There is really no better performance improver than good sleep, in my opinion…
Sleep is often referred to as a “super power” due to its profound impact on our physical health, mental well-being, cognitive function, and overall performance. Sleep is the foundation of good performance by helping you repair and build your muscles and brain. During sleep, our brains engage in an intricate dance of restoration and consolidation. This process strengthens neural connections, enhances memory retention, and promotes learning (Stickgold & Walker, 2013). It is during sleep that our bodies repair and rebuild tissues, release growth hormones, and recharge energy stores (Fullagar et al., 2015). During sleep, our bodies produce and release cytokines, a type of protein that regulates immune responses and helps fight infections (Besedovsky et al., 2019). Sleep helps process and consolidate emotional experiences, strengthening positive emotions and reducing the impact of negative ones (Walker, 2017). Sufficient sleep empowers us to face life’s challenges with a improved mood, stronger immune system, stronger muscles, and faster learning.
Here are some evidence-based strategies for achieving a restful night’s sleep:
Start measuring your sleep to test, learn, and adjust
You can’t fix what you can’t measure and there are a variety of low-cost ways to measure your sleep these days. I use the Oura ring, the Withings Steel HR watch, and SnoreClock app daily and it gives me everything I need to test new sleep protocols and measure the effects. I use the Muse S daily for meditation and occasionally for sleep. Muse invented digital sleeping pills which are really cool. I just don’t like having anything on my head when I sleep, so doesn’t work well for me. I particularly like the Oura’s reporting across weeks/months/quarters to better understand trends as your lifestyle changes. The Apple Watch works well (but battery doesn’t last), Google Health app, the Whoop are other options that people love. Here is an example Oura report which gives you HRV, resting heart rate, time in state (REM, Delta, light), and efficiency and movement.
Surf your biology with a consistent sleep schedule
Maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule that honors your chronotype and circadian rhythm. This consistency reinforces the timing of various physiological processes, aiding in falling asleep and waking up more easily. Research suggests that irregular sleep patterns can disrupt the circadian rhythm, leading to sleep difficulties and daytime sleepiness (Czeisler et al., 2021). Determine your chronotype below by figuring out the midpoint of your normal sleep cycle (on vacation, no commitments, no early or late commitments, when would you go to sleep). Try to keep a consistent sleep and wake-up time, even through the weekend. For example, I naturally fall asleep around ten and wake around 6. If I push past ten, I reduce my deep sleep time and potentially miss an REM phase and it dramatically affects my feeling of restfulness in the morning. This is not possible for everyone. For example, you might have early or late business meetings, kids waking you up earlier than what is ideal for your chronotype, or a job that requires shift work. However, be aware of when this occurs and add naps where possible to compensate. Owls are better suited to do deep work in the afternoons/evenings. Larks and Third-birds are better suited to do deep work in the early morning or morning respectively. Schedule your hardest cognitive tasks to these times, where possible, and watch your productivity soar!
Create a relaxing bedtime routine
Engaging in relaxing activities before bed promotes the release of sleep-inducing hormones and prepares the mind and body for sleep. Bedtime routines like reading, meditation, or listening to calming music can enhance sleep onset and quality (Irwin et al., 2015; Haghayegh et al., 2019). Avoid stimulating activities, such as intense exercise or exposure to bright screens, as they can hinder the onset of sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles (Zeitzer et al., 2005). I wind down by doing an hour of aimless play before bed and have it scheduled in my calendar so that my phone reminds me that I should be playing instead of working. Aimless play can include playing catch with the kids, playing fetch with the dog, watching a predetermined show with my spouse, or playing guitar. Right before bed, I put everything from my pockets in my office, brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, put on my sleep mask and breathing strip and hit the pillow. It takes me about 10 minutes to sleep on most nights with this routine. If you are still struggling to sleep, try a hot bath, a book, an audio book, or do some yoga nidra. Basically, think of yourself as a toddler who needs a consistent bedtime routine or will be up and angry all night!
Optimize Your Sleep Environment
Design your bedroom environment to create uninterrupted and restorative sleep. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet to promote optimal sleep conditions. Maintaining a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15-19 degrees Celsius) and minimizing noise disruptions can improve sleep quality (Okamoto-Mizuno & Mizuno, 2012; Omlin et al., 2017). Think of your mattress and pillows as essential lab equipment—choose ones that provide optimal comfort and support for your unique sleep needs, test them and figure out works best for you. I sleep best with two down pillows and a firm mattress. We found the ZenHaven mattress and it changed our lives. Spend the money on the right sheets, pillows, and mattress and it will change your life. Nowadays you can get good organic latex mattresses for under $1500, which used to be $3500. Removing electronic devices that emit blue light, such as smartphones, TVs and tablets, helps to prevent the suppression of melatonin secretion, allowing for a more natural sleep onset (Chang et al., 2015).
MOVE THE PHONE AWAY FROM YOU!
Smart phones and smart watches will affect your sleep negatively and should not be in the bedroom. I use alarm clocks when I have to get up at 3 AM or something for travel. If you need an alarm, then get an alarm clock for $10. Your phone should not be in your room unless you use it to measure your sleep. If you need people to reach you in the night, then keep your ringer on and you will hear it from another room.
Mind Your Diet and Hydration
Nutrition and hydration choices can significantly influence sleep quality. Consuming a balanced diet, rich in sleep-promoting nutrients, can positively impact sleep duration and quality (Grandner et al., 2014). Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime, as they can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep. Limit caffeine intake, especially in the late afternoon and evening, as it acts as a stimulant that interferes with sleep initiation and maintenance (Roehrs & Roth, 2008). Alcohol consumption close to bedtime can disrupt the normal sleep architecture and result in fragmented sleep patterns (Ebrahim et al., 2013). I find that just two glasses of wine raises my resting heart rate by 5 points, lowers HRV, and results in less restorative delta sleep. I try not to drink any liquids after 9 PM so that I can avoid waking up in the middle of the night to pee.
By embracing these evidence-based strategies for sleep, you can enhance your sleep quality and overall well-being. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, engaging in a relaxing bedtime routine, creating a sleep-friendly environment, and making mindful choices regarding diet and hydration can significantly impact your sleep experience. However, it is essential to remember that individual variations exist, and consulting a healthcare professional or sleep specialist can provide tailored guidance. Prioritizing quality sleep will not only benefit your physical and mental health but also enhance your productivity and daily performance. Enjoy!
- Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Born, J. (2019). Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology, 471(3), 363-374.
- Chang, A.-M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J. F., & Czeisler, C. A. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(4), 1232-1237.
- Czeisler, C. A., Duffy, J. F., & Shanahan, T. L. (2021). Stability, precision, and near 24-hour intrinsic period length of the human circadian pacemaker. Science, 371(6531), eaba6597.
- Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J., & Fenwick, P. B. (2013). Alcohol and sleep I: Effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(4), 539-549.
- Fullagar, H. H., Skorski, S., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Coutts, A. J., & Meyer, T. (2015). Sleep and athletic performance: The effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports Medicine, 45(2), 161-186.
- Grandner, M. A., Jackson, N., Gerstner, J. R., & Knutson, K. L. (2014). Sleep symptoms associated with intake of specific dietary nutrients. Journal of Sleep Research, 23(1), 22-34.
- Haghayegh, S., Khoshnevis, S., Smolensky, M. H., Diller, K. R., & Castriotta, R. J. (2019). Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 46, 124-135.
- Irwin, M. R., Olmstead, R., & Carroll, J. E. (2016). Sleep disturbance, sleep duration, and inflammation: A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies and experimental sleep deprivation. Biological Psychiatry, 80(1), 40-52.
- Okamoto-Mizuno, K., & Mizuno, K. (2012). Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 31(1), 14.
- Omlin, X., Crispin, A., Kurth, S., Huber, R., & Riener, R. (2017). Effects of pulsed odorant stimulation on vigilance performance during wakefulness and sleep. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1547.
- Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. (2008). Caffeine: Sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 12(2), 153-162.
- Stickgold, R., & Walker, M. P. (2013). Sleep-dependent memory consolidation and reconsolidation. Sleep Medicine, 14(4), 399-405.
- Wagner, U., Gais, S., Haider, H., Verleger, R., & Born, J. (2019). Sleep inspires insight. Nature, 574(7778), 125-127.
- Walker, M. P. (2017). The role of sleep in cognition and emotion. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1396(1), 17-32.
- Zeitzer, J. M., Dijk, D.-J., Kronauer, R., Brown, E., & Czeisler, C. (2005). Sensitivity of the human circadian pacemaker to nocturnal light: Melatonin phase resetting and suppression. Journal of Physiology, 526(3), 695-702.