One of the key ways we can improve our health and the overall state of our body is by sleeping more and better. Yes, not less. Not depriving ourselves from sleep, but rather by designing our life in such a way that sleep is a strategic part of it. That's why this week I want to recommend a book that made me feel really uneasy and helped me realize why sleeping is so important. This book forced me to change the way I approach sleep. Here's why:
Book review: Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson - 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success
(Note: I also discussed this book on the 87th episode of The Podcast with my co-host Radek, if you prefer the audio version with more comments)
Very few times when reading a book, the book would make me feel bad about myself while still encouraging me to keep reading. The last book like this was Essentialism. Now this book about sleeping made me realize I should not approach sleep like a "necessary evil" but as a strategic part of my day. And that there are so many things I need to fix to make sure I get a good night's sleep, here are a few that really stood out:
1. Get a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep, preferably start at 10pm.
Well, 10pm is not going to happen for me anytime soon. The author argues that between 10pm and 2am is when the best sleep happens. That's great and all, but I have three kids and when we finally manage to put them all to bed around 9pm, me and my wife still want to have a few hours to ourselves. Now after reading this book I decided to make it a ritual to go to bed before midnight, sometime around 23-24.00. Not ideal, but fits our lifestyle.
I get around 7 hours of sleep. I wake up a little past 7am and I go to sleep before midnight and it's the most I can do right now. I need the evening with my wife and I have to wake up early to get my girls to school.
Also: be consistent. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time any day of the week. On weekends, too. Every day. You can train your body to do that.
2. Exercise before bed is bad for you.
I'm recently on a very cool streak and breaking my record for more than 100 consecutive fitness circles closed on my Apple Watch. To achieve that, very often I'd just do some "last minute exercise" before going to bed. Well, this is not a good idea really.
I shouldn't be doing that. In order to sleep well, our body has to cool down (literally, by also lowering its temperature) and when we exercise we heat it up. Also with fitness training we're producing stress hormones, which is not good. So ideally you should work out in the morning, but if you can't, less than 4-6 hours before going to sleep.
Also, sleeping is so important, because when you do exercise (and I'm a triathlete and I do lots of it), you're literally breaking your body and destroying muscles so you need sleep to put them back again and build them up.
3. Lower temperature is good (20C, 68F)
We should sleep in lower temperatures - ideally 20C / 68F so if you're trying to sleep in a very warm room, it might not be good for you. That's why in summer it's really useful to sleep with air conditioning on.
4. Sleep in pitch black (closing your eyes is not enough)
It's not just your eyes. Our body's skin has receptors to detect light, so you should really sleep in pitch black conditions. My wife was always pushing us to turn everything off and I was questioning it... but now I'm a convert and I try to make sure we have a pitch black conditions.
Another thing is that many parents let their children sleep with a light on and apparently it's not good for the kids either. There was a study that children that sleep with lights on are 3 times more likely to have eyesight problems than kids that sleep in a dark room. In my family what we do is we leave the door of the kids' bedroom a little open to let in some light but they sleep in a dark room.
5. Mind your electronic devices
First off, don't browse Facebook/Twitter and things like that - you get excited and it'll be harder for you to go to sleep. Use "night shift" mode on the iPhone to reduce the amount of blue light that comes from these devices if you do have to use them before going to sleep. And put the chargers way out of your reach so that you limit the electromagnetic field that's close to your head when you're sleeping.
What I did was to try to put the iPhone to charge before I go to bed - the last thing I do is to journal on it - and it charges in our en-suite bathroom next to the bedroom. I put my Apple Watch on "airplane mode", because I do wear it to sleep (I like how it wakes me up by buzzing on my wrist).
I must admit it's hard. I still tend to read some social media before going to bed and I'm still trying to get rid of this habit... old habits die hard.
6. Coffe is bad for you (in excess)
I used to drink 3-4 coffees a day, and my last one around 6pm... but I just found out that the caffeine persists in your body for more than 6 hours... so I decided to reduce this and I'm now drinking 1-2 cups of coffe per day. And no later than 2pm. In the meantime I drink more tea and in the evening I have my cup of Roiboos tea (which doesn't have caffeine at all) and I'm good.
At least now that I drink less coffee, when I do I'm really savoring it.
7. Don't give in when you have a late-night rush of energy
Sometimes you feel sleepy around 10pm but then all of the sudden around midnight you're getting a rush of energy and you want to do things. Don't give in. It's a signal that your body is trying its best to keep you awake as an "emergency mechanism". This is a strong signal that you should use this energy to brush your teeth and just go to bed and shut your body down.
How do you sleep?
Do you have any other advice for me? What works for you? What doesn't? I'm really happy I read this book. As you can see I've made a few adjustments right away and I keep improving my evening ritual to be able to sleep not just more, but better.
Sleeping is not a necessary evil. It's a strategic part of your 24h cycle that helps rebuild your body and re-wire your brain. It helps you perform at your highest level. Plan your sleep.
Question: Your best advice on sleeping?
Looking for more books to read? Check out complete and updated list of books I recommend
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