Building a Better Night’s Sleep

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I’ve been told that I look like I’m about to exit the Matrix when I’m getting ready for bed. I consume a variety of pills, install devices on my body, insist on complete darkness and shiver in the bone-chilling cold.

You might be thinking, “how is it possible that you’ve ever had a girlfriend?” or, “this guy is awesome!” (in which case, I’m wondering, how is it possible that you’ve ever had a girl/boyfriend?). Let’s face it – by the time the relationship progresses to a sleepover, it’s probably too late for them to make a smooth exit. They’re going to have to get used to your strange sleep habits.

Besides, the ends justify the means – according to my bedside brainwave monitor (seriously), I usually rank upwards of the 90th percentile for sleep quality scores.

Here’s how I scare off potential bedmates achieve great sleep.

Afternoon

Try to cut out caffeine after 12pm. Caffeine doesn’t fully metabolize for hours and can prevent you from drifting asleep. Even decaffeinated coffee and tea has enough caffeine to cause sleeping problems for caffeine-sensitive people.

I drink a gallon of coffee at 11:59am, which is a good example of following the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of the law. Whatever. Do as I say, not as I do.

Three hours before bed

Avoid doing anything that you can’t solve tonight. Checking your email is useless and stress-inducing if you don’t plan to respond to the emails today – all it does is get your brain cranking without an outlet for the output.

The same goes for stressful conversations, disturbing television (e.g. all US-based news channels), and business or self-help categories of literature.

Two hours before bed

Under normal circumstances, your brain secretes melatonin – the chemical responsible for sleepiness – as the sun begins to set. The problem is, your brain can’t distinguish between light from the sun and light from your computer screen. There is a growing body of research that suggests that the bright light emitted by consumer electronics tricks your brain into thinking that it is daytime. Though staring at your Facebook newsfeed may feel productive, your brain isn’t producing the amount of melatonin needed to make you tired.

Turn off all of your glowing gadgets. Yes, junkie, that includes iPhone, iPad, iMac, and Macbook (if you’re still using Windows-based devices, insomnia is the least of your problems). Your phone should be put on airplane mode so you don’t get disturbed by late-night phone calls and text messages. If you want to listen to music, be sure your iPod/iPhone screen is turned to the darkest setting, and queue up some some sort of neutral, Enya-esque tracks, rather than sappy love songs that make you pine for your ex.

You may experience a feeling of growing panic as you switch off your electronic lifelines – especially those of you who sleep with the TV on. The good news is that Amazon has invented something called “reading,” an incredible new concept that they developed in conjunction with a “reading device” called the Kindle. It’s like a foreign film with subtitles, but without the nudity and pretentious French dialogue.

The Kindle does not have a backlit display, and thus does not hamper melatonin production like an iPad does. As an alternative, books don’t have backlit displays, either.

I gave up reading for 10 years after “they” tried to force me to read Jane Eyre, but I’ve recently picked it back up thanks to a great list of books for non-fiction addicts.

One hour before bed

Cold temperatures (60-68 degrees Fahrenheit, or some smaller number in Celsius) have been proven to help you sleep better – they cause your internal core temperature to drop, which in turn induces sleepiness. Turn the air conditioning down to 65 degrees, or, if you don’t have AC, date someone who does.

Take 3mg of melatonin – the sleep-inducing stuff that fears iPads – if you need extra help falling and staying asleep. Evidence suggests that melatonin decreases sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), but it’s not clear whether it helps you sleep any better. (Be sure to talk to your doctor before listening to medical advice from a blogger who is living in South America, as lawsuits can be precariously difficult to pursue).

If you grind your teeth like I do, or have a particularly hard time relaxing, give PharmaGABA a shot – it works wonders for me.

I’m not sure if this helps with sleep, but I also recommend taking a multivitamin for general health. The vitamins I take are so disgusting that the only time they don’t induce the desire to vomit is when I take them directly before sleep. As a general rule of thumb, the worse something tastes, the better it is for you. I get my vitamins from a friend who owns a vitamin company, but if I didn’t, I’d probably buy these. Alternatively, you can just go to a health shop and smell bottles until one repulses you. Buy that one.

Sleep time

Not much to say here – just think about nothing, or something really boring. If you are still having trouble, get yourself a Nightwave.

It projects stuff on the ceiling that you look at, which in turn makes you sleepy. It’s like an expensive version of counting sheep.

Morning!

You should feel very well rested. Or, you’re a hopeless insomniac.

The truth is, a good night’s sleep starts with how you begin your day. There’s an expression that I love, courtesy of Steve Pavlina – “conquer the first hour.”

The goLITE - an electronic cup of coffee

Here’s my suggested routine to conquer the first hour:

1. Spend 15 minutes with a blue light device (I use the Philips goLITE), which helps regulate chemicals in your brain to improve mood and energy. I know this sounds a bit gimmicky, but it’s backed by a ton of research and actually prescribed for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Many people say that they can replace two cups of coffee with a goLITE – it has the same effect. Instead, I drink coffee, read a book, and use the goLITE at the same time for ultimate synergistic impact.

2. Eat a protein-rich breakfast that takes three minutes to make.

3. Go for a brisk, 15-minute walk.

4. You’ve got 20 minutes or so left in your first hour – do something that enriches your life, like reading my blog and sharing it with your friends.

Extra Credit

Hide this before your friends come over if you want to keep your dignity.

I monitor and track my sleep with a ZEO, a really cool device that measures your brain activity using a very chic looking headband. Make adjustments in your routine – room temperature, supplement intake, caffeine consumption, etc – until you get the optimal sleep results.

Then, cope with the realization that you’re a results-obsessed nerd, and join fellow freaks in an organization like Quantified Self (and no, I’m not a member…yet).

Well, sleep tight, and sweet dreams.

Un abrazo fuerte,

Zack

10 thoughts on “Building a Better Night’s Sleep

  1. Great post. Sleep is SO important. I follow most of your tips, but will try the others, especially the golite in the morning. I also have sleep apnea so need to wear a CPAP mask. While sleep apnea is lousy, being diagnosed with it lead me to most of your ideas earlier than I otherwise would have found them. Thanks for the continued great ideas.

  2. I violate almost all of these “rules” – living in Spain though I think you sort of have to. I even took a Sleep and Human Chronobiology Class in college – you’d think I’d know better. Anywho – thanks for the refresher!

  3. My friends use this iPhone app where you place your iPhone next to you on your bed and it monitors your sleep by tracking your tossing and turning, then gives advice and stuff based on that. I’ve been meaning to try it out, though I don’t particularly find it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

  4. I agree with you – esp. regarding complete darkness – I find in other countries (such as in Europe) the heavy shutters commonly found there helped make it easy to make our room pitch black. Back in the States , it hasn’t been as easy to replicate that level of pitch blackness I was used to. I imagine in BA you find the Italian-style shutters as well…!

  5. What great advise! One of my best friends just wrote a blog about workout/sleep technology as well and I am looking into the wristband she writes about, doubles as a pedometer and tracks your sleeping habits while vibrating to gently wake you up when it is most natural in your sleep cycle close to the time set. http://michelleragusa.blogspot.com/2012/02/i-would-walk-500-miles-and-i-would-walk.html I have been having trouble sleeping lately (Having just moved in with my husband and getting used to sharing a bed is part of it) but, I have also adjusted my before sleep routine from reading to watching TV, which we agree we should cut down on. Thank you for the suggestions!!

  6. I’m intrigued by the ideas here. But most of all because I find I get the best sleep if I totally wear myself out and get really good and tired first. Often that means staying up pretty late. Like right now! I’ve been working on my computer screen all evening, it’s 3:32 a.m., and I’m finally heading to bed. But first I’ll check my email one more time. I do like it cold, and either a noise machine or a fan is ideal. I prefer to sleep with the curtains open so the sun can wake me up. But that hasn’t happened for nearly 15 years. That’s when my girlfriend became my wife and started sleeping over. She likes the curtains closed.

  7. Funny that you should post this…the New York Times today has a story about how doctors are worried about the effects of sleeping pills! I agree…no caffeine (I don’t have any after breakfast), cool temps and avoiding disturbing images before bedtime. But I did not know about the Ipad rays! Another reason to avoid electronics. Thanks for a great post!

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