I’ve been paying some extra attention to my sleep lately. Since I’ve never had a sleeping disorder or felt I’ve had any real trouble falling asleep at night, sleep has never been on the top of my list of lifestyle factors to tweak in order to improve my health and well-being. However, recently I took some time to really dig into the scientific literature on sleep, paying special attention to how human sleeping patterns have evolved since our days as hunter-gatherers – and even more importantly, how the Industrial Revolution and the invention of artificial lighting changed how and when we sleep. This research triggered me to take a closer look at my own sleeping pattern and make some adjustments that could make my quality of sleep even better.
What has become increasingly clear to me is that the quality of my sleep – which I always thought was pretty good – could have been a lot better. I’ve always paid attention to the basics, such as maintaining a regular schedule, going to bed at roughly the same time every night, not drinking a lot of water right before bed, and sleeping in a completely dark room, but until recently I hadn’t really focused a lot on optimizing the quality of my sleep.
Modern lifestyles are “designed” to mess with our circadian clock and quality of sleep. Not only do most of us expose ourselves to artificial lighting and blue light at night, but a lot of people eat carb-heavy meals a few hours before bed, are chronically stressed, work late into the night, don’t exercise enough, and maintain sleep patterns that are not in concordance with the natural fluctuations in light and dark. No wonder so many people are sleep deprived…
Like everyone who’s read this blog for some time knows, I strongly believe that an evolutionary perspective on physical activity, diet, sleep, sun exposure, and pretty much every other element of our lives is what lays the basis for designing a healthy lifestyle in the 21st century. As I explain on the overview page on sleep, traditional sleeping patterns in preindustrial cultures and hunter-gatherer societies are markedly different from “modern” sleeping patterns. Not only did we get more sleep before, but we slept differently, often in several phases instead of in one concentrated bulk, and the sleep environment was very different, among other things.
Okay, let’s get to some of the strategies I use to get a good night’s sleep. None of these things are revolutionary, they are simply small tweaks, rules, and adjustments that I feel have worked in synchrony to give me a good night’s sleep. As long as my body is in a good place and I stick to this list, I typically fall asleep quickly and I sleep well. Some of these things are new introductions to my lifestyle, but I’ve also included stuff I’ve been doing for a long time and that I feel has been working for me.
- I take a very cold shower about 1-3 hours before going to sleep.
This is something I recently started doing which I feel has made a profound difference! A really cold shower seems to improve my overall quality of sleep and help me fall asleep quicker. I’ve taken cold showers for many years, but usually earlier in the day and not as cold as the ones I take now. I usually go for about 4-10 minutes.
- I use f.lux on my computer.
As I discussed in my recent article on this computer program, I hadn’t really expected any real improvements in my sleep quality from installing f.lux, but was positively surprised. It took a couple of days to get used to the dimming of the computer screen at night, but after a while I started to really like the natural fluctuations in screen brightness.
- I limit my use of electronic devices the last couple of hours before bed.
In this area I know I could be doing even better, as the optimal approach would be to have a very restrictive policy on the use of light-emitting devices at night. However, for me, that’s not an option I find especially tempting, so I rather try to find a balance between doing what is optimal and what is enjoyable.
I turn down the screen brightness on my mobile phone at night and try to avoid using it the last 1-2 hours before bed. As for the TV, I also turn down the brightness level late at night.
- I go to sleep at roughly the same time every day.
I stick with the same routine most of the time, the exception being the days I go out with friends, go to late dinner parties, etc.
- I sleep in a completely dark room.
- I eat my last meal no later than 1-2 hours before I go to sleep.
Preferably a balanced meal containing some protein, carbs, and fat.
- I avoid drinking a lot of water the last 2 hours before I go to sleep.
- I avoid “stressful” activities right before bed.
- I sleep in a relatively cold room. Preferably with an open window.
Here in Norway it can get pretty damn cold during the winter so keeping an open window throughout the night can sometimes get too cold. If this is the case I’ll just open up a window for 10-15 minutes prior to going to sleep to let in some fresh air instead.
- I expose myself to some bright light in the morning.
This is something I should make an effort to get even better at.
- I aim to lead a healthy lifestyle.
I can really notice a difference in the quality of my sleep between the days I’ve eaten healthy, exercised, and gotten out in the sun and those days where I’ve been more careless.
Do you have any strategies that help you sleep better at night?