Feeling good starts with sleep. I’m going to suggest that, for today, we think about every other self-care habit, from exercise to nutrition, in the context of better sleep. If you are working to feel, think, and move better, start here.
You already know the standard advice on sleep hygiene. Instead, I’m going to talk about what to do when the standard stuff isn’t clicking. You can get traction by creating any kind of rules or principles. But not the kind that you can kinda follow; the kind that you can follow all of the time. You are going to be a juggernaut of consistency, you wily son of a gun.
Before we begin: you don’t have to do all of these things. One is enough to make a difference. Let’s get into it!
Stay away from the light
Light is how your body knows it’s daytime. So, light at midnight is kind of confusing for the old circadian rhythms. Sometimes, though, it’s late, a screen is on, and it’s not going off soon. So, what do we do then?
- Shrink the screen: Less light works better than more light
- Use a blue light blocker on your screen
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses
- Have a cutoff time for your screens that you can really truly adhere to. Start it an hour after you normally go to bed if it helps. Celebrate it. It’s something you already do successfully.
- If you struggle with a cutoff time for screens, have a cutoff time for things that get your pressure up. Those could be anything from jump-scare horror movies to reading work emails. Only you can decide which of the two is worse.
- Switch to an analog activity at a designated time. Reading. Drawing. Whatever works. And if you still want to go back to a screen after that… See above.
Eat to sleep
As a teenager, I could happily eat a six-course meal and then just put my head down on the table and nod off. Now, if I eat a heavy meal before bed, my esophagus will want to rap-battle me. If you’re in the same gastrointestinal boat, but snacking throughout the evening, here are some ways to approach things:
- Have a cutoff time for eating that you can really stick to.
- Ditto for a start time. Waiting to eat after you’ve gone for a walk, for example, can go a long way.
- If it’s tough to have a cutoff time for all food, have a cutoff time for some foods. For example, if I want to eat after 8pm (my go-to cutoff), I have a small list of very-low-calorie and easy to digest options.
- Insert an activity in between the signal to eat and the actual eating. For example, a lot of people do well with making a hot cup of tea after they notice that they want to eat. The time required just happens to be long enough to go from “I’m ravenous!” to “I’m actually totally fine.”
- Remind yourself that a little bit of hunger is ok. It’s a sign that your metabolism is doing humming along—and you will eat like the royalty you are in the morning.
- Focus on what has you feeling your best as you lay in bed.
- Give yourself 45 minutes after waking before hitting the coffee button. It gives your natural cortisol levels a chance to bring you to full alertness. Bridge the gap with decaf if you must.
Move to sleep
Light—at the right times—can be tremendous for regulating circadian rhythms. It’s just the timing and source.
- Look up as you’re waking up in the mornings
- Get out into the daylight at your first opportunity
- A walk after a meal is gangbusters for your cardiovascular and metabolic health
- Even a few minutes of highly intense exercise in the daytime can help you sleep better. Experiencing very hard things helps provide contrast around very relaxing things.
- Low-intensity, steady state cardio can be tremendous for calming you down and helping you focus
- Ditto for mindful, technically-driven, or sensation-driven exercise
- After you notice that you’re feeling stressed, start exercising—and then celebrate starting. Whether you continue is entirely up to you.
- Follow a consistent exercise program. Outsource it if that’s what it takes to get things done.