I’ve struggled with sleep my entire life. I grew up homeschooled, so I didn’t have the structure of school to give me consistent times to wake up and go to bed. My dad worked lots of night shifts when I was young, so it wasn’t unusual for me to be up past 4am for most of my childhood.
When I did start going to school, I struggled to get to bed at a time early enough to get me enough quality sleep, so I spent most of the week sleep depriving myself and tried to catch up on the weekends by sleeping in until the afternoon.
College was a little bit better beacuse I had a semblance of a schedule that I could control, but it was dotted with all-nighters and sleep deprevation.
After college, I had total freedom (I’ve been self employed since graduating), and nights lying in bed for several hours before falling asleep haven’t been unusual. It’s torturous.
Sleep impacts everything I do: a good night of sleep that ends in waking up refreshed and alert early in the morning is the most consistent predictor for me of a good day, so I’ve put a lot of thought into how to improve it.
Sleep seems to be the most important physical factor in productivity for me.
Here are things I’ve done that have moved the needle on my quality of sleep.
You can’t improve what you can’t measure. I don’t think a killer sleep tracker exists yet (sleep is a hard thing to measure by proxy of heart rate and movement), but a few usable trackers are:
Everything else on this list depends on you being able to quantify how well what you did affected your sleep, so start tracking before you do anything else.
You cannot be mentally healthy without a routine. You need to pick a time to get up - whatever time you want, but pick one - and stick to it. Otherwise you disregulate your circadian rhythms, and they regulate your mood.
– Jordan Peterson, You need a routine
If you notice (from your sleep tracker) that it’s taking you a long time to fall asleep, go to bed later until you’re really tired, and wake up at the same time.
If you have trouble physically getting out of bed, bribe yourself with something you really want to do, but only let yourself do it for a set amount of time after you wake up. Right now, my routine is to get up at 9:15am, and I let myself play video games until 10:30 if I’ve gotten ready and exercised.
Several hours before bed, limit your exposure to blue light. Most of the things I do to be useful to society involve looking at screens, so I wear blue light blocking glasses starting at around 9pm.
These fancy blue, violet, and green light blocking glasses are more expense, and probably better.
No screens at least an hour before your bedtime (earlier is better). This has the added benefit of getting you to focus on something that’s not the addictive-cycle Skinner’s Box apps you’re probably using on your phone. If your device of choice supports it, install f.lux to filter out blue light at the source.
Get your bedroom completely dark. You shouldn’t be able to see your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Get blackout curtains, and cover any LEDs on electronic devices you can’t move out of the room with black electrical tape.
If blackout curtains and taping up lights are impractical (like when traveling), get a really good sleep mask.
Get your bedroom cold enough that you don’t kick a leg out. Tim Ferriss noticed many of the successful people he interviewed in his book Tools of Titans use a chilipad to precisely lower the tempature of their beds, including Sam Altman.
don’t eat four hours before bed cut out all caffeine and sugar, but experiment with having caffeine early in the day.
Download Headspace and do the sleep module
Sit back in your chairs and put your feet flat on the deck. Knees apart, your hands limp on the inside of your lap. Now, close your eyes and drop your chin until it rests on your chest.
Let’s breathe slowly, deeply, and regularly. Take all the wrinkles out of your forehead. Relax your scalp. Just let go. Now let your jaw sag-g-g. Let it drop open. Now relax the rest of your face muscles. Get the brook trout look on your face. Even relax your tongue and lips. Just let them go loose. Breathe slowly.
Now, let’s go after the eight muscles that control your eyes. Let them go limp in their sockets. No focus, just let them go limp. Breathe slowly.
Now drop your shoulders as low as they will go. You think that they are low, but let them go more. Did you feel the muscles in the back of your neck go limp? When you think you are really relaxed, let them go even more.
Now, let’s relax your chest. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Exhale and blow out all your tensions. Just let your chest collapse. Let it sag-g-g. Imagine you are a big, heavy blob on the chair, a jellyfish. Breathe slowly. When you exhale, release more and more of your tensions.
Let’s go after your arms. Talk directly to your arm muscles. First, talk to your right bicep. Tell it to relax, go limp. Do the same to your right forearm. Now to the right hand and fingers. Your arm should feel like a dead weight on your leg. Repeat the relaxation process with your left arm. Breathe slowly.
Your entire upper body has been exposed to relaxation and a warm, pleasant feeling comes over you. You feel good. A sense of well-being invades your body.
Now for your lower body. Talk to your right thigh muscles. Let them go to a dead weight on the chair. Let the meat hang on the bones. Go through the same routine for the right calf muscles. Then all the muscles of your right ankle and foot. Tell yourself that your right leg has no bones in it. It is just a flabby, heavy weight on the deck. Repeat the process with your left thigh, calf, ankle, and foot.
At present you are all relaxed physically, or think you are. For a little insurance, let’s take three deep breaths and when you let them out, blow out all the remaining tensions, one . . . whoosh, two . . . whoosh, three . . . whoosh.