Tag Archives: Sleep

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!

How I Improved My Sleep and Protected Myself from COVID for $34

Tell me why can’t this be love?

This fall, I bought what might be the strangest anti-COVID device yet…a humidifier.

Two, actually. I set them up in the living room and bed room and then went to work turning my dry apartment in the chilly New York area into a tropical paradise.

Indoor humidity tends to fall in winter. Air is drier to begin with, and then it’s brought indoors and heated, drying it further. This has a significant impact on how long viruses live and how your body responds to them. Our cilia, whose job it is to keep invaders out of our respiratory tract, don’t work as well in dry conditions.

Estimated virus half-life was more than 24 hours at 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) and 40 percent relative humidity, but only 90 minutes at 27 degrees C (80 degrees F) and 65 percent relative humidity.

Prof. Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, Yale School of Medicine

I got these to keep my wife and I safe from COVID, but I noticed a very pleasant side effect immediately: I was sleeping much better! My nasal passages would dry out overnight and my breathing would get more labored, causing me to wake. I mentioned the improved sleep to my wife, and she immediately agreed that my breathing sounded much nicer and I seemed to be waking less overnight.

My friend Jim* came over for New Year’s and happened to take the seat right next to the humidifier. He liked it so much, he immediately ordered the exact same one for himself, right there on his phone! I hope he’s enjoying it.

If you want to do the same, you can find it here. It was very easy to set up. I suggest one that warms the water, because it’s very pleasant. You want to avoid no-name manufacturers, because those humidifiers tend to leak. This one fits both criteria.

You can even put some essential oils or Vicks into the included medicine cup. I haven’t done it yet, but it’s on my list. Sounds like heaven!

You’ll also want hygrometers such as these to measure the humidity in your home. 40-60% is a good target. This way, you’ll know when you need to run the humidifiers and when you shouldn’t, to avoid mold growth.

Enjoy in good health!

*Not his real name