I used to sleep for 8, sometimes 9 hours a day and yet still there were times when I’d wake up feeling tired. Because of this, I decided that sleeping, just like any other important activity in my life, required an organized procedure to be most effective. So I learned as much about sleep as possible and I created the following post.
If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Improve It
There are many ways and gadgets to test the quality of your sleep. My favorite is the Zeo Sleep Pro. This gadget is either worn on the wrist or as a headband (to capture the exact electrical patterns as they’re produced in the brain). Both types are able to tell you if you are getting enough deep sleep and point you (and maybe your doctor) in the right direction to improve your sleep (and your overall health). Another big benefit of these tools is the ability to increase REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and enable you to rest better. You see, the higher the percentage of your REM sleep, the more restful your sleep will be. There are 2 ways to get more REM in your sleep:
- Extend total sleep time past nine hours.
- By waking for five minutes after you’ve slept for an initial 4.5 hours.
20 Ways to Sleep Better
1. Relaxation. This is probably the most important of all my sleep better tips. Going to bed all flustered, and frustrated will surely keep you awake. If you manage to keep your stress levels low in the daytime, this will almost guarantee you a great night’s sleep.
2. Meditate Your Way to Better Sleep. Meditation is a great way to relax and sleep better. To do so, find a simple (undemanding) yoga sequence to do before bedtime. I like to imagine I’m on the beach of my favorite island. I listen to the sound of the waves, and after every deep breath, I feel the sand beneath my body and the sun caressing my skin. All the time I’m sinking deeper and deeper into my bed.
Another Meditation Ritual involves counting back from 370 to 0. But doing so without thinking about anything else except the counting.
3. Same Every Night. The brain is a ritual loving child. Use the Pavlov effect to your advantage. Go to bed at the same time every night and get into the habit of performing the same routine before you do so.
For example: Have a cup of herbal ginger tea, then shower, then brush your teeth, then read for 10 minutes. Always do these things, or whatever you do instead, in the same order. Choose a routine that works for you and stick with it. The brain will know it’s going into sleep mode and will activate the necessary hormones and processes in your body.
4. Take Cold Showers or Ice Baths. According to Tim Ferriss, a 10-minute cold shower or a 5 min ice bath is very effective if you want a full and restful sleep. For the ice bath, all you need are 3 bags of the normal ice you can buy from convenience stores. Just throw them into a half-full tub of water and take a dip once they’re around 80% melted. For beginners, you should start with the slow immersion of the lower body and then follow that with the upper torso after approximately 5 minutes. Do so without dipping your hands in the process. The cold slows down your heart rate since it causes the blood to pump slower in the nervous system. When this happens, the body’s temperature tends to decrease; thus encouraging the body to rest. Moreover, this causes a decrease of activity within the metabolic system.
5. Sleep Better by Using Slow, Deep Breathing. Monitoring your breathing is a great way to help you calm down. 10 minutes of deep, conscious breathing will restore your stress levels to normal and will help you sleep faster when it’s bedtime.
6. No Long Naps. Avoid taking daytime naps, as these will only compromise your regular sleeping routine. For some this doesn’t matter, there’s simply no time for a daytime nap. But for those of you who are able to ‘power nap’ there are some traps to be aware of. The thing is, for power napping to actually enhance your night’s sleep, it needs to be kept brief and consistent. Anything above 30 minutes is not considered napping and might actually make it more difficult to sleep later on.
7. Limit Exposure to Light. Our bodies are equipped with light sensitive cells that tell our system when it’s daytime. The built-in mechanism helps in creating a fixed schedule for our sleep patterns and thus assists in cell renewal. The problem is, these sensors don’t know the difference between daylight and a lamp or ceiling light. To them, light is light.
To reduce light exposure, and prepare the body for sleep, dim the lights an hour or so before bedtime and use curtains or blinds to block out the street-lights. Most importantly, avoid watching the TV, working behind your computer, or peeking at your mobile phone. These sources of light can stimulate cells and hinder the production of melatonin; an important hormone that affects the day/night cycle. With minimal melatonin production, our bodies will fail to recognize the pattern and our sleep will remain inefficient .
8. Get Enough Sunlight. Similarly, not getting enough natural light during the day will cause your brain to feel tired. To keep the day and night cycle in check, be sure to soak up enough sunlight during the day.
9. Follow a Half-Military Crawl Position. I’ve been sleeping like this for last 36 months, and according to Tim Ferriss this position is the most relaxing for the body. Doing a half-military crawl position is actually easier than it sounds as well. You simply:
- Lay on your chest with a pillow under your head.
- Face towards your right.
- While doing step 2, make sure that your arms are initially parallel with each other at your side, and your palms are facing up.
- Afterwards, raise your right arm so that together your arms make a 90-degree angle.
- Make sure your right arm is positioned closely to your head.
- Complete the half-military crawl position by raising your right knee to the same degree as your right arm.
- Original image from the Tim Ferriss 4 hour body book
10. Choosing Sleep Better Snacks. Your sleep patterns are a reflection of your diet. Interrupted sleep for instance, is often a symptom of too much caffeine. To prevent this from happening, you should stop your caffeine intake at 2pm. In addition, steering clear of processed food is a must, as is introducing yourself to sleep-friendly foods<internal link to sleep friendly foods>. The thing is, most people when they’re trying to sleep well, are instead digesting the food they ate during the day. This means the blood is flowing to the digestive organs instead of helping the body to rest. Seratonin, a body chemical associated with sleep, can be controlled by your diet. You can raise its level and thus encourage sleep by eating tryptophan-rich foods.
Stock up your house with foods that provide an extra boost to serotonin and melatonin (as mentioned above) production. These include bananas, oats, and cherries. These foods are filling but without being a burden on our stomachs. Apart from increasing your serotonin and serotonin production, food can also relax your muscles. Pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds all contain significant amounts of magnesium; which is proven to help your muscles relax. A high level of muscle relaxation will make it easier for you to sleep both better and faster.
Sleeping well is not only about what you should eat (or drink) but also about the things you should avoid. The golden rule is that 4 to 5 hours before bedtime your body should be free from any type of stimulant or sleep-enemy such as caffeine, alcohol, and fatty snacks.
11. Do Not Eat Before Sleeping. <post coming soon about food that helps you sleep better> I’ve experimented a lot with my sleep better diet and have found it best not to eat at all for at least 3 hours before bedtime. If you have a healthy, nutrition dense organic diet, then it’s not necessary to eat something before you sleep in order to stabalize your blood sugar. The night is made to fast and not do digest food. That’s why breakfast is called break fast. Although according to Tim Ferriss, some people who ate two tablespoons of organic almond butter (or peanut butter) on celery sticks before bedtime felt better and more energized in the morning. This is because the ingredients of the almond butter will improve the night-time regeneration process. 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil (I prefer extra virgin hemp oil because of its anti carcinogen quality) can also be used in combination with the above. This will further improve your night-time cell repair and thus decrease fatigue.
12. Have a Break From Electronics. No TV’s, computers, or mobile phones for at least one hour before bedtime.
13. Sleeping and Love. Use your bed for doing only two things: sleeping and making love. Start with the obvious and make the bedroom a stress free zone. If you work, do your taxes, or read about your work in bed then stop it! Teach your mind to see the bedroom as a safe and secure place.
14. Don’t Try Sleeping More Than 20-30 Min. If you’re trying to sleep and can’t within the first 20 minutes, do something that will induce it, like reading.
15.Creating the Perfect Sleeping Environment. Even if you can barely keep your eyes open, if your bed is uncomfortable or the weather is cold, then it’s going to be hard to sleep. Take the time to create a comfortable, sleep-friendly environment:
- Wear comfortable pajamas that keep you nice and warm.
- Make sure your bedding is clean, warm (but not too hot) and, ideally, lavender-scented; since lavender has been scientifically proven to help you sleep better. Specifically, it’s been proven to promote relaxation and slow down activity in the nervous system, both of which contribute to a better sleep.
- A lot of people, especially women have cold feet. Wearing socks will help you keep them warm and cosy.
- A humidifier and a room temperature of between 16 and 19 degrees celcius is ideal for a better sleep.
16. Yawning to Sleep Better. Perform yawning exercises before sleep to induce the pre-sleeping process.
17. Only When it’s Time to Sleep. Hit the bed only when it’s the right time to sleep.
18. Yawn to Yourself. Talk yourself to sleep using a laid-back, yawning voice.
19. Wake Up Earlier. Wake up half an hour earlier than your usual waking up time.
20. Exercise! Swim, run, bicycle, pump iron, it doesn’t matter as long as you move your body. Establish, at minimum, a 20-minute exercise schedule and do it at least three times a week. Exercise will raise your body temperature much higher than normal during the day and then decrease it much lower than normal during the night. A lower body temperature will give you a greater ‘urge’ to get to sleep. To sleep even better, it’s best to exercise early in the morning or in the afternoon at the latest. As I travel most of the month, it’s normal for me to feel a little tired. Especially when I cross 12 time zones in 3 days. At these moments I use Yogic Breathing (Pranayama) to return my sleep pattern back to normal. My favorite is Bikram. Bikram yoga has a great impact on your melatonin level, and several postures in Bikram yoga actually focus on increasing blood flow through the pineal gland; where melatonin, the deep-sleep inducing hormone, is released. In addition to melatonin, the pineal gland also controls the release of serotonin, the mood hormone. As certain postures flush the pineal gland with oxygenated blood, its function improves and your emotional highs and lows will begin to even themselves out.
For Further Reading How to Improve Your Sleeping Habits, I Recommend:
1. I can make you sleep, by Paul Mc Kenna
2. “The 4-Hour Body”, Timothy Ferriss