Updated: Apr 26, 2019
As I have gotten older, I often notice that I do not always get the best night of sleep. Every year, I find myself getting more tired, and more stressed out, often distracting myself by thinking about the list of responsibilities that seem to just keep growing: loans I still need to pay off, rent, insurance, the constant tormenting question of ‘what am I doing with my life?’ Often these stressors seem to motivate me to stare at my phone until ten, eleven, or even midnight sometimes, which leaves me groggy in the morning and makes me hit the snooze button a time too many. I don’t know if this is just what life is like in your mid-20s or if this is going to be my reality until I get stuff figured out. My parents recently let me know that there isn’t really a tried-and-true answer: “you just learn to deal with it.” Thanks, mom and dad.
I feel as though I lay in bed chasing that night of sleep I had when I was in grade school… and every once in awhile I get an incredible night of sleep and think “wow my life is about to turn around!” And it absolutely does for the next twelve hours… until I revert back to my insomniac ways and continue programming as usual, featuring a daily dose of sleep-depriving anxiety and never-ending 'Sunday scaries.' About this time last year, I got tired of chasing sleep and restfulness and decided to spend some time researching the best practices for engineering that wholesome night of sleep that I used to dream of and which I am now lucky to have most nights. Here are the ten things I do to get a better night of sleep:
1. Avoid the blue light for at least 1 hour before going to sleep
Blue light is your enemy when it comes to sleep and if you can minimize it before going to bed, your next 8 hours will be very restorative. Turn the TV off, put the phone face down, and get a book out. Remember books?
2. Put down the phone
Being connected is a wonderful thing and our phones are a convenient way to do that, but its effect is only positive if it’s used in moderation. Unfortunately, most of us have jobs that require us to work beyond the 9-5-work day and most of us also instinctively check our email at night. This is one habit you need to break for your own sanity; email allows for everyone else’s agenda to be conveniently organized and stored on your device… Set a phone curfew for yourself, make sure your colleagues/friends know that you will not respond to anything after 8 or 9pm, and stick to it.
3. Avoid violent TV shows before going to bed
You may be saying to yourself “This guy is nuts – I’m not missing the last season of Game of Thrones for anything! Sleep be damned!” And look, I know you’re stressed out at work, sometimes your day doesn’t go well, and you just want to de-stress and disassociate in front of your favorite fantasy show (especially the one you’ve been waiting to come out for what feels like an eternity.) Several studies have recently came out, all of which Dave Asprey discusses in his Bulletproof book series. When witnessing a violent act on TV, the mind involuntarily reverts to a survival mindset for at least two hours and adrenaline is pumped into your system and your senses are elevated. Not exactly the best way to calm the body and mind when trying to rest up for the night, now is it?
4. Take Melatonin
These are popular sleep aids and for good reason. Melatonin mimics a brain chemical that lets your body know it’s time to relax and rest. I always have this with me when traveling, as it is great when you need to adjust to a new time zone and need to get over jet lag fast.
5. Drink an elixir of warm water, two tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar, and one tablespoon of raw honey
This tip comes from influencer and podcast superstar Tim Ferriss, where he praises this drink and all it does for him when he is stressed out and needs to relax before bed. I also drink this often and, in terms of (sudden) relaxation benefits, it feels like what getting shot with a mild horse tranquilizer might do to you. While not the most enticing sell, when you’re trying to go to sleep, this drink will do it!
7. Do not eat a big meal before going to bed
If your body is expending energy in digesting food, that energy is often keeping you awake. It’s recommended that you eat your last meal of the day at least three hours before going to sleep. If you need a late-night snack, eat something small and high in fat to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the night. When your blood sugar level drops suddenly, it can wake you up and disrupt much-needed continuous hours of sleep. For a fat-heavy snack, try full-fat Greek yogurt with a banana, or a mashed up avocado.
If you can’t avoid a full meal close to bedtime, try a digestive aid, like a high-strength probiotic or a coconut charcoal supplement. When in bed, laying on your left side also encourages digestion as laying on the left allows the organs to hang naturally within the body cavity (rather than squished when laying on your right.)
8. Avoid caffeine after 2pm
I get it, caffeine is awesome and is an easy way to make it through that 2:00 pm afternoon slump. But try to avoid that afternoon cup of coffee or tea, as it can drastically wreck your nightly sleep if you consume it too late in the day. Caffeine stimulates your nervous system and can stay in your system for upwards of 8 hours!
9. Take a cold shower right before bed
Bringing your core body temperature down is a great way to prepare your body for sleep. A cooler body means a slower heart rate, and a slower heart rate means a calmer nervous system. The calmer you are, the easier it is to fall asleep.
10. Consult your doctor
If you have done all of the above and are still finding it difficult to catch those necessary Zzz’s, you may be part of the lucky 10% who just don’t sleep well. Consult a specialist to get the sleep you need.