but learning means your brain is actively engaged- not necessarily the sort of behavior I'm trying to encourage before going to sleep. Instead, switching to fiction before bed has allowed me to engulf myself in a story that has zero real-world ramifications, allowing me to completely disconnect from reality for whatever brief period of time. Plus I've always wanted to make more time for reading since it's hard to find time other than while on vacation, so making time for reading before bed has allowed me to read more in general.
Meditation before bed
If you've read my morning routine, you know that meditation is a huge part of it. But up until recently, I've only consistently meditated in the morning. I've tried adding a second 15-minute meditation session in at various points of the day -- before lunch, before dinner, etc -- but those points in my day are far too inconsistent to be able to make meditation a habit. But meditating before bed has been easy to consistently do. While morning meditation has a completely different goal -- to help ground my thought process and provide a sense of calm before a hectic day -- night time meditation seems to provide that same sense of calm and allows me to strategically and deliberately clear my mind, making it much easier to fall asleep.
I've only tried these activities one at a time for about 30-60 minutes before bed, but I'd be curious as to the effect of trying multiple activities before bed, or even seeing if one activity for an extended period of time (2-3 hours) before bed would have any compounding effects.
Static stretching (30 seconds or longer)
Increasing my flexibility has been one of my fitness goals for a while, and stretching before bed just seems like a convenient time for me personally to get it done outside of the gym. But aside from my own personal fitness goals, stretching seems to have a meditative effect on me when done before bed- it's calming, promotes a sense of well-being, and seems to allow me to get more comfortable while trying to fall asleep.
I tend to focus on stretches that open up the chest muscles and loosen up the hamstrings and hips in order to counter the damage done by long-term sitting, such as the following-
Keep your bedroom dark
We've already discussed the importance of avoiding blue light in order to limit the disruption of your melatonin production and sleep-wake cycle, but it's also important to make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible to promote a restful night sleep throughout the night.
The easiest way to do this? Remove or cover up all electronics that emit any sort of light from your bedroom- alarm clocks, thermostats, alarm systems, cable boxes, etc. Once that's done, investing in some blackout curtains or shades could do wonders for your sleep quality.
If it's not possible to completely eliminate all light sources from your sleeping quarters, a high quality sleep mask is your next best bet. The Sleep Master Sleep Mask -- another recommendation from Tim Ferriss -- has been my favorite sleep mask, especially for traveling. It's very comfortable and since it also covers your ears, it also muffles ambient sounds that may otherwise wake you up.
So there you have it! As mentioned, these are things that helped me personally, and my advice is only based on my own anecdotal evidence. If any of these sound appealing to you, give them a shot and see how your own body reacts! Please leave your feedback in the comments below so we can keep the discussion going and share our experiences for others to build off of.