Habits That Dramatically Improved My Sleep Quality
For the past year, I've been using the WHOOP fitness tracker each night to analyze my sleep. This has allowed me to experiment with various habits and accessories to see if they actually make a difference in improving my sleep quality.
Small disturbances matter
I've found that it's important to take every little sleep quality issue seriously. What do you notice continually disturbs your sleep? Noises such as a train in the distance? Temperature issues causing you to sweat or shiver? Sunlight through the blinds in the morning? Difficulty breathing?
For each issue that has continually woken you up, you can bet that it's lifted you out of deep sleep many more times without you knowing. That's why fixing multiple small disturbances can sum up to a dramatically improved sleep experience.
Watch your zeitgebers
Dr. Matthew Walker, Ph.D., talks about these in his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. A zeitgeber is any cue that the brain uses to reset its internal clock. Our internal sleep/wake rhythm isn’t actually 24 hours so we require an external cue (zeitgeber) to synchronize to a 24-hour cycle.
Light is the primary zeitgeber. It governs body temperature and wakefulness irrespective of if you're awake or not. So you should make sure that your bedroom blinds or curtains prevent sunlight from disturbing your sleep in the morning. At night, one or two hours before bedtime you should be avoiding blue light and bright light, both of which suppress melatonin production and prevent sleepiness.
Meal schedules and movement also act as zeitgebers, so you should be avoiding food and exercise on the same schedule you're winding down and avoiding bright light. Personally, I have an alarm on my phone at 8 PM each night to stop eating, turn down the lights, and begin winding down for bed. I've also scheduled my internet router to shut off at this time.
My nighttime routine then begins: I complete my small chores around the house, do some stretching or breathing exercises, and occasionally use my Joovv red light therapy device.
Sleep tools and accessories
- Earplugs – Plugging my ears at night caused me to start dreaming again. I've always been a light sleeper and so even hearing a train in the distance would wake me up at night. It took me about a week to adjust and I've never looked back. Make sure to throw your earplugs away regularly and don't buy the expensive branded products. You can find bulk products for industrial uses, such as the bag of 200 earplugs that I use.
- Nasal strips – Along with blocking noise at night, making sure I can breathe easily has been a game-changer for me. I've written about natural remedies for nighttime nasal congestion before and my favorite solution is using nasal strips each night that open up my airway. Before using these I would often wake up feeling like I wasn't getting enough air.
- Sleep mask – Light in the morning regularly disturbed my sleep until I started wearing a sleep mask. I recommend a silk mask and you should wash it regularly.
- Blue light blockers – I block blue light at night in two ways. First, I wear blue light blocking glasses an hour or two before bed. I also block blue light on my iPhone and use software on my computer. An app called f.lux is a great free version but for even more customization I recommend Iris.
- Air filtration – I keep a HEPA air filter running in my bedroom at all times and track particulate matter with a high-quality air monitor. This makes it easier to breathe and prevents any irritants from clogging me up at night.
- Medicine – Melatonin and CBD are my go-to medicines for when I need to ensure a deep sleep, but quality matters so much. For melatonin, I use the Pure Encapsulations brand and for CBD I use Lunchbox Alchemy CBD Squib. It's important to understand that melatonin is most useful in aligning your sleep to a new schedule, such as when traveling.