Habits for Sleep

I’ve always had a contentious relationship with sleep. As a child, I’d get up after the house was quiet to enjoy a few hours of time alone and as a result I’d chronically wake up tired.

In college the common refrain was “you can sleep when you’re dead.”

It wasn’t until I recognized the profound impact a good night of sleep had on my physical performance (in ballet, specifically) that I decided to prioritize sleep. And even so, it has taken me another decade to cultivate robust sleep habits.

Here are a few of the habits I’ve found helpful:

Catch dawn and dusk

Prompted by Andrew Huberman, I dug into the research around sunlight. Getting a bit of sunlight at sunrise and sunset resets your circadian clock, and makes falling and staying asleep easier.

Cold plunging in the morning

My current habit is to spend 6 minutes in my 39 degree cold plunge in the morning. This doubles as my sunlight exposure and an abrupt way to wake up in the morning. The release of cortisol and adrenaline, and afterwards, dopamine, are the best way I’ve found to start the day.

(While I love cold plunging in the morning, or anytime before sunset, doing so after dark interferes with my sleep.)

When I’m the most tired is when I’m least good at going to sleep

I’m world class at procrastinating going to bed and turning a 20 minute bedtime routine into multiple hours. I’ve learned to set up the hours leading towards bedtime into as efficient a process as possible. There’s no problem that isn’t better to tackle first thing tomorrow, instead of late tonight. 

“Just go to bed earlier. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
This is a phrase from my childhood, meant to sooth a discontented child (i.e. me). And it still holds true today. There’s no problem that isn’t better to tackle first thing tomorrow, instead of late tonight.

Don’t watch television at bedtime

Television doesn’t get in the way of my falling asleep, but after a show or a movie my sleep is much more restless. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter what kind of television.

Tracking helps

I’m not big on tracking everything about myself, but spending several weeks tracking what time I fall asleep was really helpful in moving my bedtime earlier. The Oura Ring is the best tool I’ve discovered for tracking what time I fall asleep and how much of each type of sleep I get. (REM, Deep Sleep, etc.). I’ve gotten competitive with the Oura Ring’s report of what time I should go to bed, and now always try to go to bed before it says I should.

Sleep Supplements

Here are some supplements I’ve been enjoying.

  • L-Theanine – is an amino acid found in green tea that has been shown to relieve stress, and improve mood and sleep
  • Apigenin – is an extract from chamomile. While I’ve historically enjoyed chamomile tea at night, I’ve found apigenin to provide that same sense of soothing at bedtime.
  • Magnesium – Most of us are deficient in magnesium, so taking magnesium is a good habit, regardless. And I find that if I supplement magnesium most days, I don’t wake up in the middle of the night with muscle cramps.
  • Krill oil – Oddly, I love the taste of krill oil, and especially the Kirkland brand.
  • Omega 3s – There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of supplementing Omega 3s. We could all do well to take more EPAs and DHAs. I like Nordic Naturals ProOmega.
  • Melatonin – Melatonin is the old standby, but I find that while 1 or 3mg of melatonin put me to sleep, I invariably wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep. These days, I only take melatonin when I absolutely need it.

Hot bath or cold shower

I’ve taken hot baths at bedtime since I was young. This doubles as my favorite time to read physical books. Lately, though, I’ve been also enjoying cold showers just before bed. Hot baths prompt the body to cool off quickly. Cold showers get the body to warm up. Maybe it is something about the temperature change, but either a hot bath (with enough time to cool down before bed) or a cold shower (so long as I get in bed quickly) puts me right to sleep.

Sex Helps

I notice that I sleep better at night if I’ve had enough sex in the preceding days. Everyone is different, but I fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.

Exercise the dogs – and the people, too

The dogs will sometimes bark in the middle of the night, particularly at the raccoon that lives in the oak over my house. Getting the dogs enough physical activity before bedtime solves this issue entirely. And when I get a good cardio workout I sleep better, too.

What are tools or habits you’ve discovered for sleep? I’d love to hear!

Until next time,

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