“Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity. It is your life-support system, and it is Mother Nature’s best effort yet at immortality” – Matt Walker, Sleep Scientist
For some reason, humans are the only species that intentionally deprive themselves of sleep.
We view sleep as a weakness. People brag about how little they sleep because they’re so incredibly busy and productive and successful.
The problem is, most people assume they can make up sleep at a later point in life. It’s the same issue we face with a lot of things. You miss a workout and think, “Well, I’ll just do it tomorrow…” But these little decisions compound. And sleep isn’t like debt––you can’t pay it off years later.
I used to fall into the category of a late night worker. After my 9-5, I would stay up until 1 AM freelance writing and blogging. For months, I tried running on less than six hours of sleep.
And that period literally sucked the joy out of life: My creativity suffered, workouts were lethargic, and I had terrible brain fog. The good news is, if you can identify why you aren’t sleeping, there are plenty of resources available to right the ship.
Once I determined the sleepless lifestyle wasn’t for me, I started experimenting with different ways to sleep well and wake up with more energy.
Here are several habits I found to be most effective.
1. Building transition rituals
I used to dread my commute home after work.
There was nothing I wanted to do less than sit in bumper to bumper traffic after a nine-hour day. So, you can imagine my excitement when work from home became an option as the pandemic closed offices across the globe.
Those mundane moments in the car vanished overnight. It was amazing. I had an extra hour to sleep in or workout. I loved the flexibility of remote work and didn’t care if I ever traveled into the office again.
I didn’t realize how absolutely necessary those moments of “transitioning” were.
Walking out the front door after work and stepping into my car sent a signal to my brain that I could relax and focus on the next task. It was like a physical barrier between home and life.
In March, I found myself working all sorts of strange hours without really stopping. My full-time job blends into freelancing which blends into dinner, and without realizing it, I’ve spent ten hours straight starting at a screen. The best solution I’ve found is to rebuild your “commute” with transition rituals.
As clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D., told SELF, “When you finish work for the day, it’s hard to go straight from 60 to 0 miles per hour, so instead, you can take a step-down approach.”
It can be anything, really: taking a walk, working out, reading a book, listening to a podcast. Just try and do it at the end of the workday to transition out of your “working” mindset.
2. Reading *without* a purpose
People are obsessed with reading. Actually, people are obsessed with telling everyone how much they read.
For some reason, we assume that the more books you get through, the more intelligent you’ll become. But, as Mortimer J. Adler said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Reading for the pure enjoyment of relaxation is incredibly beneficial. After a long day of work, your mind is tired. There’s no need to stress it out by trying to cram as many books into your nighttime routine as possible. Try picking up quick, easy reads on topics you find interesting. If you need a recommendation for 2021, try Greenlights, Born Standing Up, or A Long Way Gone.
3. Sitting in a random room before trying to sleep
After years of tossing and turning in bed, sleep scientist Matt Walker finally offered a better solution than counting sheep. In a 2019 TedTalk, Walker explained: “So if you are staying in bed awake for too long, you should get out of bed and go to a different room and do something different. The reason is because your brain will very quickly associate your bedroom with the place of wakefulness, and you need to break that association.”
Walker recommends only returning to bed when you feel sleepy.
If you don’t want to wait until you can’t sleep to try this, just go in another room for an hour or so before bed.
I’ll read or do some light stretching in the kitchen with all the lights on and then go straight into my dark bedroom when I start to feel a little tired.
A solid evening routine will change your life
The statement above isn’t clickbait. According to Matt Walker, sleep literally adds years back to your life.
Depriving yourself of it reduces immune cell activity making you more prone to sickness, disrupts motor skills which can lead to serious accidents, and a lack of sleep will even erode the very fabric of biological life itself, your DNA genetic code.
Get into the habit of making sleep a priority. A few other tips I’ve picked up are to sleep in a room with a lower temperature (approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit), light stretching in the evening, and mindful journaling to empty your mind before trying to fall asleep.
Every small shift you make in the evening will be felt in other aspects of life. Think of your days like a flywheel: If you don’t sleep, the wheel brakes. Better sleep means better recovery. Better recovery leads to better workouts which leads to a boost in mental and physical health. It’s that simple.
I hope this helps. Goodnight.