- Leaving a Legacy
- The Power of Sleep Routines
The Power of Sleep Routines
Happiness is waking up, looking at the clock and finding that you still have two hours left to sleep.
Charles M. Schulz
Unlocking the Power of Sleep:
Transform Your Nights, Transform Your Life
I never expected to experience one of the worst weeks of sleep I have had in years immediately after I set out to research and write a newsletter issue on sleep routines.
In one week, I lost nearly 3 full nights of sleep.
My troubles started on Tuesday, November 14, when I had to rush one of my dogs to the emergency vet after she ate nearly a pound of assorted Haribo gummies and black licorice!
I didn’t fall asleep until well past 3 am as I waited to take my young golden retriever, Sunny, home. Ultimately, I slept less than 3 hours (and spent over $7,000 to save her life, which of course was worth every penny spent and minute of sleep lost).
Two nights later, on Thursday, at around 2:30 am, my younger son barged into our room complaining of a headache and a fever, which ended up being diagnosed as the flu on Friday.
I never fell back asleep…
Another two nights later, on Saturday, I began to suffer the symptoms of the flu, which my son had so graciously passed on to me only days earlier.
Alternating between overheating with a 102+ fever and teeth-chattering freezing spells, I barely slept on Saturday and Sunday.
When my flu symptoms finally began to subside and I started to feel normal again on Tuesday afternoon, I calculated the total number of lost hours of sleep: nearly 20 hours.
Sunny made a full recovery; two weeks later, I feel like I’m still recovering from the loss of so much sleep…
I’m sure many of you have experienced weeks like that. Weeks when you can’t follow your routine because circumstances beyond your control interfere with your best laid plans. I told myself, “this too shall pass” and it did.
When I found myself healthy again, I focused on getting back to my routine, which I will describe shortly.
But first, a bit of background on the importance of sleep and the high cost (both personal and societal) of sleep neglect.
The High Cost of Sleep Neglect
In the relentless pursuit of success and productivity, sleep often becomes the first casualty. Before I understood the importance of sleep on my health, performance, and longevity, I naively boasted that “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
I’m not alone; according to the CDC, more than ⅓ of Americans do not get the recommended amount of sleep.
This oversight comes at a high cost, both personally and societally.
Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to numerous health issues, including heart disease, obesity, and depression. It's a silent threat, eroding our health without immediate symptoms.
A detailed breakdown of the more than 90 sleep disorders and related health effects can be found here.
And, importantly for our purposes, according to the Harvard Medical School, Division of Sleep and Health, lack of adequate sleep over time has been associated with a shortened lifespan.
Societal Economic Impact
The societal cost of sleep deprivation is staggering.
According to a study by the RAND Corporation, sleep deprivation annually costs the United States 2.28% of GDP – over $411 billion!
The study focused on 5 OECD countries:
These annual losses are due to reduced productivity, increased healthcare costs, and accidents stemming from fatigue.
Businesses face a workforce that's often running on empty, leading to a cycle of decreased efficiency and increased errors.
Embracing a Sleep-Positive Culture
Despite these challenges, there's a path forward. It begins with a cultural shift that re-emphasizes the importance of sleep.
This change is crucial in an era where work demands and digital distractions constantly vie for our attention.
However, I believe societal change starts with personal accountability.
I’m here to help one person at a time. And change must come from within.
Hopefully this information encourages you to make a change to your personal approach to sleep and, if you manage people, to support their prioritization of sleep.
Finding the Right Amount of Sleep
Answering the question “how much sleep should I get” by saying “it depends” doesn’t help much; however, each person’s sleep needs are different.
Some people manage well with 6 hours, while others need 8.
Recent research shows that a consistent sleep schedule is more important than the number of hours of total sleep a person achieves. Consistently sleeping for six hours each night was linked to a reduced risk of premature death compared to sleeping for eight hours but with highly irregular patterns.
The research, featured in the journal Sleep, discovered that maintaining a regular sleep pattern decreased the likelihood of early death from any cause by 20% to 48%, in comparison to individuals with highly irregular sleep habits. These irregular habits encompassed varying sleep and wake times, disrupted sleep, and frequent napping.
According to Angus Burns, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study, the length of sleep was also a crucial factor. Individuals who experienced long, consistent sleep exhibited the lowest risk of mortality.
However, a pattern of shorter yet regular sleep was typically linked to a lower death risk than that associated with longer but erratic sleep.
Translation — a consistent 6 hours every night is better than an average of 8 hours as a result of erratic sleep.
Crafting Your Sleep Routine
A sleep routine – one you actually stick with, not an aspirational one – is the cornerstone of good sleep hygiene.
Adjust your routine until you find something that works for you. Once you find something that works for you, stick with it.
The recent research that shows consistency in sleep schedule is actually more important than the amount of sleep was welcome news to me. I typically rise at 5am and struggle to go to bed earlier than 10:30pm.
Here's a comprehensive guide to establishing a routine that can significantly improve the quality and depth of your sleep.
Set a Fixed Sleep Schedule:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
This consistency helps regulate your body's internal clock.
We give our kids bedtimes but abandon them ourselves as we get older.
Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it.
Establish a Morning Routine:
Counterintuitively, your bedtime routine actually starts in the morning.
Set an Alarm:
Waking up at the same time every day is important.
I use the Hatch Restore 2 because I like the nighttime routine, the gentle sound options (I use birds chirping to not wake my wife), and sunrise alarm.
Use whatever works for you.
Start your day with exposure to natural light.
According to Huberman, this helps reset your circadian rhythm and improves alertness.
Engage in physical activity, preferably in the morning or early afternoon, to promote better sleep at night.
Mindfully Consume Caffeine:
Limit caffeine intake after midday, ideally after 10 or 11am.
I stop at 10am. The half filled cups of coffee that litter my office can attest to my fastidiousness.
Caffeine lingers in your system far longer than you realize and disrupts your sleep cycle.
The half-life of caffeine is 5 hours, meaning you still have half a shot of espresso in your system 10 hours after that doubleshot of espresso.
Establish an Evening Routine:
Dim the Lights:
Start dimming the lights around your house after dinner.
Reduce or eliminate all exposure to overhead bright lights after 10pm.
This includes minimizing screen time from devices like smartphones and computers.
Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or listening to soothing music.
I don’t really do this, but I do concentrate on my breathing once I am in bed.
Establish calming pre-sleep rituals like reading or meditating to signal your body that it's time to wind down.
Optimize Your Sleep Environment:
Cool, Dark, and Quiet:
Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep.
The ideal sleeping environment is cool, dark, and quiet.
The ideal bedroom temperature for sleep is 65 degrees.
Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows.
The quality of your bedding can significantly impact your sleep.
Get a Sleep Mask:
It feels weird at first, but trust me, it makes a difference and you will adjust.
My personal favorite, the Sleep Master Sleep Mask, is no longer available on Amazon.
So, if you find a great one, please let me know; I need a replacement soon.
Limit Alcohol and Heavy Meals:
Avoid heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime as they will disrupt your sleep cycle.
Disengage from Electronics:
Turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bed to reduce blue light exposure.
Supplements and Sleep Aids:
Consider supplements like magnesium or L-theanine, as recommended by experts like Andrew Huberman.
Here you can find Huberman “Toolkit for Sleep”
I use L-theanine and love it. If you are prone to nightmares, however, don’t take it. You will likely have intense dreams using L-theanine, which is great if your dreams are peaceful and fun. Not so much for a nightmare…
Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplements.
Avoid Sleeping Pills:
Be wary of sleeping pills as they can lead to dependence and don't provide natural, restorative sleep.
If You Can't Sleep:
Don't Stay in Bed:
If you're unable to sleep, get out of bed and engage in a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.
As hard as it may be, don’t stress about it.
Leave your bed – otherwise you will associate your bed with being awake and restless – and come back after you do a relaxing activity and feel tired.
Don’t do work or turn on the lights!
Don’t stare at the clock!
The Big Picture
Adopting a sleep-positive routine is a critical, foundational step towards a healthier, more productive life.
It's about making a conscious choice to prioritize your well-being in a world that often demands the opposite.
By doing so, you're not only improving your health but also contributing to a broader cultural shift that recognizes the critical role of sleep in our lives.
Wishing you restful nights and vibrant days,