Sleep Reloaded

You know who's a hilarious actor? Joe Pesci. A movie of his that I watched recently was My Cousin Vinny (yep, I'm almost 25 and I've never seen this classic before now; kind of pathetic when I think about it)

The movie has tons of jokes and wit that will keep you laughing throughout the story. But what truly struck me was the running gag of Vinny's sleep. Save for a night in jail, this man spent nearly a week preparing for a court case and sleeping no more than 3 hours per night. Whether it was a freight train or a horde of pigs, something was always waking Vinny up in the morning.

Although, sometimes he had a more fun reason to stay up at night:

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Obviously it's a movie, but it struck a chord with me because I understand how little sleep that really is. I had one of my worst nights of sleep in years recently. I'm not even sure how it happened; I lied down in bed, totally relaxed, yet ended up tossing and turning for hours and hours. I slept maybe 2 hours total that night.

I don't always sleep this badly. Normally I sleep 7 or 8 hours consistently from night to night, usually waking up no more than once. Back in the day I was never a good sleeper; I did a post on sleep a while back, but I've experimented with some different tricks since then and felt the need to blog about the subject once again.

Here are the top tips for sleeping better at night.

1) Stay Active During the Day

This is probably one of the biggest tips I've come across recently. I've noticed huge differences in my sleep on days where I'm very active compared to days when I'm not.

Imagine for a moment that you didn't have to move at all. Someone would bring you diapers for your bathroom needs, meals when you get hungry, and anything else you would desire. All you would have to do is sit in your chair for 16 hours or so.

Now, imagine trying to fall asleep at night after all that. There's no way you'd be able to! Humans are not designed like sloths; we need to move during the day.

The simplest thing to do is to exercise daily or close to that frequency. Even 15 - 20 minutes of exercise first thing in the morning can do wonders for your sleep. During the work week, I don't even perform my lifting workouts; I just do sprinting workouts on my treadmill. They're quick and really get my heart rate going in the A.M.

Being active is more than just formal exercise, however. Get in the habit of taking more breaks at your job. Many of us working in sedentary jobs within corporate offices; it's imperative that you get up every hour to walk around, get your mind off work, and keep yourself active. If you find yourself in meetings throughout the day, that might help honestly since you're constantly moving from one conference room to the next.

Furthermore, get yourself exposed to bright light from the moment you wake up. Ideally you'd be able to get sunlight once you roll out of bed, but this isn't always the case; I've found artificial blue light generators to be helpful for waking me up on cloudy or rainy days.

2) Lights Out

The light that your eyes view has a huge impact on your circadian rhythyms

Blue light has gotten quite a bad rap in recent years for the effects it has on sleep. Research on it has pushed people to totally avoid television and computer screens at night. And there is truth in that blue light can negatively impact your sleep.

However, what matters much more is the brightness of lights rather than their color. Which do you think would harm your sleep quality more: staring at lights on a football field at night, or looking at a picture of the ocean on your dimly lit Mac? I don't care how blue that ocean is; the field lights are

So yeah, it's totally okay to watch television at night. Put on something funny like The Office so you can have a laugh before you go to bed. Just try to keep the brightness of your television or computer low, otherwise your sleep could suffer.

Also, make sure you close the curtains, especially in the summer. If you're watching the sunset at 8 P.M. but trying to fall asleep by 10, it's probably not gonna happen. Light is great for waking you up and keeping you awake, but when you need to fall asleep, that light will be no help to you. Close the curtains by 7:00 P.M. and sit in dimly lit rooms in the hour approaching bedtime.

3) Do Dinner Right

The meal you have before bedtime is important. I've had countless nights where I slept terribly simply because my last meal before bed was improper. Here are some key elements for a good dinner before you snooze:

  • Moderate portion sizes
  • High dietary fat
  • Low in carbs
  • Low in sugar
  • Low in fiber
  • Moderate amount of protein
  • No caffeine
  • No alcohol
  • Foods high in trytophan (eggs, walnuts, bananas, etc.)

Eat a meal like this 2 - 3 hours before bed and you'll sleep like a baby.

4) Relax

Stress is one of the worst things for your sleep; it's not easy to fall asleep at night if you have a million thoughts running through your head. Issues at work, relationship drama, financial problems... these are just some of the many things that could be stressing the crud out of you.

No matter how old or young you are, you'll always have some kind of stress in your life. People in high school and people in retirement have no daily jobs to worry about, yet there are plenty of stressed teenagers and senior citizens out there.

Here are just a few ways to relax at night:

  • Pray
  • Meditate
  • Read
  • Watch TV
  • Play an instrument
  • Bond with loved ones

5) Get Comfy

Being comfortable is essential for falling asleep. I envy my friends who can crash at apartments on a couch or even the floor; I've never been able to sleep like that.

Room temperature is incredibly important for falling asleep. The room should be relatively cool (70 degrees or lower) if you want to achieve restful sleep.

The pillow and mattress you use are also key to your sleep hygiene. If you find yourself constantly waking at night, that could be a sign your mattress or pillow just aren't up to par. For those of you who sleep with a partner, be sure to use a mattress where your movements won't disturb your lover's and vice versa.

Also, for those of you who have beards like myself, try to find the right length that it's comfortable. Short and long beards can prevent you from getting your head comfortable on the pillow; you need to find a gray area in between for comfort. I have 6 settings on my trimmer and know which one to trim my facial hair with every week. Also, trim it first thing in the morning; I made the mistake of trimming mine at night recently and it itched like crazy!

6) Stop Caring about Sleep

This one is counter-intuitive, I know, but it's helped me quite a bit recently.

If you've struggled with sleep enough, you get to the point where you're just obsessed with it; all you think about and desire is getting enough sleep, catching up on lost sleep, getting deeper sleep, etc. I've been at this point countless times myself, so trust me, it's not worth obsessing over!

Look, I'm not downplaying the value of sleep; it's vital to everyone's health. But there's so much more to your health than just sleep. I know guys who sleep over 10 hours a day that look terrible despite this. There's so much you can control outside of your sleep (how much water you drink, what foods you eat, how you respond to stressful situations, your exercise routine, etc.)

Try to re-frame how you view sleep. Frankly, you might not need as much sleep as some people do; maybe that's why you're always having with it in the first place. They might be exceptions, but there are quite a number of people in the world who need no more than 5 or 6 hours a night; you just might be one of those lucky few.

So the next time you lie in bed wide awake, don't freak out about your sleep! Learn to let go of things and you might just end up falling asleep anyway.

Wrap Up

I truly sympathize with any of you who have trouble sleeping. It's something that comes so naturally to some people yet is a constant struggle for the rest of us.

If you've been having a hard time sleeping, please leave a comment; I'd be happy to give you more tips or clarify anything aforementioned in this post.