I used to be one of those people that wore bags under my eyes and a habitual yawn like badges of honor. I called myself a “night owl” and “definitely not a morning person.” I’m pretty sure I even had myself convinced for a while that I was an insomniac. In high school and college, my sleeping patterns were a mess and my sleeping habits were terrible. I would struggle to stay awake in class at certain times of the day, and even found myself starting to fall asleep at the wheel of my car on more than one occasion (yikes).
In retrospect, I know that my diet and lifestyle, including my lack of good bedtime habits, played a huge part in me being a zombie over the years. But during that period of my life, I was convinced that sleep was a waste of time. Around the same time my family got an internet connection in the house was when my good sleep went to hell. If I wasn’t up late doing homework or research for a school project, I was on AOL Instant Messenger chatting with friends or playing Counter-Strike or StarCraft until god-awful hours of the night (or the morning to be more accurate).
Teenage boys unfortunately aren’t the only demographic affected by this unhealthy mindset. I’m sure you know people of all ages like this: those that brag about their long nights, that proclaim they will “sleep when they’re dead”, or declare they’re a part of “team no sleep”. These “hustlers” believe in earnest that they are chasing that dollar 24/7 because “money doesn’t sleep”. Today, I am proud to say that I have left “team no sleep” for “team look, feel, and perform my best” (aka Team AlphaNerd).
Sleep, especially of the high-quality variety, is so important to overall health and well-being that it cannot be emphasized enough. In fact, I will go as far as to say that if you had to choose one thing in your life to improve - between diet, exercise, continual learning, etc. - I would say choose sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is paramount to improving brain function, performance, looking good, longevity, and happiness.
There are now countless studies and research proving how important sleep is, many of which you may have heard of. Sleep does everything from keeping your heart healthy to clearing out the brain “plaque” that builds up and can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Sleep drastically reduces stress and inflammation in the body and reduces the risk of depression. Sleep plays a vital role in the formation of memory and is key to having sustained energy and focus during the day. The body repairs itself, rebuilds muscle tissue, and fights off illness during sleep. New research even shows that those who don’t sleep enough gain weight more easily and have a harder time burning fat than those getting more sleep on the same diet and exercise plans.
The verdict is in, and clearly sleep is of the utmost importance. What many people don’t realize is that it’s not as straight-forward as just getting 8 hours of sleep. Like I mentioned earlier, high-quality sleep is extremely important - so much so that you may not even need that full 8 hours. Your diet, activity level, stress level, and genetics all play a role in how well you sleep and how much you need. It’s taken me a long time to reprogram myself to sleep better, but I can tell you that I am feeling, looking, and performing better than ever because I have formed these habits. It’s my goal to share with you my strategies for getting the best night of sleep so that you can reap these benefits as well.
The first thing to remember is that a good night’s sleep starts right when you wake up in the morning. How you start your day will directly affect the rest of it all the way up until the moment your head hits the pillow and through your slumber. I have a morning ritual that starts right when my Sleep Cycle alarm gently nudges me awake when I’m in a light state of sleep (more on that nifty app in Part 2 of this article). First, I do a few minutes of light stretching while still in bed that gets my blood flowing and loosens up my limbs while I breathe deeply. Next, I drink the glass of water that I left on my nightstand from my bedtime ritual the night before, rehydrating myself and kickstarting my metabolism. I keep a notebook and pen on my nightstand too, and jot down anything that comes to mind that seems worth writing down at the time. This is a newer habit of mine, and lately I have been trying to make myself write even when I don’t think I have anything to write about at that time. Check out Tim Ferriss’ recent article on journaling to learn more about how and why to do it.
The next, and possibly most important, part of my morning ritual is my daily meditation. This is a 15 minute guided practice using the HeadSpace app, which I pay an annual subscription for. I can’t say enough great things about HeadSpace and how it’s helped me with mindfulness, being present, energy and focus. There are many other great options out there that are free and comparable to HeadSpace, but this is what I have been using and it works amazingly for me. I will be writing an article solely about meditation and HeadSpace in the near future, but for now the main takeaway is that I spend some time (I recommend at least 10 minutes) every morning focusing on my breathing, being present, and just sitting in silence with my head clear. This is absolutely not a time to think about the to-do list or the emails I need to respond to. In fact, my phone is still in airplane mode from the night before at this point, and won’t come on until close to the end of my morning ritual.
The third part of my morning ritual takes me to the kitchen (after I make my bed, of course). I pour myself another glass of water (spring water is preferred, filtered tap is ok), but first I grind about a teaspoon of Pink Himalayan Sea Salt and mix it with the freshly squeezed juice of half of a lemon. This morning “cocktail” supports my body’s natural detox systems while providing many trace minerals and electrolytes that our bodies require. Some other benefits include helping to reduce possible muscle cramps, helping to balance blood sugar and pressure, supporting balanced hormone levels, and more. All of these functions, and being well hydrated in general, each have their own list of benefits as well.
I then prepare my coffee, which I make using high-quality, freshly ground beans, filtered or Spring water, and a French press. And yes, I jumped on the BulletProof bandwagon a few months ago and am now blending grass-fed butter and Brain Octane (MCT oil) into my cup of Joe. Furthermore, I mix in some raw chocolate powder, grass-fed collagen protein powder, raw vanilla bean powder, and cinnamon, so it’s more of a tasty warm shake than coffee at this point. Stay tuned for an entire article on this delicious and nutritious caffeine concoction. While sipping on my delicious rocket fuel, I read through my morning mantras (remember those daily goals/affirmations I mentioned in a previous post?): increase intelligence, upgrade performance & athleticism, strengthen my relationships, advance my career, grow my brands, enhance my musical abilities, and relax more.
The final part of my morning ritual is exercising. This used to be lifting heavy weights for at least an hour every morning. More recently, I have cut back my weight training to 4 or 5 mornings per week, and I run or briskly walk around my neighborhood on the days I’m not lifting. Either way, it’s important that I be outside in the sun for as long as possible early in the day. This is vital in getting our Circadian rhythms aligned with the rising and setting of the sun and energizing the body. This is important not just for a workout, but for the rest of the day. Exercising later in the day, especially at night, can increase cortisol (the stress hormone) and suppress the body's ability to secrete sleep-inducing hormones. Side note: while I exercise, I listen to one of the health, business, or news podcasts I subscribe to, which has been a great way for me to make the best use of this time.
Having a high intensity work out will inevitably lead to a lot of sweat and the need for a shower. Personally, I love taking a hot shower and start mine out as such. But nothing really wakes you up like a cold shower, so I now use what is sometimes referred to as a James Bond shower. This is simply where you alternate the water temperature in your shower between hot and cold, ending the shower with the water as cold as you can handle. Cold water therapy has been used for centuries, and the benefits are numerous including circulation improvement and muscle repair, strengthening immunity, relieving depression, it's better for your skin and hair, and more. My favorite benefit is the noticeable increase in energy, making this a great way to end my morning ritual.
I believe that what you do throughout every part of the day will impact your quality of sleep that night, but how you start your morning is the foundation to building other healthy habits and really sets you up to conquer the day. In the next part of this series on Sleep Better Now, I will discuss the importance of diet and its effects on sleep; natural supplements that can aid in getting a great night's rest; how to make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary; technology that can aid in falling asleep and tracking your quality of sleep (and technology to avoid before bedtime); and of course, my nightly bedtime ritual. Please follow AlphaNerd on our different social media accounts, or subscribe to the newsletter so you know when Part 2 is posted. Until then, sleep tight and sleep right!