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​How To Sleep Like a Champ (My Tools and Nightly Rituals)

I stayed with my parents last weekend. Sometime around 11PM, when they were on their way to bed, they complained that they hadn’t been sleeping well.

This was an offhanded remark, not meant as a request for my advice, but because I’m their son and therefore know everything, I took it as an opportunity to be helpful (aka annoying).

I asked them about their sleep schedule (they didn’t have one).
I asked them what they did to get ready for bed (they brush their teeth).
I asked them how dark it is in their bedroom (they walked into it and closed the door behind them, leaving me standing in the hallway with the dogs.)
So, OK. My parents obviously don’t care what I have to say about sleeping better, but maybe you do.

My ridiculous amount of sleep stuff, in the order I use it.

Sleep

We all know the benefits of sleeping well and waking up refreshed. But knowledge without action is meaningless. So how do we actually train ourselves to sleep better? Here are the rituals I follow and the sleep tools I’ve found most helpful.

  • No beverages or screens after 9PM.
I stop drinking water around 9PM so I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to pee. And I turn my phone and computer off around the same time so I can reduce my exposure to blue light, which may suppress melatonin and throw off your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
  • Set the bedroom temperature to 65 degrees or lower.
The colder I am when I get in bed, the better I sleep. Which means my bedroom is more like a cold, dark cave than an actual place where I want to spend lots of time. Great for sleep. Questionable for sex.
  • Do 8 minutes of static stretching
Stretching before bed can help calm down your nervous system and take you from a sympathetic (fight or flight) state to a more parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. Plus, most of us are tight as shit and need to stretch more anyway.
I do the following four stretches, holding each for two minutes (which I time with my watch).
  • Floss and brush teeth
Because if you don’t it’s gross.
  • Eat 5 milligrams of chewable melatonin
Melatonin is a neurohormone that helps regulate the sleep portion of circadian rhythm. It may also increase growth hormone, which helps restore muscle. But mostly the chewable tablets just taste good in a weird way, like a little bedroom snack.
  • Turn on the white noise machine
I used a fan for many years but have recently switched to a small white-noise machine. The low soothing sound not only calms my brain, but also blocks out most late night sounds from neighbors, dogs, or partners.
  • Set an actual alarm clock (not your phone)
I don’t use my phone as an alarm because a) I’ll just stay up listening to podcasts or flipping through my phone in bed, and b) I’m not important enough to be reachable every minute of the day.
That’s why I prefer an actual alarm clock. When I travel, I use a small foldable one, but when I’m home I use the Phillips Wake-Up Light. It’s perfect for night time reading and wakes me up with a slow sunrise and bird sounds in the morning (which I muc prefer to being assaulted by a foghorn).
  • Lie on a spiked acupressure mat while reading fiction
I don’t travel with my acupressure mat, but whenever I’m home I usually lie on it for at least 15-30 minutes while reading fiction. Since it’s covered in what must be close to a bajillion little spikes, the sensation is intense at first and then strangely pleasurable.
I’m not a doctor, but I’ve found that it calms down my nervous system, eliminates neck and back pain, and makes me sleepy fast. It works so well, we had to buy two because Richelle kept stealing mine.

Also, I tend to read fiction at night because I can get lost in the story without immediately wanting to turn what I’m reading into action steps. (Which I do every time I read a business or self-help book.)

  • Use a non-shitty pillow
After experimenting with a half-dozen pillows over the years, I’ve landed on the basic Casper pillow as my favorite. It’s firm without being too firm, soft without being too soft, and cool on both sides. Just like Stuart Scott.
  • Put mouthguard in mouth and eye-mask over eyes
I tend to clench or grind my teeth at night, so about a year ago I went to the dentist and had a fancy, custom mouthpiece made. Whenever I wear it (which is 90% of the time), I’m physically incapable of clamping my jaw. Problem solved.
I also wear a contoured sleep mask I bought in an airport in Vietnam for $10. Aside from the questionable-yet-delicious duck salad I ate at a street stall in Danang, it was the best money I spent there.

My advice: Pick one thing and try it for a week.

If there’s one thing I learned during my time at Precision Nutrition, it’s that we’re all very bad at sticking to new habits if we try to introduce too many things at once.

That’s why I recommend picking one thing and experimenting with it for a week or two before adding anything else. If I had to rank them in order of “best use of time and money”—and assuming you’re already brushing and flossing like a good boy—it would be:

  1. Get a bed that doesn’t suck. (This wasn’t on the list, but it’s important.)
  2. No beverages or screens after 9pm.
  3. Use a non-shitty pillow.
  4. Set bedroom temperature to 65 degrees or lower.
  5. Set an actual alarm clock.
  6. Use an eye mask.
  7. Turn on white noise machine.
  8. Eight minutes of static stretching.
  9. Like on an acupressure mat.
  10. Eat 5 milligrams of melatonin.

Sweet dreams,
-Nate