About three years ago, I wrote a series of articles called Sleep Better Now that described how to get the best night's sleep possible. Each of these four articles focus on a different key area to set a healthy foundation for great sleep:
I just re-read these articles and almost every detail and habit I've explained is still being practiced by me to this day. Over three years, I have made some minor tweaks and improvements from trying new recommendations and based on what I've learned from my data. Those upgrades (new tools, tactics, and habits) are divulged here.
The most significant change to my sleeping habits and routines is that I've bumped my wake up time earlier and earlier over the years. In March of 2015, when I wrote the last Sleep Better Now article about my Bedtime Ritual, I was averaging a wake up time of about 6:00AM. At the time, this was quite the feat for me because I had always been a night owl. Now my average wake up time is about 4:30AM on weekdays.
Past Erik would never in a million years believe that Present Day Erik would willingly wake up at such an hour on a regular basis, and even many of my friends and family think I'm nuts for doing so. It didn't happen over night, but I got my 6:00AM wakeup down to 5:30, then to 5:00, then 4:45, and now 4:30. This was enabled, of course, by pushing my bedtime back incrementally. Today, I begin my bedtime routine by about 8:30 and am usually asleep by 9:30.
On weekends, I cut myself some slack; however, I don't want to totally disrupt my weeknight routine (with once in a blue moon exceptions). I generally still get to bed at a decent hour, but allow myself to sleep until I wake up naturally and without the aid of my Sleep Cycle alarm. This ends up looking like 7 hours of sleep per weeknight and 8-9 hours of sleep on weekends.
Now that I've addressed the 'what' and 'how' of my intensely early mornings, I'll explain the 'why'. Basically, to get everything that's important to me done first thing and still start my 'workday' at a decent time, I have to wake up that early and get my morning routine started at that hour. As I said last week:
About two years ago, I started a new job that I was (and still am) very passionate about. I have been committed to working very hard and giving it my all since day one. This has meant intense focus and long hours. In the past two years, I have found it difficult to find the time or energy to write for pleasure, yet I have successfully maintained the majority of my other habits/routines that support my goals.
Skipping any part of my morning routine - meditation, journaling, reading, making my morning elixir and coffee, working out - are non-negotiable to me. They are necessary for me to feel at peak performing levels and for me to achieve my long-term health, fitness, and longevity goals. Waking up early is the only option, but rather than be frustrated about it, I have positively reframed it in my mind and embraced it. Now, I enjoy the feeling of being up before the sun rises and knowing that I have already kicked the day's ass for hours before most people are even awake.
There are some other habits and tools I've implemented since last writing about sleep that have supported this early bedtime and wake up while improving my quality of sleep. First, I purchased an infrared heat lamp that I fall asleep to each night and wake up to each morning. The warm, red light is incredibly soothing and ideal for gently falling asleep to (it has a built in timer) or gradually waking up with. There are other benefits when used closer to the body as well, such as increased collagen production (good for your skin) and relief of muscle soreness.
Related to the infrared, I am also now using a sauna at least 5 days per week. The amount of relief I feel immediately after using a dry sauna is unlike any other, and that sense of relaxation persists through much of the day and night. Other than the support it provides my body's detox systems, I can feel my muscles loosen up and aches go away. I'm also encouraged by the studies that show regular sauna use is correlated with longevity and lower occurrence of dementia and Alzheimer's.
Another item I've added to my sleep sanctuary is an essential oil diffuser. It's amazing how calming the smell of lavender can be as I wind down for the evening and go through my bedtime routine. Better yet, now that I've used that lavender scent so many times right before my bedtime, my brain has associated that oil's scent with going to sleep. Within a few minutes of diffusing oil, my brain and body know that it's time for bed.
I am still using the Sleep Cycle app that tracks my sleep patterns every night, measures my sleep quality, informs me of what is improving or hurting my sleep quality, and even gently wakes me up when I'm in a less deep state of sleep. The data I've collected over the years as I've added habits and experimented with others is invaluable to me.
A couple years ago, I purchased a "smart" mattress cover called Eight that is now tracking even more sleep data for me. The Eight cover can also tell me my respiratory rate, temperature in bed, room temperature, and more in addition to the types of data that I get from Sleep Cycle. There is even a feature where you can pre-warm your bed before getting into it using the mattress cover (although personally I like the feeling of sliding into a cold bed and warming it up myself, so I don't ever use that). The Eight can also pair with smart home devices to enable your home lights, thermostat, and even coffee maker to be enabled based on your sleeping and waking activities.
As I mentioned in the article about getting the right nutrition and supplements to achieve optimal sleep, I take magnesium and krill oil before going to bed. I also listed other supplemental products and beverages that can help with even better sleep, which can be especially helpful if you're sick, traveling, or just need an extra boost.
One of these I recently tried and purchased is the Four Sigmatic Sleep Stick pack. This mixes easily into cold water and tastes surprisingly good (berry flavor). It's a blend of reishi mushroom spores (cell walls cracked), reishi mushroom dual-extract, Ashwagandha extract (root and leaf), L-theanine, magnesium (citrate), L-tryptophan. Reishi is an adaptogenic mushroom that has been shown to aid in relaxation and sleep; Ashwagandha helps with stress reduction; magnesium is a muscle relaxer; L-tryptophan improves sleep quality; and L-theanine also aids with calming.
I felt great every morning after using the product, and since I purchased a month supply, I was able to track its impact on my sleep quality, which was positive. In fact, every habit/tool above was tracked and kept my sleep quality score at relatively high levels even with my early wake up time.
I was also given the opportunity to try a supplement called Healy sleep, "an all-natural herbal formula personalized to address your sleep issues at their root." I felt myself get a great night's sleep and wake up feeling refreshed after taking this. No grogginess like I might experience with a melatonin supplement. I also like that it's made with organic, all-natural ingredients grown and manufactured in the United States. Healy definitely helped improve my sleep on the handful of nights I tried it. I'm looking forward to trying it again so I can get more data and determine how much it is quantitatively affecting my sleep.
With products like Four Sigmatic's, Healy's, and Sleepy Time Tea, I think they're amazing tools to keep in your arsenal. There are many people out there who struggle falling asleep or getting high-quality, deep sleep. There may be factors in their control that need to be adjusted to help with this, but there are surely also people out there with factors out of their control. For them, one of these products may be a godsend. Personally, I use them on an as-needed basis. If I didn't get enough sleep the night before, am traveling for work, feeling under the weather, or even trying to speed up recovery, these can help a lot. Otherwise, I generally get good sleep on a consistent basis.
I will surely continue to try new tools and tactics to improve my sleep. Perhaps next time I write about the subject, I will be waking up at 4:00AM. Regardless, it's all about forming and maintaining healthy habits that you are measuring for effectiveness and making adjustments accordingly. Excellence is not an act but a habit.