Sam Holstein

6 Tips to Help You Get Great Sleep

6 Tips to Help You Get Great Sleep

Everyone trying to do better in their lives, whether that’s at work, in relationships, or even just relaxing. We focus on productivity tips, new mental models, and all kinds of techniques for squeezing more out of their life. But what if you could get a grip on your life just by getting more sleep?

Science has conclusively shown by now that getting enough sleep — 8 hours of it — is critical for your good health. It’s associated with a host of positive health benefits, including…

…and many more. When it comes to living a good life, getting enough sleep is as important as getting enough exercise, eating right, and maintaining healthy relationships.

But if you’re like most people, you’re shortchanging yourself when it comes to sleep. You’re operating on 6 hours of sleep, maybe even with 4-hour nights thrown in here or there. You make up for it by drinking loads of coffee, of course, but you still feel like you’re not doing as well as you could. My friend, it’s because you’re not sleeping.

Anyone who’s tried to fix their sleeping patterns knows it isn’t as easy as just “going to bed.” Much like how you can’t force yourself to relax, you can’t force yourself to fall to sleep. When you go to bed early to try, you end up tossing and turning all night — all you’ve done is make the problem worse.

What regulates sleep in our bodies is a complex hormonal process. While the process itself is complex, the summary of it is simple: our bodies look to our environment for cues that it’s time to sleep, and when they get enough cues, they become sleepy. Then we fall asleep. To our bodies, this process is a habit — our bodies expect it to be repeated the same way every day. This habit is called our circadian rhythm.

If we’re waking up early enough, it stands to reason that by the end of the day, we should be tired enough to fall asleep. Therefore, if we’re not sleepy, it’s because we’re not sending cues to our body that tell it to be sleepy. The key to restoring your sleep routine is to start sending these cues to your body.

Most importantly, these conditions must be fulfilled on a predictable schedule. We evolved to fall asleep at the end of the day, after sunset. The sun is predictable. To get good sleep, we must be like the sun and have a predictable routine.

#1: Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day

The cornerstone of a habit is routine. You can’t control when you fall asleep (else you wouldn’t have this problem) but you can control when you wake up. Therefore, the easiest thing you can to do establish a sleep routine for your body is to wake up at the same time every day.

For someone that is struggling to get sleep, being told they have to wake themselves up when they’ve finally managed to get some seems like a cruel thing to do. And yes, while you’re getting used to your new sleep routine, waking up in the morning will feel terrible. But it’s crucial you do so. If you don’t wake up at the same time every morning, you won’t get tired around the same time every night, your sleep schedule will become erratic, and the quality of your sleep will suffer… which is how you got to where you are now, reading this article.

#2: Turn Devices Off at the Same Time Every Night

One of the cues our bodies look for is light levels. In nature, the sun rises and sets at roughly the same time every day, giving our bodies a cue to the beginning and end of the day. But in the modern world, we have so many artificial lights that we can keep the proverbial “sun” on all day. When we do that, our bodies never release the hormones that make us sleepy, and we have trouble sleeping.

Since we can no longer rely on the sun turning itself off, we must turn off the (metaphorical) sun ourselves. To overcome that, we must consciously choose to turn the sun off. And the sun, in the 21st century, is the light emitted from devices and screens.

So, to turn the sun off, we should set a “devices off” time. For me, that time is 10 PM. At 10 PM, all screens that emit blue light — that is, all screens except my Kindle reader’s e-ink screen — get turned off for the night. This tells my brain the sun is off for the night.

This doesn’t mean you have to go lay in bed. You can stay awake and do whatever you like after your devices off time. I will do activities that are not goal-directed, a topic that is explored in the next section.

#3: Do Not Do Goal-Directed Activities Before Bed

One of the cues that trigger our bodies to prepare for sleep is goal-directed mental activity. Goal-directed mental is an activity of daytime. If our minds are still whizzing around trying to solve problems, our bodies are going to think we still need to be awake.

In order to sleep well, don’t do goal-directed mental activity before bed. Don’t try to solve problems, whether those problems are your failing marriage or merely cleaning the house. Do things that allow you to sit back and relax. Pick activities to do before bed that are low-stimulation yet enjoyable for you, like:

For everything I’ve listed here, there are a dozen options I’ve forgotten about. It doesn’t matter what you pick, so long as it’s low-stimulation, relaxing, and enjoyable for you.

#4: Don’t Drink Caffeine After 2 p.m.

Your goal is to sleep. Caffeine wakes you up. If you have caffeine in your system when you approach the end of your day, your body will not release sleep hormones, you will not feel sleepy, and you will not fall asleep.

People, this is basic stuff. I know you love caffeine, but caffeine is a stimulant. Do not drink caffeine if you do not want to be stimulated.

In short: If it isn’t morning, don’t drink caffeine, or you will not sleep well.

#5: Don’t Force Yourself to Go to Bed at the Same Time

If you’re trying to build a habit of going to sleep at a certain time, going to bed at that time seems like the logical thing to do, but it’s not. Much like feeling calm or feeling happy, feeling sleepy is not something you can force. When you try to force it, you end up feeling less sleepy.

You can’t force yourself to get sleepy or fall asleep — and if you try, you’ll only make yourself feel more awake. So instead of trying to control things we can’t control, we must control things we can control, such as when we wake up and the cues our environments give our bodies around bedtime. As long as you are controlling what you can control (waking up at the same time, avoiding stimulants, etc.) you are on the right track.

#6: Don’t Stay In Bed If You Can’t Sleep

If you’ve gotten into bed and you are tossing and turning, get out of bed. As the above point explains, it does you no good to try to be sleepy. What you should do is get out of bed and do one of your before-bed activities until you feel sleepy again.

If your sleep is troubled, it will not become healthy overnight. You could do everything on this list perfectly for two weeks and still struggle to sleep. This is normal. Returning to a healthy sleeping pattern is like losing weight or going to therapy — the results take time to manifest. You will have good days and bad days on your journey back to healthy sleep patterns.