For as long as I can remember I’ve identified as a ‘bad sleeper.’ But, I recently finished reading a book that changed my life. I mean that 100% sincerely.
I read a lot, and usually get one or two takeaways from each book that I can apply to my life and I consider that huge success.
However, after reading Nick Littlehales’ book Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps, and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind I walked away with seven actionable items which have already improved my sleep and recovery.
It had such a profound impact on me I immediately reached out to him to ask if he would be a guest on my podcast. Thankfully, he said yes and you can listen to it here…
During the show I mentioned a few times what a large impact his book had on me and I told him that there were a number of practical takeaways that I had immediately implemented in my own sleep routine.
Naturally, he asked me what they were and I went on to mention a few.
But, I wanted to expand on the topic and share with you the seven changes that I’ve made that have had the biggest impact.
Here they are…
Threw my Sleep Aids in the Trash
I used to take drugs every. single. night. to help me fall asleep.
No, they weren’t prescription medications, they were over the counter sleep aids that claim to be “non-habit forming.”
For me, they were anything but habit forming…I had taken them every night for the past two years.
I took them because I thought they helped. The problem was that they were causing more harm than good.
There are a few nights that I can remember vividly lying in bed, half asleep, and suddenly jolting up to rush to my bathroom medicine cabinet because I had forgotten to take my sleeping pills.
The funny thing about that is that the anxiety of thinking I had to have them to sleep was worse for me because that’s what kept me from falling asleep!
The decision to get rid of the sleeping pills has been nothing but positive and hasn’t had negative effect on the quality of my sleep.
I guess I didn’t need them after all!
Started Using Nasal Dilators
“You started using what!?!”
Exactly. I had never heard of them either but Nick recommended MUTE Nasal Dilators in his book so I picked some up on Amazon.
Everyone has seen the Breathe Right Strips before that claim to help you breathe better. These are like those, but there’s one main difference…these actually work.
It is a very small device that opens up the nasal passageways and help prevent you from snoring, and improve your ability to breathe through your nose…which helps you sleep better.
They work like a charm!
A 3 pack is around $15 and I’d definitely recommend them.
Stopped Sleeping on my Back, and Started Sleeping on my Side
There was one thing in Nick’s book Sleep that I found fascinating…there is actually a correct way to sleep.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always slept on my back. Apparently, I’ve been doing it wrong all these years!
When we’re trying to optimize recovery sleeping on our side is the clear winner. To take it one step further, we should try to sleep on our non-dominant side. (Right handed people should sleep on their left sides and vice versa)
Whenever we are sick, upset, or generally don’t feel well we tend to curl up into the fetal position because that’s how our bodies best relax. And that’s exactly how we should sleep.
This has taken a little getting used to, but I can definitely notice that it’s making a difference.
Became Conscious of my Caffeine Intake
I’ll be the first to admit that my caffeine intake is on the high side. I know I should improve and I’m working on it…kind of.
Every morning I have 1 cup of coffee.
With lunch I have a zero calorie Monster Energy Drink.
I also take a pre-workout supplement that contains caffeine.
These three caffeinated drinks put me well over the recommended daily intake. I really enjoy all of them and don’t want to cut any of them out cold turkey.
So, while I haven’t made a major adjustment to the amount of caffeine that I drink I have made a conscious effort to consume all of it earlier in the day.
While I don’t have a “no caffeine” rule I do have a “no caffeine after 1pm” rule.
Because caffeine is a stimulant it can degrade the quality of your sleep if you drink it later in the day by impairing your ability to fall, and stay, asleep.
Lowered my Air Conditioner by 2 Degrees
During my days as a professional baseball player and coach I’ve shared a lot of hotel rooms with other people.
I was quite certain that some of them were distant relatives to the Polar Bear. I, however, have always slept in a slightly warmer room. (Usually around 70°)
Little did I know that my friends were onto something big…
We actually sleep better in cooler temperatures. I didn’t realize that there was actual science behind that, but there is.
There’s no need to make drastic changes to the thermostat, but lowering it by a few degrees can help you fall, and stay, asleep.
I’d suggest lowering it by 1° each night until you find your “happy temperature.”
Reduced my Screen Time 90 Minutes Before Bed
Technically, people aren’t “addicted” to the Internet…at least by the way the definition is written now. However, many people show addictive-type behaviors when it comes to their cell phones and mobile devices.
I definitely fall into this category.
Between work emails, social media, texting with family/friends, etc. I’m on my phone much more than the average person.
I’d love to say that I’m going to go on a digital detox and get rid of my phone, but realistically, that’s just not going to happen.
The problem with this is that screens emit blue light which essentially signals our body to “wake up.” So, staring at a screen late into the evening/night can influence your circadian rhythm and hinder your ability to sleep.
Knowing this, I’ve made a decision to try to dramatically reduce my screen time 90 minutes before bed.
Again, I’m not perfect…I’m not claiming to have “zero screen time,” I’m just making an effort to have less. It’s not always about being perfect, it’s just about being a little bit better. And for me, “less” is better than “more” and it’s much more realistic than “none.”
Drink Less Water Late in the Evening
In a typical day I drink between 1 and 1.5 gallons of water.
Any guesses what that means?
If you answered “Xan, you probably pee a lot” you would be correct.
I believe that drinking a lot of water has many benefits and is generally a good thing. BUT, if you’re drinking so much that it causes you to wake up multiple times during the night to use the restroom it’s probably counter productive.
There have been many nights where I get up 3 times to use the restroom which means that my sleep is interrupted at least 3 times just for this.
The solution is that I now try to drink the majority of my water earlier in the day so that I don’t have to use the restroom as much in the middle of the night.
I’ll still, typically, get up once during the night to pee and I’m OK with that. Waking up once is much better than waking up 3 times!
The Result of These Changes
The biggest result that has come of all these changes is that I feel like I’m finally in control of my sleep which has greatly reduced my anxiety around my sleeping habits.
Before, I felt like if I didn’t get “8 hours” of sleep that I wouldn’t be productive the next day, that my body wasn’t going to recover from my workouts, and that cycle would begin to spin out of control.
And let’s be honest…I never got 8 hours of sleep.
Sure, I was in bed for 9 hours each night, but I would wake up multiple times to use the restroom, because my wife was snoring (sorry Tina!), or with my mind racing about everything I needed to get done the next day.
The worst part wasn’t that I actually wasn’t getting enough sleep, it was that I was psyching myself out about not getting enough sleep.
I would roll over, look at the clock, and immediately start crunching numbers…
If I can fall back asleep now, that would mean that I can still get 6 hours of sleep.
Then two hours later I’d think to myself…
Ok, I was awake for 45 minutes at 1am and now it’s 3am. I’ve got to fall back asleep immediately or I’ll be under 6 hours of sleep for the night. There’s no way I can do what I need to do with only 6 hours of sleep so I better fall asleep right now!
And you can imagine how that would only compound the problem.
Now, after these changes that I’ve made, I’m sleeping better than I have in a long time and I’m no longer a “midnight mathematician.”
On top of that, I now realize that there is nothing magical about getting 8 hours of sleep and I don’t stress myself out about it, because, let’s be honest, I’m probably not going to sleep that much anyway.
But, I can get 6.5 -7 hours of sleep every night and now I’m more well rested than ever.
For the first time in my life I feel like I’m actually in control of my sleep, which was a foreign concept to me until recently.