21 Ways to Get the Most out of Sleep

Quick Tips from the Book “Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success”

It’s incredible that we—myself included—give such little thought to something that we spend so much of our life doing: sleeping. When I’m rested, I’m efficient. I’m effective. I am energized to pursue what matters most. Perhaps you feel the same way. But it’s hard to get rested. And being tired makes everything harder, slower, and less enjoyable. Perhaps you agree again.

In his recent book Sleep Smarter, Shawn Stevenson writes, “The research is in, and it’s 100 percent conclusive: When you don’t sleep well, you get slower, less creative, and more stressed, and you underperform.” That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can sleep well.

Stevenson provides 21 essential strategies to sleep your way to a better body, better health, and bigger success. In this post I share the top actionable insight or two that I took from each of the book’s 21 chapters:

21 Essential Strategies to Get the Most out of Sleep

1. Know the Value of Sleep

Your brain needs glucose to think. But sleep deprivation reduces glucose in the brain. That, in turn, leads to cravings for starches and sugary foods as your body looks to replace the glucose your brain needs.

You can curb cravings for glucose—and lose weight—by sleeping more.

2. Get More Sunlight During the Day

Getting half an hour of direct sunlight outdoors promotes sleep. Getting sunlight between 6:00 am and 8:30 am is optimal.

And there’s really no replacement for sunlight as it’s typically 100 times brighter than indoor lighting (as I sort of discovered during the total eclipse this fall).

3. Avoid Screens before Bedtime

A study found that nighttime iPad readers experienced these problems:

  • Took longer to fall asleep
  • Felt less sleepy at night
  • Had shorter REM sleep
  • Produced less melatonin, which aids sleep
  • Were more tired than book readers the following day, even when both groups got 8 hours of sleep

Stevenson states, “Cutting out some screen time at night is likely the number one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality immediately.” Specifically, he recommends turning off all screens at least 90 minutes before bed. For me, that’s a tough pill to swallow. I’m more inclined to use blue light blocking features on my devices such as f.lux for Windows; “Night Shift” for Mac or for the iPhone, iPad, or iPod; or Twilight (or similar) for Android.

4. Have a Caffeine Curfew

Drinking coffee too late in the day can, not surprisingly, make it tougher to go to sleep. That’s because caffeine has a half-life of around 5-8 hours. 5-8 hours after drinking 2 cups of coffee, for instance, you have the caffeine equivalent of one cup of coffee still in your bloodstream.

(Also, I would mention as an aside that a Starbucks venti contains around 500 mg of caffeine which, if you can believe it, is 15 times as much caffeine as there is in a can of Coke.)

5. Be Cool

To help initiate sleep, your body tries to drop about 1 degree in temperature. To facilitate that drop, cool your room to an ideal temperature of 60-68°F. A room warmer than 68° hinders sleep.

6. Get to Bed at the Right Time

Sleeping during the hours of 10:00 pm to 2:00 am tends to yield the most “bang for the buck.” That’s because the most important hormonal secretions and recovery tend to take place approximately then.

Also, you feel more rested when you wake up at the end of a sleep cycle rather than in the middle of one. Sleep cycles tend to last 90 minutes. From this perspective, you should set your alarm to wake you up after 6 hours (4 full sleep cycles), 7.5 hours (5 cycles), or 9 hours (6 cycles).

7. Fix Your Gut to Fix Your Sleep

Magnesium deficiency is “likely the number one mineral deficiency in our world today.” 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. But “getting your magnesium levels up can almost instantly reduce your body’s stress load and improve the quality of your sleep.”

Stevenson recommends applying Ease Magnesium topically every night.

8. Create a Sleep Sanctuary

Jasmine plants have been shown to improve one’s sleep quality. They decrease anxiety and reduce interruptions in one’s sleep pattern. Stevenson recommends putting a jasmine plant in your bedroom or diffusing essential oils of jasmine.

9. Have a Big “O”

An orgasm produces a number of chemicals, such as prolactin, that promote sleep. Interestingly, “Men produce four times more prolactin when having an orgasm through intercourse as compared to masturbation. For women, prolactin surges are deeply connected to the quality of orgasm and subsequent sexual satisfaction.”

10. Get it Blacked Out

Stevenson recommends buying blackout shades for your bedroom and eliminating all other sources of light. That’s because “sleep experts suggest that your room be so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.”

11. Train Hard (But Smart)

Morning workouts are best from the perspective of sleep. One study showed that those who work out at 7 am rather than at 1 pm or 7 pm “had up to 75 percent more time in the reparative ‘deep sleep’ stage at night.”

12. Get Your “Friends” Out of Your Room

“Friends” like cell phones, iPads, laptops, and TVs should not be allowed in your bedroom. One study showed that those who talk on cell phones before bed took “longer to reach critical deep stages of sleep and they spent less time in deep sleep.”

13. Lose Weight and Don’t Find it Again

One study showed that when healthy people consume a meal, their cortisol levels rise by 5%. But when overweight people consume a meal, their cortisol levels rise by 51%. The problem, from the perspective of sleep, is that cortisol is “as close to an anti-sleep hormone as you can get.” Also, overweight people tend to struggle more with sleep apnea. Moral of the story: shed pounds to improve sleep.

Stevenson’s suggestions for how to lose fat remind me almost exactly of the strategy advanced by Tim Ferris in The 4 Hour Body. In a word, avoid spiking insulin, which is your body’s major fat-storing hormone. That is done by avoiding—especially during the first part of your day—carbs such as starches, sugar, and fruit. Rather, eat vegetables and foods rich in protein and fat.

14. Go Easy on the Bottle

Drinking alcohol before bed helps you fall asleep faster. But the quality of that sleep is significantly reduced. That’s because alcohol disrupts REM sleep, inhibiting memory processing—your ability to convert experiences into long-term memories.

15. Play Your Position

The greatest contributor to sleep-related back pain is an old mattress. A mattress sags 25% within just the first 2 years. Consumer Reports recommends getting a new mattress every 7 years. Stevenson advocates “a nontoxic, non-off-gassing mattress that has a higher level of resiliency than the industry standard.” His favorite is the expensive INTELLIbed. He argues that the $3,800-5,500 price tag is worth it when you consider that you’ll spend about one-third of your life on your mattress.

16. Calm Your Inner Chatter

Meditation helps you calm your thoughts and focus on the matter at hand—in this case, sleep. I’ve written about this and other benefits of meditation before.

17. Use Smart Supplementation

Melatonin is a very popular supplement to take to aid with sleep. While it helps in the short-term, it can trigger your body to slow its own production of melatonin, thereby requiring you to increase the supplement dosage, and so on. For this reason, melatonin supplements should be avoided.

18. Be Early to Rise

Waking up early and getting additional sunlight set the stage for a good night’s sleep. If you’re by nature more of a night owl (as I am) and want to become a morning person, I recommend the blog post “How to Become a Morning Person” by Michael Hyatt.

19. Use Bodywork that Works

One of the most effective ways of calming way down is to engage in “gut smashing.” Get a soccer ball-sized, inexpensive plastic ball such as you might find in a ball bin at a discount store. Let a touch of air out of it. Then, lay belly-down on it and roll back and forth for 5-10 minutes. Doing so triggers your parasympathetic system to turn on, which slows your heart rate.

20. Dress for the Occasion

Cooling down is essential to entering into the deeper stages of sleep. But it’s hard for your body to cool down when dressed warmly. So, you should err on the side of dressing cool for bed.

Also, tight clothing cuts off the flow of your lymphatic system, which is responsible for ridding the body of toxins. Any clothing you wear to bed—including socks and underwear—should be as loose-fitting as possible.

21. Get Grounded

Scientists have apparently discovered significant, positive health- and sleep-related benefits to physically coming in contact with the earth. I had never heard of this idea. You can practice “grounding” or “earthing” by walking barefoot on the earth. Stevenson says it helps overcome jet lag faster, too.

Cheat Sheet for Great Sleep

I find the above suggestions good. That said, they can also be a bit overwhelming.

For that reason, I’ve boiled down the 21 suggestions into a 1-page “Cheat Sheet for Great Sleep.”

This 1-page PDF tells you exactly what to do in the morning, early afternoon, evening, and just before bedtime to get great sleep. You can grab your free copy here:

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The pursuit of what matters most is dramatically enhanced when we have high energy and can work efficiently. And perhaps nothing promotes high energy and efficiency more than sleep.

When you couple that with the fact that most people spend about one-third of their lives in bed, it makes sense to get the best sleep you can.

To that end, I appreciate Stevenson’s 21 essential strategies. Will I implement all of them? Probably not. And you don’t need to, either. But at the very least you might as well pluck the low-hanging fruit by adopting those strategies that you find easy. You can always experiment with adding additional strategies down the road.

Question: Which of these 21 strategies do you already do? Which additional ones would it be easy for you to adopt? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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2 thoughts on “21 Ways to Get the Most out of Sleep

  1. Another great and relevant article Brian!
    These are great points of guidance.
    I’ve found that the most significant barrier is the perseverance to implement them in a devoted fashion.
    Perhaps we should underscore the consequences of non-compliance.
    Thank you for your continued discipline in curating valuable and digestable content.

    • Thanks very much, Joshua. I appreciate your note.

      “The perseverance to implement them in a devoted fashion.” Yes. I couldn’t agree more. Knowing may be half the battle. But the other half is *habit*.

      For this post, for instance, one would be better off picking an intervention or two and making it a habit than shooting for all of the interventions but not sustaining them over the long-haul. Habit often isn’t very sexy. But little compares to it in terms of effectiveness.

      Thanks again for the comment.