13 thoughts on getting a better night's sleep

13 thoughts on getting a better night's sleep

waking up tired to an alarm clock
image credit Microsoft Clipart

I usually sleep pretty well. Maybe I'm lucky; maybe I've paid careful attention to what works and what doesn't. Either way, I've been able to fall asleep quickly and to sleep soundly for the last several years. Even though I don't get as much sleep as I'd like (life just doesn't allow for 8 hours a night), the sleep I do get is rejuvenating.

Today I thought I'd share my thoughts on what works and what doesn't.

13 thoughts on getting a better night's sleep

1.) Exercise

Working out gives my body an energy release, and by bedtime I'm ready for sleep. Morning and Lunchtime workouts are best; after work but before dinner works ok, too. Exercise too close to bedtime tends to keep me up, as my body is still pumping adrenaline and takes awhile to unwind before I can fall asleep.

Also, if I'm working out specifically to help make me sleep better, I'll work out as long and intensely as possible.

2.) Diet

A big, overstuffed dinner gives me the usual "food coma", and makes me want to take a nap on the couch right after dinner. But once I get into bed, I find I don't get the most restful night's sleep on a too-full belly.

I sleep best after a day of moderate eating - not too hungry, not too full.

Also, pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. I don't have much sensitivity to this, but I've met people before who can't sleep after eating spicy food, for example. (you might even want to keep a food journal.)

3.) Caffeine

Caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours. (Ever wonder why there's an energy drink that's named after this 5 hours..?) That means 5 hours later, you're body will still have about 1/2 of the caffeine in its system. If your body likes caffeine - as in you reach for a cup of coffee as part of your morning routine - it's probably best not to drink any caffeine after lunch.

I don't usually have coffee after lunch, but I imagine a coffee with dinner would keep me up. I'm ok with a Diet Coke in the evenings, though, but that's about the equivalent of 1/4 or 1/3 a cup of coffee.

4.) Alcohol

I have an after-dinner drink a couple-few nights a week. Call it dessert. Call it a relaxing way to reward myself after another full-throttle day. Call it a habit or a dependency. Whatever - it's one drink and you're not taking it away from me!

Having an evening drink definitely makes me feel sleepier at bedtime, but I've never been convinced it helps me sleep better. In fact, sometimes I wake up more tired than I'd like. Recently I've read a few articles where experts are saying alcohol hinders your body's ability to reach deep REM sleep. I believe that - it kind of makes sense based on what I've experienced.

If sleep onset is an issue for you, a drink might help. But if restful sleep is what you're after, I'd avoid alcohol if you can.

5.) Benadryl

I use Benadryl a couple nights a week as a preemptive strike on getting back to sleep in the middle of the night. Unfortunately my son wakes up overnight more often than not, which also wakes my wife and I up. Sometimes I can fall right back to sleep; other times I lay awake for awhile.

On nights where I don't want to risk laying awake at 2am, I take 1/2 a tablet of Benadryl (generic) before I go to bed. It doesn't do anything to help with sleep onset - I can take 1/2 tablet and stay up as late as I want, but it makes a big difference with waking up overnight.

see "read the label - Benadryl and ZzzQuil" for more information about Diphenhydramine HCI

6.) No Electronics

Computers, cell phone, tablets, video games - all of them. It takes me awhile to slow my mind down after working or playing with these; I can't just go from shut down to shut eye. I may do some computer work before bed, but I allow myself 15-30 minutes of quiet time before I'll attempt to fall asleep.

TV falls into this category, too. Either you're like me - who cannot take his eyes away from the TV (I'll watch 2 hours of a terrible movie late at night, just because I can't turn the damn thing off!), or you're like my wife - who can fall dead asleep in a matter of minutes after starting a terrible movie late at night. Both are bad - you either stay up late watching, or you get woken up later by the noise and have to turn it off after your sleep has been interrupted.

7.) Meditate / Think / Unwind

I'm not one who meditates with robes, flowers, and chanting while eastern music plays softly in the background. But I do take a few minutes while lying in bed to focus on my thoughts and let my mind go. Sometimes I'll think about challenges or goals, but only in the big-picture sense - I don't want to get wrapped up in to-do lists or details. I'll point my mind in that direction, and a few minutes later I'm peacefully asleep. And as an added bonus, I usually have a great idea about the challenge/goal when I wake up.

8.) Stress / Worry / Minutiae

I've been through enough stress and worry to last a lifetime.

These are the most wasteful things in our lives. You may have something really important hanging over your head, something so big it has the potential to ruin your life. Here's a secret - laying in bed thinking about it, worrying about the possible outcomes, stressing over every detail - that isn't helping you at all. In fact, it's working against you, making you tired and less able to function at your best (which is required if you don't want that miserable outcome!)

You have 2 choices: either get out of bed and do something productive towards your cause, or go to sleep so you're well rested and can attack it in the morning. That's it - choice A or B.

9.) Make a List

I remember having nights where I would lay in bed and millions of details would be circling inside my head like a tornado of information overload. I was self-employed at the time, commission-only, and responsible for a hundred processes on every client's deal. I would lay down for sleep, but instead would have a panic attack..

One time, late at night, I decide to get out of bed and make a list of everything that was swirling around inside my head. And you know what, the list was ridiculously short:

  • Critical - phone call to make sure Client A's paperwork was received.
  • Critical - review Client B's paperwork and deliver it to xyz.
  • Long Term - I need to do more prospecting. work on executable ideas for business growth.
  • Off Topic - I need a new pair of black shoes.
  • Is that it? it seemed like there was so much more...

It was almost comical how short my list was once I wrote it down.

Eventually I developed a habit of writing down my list every night before I went to bed, and these types of late night panic attacks went away.

10.) Money and Budgets

I've lived in a budget-surplus life, and I've lived in a budget-deficit life, and it's difficult to put into words how different the two are.

Not having enough money to make ends meet at the end of the month puts an enormous amount of stress and pressure (let's call it Stressure) on you. The kind of stressure that doesn't allow for sleep. The kind of stressure that makes you sick, lethargic, aggressive, frustrated, and a dozen other bad adjectives.

This isn't something you can fix at 10:00 pm when you're trying to fall asleep. But it's something you need to fix. Period. Get your finances under control, and you'll sleep like a baby forever more.

11.) Communication

Is there something you're holding inside that's bothering you? Or maybe you're trying to protect someone from something they won't want to hear? Bad idea. Better to get it out there and deal with the reactions than to hold it inside and lose sleep over what might happen.

It doesn't matter whether it's your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, buddy, boss, brother, mom and dad - whoever. Open the door, make the phone call, have the conversation. And then you can work on whatever it is together.

12.) Work, Hobbies - Be Busy

While it's nice to stop and smell the roses once in awhile, I find that I sleep the worst when I'm bored.

I realize that I'm an extreme example - I have a job, a hobby-job, a blog, one kid with autism who requires-deserves-gets extra attention, another kid who's deep into soccer, where I'm the team manager, a wife who I love, and I mix in some exercise a few times a week. Yeah, I don't worry about staying busy these days. (and did I mention I sleep well?)

But back in the day I remember taking days off from work just to have a "me day". I would be bored all day and then not sleep well that night!

13.) Retrace Your Steps / Connections

Another way I relax my mind is to try retracing my connections from the past. This works for me when I've been woken up at 2:00 am (and haven't taken Benadryl). Think of an event that happened today. Who was it with? How did I end up in that place? Who introduced the person who introduced us, and where / how / why? I can trace most events all the way back into childhood, but I'm usually fast asleep before I get there.

For example:
I had a meeting today with a new client, who was referred by someone I've met with in the past, who called me on a recommendation from a fraternity brother, whom I met only because my good friend and I agreed to pledge that fraternity together. I had met that friend because his younger brother and another good friend of mine, who was a year younger, became friends. I had met this other good friend years before, because we grew up in the same neighborhood together, which was only possible because my mom and dad had bought a house there. They bought that house because my dad used to ride his bike through that neighborhood while back in college and really liked it. He went to that college because (or he lived where he lived because)...
It's amazing where your mind can go, and how fast you can fall asleep, when doing this..!

I've read other people who have had similar success by retracing their steps throughout a day. What did you do today, specifically, step by step? Rumor has it you'll be asleep before you get through breakfast..


Remember how you slept as a kid? (or how your kids sleep today?) That's what we're looking for! No worrying, or staying up late at night doing nothing. Kids play hard all day, giving everything their full attention. Then they beg to stay up later ("C'mon, 15 more minutes..") Then they crash as soon as you turn out the lights!

sleepy child at bedtime
  image credit Microsoft Clipart

This list was pretty long; I hope you found something useful in there.

What did I miss? What tips do you have to help you get a good night's sleep?

-Chris Butterworth