Sleeping in a completely dark room is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. When summer rolls around and it stays lighter a lot later, or if you live on street where there are lots of street lamps, this can be difficult to achieve. Most blackout curtains or blinds don’t do a great job of blocking out all the light. You may need an additional way solution to combine with your existing curtains.
A few observations to note from my experiments in sleep and productivity:
What I eat matters. I might crave high carb (junk food) especially when I have to do difficult work but the outcome is actually a reduction in focus and a general feeling of lethargy. Also eating junk food leads to wanting more junk food which increases the lethargic feeling. It may curb the craving and enable me to work, but soon I’ll feel horrible.
Working late. I’ve tried stopping work and packing up to wind down at 8pm and I’ve tried working past 8pm and getting to bed only when I can’t focus anymore. I prefer stopping and packing up at 8pm. For one, the quality of my sleep is much better when I completely go offline at least two full hours before bed. Secondly, when I worked late into the night, I might have gotten “more” done but the quality was a lot less and slower paced. Thirdly, the next morning rather than having a clear mind ready to refocus and do more work, all the information worked on from the night before was still swirling in my mind because my brain did not get the quality sleep (and nutrients) it needed to store, file and process the new connections between information that would’ve made me more creative and productive the next day. In effect, I would’ve been better off stopping at 8pm, winding down and getting quality sleep so as not to impact the next day’s productivity. This is an important point as working into the night makes me less productive and creative the next day.
Everything gets out of whack. When I don’t take care of the fundamentals, everything else gets out of whack. A two hour wind down and quality sleep the night before is actually the best preparation for a day of creative work. It will take time to become proficient in executing the fundamentals—it’s a habit change that takes a lot of conscious work over a period of weeks and months before it becomes second nature. But the better I execute the fundamentals, the better I can execute my Highlight.
Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. As creatures of habit people have a hard time adjusting to changes in sleep patterns. Sleeping later on the weekends won’t fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week and will make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning. Set an alarm for bedtime. Often we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up but fail to do so for when it’s time to go to sleep. If there is only one piece of advice you remember and take from these twelve tips, this should be it.
Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days but not later than two to three hours before your bedtime.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, colas, certain teas, and chocolate contain the stimulant caffeine, and its effects can take as long as eight hours to wear off fully. Therefore, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for your to fall asleep at night. Nicotine is also a stimulant, often causing smokers to sleep only very lightly. In addition, smokers often wake up too early in the morning because of nicotine withdrawal.
Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. Having a nightcap or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax but heavy use robs you of REM sleep, keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep. Heavy alcohol ingestion also may contribute to impairment in breathing at night. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A light snack is okay, but a large meal can cause indigestion, which interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause frequent awakenings to urinate.
If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. Some commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, or asthma medications, as well as some over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies, can disrupt sleep patterns. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist to see whether any drugs you’re taking might be contributing to your insomnia and ask whether they can be taken at other times during the day or early in the evening.
Don’t take naps after 3 p.m. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Relax before bed. Don’t over schedule your day so that no time is left for unwinding. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.
Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help you relax and slow down so you’re more ready to sleep.
Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget-free bedroom. Get rid of anything your bedroom that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures. You sleep best if the temperature in the room is kept on the cool side. A TV, cell phone, or computer in the bedroom can be a distraction and deprive you of needed sleep. Having a comfortable mattress and pillow can help promote a good night’s sleep. Individuals who have insomnia often watch the clock. Turn the clock’s face out of view so you don’t worry about the time while trying to fall asleep.
Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least thirty minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. Sleep experts recommend that, if you have problems falling asleep, you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn down the lights before bedtime.
Don’t lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than twenty minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.
Last night I went to bed at 2230. I subsequently woke up at 0130—3 hours later. I didn’t feel tired enough to sleep again until 0600. My night was severely disrupted. Why? I asked myself that question and suspect that the culprit might have been the two glasses of Rioja I consumed with my dinner between 1700 and 1900.
When I took stock of the situation in the morning, the only other thing that I thought might have been culpable would have been the blue light of my computer and phone which was not switched off till right before bed.
Knowing what I know now about sleep, I have no one but myself to blame if I continue to consume caffeine and alcohol at times of the day that might cause them to severely disrupt my sleep. For that reason I will be taking an indefinite break from both caffeine and alcohol and seeing whether this restless night repeats itself.
There are a couple of metrics I use to judge the value of a book.
To what degree does it change the way I think or live? (5/5)
How likely am I to gift it to friends? (5/5)
Is it approachable? (5/5)
Based on those questions I have scored this book with marks out of 5 and taken an average as the final score of its value.
For Why We Sleep, I value it as a 5/5 book.
My Thoughts on the Book
Before reading this book I knew sleep was important but I couldn’t really tell you why. After reading this book, I feel like I can — or I at least have a place where I can direct you to to find some of those reasons for yourself.
This book has helped to shift the way I prioritise my days and nights. Sleep has become a key priority on my agenda. I am actively taking steps to improve my own sleep and to practice better sleep hygiene over the long term in order to reap the benefits of this incredible activity. Some of those steps are drastic, such as avoiding alcohol (because of its effects on learning) and avoiding melatonin suppressing short-wave light after sunset; or minor, like ensuring I’m keeping a consistent sleep and wake schedule each day — even on weekends.
One of the important things I got from this book is that sleep is not an inactive process through which we simply pass away a third of our lives. Although I may be unconscious whilst it’s going on, there is a lot of work being done by my brain and body to repair the “breakdown / damage” done by being awake. But it’s not all about repair, it’s also about optimisation.
What stuck with me was the relationship between sleep and learning. Quality sleep has an enhancing effect on learning whereas deficient sleep has a reductive effect.
Matthew Walker tells of a pianist who, after struggling for a long time to nail a tricky part in a piano piece he was practising, went to sleep and then after waking found that he could just play the part he was initially struggling with. Our brain goes to work solving all kinds of problems when we are asleep. The things we learn are solidified and hardcoded into memory when we are asleep. Sleep benefits us in myriad ways and we rob and only do ourselves harm when we allow so little time for it.
How much sleep do you need? It varies, but as a rule of thumb you should give yourself a 7-9 hour sleep opportunity each night.
There were some parts of the book that were more interesting to me than others, and naturally I read those more carefully than the rest. But I don’t feel there was any filler material. The 340 pages were entirely worth the read even though some parts may be of more interest than others. Based on that, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Productivity during the week is easy. The weekends though are different. Most of us take the weekends easier than we do the weekdays. During the weekday, our schedule is somewhat dominated by our jobs so in effect our productivity is already determined within existing guidelines. On the weekends however, if we need / want to be productive we need a different set of productivity hacks.