This is my experience, not medical advice. Consult your doctor or health professional. I’m just some guy on the internet.
I’m not a “bad sleeper,” but I’ve always been a light sleeper.
I’m usually refreshed in the morning, but I’d wake up earlier than I needed to every day, usually about 5-6 am. I’m a morning person, so it was fine.
I normally get about 7 hours each night. If I get less than about 6.5 hours, I feel a little tired the next day. If I get under 6.5 for multiple days in a row, then I’ll be a grouch to be around. I will be impatient, stressed out, and I’d overindulge in caffeine which made it worst.
Once a month, I’d have an epic night of sleep nearing 8 hours in a night. I would always feel great after a great night of sleep.
I got a Fitbit a few years ago and started paying attention to the quality of my sleep, not just how long I was in bed. I realized I was getting less sleep than I thought. The quality was even worse!
On the nights, I thought I got 7 hours of sleep, it was more like 6 hours. 8 hours was really 7 hours.
My deep sleep was awful — usually about 15 – 30 minutes per night. Over the last year, I changed my habits and environment and added some supplements. You can see the low amount of deep sleep on the left side of this graph from my sleep tracking app.
I’m regularly getting over 8 hours per night with 2-3 hours of deep sleep.
Apple Health even noticed the increase of about 1 hour MORE sleep per night. Before that average of 7h 23m listed for the last 6 months, the average was more like 7h 0m per night.
It wasn’t easy.
I had to add some positive habits and remove some bad habits.
Benefits of Sleeping More…
This is not an exhaustive list, but some of the biggest impacts from more sleep.
I feel better. Constantly. I feel great in the morning. I don’t feel tired in the afternoon.
I’m not as grouchy. Things that used to set me off and send me down a spiral aren’t a big deal.
I’m not stressed out. I just feel calmer.
My memory is better. If I would have slept more in college, I would have done a lot better!
I feel smarter. Problems and puzzles are easier to resolve. Again, I would have done better on tests and labs in college.
My resting heart rate is around 44 beats per minute (bpm), down from 55-60 bpm.
My HRV is higher than ever.
(Resting Heart Rate and HRV might be related to cutting back on alcohol…)
I’ll share my resources for tips and exactly what I did.
I’ll do my best to put them in the order of effectiveness based on my experience in the three areas:
- Environmental Factors
- Behavioral Factors
They’ll be different for you. You know some of my baseline for sleeping stats, but I’ll list out other details and habits at the end so you an idea about my baseline starting point.
That’s important to help gauge what might be effective for you. For example, I was getting plenty of exercise already, so adding more wouldn’t help me sleep better. But if you’re not active at all, then exercising a few times per week might help you considerably.
I learned a bunch from several podcasts and books. Hubermab Lab was the most impactful with dense information. I’ll link up to some great resources at the end.
I link to some products below. Some are affiliate links, so at no additional cost to you, I might earn a commission if you buy something. It helps pay for hosting, virtual assistants, and if I’m lucky, a cold frosty adult beverage! Thanks in advance.
Here are things that I changed in my environment.
I frequently awoke in a warm, even scorching and sweaty state. To combat this, we aimed to follow the advice of sleeping in a cool room and turned down the thermostat. Although this proved more affordable during the cooler winter months, it became an expensive solution during the scorching summer days, especially in the Southeast region where I was raised. Unfortunately, my wife preferred a warmer atmosphere during bedtime.
Despite our efforts to maintain a cooler temperature, it barely made a difference. I still found myself waking up in a state of sweat and heat a few times a week during certain periods. Although, it’s likely this persistent issue was a result of alcohol consumption – more on that later.
Enter the chilipad…
Thanks to my friend, Jake, for transforming my sleep experience. When he upgraded his bed setup, he generously gifted me his old ChiliPad Cube with a half-queen pad.
As soon as I slipped under the covers on the first night, I noticed a significant change in my sleep quality. The difference was astonishing.
Despite having heard about the ChiliPad for years and being told by no less than six people that it was the ultimate solution for better sleep, the somewhat steep price tag always held me back from taking the leap. But I finally had it in my grasp.
To ensure a cozy slumber, I set the temperature of the bed to 75°F for about 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime – a ritual that I currently observe during the winter months. I might not need to do this during the summer.
Once I’m in bed and comfortable, I turn down the temperature to 68°F, where I like to sleep. In case I feel a chill during the night, I’ll increase the temperature slightly to 69°F or 70°F.
If I happen to get up during the night and return to bed within an hour or two, I may crank up the heat on the ChiliPad to around 73°F to enjoy a warm, inviting bed. So far, I have only used the ChiliPad during the winter, so I may forego the warming phase in other seasons.
The most remarkable improvement I experienced was a significant increase in deep sleep, as evidenced by the graphs I have collected since I started using the ChiliPad. This absolutely blew me away!
Before the ChiliPad, I was getting under 30 minutes of deep sleep per night. It’s not a guaranteed 2 hours of deep sleep per night, but most nights I get plenty of deep sleep.
Along with deeper sleep, I also slept better throughout the night and for longer periods, waking up feeling well-rested and refreshed.
It’s important to note that everyone’s ideal sleep temperature is unique, so it’s necessary to experiment with the temperature settings to find what works best for you.
We’ve implemented a blackout-style window treatment, utilizing wood blinds to diminish the amount of light that creeps into the room. Despite our efforts, a sliver of light still infiltrates through the edges of the curtains.
As a highly light-sensitive individual, I have the advantage of waking up with the sunrise. But even the smallest light sources, like the air purifier, chargers, or devices with tiny LED lights, disturb my slumber.
To combat this issue, I took an obsessive approach and covered these sources with black duct tape. Though it may seem excessive, I find peace in the fact that the tiny lights won’t disturb me during the night. I carefully cut the tape to size, ensuring the lights are still visible, albeit to a much lesser extent than raw light in a dark room.
We usually run an air purifier in our bedroom for a soothing background noise that muffles the sounds of the house or an unexpected car door slam at night.
The ChiliPad Cube also produces a tranquil hum, acting as another source of white noise.
However, we now place the Cube under the bed as its sound can be quite loud if placed on the bedside table. On the bedside table, it sounds like a strong fan, too noisy for our liking.
When staying at a hotel or Airbnb, I rely on my YouTube Premium app to play an 8 to 10 hour long “white noise, black screen” video for an undisturbed sleep environment.
Weighted Blanket: A Cozy Solution for Warm Sleepers
As a warm sleeper, I had always sought the comfort of a pile of blankets to drift into slumber. While it served well during the winter, I still often found myself waking up drenched in sweat. But what I did crave was the comforting weight of thick blankets.
That’s when we discovered the magic of a weighted blanket. Not only did it provide the desired weight, but it also helped me stay cool. The mass of the blanket acted as a heat sink, providing a cozy solution to my warm sleeping woes.
Pillows: Finding Cool Relief for a Restful Night’s Sleep
Before discovering the ChiliPad, I sought relief from the heat by trying out a foam pillow with a gel top. To my delight, the pillow did provide some relief, keeping my head cool throughout the night. Although it couldn’t cool my entire body, the foam aspect of the pillow did help me sleep soundly without the constant tossing and turning.
So much was my fondness for this pillow that I now take it along with me on road trips to enjoy its comforting benefits even on vacation.
With these two simple solutions, I now sleep better and cooler, embracing the peaceful slumber I had always longed for.
To optimize my sleep, I had to make some lifestyle changes that challenged me in different ways. Some adjustments were relatively easy, while others were more difficult to implement. For instance, I had to limit two of my most cherished beverages.
Caffeine: A Love Affair
Coffee and I share a passionate love affair. During sleep-deprived times, I would devour a full pot of coffee every day. I used to believe that my coffee consumption didn’t affect my sleep because I could still fall asleep, but then I listened to Michael Pollan’s book about quitting caffeine for three months.
Inspired by Michael’s story, I gradually transitioned from full-caffeine coffee to decaf over a period of two months. I mixed caffeinated and decaf coffee until I eventually switched to 100% decaf. My wife didn’t notice any difference, but I noticed that my enjoyment of coffee decreased significantly. Although I still relished the aroma and ritual of brewing pour-over decaf coffee, it wasn’t the same as before.
Data showed that I slept 30 to 45 minutes more each night, which was a sad realization, but it proved the impact that caffeine had on my sleep.
That’s what got me from about 7h 0m to about 7h 30m per night.
I eventually found a balance by incorporating some caffeine back into my daily coffee blend, at a ratio of 30% caffeinated to 70% decaf. I now delay my coffee consumption until two hours after waking and generally avoid caffeine after noon. Although I enjoy fully caffeinated coffee on special occasions, it’s my daily habits that I’m most mindful of.
Consistent Timing: A Nighttime Routine with Purpose
I aim to start my evening routine at 8 pm every day. My routine includes brushing, flossing, preparing coffee for the morning, letting the dog out, and more. By 8:30 pm, I should in bed, ready read a fiction book.
I aim for this routine at least five days a week, and it’s especially easy to stick to during the dark, winter nights. But it’s easy to get a little off schedule. Plus, I’m happy to go off script and do something social with friends. That’s a great trade off to stray from the strict routine of early bedtime.
For years, I woke up naturally between 5-6 am, but recently, I’ve been able to extend my sleep and now wake between 6:30-7 am, without an alarm. I only resort to an alarm when I have an early flight or appointment.
Alcohol and Sleep: A Personal Journey
From a young age, I was aware that alcohol would disrupt my sleep. For years, I believed it was the lack of sleep that was the main issue, but I soon realized that the hangover was also part of the problem.
Worse still, after I turned 35, if I consumed more than three drinks, I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling hot, sweaty, and with a racing heart. On some occasions, I would manage to fall back asleep after 15 minutes, but most of the time, I would be awake for 45 minutes to an hour.
I tried to find a solution by thinking about the type of alcohol I was drinking. As a huge beer fan, homebrewer, and beer judge, I wondered if it was a particular beer style that was causing the issue. However, I still enjoy drinking beer, as well as whiskey and other spirits.
Day Drinking as a Solution
As I enjoy drinking alcohol, I realized that I could protect my sleep by consuming it earlier in the day. This way, my body could process the alcohol while I was awake and not sleeping. While day drinking may not be suitable for everyone, especially those who work for a corporation, it works for me as I run my own business after being laid off in 2015.
As I write this, it is January, and I participated in Dry January, abstaining from alcohol for 31 days. Surprisingly, I did not notice any significant changes in the amount or quality of my sleep compared to when I was day drinking.
Since I started using the ChiliPad, I have not been drinking in the evening as much. The ChiliPad has helped me reclaim the deep sleep that I was missing.
A New Approach to Drinking
In the future, I’ll reduce my alcohol consumption. My old habit of drinking three to four beers a day was not only a drain on my wallet and health, but also a waste of precious calories. Although I love beer, I have to change my drinking habits. It’s clear from a health perspective too — my triglycerides are almost 2x when I drink those three to four beers a day.
As a homebrewer, I have the option to brew low-alcohol beers with an alcohol content of only 1-2% ABV. This is a big reduction from the 6-10% ABV beers that are readily available at local Boulder County breweries or even on tap at my own home.
I plan to continue enjoying beer, but in moderation, striking a balance between my love for its taste and my need for a restful night’s sleep.
Dealing with Waking Up During Sleep
I wake up in the middle of the night almost every night— 1-3 am.
When I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ve learned to just lay there and stop thinking so hard.
I focus on slowing down my breathing, which helps me calm my mind. It’s a semi-meditation technique that works by using the power of your own breath to chill the fuck out and tame your racing thoughts.
Sometimes it may take me a while to fall asleep again, upwards of 30-45 minutes. But by focusing on my breathing and calming my mind, I can feel more relaxed and not worry about the next day or any non-existent problems.
I think I just eventually get bored and fall asleep.
The Power of Imagination
Another trick that works for me is imagining a place. For me, that place is a hike I did in the Rocky Mountain National Park in 2003, on Deer Mountain.
I don’t think of words, but instead focus on the sensory details: the trail, the sunrise, the quiet, the smell of the trees, etc.
I think the abstract thoughts pull me away from the problems that seem so bad when I think about them in the middle of the night.
The key is to find a place that you enjoy and focus on the sensory details.
Waking Up Too Early: A Personal Experience
Greeting the day with bleary eyes and a groggy mind is no way to start the morning, yet it’s a scenario that I used to find myself in all too often. In the past, I’d simply rise from my bed as soon as my alarm went off, regardless of where I was in my sleep cycle. This habit, however, would often leave me feeling sluggish and irritable later in the day and drive me to reach for caffeinated beverages just to keep myself going.
Recently, I’ve adopted a new approach that’s led to better quality sleep and a more relaxed start to the day. Instead of immediately getting out of bed, I now allow myself a few extra minutes in bed. While my goal is to fall back asleep, even if I don’t, simply laying in bed can be a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. On those lucky days when I do drift back off, I often end up getting an additional 90 minutes of sleep – a full sleep cycle for me – and wake up naturally feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
Sleep Debt and Improved Sleep
For a month, I persisted with staying in bed longer and before I knew it, I caught up on my sleep.
Instead of jumping out of bed early in the morning, I now linger in the comfort of my bed. In the summer, I might start getting up earlier again when it gets bright earlier, and I might have plans to go on an early morning hike.
I’m physically active most days of the week. My routine fluctuates between 5 to 7 sessions of exercise each week, each session tailored to challenge my body in a different way.
On some days, I opt for brisk walk. On other days, I head to the gym where I incorporate a combination of light strength training and light to moderate cardio into my routine. I lift weights, do body weight exercises, and sweat it out on the elliptical machine or stair climber for a cardio workout.
I’ve exercised regularly since I was 11 or 12. Back then, I would go to the YMCA. And I continued going to a gym since then.
I like to read fiction, so my mind is lost in a story and distracted from the day. If I read nonfiction, my brain is in problem solving mode which leads me to thinking about problems and how to solve them.
I like reading series so Jack Reacher, Joe Pickett.
When I need a break from the crime thrillers, I like near future scifi, like Blake Crouch, Marcus Sankey.
I use the Libby app, then read on a Kindle Paperwhite. Libby works with my local library so I don’t have to buy the books, I can just check them out. That saves money and I’m already paying for the privilege by paying local taxes. The Paperwhite is backlit so I don’t need a reading light on. It’s also very dim and doesn’t seem to impact my sleep, where light from a tablet might be more intense or have a color that could impact my sleep.
I’m on hold for 3-6 books at all times so I can keep reading the series. I’ll delay delivery if I’m not ready.
I’m not too particular about avoiding bright lights in the evening, but I try to stay off my devices in the evening, mainly the laptop screen. Seeing bright lights at night can throw your circadian clock off.
I generally try to avoid my phone and tablet after about 6 pm. But, I know last night, I was watching YouTube videos of Diners, Drive Inns, and Dives in bed, so I’m not perfect. (I’m a sucker for that show…I love me a greasy spoon diner.)
Anyway, I also try to keep the lights dimmer in the evening, usually matching the season. So in the summer, brighter indoor lights later aren’t a big deal since the sun is still up at 9 pm. In the winter, it gets dark at 5 pm, so I roll with the seasons.
Sunlight In the Morning
I get bright, natural sunlight for about 30 minutes to an hour each morning. Usually, within 90 minutes of waking up.
Apparently, this is great to set your circadian clock each day, thus, helping your sleep.
Huberman said this:
Viewing sunlight in the morning causes ~50% increase in circulating cortisol, epinephrine and dopamine. These leverage healthy increases in energy, immune system function and mood.
I was unaware of the full impact of my daily ritual until Andrew Huberman shed light on it. I’ve been waking up early and taking my furry friends for a walk, come rain or shine, almost every day since 2007 – with only a few exceptions.
Overcoming Adverse Weather Conditions
Even on the dreariest of days, when the rain is pouring or snow is falling, I don’t let that stop us from our daily constitutional. Of course, there are those rare occasions when the temperature drops to a numbing -10°F and even my dogs’ booties can’t protect their little noses.
On those days, we cut our walk short and retreat back to the warmth of our home.
The morning walk has been such a habit for me that I often go for walks even in between dogs, just because it’s become second nature to me.
I started taking a few supplements, some worked well, and some didn’t. It was pretty random at the beginning, since I just grabbed whatever I saw in the vitamin and supplement aisle at the supermarket.
Then, I listened to Andrew Huberman, Matt Walker, and other sleep experts on various podcasts to dial things in. That’s when it got more interesting.
Remember: It’s not medical advice. Consult your doctor…
I don’t know much about the supplements other than they were recommended, and either they worked or didn’t. I’ll add some commentary about what the supplement should do based on what the bottle says.
I picked this up from the grocery store and took it for about a year or 18 months. It didn’t do anything that I can tell.
I thought it helped a little bit, but then I upgraded to the extra strength. I still didn’t see any real impact on the data from my phone. But I had a whole bottle and didn’t want to waste it.
But then, Huberman said that taking melatonin was bad for a few reasons:
- Your body might stop producing a sufficient amount of melatonin on its own since you’re taking extra.
- The dosage of over-the-counter melatonin was WAY too high, several times higher than what your body produces.
- The quality control on the melatonin is bad, so your 5 mg or 10 mg tablet might contain a lot more than what it’s supposed to have.
I immediately stopped taking melatonin and picked up the following three supplements.
- 2g Magnesium L-Threonate
Magnesium L-Threonate helps cognitive function as noted on the bottle. The secondary impact is promoting a relaxed mood, which is why it is recommended for helping sleep. Once I got the bottle, I saw they suggest taking one tablet earlier in the day and two in the evening. So that’s exactly what I do.
Here is a summary of Magnesium L-Threonate:
Magnesium (Mg) is a vital mineral that plays a significant role in maintaining healthy bones and supporting the nervous system. Recent studies have shown that magnesium is also critical for maintaining optimal brain health and cognitive function. The brain requires a constant supply of magnesium to maintain the density and stability of neuronal synapses, which are critical for communication between brain cells. Magtein is a patented form of magnesium that is specifically designed to cross the blood-brain barrier and be utilized in the brain. This form of magnesium has been shown to support brain health and promote a relaxed mood, as well as potentially improve learning and memory. By ensuring an adequate supply of magnesium in the brain, Magtein may help to maintain optimal cognitive function and overall brain health.
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea, and it’s in a few nootropic stacks that I take 3-4 times per week. Apparently, it helps buffer caffeine or other stimulants which are often in nootropics.
I take two tablets 60-90 minutes before bed, which is 400 mg.
Huberman recommended 100-400 mg, so I increased my dosage from 200 mg or one tablet. It seemed to actually make a pretty big difference when I increased it to 400 mg.
Here is a summary of L-Theanine:
L-Theanine is a natural compound that promotes relaxation and stress management. It can help with relaxation without causing drowsiness or negative side effects. This formulation also includes Inositol, which is a member of the B-vitamin family and is essential for brain and nervous system health. It may also promote healthy vascular function.
Apigenin is an antioxidant that’s found in chamomile tea. I take 50 mg or one tablet 60-90 minutes before bedtime.
I will have Sleeptime Tea from Celestial Seasonings (the headquarters are just 15 minutes from my house) a few times per week. So, I’m getting a little more Apigenin from the chamomile in the tea.
Here is a summary of Apigenin:
Apigenin is a natural ingredient that has been shown to promote relaxation, healthy sleep patterns, and cognitive function. It is also a potent antioxidant that may support healthy aging and skin health. By supporting healthy cortisol levels, Apigenin may help maintain healthy nighttime habits and provide powerful support for overall health and well-being.
What I need to improve
I’m very happy where I’m currently at!
But it would be great to improve these areas:
- Reduce or eliminate drinking any fluids after about 6-7 pm. Sometimes I do okay, but most days I’m drinking a liter of something in the last 3 hours before bed. So, I usually wake up to pee in the middle of the night. If I drink in those last three hours, I might need to get up 2-3 times! I should stay hydrated earlier in the day to eliminate evening thirst.
- Don’t eat too much for dinner! We eat pretty early, but I love to eat. I often find that I’ll grab a second serving and I’ll still be a little full when I hit the sack. Just being full keeps me from sleeping as well, and it’s harder to fall asleep. So, portion control solves this problem and would be healthier for the waistline.
My Starting Point
Here are some of my stats and characteristics to give you an idea of my baseline.
TL;DR: I’m in relatively good shape physically, but I have been known to abuse caffeine, alcohol, and THC (to a lesser extent).
This will provide you with an understanding of what factors might impact you. For example, I have already established an exercise routine that includes both cardio and strength training. So, incorporating more exercise into my routine would likely bring little to no additional return on investment. Similarly, I am already at a healthy weight and body fat percentage, so attempting to lose weight would not yield substantial benefits.
Activity Level & Exercise
I maintain a fit physique and make physical activity a regular part of my life. Over the past decade, I’ve consistently taken between 11,000 to 14,000 steps daily. I engage in a combination of light cardio and strength training exercises, with the frequency of these activities ranging from 5 to 7 times a week. On days when I don’t engage in a structured workout, I take my beloved dog (@georgiethebordercollie on Instagram) for a 2-3 mile walk. This helps me stay close to my target of 10,000 steps.
Weight & BMI
I weigh approximately 160 pounds, give or take a few pounds. This translates to a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 23.0, given my 5’10” height. Although I am not a big fan of relying solely on BMI, it serves as a reference point. My basic scale indicates that I have a body fat percentage of around 14%.
Caffeine & Alcohol & THC
In the past, I was in the habit of drinking multiple cups of highly caffeinated coffee each day, along with 2-4 beers. This combination of stimulant and depressant seemed to work for me, although it was not the healthiest choice. After relocating to the beautiful state of Colorado, I experimented with THC edibles as an alternative to alcohol. I would take 5-10 mg a few times a week in an effort to save calories while still satisfying my desire for inebriation.
- Toolkit for Sleep from Huberman
- Huberman Lab Podcast: Dr. Matthew Walker: The Science & Practice of Perfecting Your Sleep
- Matt Walker on Tim Ferriss Podcast:
- All Things Sleep: Part 1 – Jan 2023 – How to Improve Sleep, How Sleep Ties Into Alzheimer’s Disease and Weight Gain, and How Medications (Ambien, Trazodone, etc.), Caffeine, THC/CBD, Psychedelics, Exercise, Smart Drugs, Fasting, and More Affect Sleep (#650)
- Continued…All Things Sleep: Part 2 – Feb 2023 – The Hidden Dangers of Melatonin, Tools for Insomnia, Enhancing Learning and Sleep Spindles, The Upsides of Sleep Divorce, How Sleep Impacts Sex (and Vice Versa), Adventures in Lucid Dreaming, The One Clock to Rule Them All, The IP Addresses of Your Memories, and More (#654)