Sleep Series (2): Want to Sleep Better? Here’s How

07
April / 2021

Mission Objective:  To maximize your health, well-being, and performance for the rest of your life.

Mission Plan:  To holistically strive to optimize your sleep every night.  In doing so, you will address all of the multifaceted aspects of sleep, each of which will individually contribute to your health and well-being, and collectively will improve your sleep – which will dramatically improve your health and well-being in every major life domain.

Basic Sleep Hygiene (aka “The Do’s and Don’ts” for good sleep): 

1.  Sleep schedule and Circadian Rhythms:

o   It’s important to keep a regular and consistent sleep schedule

o   Go to bed about the same time every night; get up about the same time every morning

o   Avoid going to bed late and sleeping in on weekendso   Limit daytime napping

2.  At night your bedroom is a sanctuary and it should be:

o   Very dark (though leave the shades cracked so some natural light is allowed to come in the morning)

o   Very quiet

o   Very cool (68 degrees is ideal for sleeping, as long as there are blankets on the bed)

o   Be sure you have a comfortable mattress, bedding, and pillows

o   Do not run the television at night, and it is best to not even keep one in your bedroom

o   Do not keep a visible clock near your bed

o   Do not leave your phone within reach of your bed and do not leave its ringer on

3.  Protect the time right before bed and develop a relaxing routine that includes:

o   Spend some quiet time with yourself (and maybe a loved one) immediately before going to bed – listen to soothing music, meditate, pray, practice deep breathing, and/or read a calming book

o   A hot shower or bath immediately before bed changes body temperature and prepares us for sleep

o   For at least an hour or two before going to bed do not argue or do anything even slightly stressful or activating (i.e., do not pay bills, do not work, do not read emails, do not watch, listen to, or read any news)

o   For at least an hour or two before going to bed do not expose your eyes to light from a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen – the unique “blue” light these emit affects your eyes and brain in a way that impairs sleep

o   Use your bed for sleeping and sex only

o   If after going to bed you are awake for longer than 20 minutes or so, it is recommended that you get up and do something relaxing in another part of the house.  When you begin to feel sleepy again, go back to bed.  This strategy will help to train you to sleep better in your bed

o   Do not watch a clock – in fact, as suggested above, do not even keep a visible clock in your bedroom

o   Consider using a sleep sound machine at night.  Many people find that some type of constant, gentle noise in their sleep environment helps to block out other external sounds and lull them to sleep.  Sleep sound machines typically provide a range of options, including “white noise,” “rain,” “babbling brook,” “waves,” “thunderstorm,” and many others.  According to a large survey conducted by Consumer Reports a decade ago, sound machines were found to be one of the most effective strategies for promoting quality sleep.

4.  Exercise:

o   Exercise regularly, preferably in the morning – and not after 2 pm if you can help it

o   A combination of regular aerobic and strength training is important for maximizing health and sleep

5.   Diet and Substance Use:

o   Alcohol may seem to relax and help you sleep, but it interferes with the quality of sleep by impairing your brain’s ability to go through the sleep cycles – and often leads to middle-of-the-night awakening, reduced REM sleep, and fragmented sleep

o   Be aware that caffeine after midday impairs sleep for most people

o   Nicotine contributes to fragmented sleep

o   Avoid large meals close to bedtime

o   Eliminate or at least limit your consumption of soda, especially after midday

o   Eat a healthy diet and take a daily multivitamin supplement

o   Eliminate all or most added sugar and processed foods from your daily diet (no junk food or fast food!)

o   Consider supplementing with fish oil (1200mg/day), magnesium (150-450 mg/day), and vitamin D3 (1000mg/day)

Getting good sleep on a regular basis is one of the top three most important things you can do to maximize your health, quality of life, and performance over the long term.  Remember the race is long! 

About the author

Chris Frueh
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Christopher Frueh, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii, and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX. He has thirty years of professional experience working with military veterans and active-duty personnel and has conducted clinical trials, epidemiology, historical, and neuroscience research, primarily with combat veterans. He has co-authored over 300 scientific publications, including historical analysis of U.S. Army suicides dating back to 1819 and a current graduate textbook on adult psychopathology. Professionally, he has worked with combat veterans since 1991 and devotes much of his time to the military special operations community. He has also published commentaries in the National Review, Huffington Post, New York Times, Time, and Washington Post; and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Washington Post, Scientific American, Stars and Stripes, USA Today, Men’s Health, and Los Angeles Times, among others. Under the pen name Christopher Bartley, he has also published nine novels, including THEY DIE ALONE and most recently, A SEASON PAST.

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