A panda soundly asleep

How to have better and longer sleep, and why it matters

I’ll give you in this post some advice to help you fall asleep faster, and have high-quality sleep that leaves you more energized in the morning.

Table of contents

  1. Avoid these 7 things to improve your sleep.
  2. Follow this checklist to set up your bedroom for optimal sleep
  3. More stuff to try
  4. Why should you care about sleep ?

I’ve been struggling with insomnia since I was born, so I’ve extensively researched the subject over the years, and I’m capable now of falling asleep between 30mn and an hour after going to bed. Previously, I would lie in bed staring at the ceiling, for 2 to 3 hours, every night. Here’s some of what I learned…

As humans we’re either excited/stimulated, or relaxed/winding down (fight or flight mode). Everything that stimulates and excites you should be kept away a few hours before bedtime, because it keeps you awake.

A visual guide to the the checklist next to it. 7 things to avoid before sleep.
Save this image: right click, save.

Avoid these things before bedtime to fall asleep faster and better:

  1. Working-out too close to bedtime (this depends on your body)
  2. Smoking (nicotine = stimulant)
  3. Drinking (alcohol = sedative, affects sleep quality). Stop 2 hours before or earlier.
  4. Drinking coffee after noon/2pm (caffeine stays a very long time in your body).
  5. Staying on screens late. Stop 1 or 2 hours before bedtime.
  6. Reading stimulating things. Some people can read non-fiction at night, but I can’t because it gets my mind racing. Also depends on you.
  7. Working just before going to sleep. Going to bed full of worries or ideas about your challenges at work will only make you more anxious or excited (anxiety & excitement = feeling very awake).

Taking care of this is important. But other stuff is important as well. If your body is in the perfect state to fall asleep, but you have the tv running and lights flashing through the window from time to time, you won’t be sleeping peacefully and deeply.

An optimal sleeping environment will make it easier to fall asleep, but most importantly it will improve your sleep quality, making each hour of sleep more effective in taking care of your brain. Here’s a bedroom checklist.

Bedroom checklist:

  • No light
  • Slightly cool temperature
  • No sound
  • Normal humidity (open your windows 10-20mn each day at least).

In some cases, even after following all of this, you’ll still have trouble falling asleep. It was my case. I followed all the recommended advice and I was still lying in bed for hours wondering when the heck I’d fall asleep. So I looked at alternative methods to stack upon what I was already doing.
Here are some of them. I don’t do all of it, so choose what works. Experiment. Each of these work for some people.

Stuff to try if the rest doesn’t work:

  • Meditating before sleep (can be as simple as setting a 5mn timer, and focusing on your breath until it rings).
  • Guided sleep relaxations, on the Insight Timer app (their free stuff is all you need). This is what works for me. Someone with a soothing voice says exactly all the right things to help you get in a state of relaxation, usually by becoming aware of your body and consciously removing tensions. It’s a bit hard to find good recordings, you have to dig and try. I listen to Kenneth Soares. He’s a bit too woo-woo in my opinion, but he also says exactly the right things to easily drift into sleep.
  • Avoiding doing anything stimulating in your bed. The idea is that you should mentally associate your bed with sleep or rest only. Do your nonfiction reading, work, movie watching, or phone scrolling outside of your bed.
  • 4-7-8 breathing. Inhale deeply, for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale slowly, for a count of 8. Repeat a few times. I also do this and it works damn well to calm my mind.
  • Getting up. If you›ve been in bed for 15mn or more and you still feel awake AF, get up. Do something relaxing, or boring, like reading the dictionary. Then go back to bed as soon as you feel sleepy. This is also to dissociate your bed from feelings of wakefulness and anxiety (we get anxious worrying about not getting enough sleep, and it keeps us awake).
A selection of guided sleep meditations on the Insight Timer app. Yoga Nidra For Sleep, by Jennifer Piercy. Deep Sleep Meditation With Affirmations, by Kenneth Soares, Deep Sleep Meditation, by Andrew Johnson.
some guided sleep talkdowns I listen to.

But why should I care about sleep?

It’s common in today’s world to look for the edge. To find every productivity secret possible. To use stimulants, like coffee or adderall. To lose yourself in personal development literature, looking for that one quick fix that will change it all.

While quick fixes can improve your productivity and mental capacity, you can’t use them to override the damage caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. Things like sleep, physical activity and nutrition affect your body and mind much more importantly than stimulants or productivity hacks. Take care of it first, and you’ll already notice some significant changes in your performance. You can focus on the shiny hacks later, to level-up. But you need to reach a baseline first.

Sleep is one of these important things. Sleep-deprivation is the state you’re in when, as an adult, you get less than 8-7 hours of sleep. For teenagers, more sleep is required. For children even more. Sleep-deprivation is like drinking a lot of booze & coffee and then trying to work like a horse. Studies show that sleep-deprived drivers have the same reaction time to stimuli as drunk drivers. Now being drunk at work isn’t something top performers would do right? Maybe not, but sleep-deprived people at work are VERY common, and their brain is all weak, without the fuzzy alcohol buzz.

To back this up with a little bit more science I’ll tell you what sleep-deprivation does, but only how it affects cognition and health because that’s what I know more about. I won’t talk about the effects on motor ability and mood (which are also bad).

Lack of sleep affects cognition by decreasing:

  • Focus
  • Ability to sustain attention
  • Decision-making
  • Logical thinking
  • Problem-Solving

When you’re unable to pay attention to your task at hand, have trouble making decisions and thinking straight, it’s safe to say that you’re in trouble.

And here’s how it affects health:

  • Weakened immune system (which protects you from being sick)
  • Food cravings increase
  • Risk of cardiovascular disease is increased
  • Growth hormone production is reduced (that stuff help your muscles and neurons grow)

This post is coming to an end, but…

BEFORE YOU LEAVE, remember to try some of the stuff I told you in this post. The effort will reward you with increased productivity and, especially, not feeling like shit.

CLICK HERE to get a pdf with the checklists and a short summary of the post.

PS: What are your issues with sleep ? What have you found to sleep better ? TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS. I’d like to hear about it!

7 thoughts on “How to have better and longer sleep, and why it matters

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