If you read the first part of this series on improving sleep, you know that I used to have terrible bedtime habits and went years feeling like a zombie as a result. I realized that sleep was vital to both near-term performance and long-term health. When I started getting high quality sleep, it became a turning point in my life that helped me look, feel, and perform better than ever. As more research pours out about it, I also know that it will help my longevity and play a vital role in me living a long, healthy, and happy life.
Over time, I implemented good daily habits that contribute to getting a great night’s sleep and waking up feeling fully recharged. These habits start from the moment I wake up and continue throughout every part of the day. In Part 1, I discuss in detail my morning routine, how it sets me up to have an amazing day, and why it is the foundation to sleeping well that night. To very quickly recap: I am gently woken up by a Sleep Cycle alarm, then I stretch, drink water, journal, meditate, drink more water, drink coffee, read my daily affirmations, exercise, get some sunlight, and shower. The following information will be very useful on its own, but I highly suggest starting with good morning habits and building off them.
Nutrition & Sleep
One of the most important daily habits that I can recommend is buying the right foods and eating healthy throughout every day. This is a key component to looking, feeling, and performing at peak levels while awake, but it also plays a big part in getting a good night’s sleep. If the body is not fueled properly, sleep quality will suffer, and our minds and bodies will not have the energy they need to reap all the benefits of sleeping. Moreover, if we don’t sleep enough, not only will our bodies have a harder time burning fat and staying energized during the day, we will crave foods that generally aren’t good for us.
At dinner, I typically fill up with lots of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, asparagus), healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil), a moderate amount of a high quality protein source (wild caught salmon, grass fed beef), and a small amount of starch (sweet potato, carrot, rice). This gives my body and brain the fuel needed to repair itself, rebuild muscle tissue, fight off illness, reduce inflammation and stress, form new memories, remove cellular waste, and more. I generally eat enough food at dinner (and the right food) to be completely satiated, which makes it easier to avoid late night snacks.
Establish a Caffeine Curfew
Part of my morning routine that I mentioned in Part 1 is enjoying a large mug of fresh, hot coffee (Bulletproof style). Coffee (caffeine more specifically) can be a powerful ally when starting the day and helping you feel like you’re ready to fire on all cylinders. However, if abused or taken too late in the day, it can significantly and negatively impact your quality of sleep. If you don’t already, you should establish a “caffeine curfew” for yourself - whether it’s with coffee, tea, a workout supplement, etc.
I typically drink my coffee pretty early in the morning, and generally don’t have anymore caffeine after that. Everyone is different, but as a rule of thumb, I would say limit yourself to 2-3 caffeinated beverages per day. If you’re consuming more than that, you should consider weaning yourself down to less. Drinking too much caffeine can disrupt your sleep, cause anxiety, upset your stomach, and even cause cardiac issues. Furthermore, your last cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage should be finished no later than 2PM. Again, everyone’s body is different, but it takes about 8 hours for the effects of caffeine to fully wear off (even if you don’t feel them), and having caffeine later in the day can make it difficult to fall asleep. Even if you have a high caffeine tolerance and can fall asleep with no problem, it may still be keeping your brain from going into a state of deep, restorative (high quality) sleep.
Other than caffeine, another substance you should try to avoid ingesting late in the day is alcohol. I know...easier said than done, especially for those of us who enjoy a little night cap. I personally enjoy the occasional glass (or two) of red wine around dinner time, which has some of its own benefits. But it’s important to understand that alcohol of any kind can have a negative interaction with any supplements you take (especially the stronger ones). And even if that night cap helps you fall asleep, it will interfere with your ability to get deep, high quality sleep.
Supplements & Sleep
In a perfect world, your body should be getting all the vitamins and minerals it needs from your diet. Unfortunately, due to things within our control (“I’m too busy to make myself dinner tonight”) and even things out of our direct control (depleted mineral levels in soil where vegetable crops are grown), it can be rather difficult to consume optimal levels of all necessary nutrients on a daily basis. Supplements can help with health and vitality, particularly with sleep, but it is very important to remember that they are just that - supplemental to diet. Supplements should never be used in place of a healthy diet, nor will they provide nearly the same benefits if taken without one.
I have experimented with quite a few supplements to aid in either falling asleep or getting a deeper night’s rest. Recently, I have been without the need for the more aggressive sleep aids because my diet and lifestyle make it very easy for me to fall asleep fast and get high quality sleep. I do find some supplements useful when traveling or sick (which thankfully is very infrequent these days), and need to give my body an extra boost. I also take a couple supplements at night for reasons other than being a sleep aid, although they have that added benefit as well.
One natural sleep aid that I’ve really benefitted from is consuming a small spoonful of raw honey at the beginning of my bedtime ritual. Your body will use this as fuel for your brain while you sleep before tapping into liver glycogen stores. It will also raise blood glucose while you sleep, allowing you to fall into a deeper sleep faster. It’s important that the honey be raw and minimally processed - not the typical stuff at the grocery store. I get my honey from the local farmers market and make sure it’s from bees pollinating local flowers. For many people, this has the added benefit of providing resilience to pollen-related allergies. There are many other benefits associated with having a small amount of raw honey every day unrelated to sleep, but I’ll save that for another article.
Another supplement that has many health benefits, particularly for aiding in getting a deep sleep, is krill oil. Krill oil (high quality, low-mercury fish oil works too) contains DHA which has been shown to protect brain function, improve mood, reduce anxiety, improve insulin sensitivity, and increase muscle growth. Furthermore, the DHA in krill oil aids in serotonin secretion which lowers stress and helps us sleep better. Krill oil can also reduce inflammation and support cardiovascular health. Recently I’ve been taking an extra strength 500mg of MegaRed krill oil at the beginning of my bedtime ritual.
The next supplement that I’ve recently added to my bedtime ritual is Magnesium. Like I mentioned earlier, in a perfect world, we should be getting all the nutrients we need from our diets. Magnesium is one that we can get from eating leafy greens and even almonds, but due to poor farming practices and minerals being depleted from the soil, we would have to eat a ridiculous amount of these every day to get the amount needed to thrive. Magnesium plays a vital role in many functions within our body; an important one being that it lowers stress and has a calming effect on most people which is crucial to falling and staying asleep.
During my morning routine, I make sure to get some sunlight to get naturally energized, keep my Circadian rhythms aligned with the rising and setting of the sun, and to get some Vitamin D. Unfortunately, because of our modern, mostly-indoor lifestyles, the need to wear clothing outdoors in public (what a shame), and our diets, most of the population is Vitamin D deficient. Some sleep disorders are tied to Vitamin D deficiency, along with other health issues. I take a high quality Vitamin D supplement with my first meal of the day. It's important not to take this one at night because Vitamin D is inversely related to melatonin production.
I don’t use this as much as I used to, but occasionally I will make a hot cup of SleepyTime tea with valerian root, chamomile, and spearmint before bedtime. This has worked very well in helping me fall asleep fast, but sometimes leaves me feeling groggy when I wake up in the morning. There are some other sleep supplements that I have only recently begun to experiment with and am not yet confident enough to recommend them. These include the amino acid L-Theanine, which supposedly causes relaxation; Potassium, which keeps the heart beating rhythmically and prevents nighttime leg cramps; Ornithine, another amino acid that is supposed to help with relaxation by helping eliminate ammonia in the gut; and finally the infamous Melatonin. I have friends and family that take melatonin, but I’ve read that taking it regularly can suppress the body’s ability to regulate its own production. Melatonin also leaves me feeling groggy in the morning, so it's another one that I reserve for when I’m jet lagged or sick.
I hope that the information I’ve shared with you so far has been useful and insightful. The best is coming up in the third and final part of this series on sleeping better, and I’m very excited to share it with you. This will include ways of making your bedroom a sleep sanctuary, sleep tracking/technology, and the all-important bedtime ritual. It’s my goal to share my strategies and stories with you to help you or at least entertain you. I appreciate you reading what I have to share so far and value your opinions and personal experiences, so please feel free to share any insights you have in the comments below. Sleep well!