Modern sleep research did not begin until the modern era.
Prior to the 1920’s, it was a commonly held belief that the entire body shut down. Including the brain. From an observational perspective, this conclusion made sense and did not merit any sort of deep investigation.
That all changed as new technology actually allowed researchers to record electrical activity in the brain. What was discovered is what we know today. The brain does not turn off at all BUT instead goes through periods of high activity.
So if you’re wondering how to sleep better by lowering your sleep latency while simultaneously improving your sleep efficiency there are many practical strategies you can try out before you seek medical help.
If you’re the sort of person who goes to bed and experiences poor sleep -that is you wake up feeling tired, you never feel like you slept well. You’re not able to settle your mind so you can rest, it’s time to take small steps and change your behavior.
I’ll show you how.
Sleep is a complex topic, in this content I’ll focus on practical strategies for sleeping better so you have more energy, focus and concentration as well as an understanding as to why people suffer from sleep deprivation without even knowing it.
Sleep latency is the time it takes to fall asleep once the lights go out. Your latency can vary for any number of factors.
Are you trying to sleep earlier than normal? A higher latency would be normal and expected.
To maintain a good sleep latency requires numerous things well cover below but the most important is to maintain a habitual sleep and wake time.
What are some normal times it take to fall asleep? Well it depends on your age and despite what you may read you can not fall asleep in 5 minutes flat.
AGE 20 – 16 minute sleep latency – 7.5 hours total sleep – 95% sleep efficiency
AGE 40 – 17 minute sleep latency – 7 hours total sleep – 88% sleep efficiency
AGE 60 – 18 minute sleep latency – 6 hours total sleep – 84% sleep efficiency
AGE 80 – 19 minute sleep latency – 5.8 hours total sleep – 79% sleep efficiency
Sleep efficiency refers to how well you actually sleep while in bed compared to how much time you’re in bed. As your sleep latency increases, your efficiency decreases. Your efficiency also decreases as you age.
The result? Sleep debt.
Sleep debt – How much sleep do you actually need?
People need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night based on current research (source). It varies by an hour based on your activity for the day. Did you physically exert yourself? Your sleep demands will increase as your body needs a bit more time to recover.
Does EVERYONE need 7 to 8 hours of sleep?
There are exceptions. Outliers in any study. The Wall Street Journal coined the term “sleepless elite” and there is research demonstrating that about 1-3% of the population can actually function perfectly normal on 4-5 hours of sleep.
For the rest of us mere mortals, this would result in sever sleep deprivation. Reducing our cognitive functions and making ourselves useless for all but the most menial of tasks.
Most people who hold the belief that they only need 6 hours of sleep or less per night are not part of this sleepless elite and are simply sleep deprived.
A human being needs 7-8 hours of sleep, no matter what the age. This is why you’ll notice your grandparents or even parents taking naps throughout the day.
Your grandparents need to nap because their sleep efficiency is only at 79% resulting in them only being able to fall asleep for 5.8 hours and a sleep debt of 2 hours per day.
Napping is not practical for most people as work demands do not allow for one to simply doze off at work, despite research showing that as many as 70% of Americans routinely sleep on the job.
But if you’re able to fit in an afternoon nap, it can be used as a tool to make up for your sleep debt. A good amount of time to allocate to a proper nap is 45 minutes.
How To Sleep Better
Now let’s get into some behaviors you can adopt and the reason why.
1 – Exercise everyday
Everyday? Well that it a tall order for most people, but if you can get some sort of moderate aerobic intensity it will help improve your sleep – even talking a 15 minute walk is a step in the right direction.
It is also not simply the exercise that improves your sleep, it’s becoming a person with good habits. If you’re the sort of person who maintains a decent exercise routine you’re more likely to be properly taking care of other aspects of your life.
Exercise is obvious, but it must be stated again and again that you need to be doing everything right. If you’re not exercising regularly, it’s a bit silly to worry about not being able to sleep since you’re not attacking the fundamentals first.
I know when I was a bit fat I did not have a problem falling asleep, but I had a BIG issue with needing 9 or 10 hours of sleep per night. The reason was due to increased inflammation in the body. Overeating spikes insulin and causes inflammation in the body which results in poor blood flow. Making it difficult to concentrate and feel rested.
So get the simple stuff right. The hard part of exercise however is consistency. It must become what you do. The only caveat is to avoid exercising 3 hours before you normally go to bed.
2 – Proper nutrition
An effective way to manage chronically elevated cortisol levels is to ensure that the adrenal glands are supported by proper nutrition. Vitamin B6, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), and vitamin C often become depleted with prolonged hyperactivity of adrenal gland activity and increased production of cortisol (source).
Cortisol is the stress hormone and it peaks in the morning as a means to wake you up. The problem however is if your cortisol levels are always high, it makes falling asleep and staying asleep harder. There are numerous things you can do to reduce your cortisol levels, namely by reducing stress but cortisol can be reduce by eating a proper diet rich in vitamins like B6 and B5.
Diet like exercise effects your ability to get quality sleep. Maintain a healthy diet with the right mix of carbs (40%), fats (30%) and protein (30%).
Also consider supplementing with fish oil or krill oil and grape seed extract as a way to help reduce inflammation in your body and improve your overall health.
3 – Develop a relaxing bed time routine – NO PHONES
Stress increases cortisol, cortisol makes it difficult to sleep. Just like how you have a morning routine, consciously develop a bed time routine where you use different ways to relax. The most helpful thing to start doing is to turn off all screens 45 minutes before bed. The blue light of your laptop or phone tricks your brain into producing melatonin which keeps you awake and alert.
If you have trouble relaxing try reading and writing at night. Reading is a good habit as it allows you to learn new ideas and writing helps you sort out your thoughts.
4 – Stop ALL caffeine consumption
Caffeine actually has a long half life in your body. While the effects are felt strongly, the drug lingers in your system directly affecting your ability to sleep. Unless you have to stay up for some reason, cut out caffeine to see how it affects your sleep. I personally limit myself to two cups of coffee every morning as I fast everyday. Coffee is a good appetite suppressant but it can wreak havoc on your sleep.
Try cutting out coffee all together to experiment with the results. Then if you want to reintroduce coffee back into your diet do so by limiting your coffee intake to only the morning. Stopping after 12 pm.
5 – Stop all pre-workout exercise supplements
Supplements, particularly pre-workout supplements have a lot of ingredients designed to give your body energy. Mostly caffeine, but other ingredients as well. If you started taking some sort of pre or post workout supplement cut it out of your diet to see if your sleep improves (source).
6 – Bed is for sex and sleep only
People typically need to segment there different spaces for different purposes as a way to work efficiently. You’ll often see this with self employed individuals with a home office or who habitually work from cafes or remote work spaces.
Because home is for relaxing, not work.
You need to do the same with your bedroom and make it the habit that you only sleep or have sex in bed. If you want to read before bed or check Facebook on your phone fine, but not in bed.
7 – Beer and alcohol
Alcohol makes you fall asleep more easily but it affects the quality of your sleep by preventing your body from entering deep, restorative sleep. If you’re going to drink use it in moderation. If you can’t do moderation, then avoid drinking all together or make it something you do occasionally and not habitually.
8 – Proper bedroom environment
This should go without saying, but your bedroom needs to be a dark, quiet and cool place. The ideal temperature range is 65 to 75 degrees (18-24 in celsius). You should also be going to sleep at a regular time. Depending on your circadian rhythm this will change slightly each day, but not drastically.
How To Wake Up
Ideally you should be waking up naturally without an alarm. If you find an alarm is waking you up, you’re not allowing your body to sleep long enough. Even if you are not waking up to an alarm, depending on your latency and sleep efficiency you may yet still be building up a sleep debt. You can take care of this debt with naps or allocating more time to bed.
Next, drink a lot of water each morning. Your body needs water after a long period of sleep. Lastly, get some sun for a bit. Sunlight tells your brain that it is day time and is time to wake up by producing melatonin. Lastly, grab a cup of coffee on an empty stomach to feel the full effects of caffeine.
How To Sleep Better – Conclusion
We’re all chronically sleep deprived. The reason is simple. Too many work hours, too many responsibilities, too much stress. You can blame circumstance or you can take responsibility over your health.
The most underrated, but most helpful habit is to simply make more time for sleep, maintain a healthy body free from processed foods and exercise so you can improve your sleep efficiency.
As a creative type who for a period of time was needing 9-10 hours of sleep per night, I know how frustrating needing to sleep a lot can be. You simply don’t have the time for it. Start implementing some of the strategies outlined in this content and most importantly, get your health in order. Poor sleep is a symptom of poor health. Get your habits in order so you can bear the responsibilities of living a meaningful life.