Tag Archives: Lifehack

How I Fall Asleep Instantly, Night After Night

I was chatting with some friends during the UFC fight on Saturday, and they both mentioned the same problem. Neither could fall asleep for at least an hour, night after night.

Many people I meet seem to have the same issue. They lay down, ready to get a good night’s rest, and wind up tossing and turning endlessly. Entirely too soon, the alarm clock sounds and they’ve lost out on precious time to restore themselves.

This stands out to me because I fall asleep instantly, night after night. Why do I seem to be (almost) immune to this common problem?

It’s because of the system I have around me that promotes sleep. I’m going to break that system down right now, so you can get the same benefits of health and relaxation that I do:

  1. Avoid screens for 30-60 minutes before bed time. The glowing, the clicking, the distraction, the endless stream of largely pointless information…none of this is conducive to winding down for the day. Instead, I like to read a physical book or magazine or chat with my wife. Although occasionally, I find a BBC nature documentary by David Attenborough lulls me right to sleep.
  2. Lower the lights. About 30-60 minutes before bed time, I dim the lights, generally to the lowest setting. This helps the wind down process. That gradual winding down gets me in the mood to sleep.
  3. No screens in the bedroom. Ever. Extra points if you turn your phone completley off a solid 30-60 minutes before bed. It’s so freeing!
  4. Sleep mask. A recent addition to my routine that has cut my middle of the night tossing and turning to almost 0. I didn’t think light affected my sleep much, but turns out it did!
  5. Humidity. In this drier part of the year, dry nasal passages tended to make it harder for me to breathe. Then, I’d wake up. When I got a humidifier, the problem was solved. And sure enough, if I forget to turn it on before bed, my labored breathing comes back!
  6. Physical exhaustion. I work out 5 times a week and also walk 4-8 miles in a typical day. This means that when I lay down, I’m exhausted and grateful to be off my feet! That goes a very long way to helping me sleep. It’s hard to sleep if you’re not really tired.
  7. Meditation/journaling. I usually do these in the morning, not the evening. But, they could easily be used at night if you’re struggling to relax. If thoughts are keeping you awake, you can get up and write them down. Then, they’re preserved and you can pick them all up tomorrow! But more likely you’ll never look at it again. 🙂
  8. Temperature. 60’s is generally best. But, my wife would turn blue if I kept the bedroom that cold. So, I’ll often sleep with just a sheet, even in the New Jersey winter. I find I fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer.
  9. Bed. Not as important as you might think. But, I’ve taken no chances here either. I bought a Tempurpedic memory foam mattress 11 years ago and it’s still as good as the day I bought it. It wasn’t cheap: $1700. But there are memory foam mattress toppers you can get for far less. I’ve gotten great sleep in much less expensive beds, and as long as you’re comfortable, so can you!
  10. Shower before bedtime. The gradual lowering of your body temperature after you come out of a hot shower promotes sleep. If you want to take another in the morning, you always can and I sometimes do.
  11. Remove stress from your life. Easier said than done, I know! But you can gradually work toward a lower stress existence. I often found my work in tech stressful, so over a period of years I transitioned to running my own investment business instead. And I’m sleeping better than ever.

A lot of this system came out of the superb book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD. He directs a sleep lab at the University of California-Berkeley and knows as much as anyone about the subject. He helped me enormously. If you want to understand sleep and improve your sleep, get this highly readable volume ASAP.

What I Don’t Do

Ambien. Dangerous and doesn’t provide real sleep. Unconsciousness and sleep aren’t the same thing.

What About Melatonin?

Not helpful for sleep unless you’re jet lagged according to the Walker book, but if you feel like it’s helping you, go for it! I do actually take 5 mg a day at around 8:30 pm generally, but I made that decision based on its possible ability to prevent COVID rather than sleep benefits.

And finally, when you get to lay down after a long day, enjoy it! Avoid anxiety over whether you’ll fall asleep.

Walker recommends an 8 hour “sleep opportunity.” I love that phrase because it focuses on what you can control (laying down), rather than what you cannot (falling asleep). If you’re there ready to rest, you’re doing what you can do.

Don’t worry too much if you can’t fall asleep sometimes, because that’s normal. Just keep giving yourself that opportunity to rest!

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/LinkedIn/email using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Photo: “Baby sleeping POV” by robscomputer is licensed under CC BY 2.0


The Sleep Hack I’m Loving

Yesterday, my wife gave me a gift that will keep on giving: a sleep mask. She recently started using one and noticed the quality of her sleep improved enormously. I observed her, intrigued.

Just before dinner, she presented me with a sleep mask of my very own! I took it for a, err, test drive, last night. I slept more deeply than I have in a long time, with less tossing and turning. I woke up an hour earlier than usual, dramatically more refreshed and energetic. My wife said she could easily tell I had much more energy than usual.

Sleep has an enormous impact on health. Lack of sleep demolishes the immune system, doubles cancer risk, and can cause Alzheimer’s, coronary artery disease, obesity and diabetes. The list of conditions lack of sleep can cause is enough to keep you up all night!

But for just a few dollars, you have a shot at really feeling rested in the morning. I don’t find the mask uncomfortable, and it’s very easy to put on. Anything that covers the eyes and is comfortable should work. The one I have is here.

Sweet dreams!

Why I Started Giving Blood

Last March, as COVID began to whallop the New York area, I sat on my couch refreshing the news over and over and getting increasingly paranoid. I’d check the case counts before I went to bed and then again as soon as I got up. I soon realized this was not a sustainable way to live.

Then I saw an article in our local news that blood donations were particularly needed. Donations had dropped off because donors were afraid to go, but the needs remained. I sensed an opportunity to finally do something, as opposed to simply read more news and become more scared, which benefits no one.

So I went to the New York Blood Center on East 67th street in Manhattan. The staff were very nice and the entire process took just a few minutes. Since then, I’ve gone every couple of months, enjoying the opportunity to do something positive and also the delicious snacks I get afterward. 🙂 Since donor volume was thin around the holidays, I even got a pair of special New York Blood Center socks when I donated shortly before Christmas!

We all know giving blood helps others, but it may surprise you to learn that there can be significant health benefits for donors as well. Regular blood donation is linked to lower blood pressure and risk of heart attacks. Men seem to benefit more than women, since women have a natural way to get rid of blood through menstruation, but men do not.

You also get a mini-checkup every time you donate. When you come in, they check your heart rate, blood pressure, and iron levels. It’s not much, but how many people get any sort of checkup every 8 weeks? Not many. I suspect this may be another reason donors tend to enjoy better health. Your blood is also screened for infectious diseases like HIV and the center will contact you if you test positive. I even found out I have a rare blood type, B-, which is particularly needed.

Do you feel sick after? Not really, or at least I never do. The first time, I felt just a bit lightheaded, but then I drank a lot of water and immediately felt fine. My number one tip for feeling good after blood donation is to drink a lot of water. I generally consumed 1-2 liters.

The last time I donated, I looked at the posters on the wall. There was a young Asian lady who had had dozens of transfusions after a car accident. Another poster showed a Marine veteran who needed transfusions during a surgery. I never served in the military, but it was satisfying to be able to serve in this way.

The COVID risk seems minimal to me given that everyone is masked and temperature-checked, which is more than I can say for the grocery store! I’d encourage everyone to consider donating. It could make you healthier and save someone else’s life too!

Why I Just Did a 3 Day Fast

I just completed a 3 day fast this morning. I celebrated by munching on chocolates and having some of my mother-in-law’s outstanding banana bread. It’s a great feeling to have made it!

No, you do not die if you don’t eat for three days. In fact, fasting for 3-5 days can regenerate the immune system. Older cells are eliminated through a process called autophagy, and new ones generated. Fasting also has significant life extension benefits. I also feel a sense of accomplishment and I get a chance to hone my willpower, which is critical in all areas of life.

But aren’t you hungry? Yes, of course you are, sometimes. But that’s okay! You’ll get comfortable with it. I’ve done quarterly 3 day fasts for about 2 years and countless 24 hour fasts. Here are my top tips for coming through your fast comfortably:

1) Supplement electrolytes. You’re as good as your electrolyte supplementation. If your electrolytes are at a good level, you’re comfortable. If they get low, your life sucks until you replenish. The first day, I was beginning to feel a bit run down, but then I supplemented and I felt fine. Often the fatigue is related much more to electrolytes than to actual hunger.

I use a supplement similar to this, but generic (bought at a local store). I recommend 1 liter per day, consumed gradually. The mixed fruit or fruit punch flavors tend to be the best. Some sources recommend starting supplementation after several days, but I find I need it starting right away.

2) Keep busy! The more you do, the less you’ll think about being unable to eat.

3) Enjoy the freedom! You can do more without all the time involved with meal prep, eating, and clean up. I find myself focused and productive during these periods.

What are your experiences with fasting? Maybe you’re considering it and haven’t tried it yet? Leave a comment and let me know.

The Swami Who Taught Me About Politics

If I want to bring about positive change during these turbulent and polarized times, then first I’m going to have to deal with the turbulence and polarity within me.

Swami Asokananda

I have a lot of friends and family whose political views are quite different from mine. In normal times, that might be barely noticeable. But during a contentious election and several highly politicized national crises, these differences in views can come to the forefront and even overshadow the wonderful relationships I have with them. If I’m not careful.

Enter Swami Asokananda, the Spiritual Director of the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City. I recently received an outstanding message from him via the Institute’s newsletter.

His message made me consider to what extent I’m really listening to those whose views are different from mine. Where might they be right? And aside from correct or incorrect, how can I listen to them in a way that conveys respect and care? I cannot change the overall situation, but I can work for unity rather than division in my own personal relationships. Maybe if I can do that, it can start a chain reaction of respect rather than divisiveness.

Some key points:

  • “Though it seems obvious to me that my point of view is accurate and true, it’s vital for me to keep in mind that in all likelihood I’m often overlaying the facts with assumptions, judgements, and opinions that have been fed into me from who knows where and when.”
  • “How am I reacting to points of view different from my own?”
  • Am I creating further division, or am I fostering more unity?
  • “To see our conditioning is not easy. To shift it is even harder.”
  • “We have an opportunity to play a role in the evolutionary shift in the consciousness of the planet.”

I have included his entire message below. You can get more messages like this by signing up for the Integral Yoga Institute’s newsletter here.

Message from Swami Asokananda
The election is over, but we are still undergoing
turbulent times in a divided nation. And it won’t
take much to polarize us even further. When Sri Swami
Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev) arrived on the shores of
New York City in 1966, our country was also going
through seismic cultural shifts. I know that, for me, the
teachings and practices of Integral Yoga arrived at just
the right time to guide me in a positive direction and a
life purpose.

One of my main sadhanas (spiritual practices) at this time is to be more
aware of what energy, what intention, what motive I am bringing into each interaction. Why am I speaking with this person? What outcome am I looking for? Have I thought about it? As I watch more closely, I’m
discovering that there are different forces at work within me that are going on in pretty much all my conversations.

Even in our own sangha (spiritual community) there are people with very diverse points of view—as is often the case in any family. How am I reacting to points of view different from my own? How well can I listen and take in what the person is saying? What can I learn about myself from this interaction and my own behavior? Am I creating further division, or am I fostering more unity? If I want to bring about positive change during these turbulent and polarized times, then first I’m going to have to deal with the turbulence and polarity within me.

It is important to remember that we are all products of our experiences.
Though it seems obvious to me that my point of view is accurate and true, it’s vital for me to keep in mind that in all likelihood I’m often overlaying the facts with assumptions, judgements, and opinions that have been fed into me from who knows where and when.

To see our conditioning is not easy. To shift it is even harder. One of the
reasons that Sri Gurudev founded the Integral Yoga Institute was this
recognition that spiritual growth is difficult without a supportive
community. As we watch our own thoughts and try to live with integrity, sangha means that we are also looking for ways to support and lift up one another. Also, our being a part of the IYI gives us the field where we are able to move from a small self-interest to a larger, shared interest. We come together so that we can connect to something bigger than ourselves. We have an opportunity to play a role in the evolutionary shift in the consciousness of the planet.

COVID-19 safety precautions have changed how we connect with each
other and share the teachings. There are still plenty of ways you can be of service to IYI and deepen the benefits you can receive from coming
together as a sangha. Think: What can I offer? What skills or experience
can I bring to the table? If you can’t think of what would be useful, reach out to me or our interim executive director, Hamsa, or any board member. We will find just the right Karma Yoga for you, according to the time you have available.

Through this mutual caring for this beloved organization, we will bring out our own potential and keep IYI shining bright for our city long after this pandemic ends.

Spiritual Director

The FDA Approved Mask I Wear

With evidence indicating that cloth masks may be less effective than surgical/N95/KN95 masks, what type of mask should we choose? And how do we know that the one we’ve chosen is safe?

I’ve been wearing these KN95 masks for several weeks and have come to love them. They only touch your face at the edges, which I find more comfortable. The earloops are thick and cushioned, providing better comfort. And as someone who wears glasses, I find that these fog my glasses less than anything else I’ve tried, provided I fit the adjustable nose piece carefully.

I’ve done yoga classes in this mask and walked all over town in it, and I actually forget I’m wearing it sometimes. I never thought that would happen. I find myself handing these out to friends and family in the hopes it will protect them as well.

This mask is on the FDA approved list. Go to Appendix A: Authorized Imported, Non-NIOSH Approved Respirators Manufactured in China (Updated: October 15, 2020). Then, see the manufacturer name, Guangzhou Nan Qi Xing Non-Woven Co., Ltd. This gives me greater peace of mind that it will work as advertised.

If you’re ready to dive in and buy a box of 50 at a lower price, the link is here.

Stay safe and stay strong everyone!

How I Think About COVID Risk: Calculate the Risk of Any Activity

There is no such thing as perfect safety. If you live in an apartment, even if you stayed home 100% of the time, viral particles could potentially make it through a faulty ventilation system. (This may have been the cause of numerous SARS infections in 2003 at a Hong Kong apartment building called Amoy Gardens Block E…see p. 137 of SARS in China: Prelude to Pandemic?).

So how do we know what is reasonably safe to do and what isn’t? Enter the microCOVID Project, a research-based calculator that can estimate the risk of contracting COVID from virtually any activity.

The calculator uses your location (and its COVID prevalence) along with other assumptions (who is near you during an activity, what mask they’re wearing, etc.) to calculate how likely you are to get COVID in a given situation. For example, going to the grocery store for 60 minutes in my area is 200 microCOVIDs. This means that if I went to the grocery for 60 minutes once a week every week for a year, I’d have a 1% cumulative chance of getting COVID from that activity.

Play around with the assumptions. For example, the grocery scenario assumes I’m wearing a cotton mask. I don’t do that. Instead, I wear a KN95 mask from the FDA approved list, which cuts the risk in half, to 100 microCOVIDs.

Is this calculator perfect? I’m sure it’s not. But it provides a useful way to estimate risk and decide if an activity is worth it to you or not. In a time when we are forced to think about risk more than usual, it is a valuable tool!