-Become Your Own Sleep Architect
Consistency is king when establishing a constructive sleep architecture. Allow your brain and body to know what to expect in the evening with consistent sleep hygiene and nighttime rituals.
Throughout this module, we have been introduced to many reasons why sleep is beneficial to us and why we should get more and higher quality shut-eye. I want to end the module with specific strategies to try with those goals in mind.
These strategies will help us become more consistent and clean up our nighttime rituals. I have divided them into four groups or “habit stacks” that I feel can help us with a natural progression through improving our sleep hygiene.
The purpose of habit stacks is to group similar strategies or strategies that work well together either because they are closely related or you can complete them at the same time. So don’t finish this lesson thinking you need to incorporate all 12 of them to succeed. Pick one stack, practice that for a week or two and see how it goes.
Sleep Habit Stack #1:
- Exercise, but not within two to three hours before bed.
- Get sunlight exposure. Daylight is essential for regulating your sleep patterns. Get outside as close to waking as possible as sunlight corrects and recalibrates our circadian rhythm and boosts cortisol levels at the right time of day. Being inside near a window doesn’t work because the glass actually reduces the majority of the light required for this process. Even on a cloudy morning, the brightness outside has thousands of times more lux (a common measurement of brightness) than a brightly lit kitchen, room, or office, even if near windows. Having your first cup of coffee outside or walking the dogs for about 20 minutes is great. Get outside again around midday for about 30 minutes (a great time to get your exercise in at the same time – see how these habits stack!) to help your body produce vitamin D.
- Take a hot bath or shower before bed. Aside from being a relaxing activity, the resulting drop in body temperature when you get out will help you feel sleepy. If you must exercise too close to bed (common for those of you who attend late afternoon or evening Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or other exercise classes) a warm bath or shower will help you unwind, kickstart your recovery process, and help reduce your body temperature.
Sleep Habit Stacks #2 and #3 will stem from following the 10-3-2-1-0 Rules of Sleep:
- 10 hours before bed: stop consuming caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, etc.).
- 3 hours before bed: stop consuming food or alcohol.
- 2 hours before bed: finish cognitively demanding tasks like work, emails, etc.
- 1 hour before bed: no more screen time. Turn lights down low.
- 0: number of times to hit snooze in the morning.
Sleep Habit Stack #2:
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine. If you do consume caffeine, follow the 10-hour rule above. Caffeine has an average half-life of about six hours. Meaning, if we have an afternoon pick-me-up at 3 p.m., half of that caffeine will still be in our systems blocking our sleep patterns if we go to bed at 9 p.m. And a quarter of the caffeine will still remain at 3 a.m.
It’s important to note that you may still be able to fall asleep with caffeine in your system, but it still greatly reduces your ability to enter deep sleep and can still disrupt the normal progression of sleep patterns.
Nicotine is also a stimulant that often causes smokers to sleep very lightly and also wake up too early from nicotine withdrawal.
- Avoid large meals and too much fluid before bed. A light snack is okay, but the body won’t be able to enter deep sleep until the bulk of the heavy digestion is complete. Drinking too much fluid before bed will cause frequent awakenings to urinate, so don’t have more than necessary within a few hours before bed.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening. Yes, a drink after dinner or before bed can relax us, but it will rob us of deep sleep by not allowing our heart rate and internal body temperature to drop and will also wake us up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol wear off. Alcohol interrupts and fragments the normal 90-minute sleep cycle. Therefore, alcohol-infused sleep is not continuous or restorative. The byproducts of alcohol metabolism in our bodies, aldehydes specifically, block the brain’s ability to get into REM sleep (refer back to the earlier lesson about the harmful effects of this).
Like with caffeine, you may be able to fall asleep with alcohol in your system, but it will negatively influence your sleep without you being aware of it.
Sleep Habit Stack #3:
- Keep a dark, cool, and gadget-free bedroom. Remove or cover any distracting lights by using blackout curtains and dark tape over LEDs on plugins and smoke detectors. Cool temperatures promote deeper and more restful sleep. All electronics like cell phones, TVs, and computers should be removed from the bedroom as they are often the most common distraction. To let your mind wind down in the evening, stop any work-related tasks, emails, etc. two hours before bed, and stop using screens of any kind one hour before. If you watch the clock when you can’t sleep, turn the dial toward the wall or remove the clock completely from the bedroom.
- Intentionally relax before bed with methods that actually help calm down your nervous system. Schedule time away from screens into your nighttime ritual. Read, listen to music, meditate, etc. (refer back to the first lesson of this module: The Refuge of Sleep).
- Stick to a consistent schedule, even on the weekends. Just like how jetlag disrupts sleep patterns and hormonal regulation, constantly changing up our sleep routine has the same effect. We should do our best to keep our sleep and wake times within a one-hour window.
Start working through the assignments below or begin any of the assignments from previous lessons in this module. We sleep for a full ⅓ of our lives, and its processes and benefits serve as a foundation for everything else we do in our waking hours. We owe it to ourselves to maximize its effectiveness by preparing for and protecting our sleep.
Today’s Assignment – Practice Sleep Habits
Bronze – Complete Sleep Habit Stack #1 today.
Silver – Complete Sleep Habit Stack #1 today and #2 tomorrow.
Gold – Complete Sleep Habit Stacks #1, #2, and #3 over the next three days.
This one’s a burner. It’s a ladder exercise, meaning you start with 1 repetition of each exercise, then 2, then 3, then 4, and so on.
Warm up for 5-10 minutes.
Start a timer for 15 minutes.
Perform 1 rep each of the following:
Then perform 2 sets of each, then 3, 4, 5, and so on until you reach 15 minutes.
Your goal is to see how far up the ladder of reps you can get in 15 minutes.
Rest when needed or when your form isn’t perfect – continue when ready. Always rest when form suffers. If form continues to suffer, your workout is done and it’s time to cool down.
- Perform for 10 minutes instead of 15.
- Ladder up to 10 reps of each exercise, then back down to 1 each – with no timer.
- Don’t do a push-up at the bottom of the burpees. Simply come down into a plank position, hold for a second or two, then jump back up.
Cool down and stretch.