Humans spend less time sleeping than any other primate. We can sleep on the ground, free of predators, and thus we can sleep much deeper than other primates.
This allows us to recharge much faster than other animals.
But it comes at a price.
We need to sleep deeper.
Without that fourth and deepest phase of sleep, parts of us break over time. Without any of the other three phases, we experience other forms of fatigue.
I’ve long said there are three things you never truly appreciate until you don’t have them: money, sleep, and time.
Fortunately, sleep is generally the easiest to get back. Yet we willingly bypass it in lieu of time-wasting activities.
I have yet to meet a person who is perpetually sleep-deprived and also happy.
Sleep is the cornerstone of everything. Without it, you are a diminished, less energetic, less intelligent version of yourself.
Here’s how to change your nighttime routine for the better.
Nighttime routine tip #1: Manage screen time (or use option B)
Conventional wisdom has long stated we should limit screen time. This remains true and should be option A.
The blue light from your phone increases stimulation and can damage your vision. Max out the blue light filter on your phone, then lower the brightness.
It’s still ideal to read a book or do something slower. If you do watch a video, watch ASMR, or something similarly relaxing.
The best option is still no screens before bed.
The final straw of my last relationship was my girlfriend’s screentime. For months, I was trying to sleep and her light was always shining on me and driving me nuts.
She never fell asleep at a reasonable hour either. She worked as a nurse and was exhausted and cranky all day. Her mood blew around like the wind.
Nighttime routine tip #2: Don’t play chicken with your sleep cycle
A few years back, I was talking to a physician about my sleeping troubles. I was surprised by his first question, “What time do you wake up?”
I said, “As late as I can?”
He grimaced and insisted I get up at a reasonable and consistent time. Our bodies are obsessed with predictable and steady behaviors. This became central to my successful sleep strategy.
Harvard conducted a study and proved the best way to make falling asleep and waking up easier, is to simply establish consistency with your bedtimes.
This includes the weekends. Treating Saturday night as a big sleepover, free from bedtimes and parental supervision, can destabilize your cycle for the following three nights.
You’ll only be normal again by Wednesday at the earliest. Then, two days of normalcy before dropping the sleep bomb again.
Nighttime routine tip #3: Zen out your bedroom (and demarcate it).
I’ve never understood people’s willingness to cheap-out on their mattresses. We spend a third of our life in bed. So many health metrics are tied to our sleep.
Yet people buy $300 creaky mattresses on Craigslist? That have multiple valleys in them?
I finally splurged and bought a $2,300 mattress. It has been, easily, one of the best purchases of my life. You don’t need to spend that much, but do consider what you’re working with. Backaches are optional.
Your bedroom should be quiet and dark You shouldn’t have street lights shining into your face or TVs blaring. Demarcate your bedroom as sacred for intimacy and sleep only.
You shouldn’t be shivering or sweating Most people like it a bit cooler. My girlfriend likes it warm. So we compromise and I cover her in quality blankets and we sleep great in the cold. A bedroom tends to heat up over time so make it a bit cooler than would seem appropriate.
Tip for light sleepers I wake up to the slightest sound. So I’ve turned my room into a sensory deprivation chamber. I have a small fan that leans against my bed. I put in these awesome earplugs I found (Hearos are my favorite).
Remember to protect your back. I sleep on my side and keep a pillow between my knees (it aligns the spine). Back sleepers can put a pillow under their knees.
Ensure your blankets assist with temperature control. Some blankets can help you stay cooler while others keep you warm in an igloo. I also have a cooling auto-adapting pillow.
Yes, I’m very picky about sleep. My mother calls me Goldilocks. But you can call me Goldy.
Nighttime routine tip #4: Thought strategies to help you fall asleep
The most frustrating aspect of falling asleep is laying in your bed, with your eyes closed, feeling wide awake.
Obviously, imagining yourself being in a gunfight or running from a hungry bear isn’t the best thought strategy for sleep.
Get away from stressing out about to-do lists or reliving regrets. Here are some relaxation thoughts:
My girlfriend imagines each toe falling asleep and sequentially goes from toe to toe.
I imagine a librarian methodically and slowly, scanning library books. I saw this in high school and it made me fall asleep in the school library (I got in trouble).
Visualize something very boring. Like sitting in a field, watching cattle walking by slowly. Getting lost in the scene can take your mind away from stressors.
The other strategy is to simply clear your mind of any thoughts at all. Focus on staring at your eyelids (it works surprisingly well).