Sleep Matters: 7 Ideas for Doing It Better

bedding sheets and pillow sleep bedThis post is sponsored by the Cherry Marketing Institute, the third in a series of six I’m doing in partnership with them this year.

Back when I was in college, I used to hear the joke that of good grades, sleep, and a social life, you could have whichever two you chose … but only two.

Replace “good grades” with a job, and you’ve got a pretty accurate description of the real, grown-up world, for most people. And when “social life” now includes mostly non-negotiable activities like spending time with your kids, exercising, and taking the time to prepare healthy food for yourself and your family, skimping on those eight hours of sleep we’re supposed to get each night starts to become a pretty attractive option.

It’s not news that as a culture, we’re sleep deprived. Starbucks wouldn’t be a $15-billion/year company if we all woke up smiling and chipper every morning. (Check out this week’s issue of Brian Clark’s Further, my favorite weekly email digest about “health, wealth and wisdom,” for loads of compelling reasons to get your z’s.)

And if you’re an athlete …

… then sleep matters even more. In his ultrarunning talk from the Woodstock Fruit Festival (starting around the 18:00 mark), Michael Arnstein says that how much sleep he gets the night before a 100-miler is one of the most important factors in how he’ll perform — he even goes as far as to wear a blindfold, earplugs, and a hat to bed; sleep in isolation; and several days before the race, start hitting the sack in the early evening so that he’ll get used to the early bedtime and be able to log eight to ten hours before waking up at 4am on race day.

It’s not just performance, though — sleep is essential for optimal recovery, too. Ask any bodybuilder who has succeeded in adding lots of muscle to their frame, and he’ll tell you that sleep is right up there with lifting and eating. (Well, for natural bodybuilders at least.) And for vegan or vegetarian athletes concerned about protein — I don’t think you need to be, but still — during sleep your body’s cells synthesize proteins and lessen the rate of protein breakdown.

Ok, so I’ve made the point: sleep matters. And it’s not just quantity, but quality.

The way to get more sleep is simple: make it a priority and go to bed earlier. Of course, this probably means sacrificing some of that broad category I’ve called “social life” … and if you just can’t do that, you can at least work on sleeping better.

Here are 7 ideas to help you do just that:

  1. Determine which type of sleeper you are, and get the right pillow for that position. On your back is best, on your stomach is worst, and on your side is okay. I’ve personally had a few problems due in part to sleeping on my stomach with my arms above my head, including headaches (referred from neck tightness) and shoulder pain, so I’ve recently switched to sleeping on my back and am gradually adjusting.
  2. Don’t drink alcohol close to bedtime. This is a biggie. Alcohol can ruin the restfulness of your sleep, even when it feels like you’re sleeping soundly through the night. Give your body at least one hour per drink (preferably more) to process any alcohol you drink in the evening before bed.
  3. Instead, drink tart cherry juice. In one study, adults who drank two daily glasses of tart cherry juice concentrate for seven days slept about 40 minutes longer and 6 percent more efficiently than those who did not. Other studies have shown tart cherry juice to reduce the severity of insomnia, including an almost 90-minute increase in older insomniacs after just two weeks of twice-daily tart cherry juice. Most of the research on tart cherry juice has been based on one ounce of concentrate or eight ounces of juice, twice per day. I get mine by adding the concentrate to my smoothie in the morning, then having a glass post-workout, usually in the afternoon. See my first post about tart cherry juice and subsequent results for more details.
  4. Have some almond butter before bed. In the 4-Hour Body, biohacker Tim Ferriss says that in his own experiments, two tablespoons of raw almond butter on celery sticks before bed helped him feel noticeably more rested upon waking.
  5. Establish a bedtime routine. My friend Jeff Sanders of the 5AM Miracle podcast sets an alarm to go off one hour before his ideal bedtime, at which point he shifts into an evening routine designed to turn off his brain and prepare for sleep. A good pre-bedtime routine might include comfortable clothes, meditation, and reading fiction (which for most people is less likely than non-fiction to stimulate planning-type thoughts that will keep you awake). Personally, I find that listening to an audiobook, which just like meditation requires focus, usually puts me right to sleep when my mind is racing.
  6. Reduce the amount of light in your bedroom. A few years ago I realized that my wife and I had no fewer than six forms of electronic light in our room while we slept (digital clocks, cell phone charge indicators, modem and wireless router, etc.), and eliminating every last one of them has helped to create a far more pleasant environment for shuteye.
  7. Use your bedroom for two things only: sleep and making babies. If you haven’t done it yet and if you change nothing else about your bedroom environment, do yourself and your partner the favor of giving the TV the boot. Completely aside from what it did for our sleep habits, limiting television time to the living room was our first step in eventually watching so little that we cut cable altogether.

Sweet dreams!



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    when I kicked out screens and a tv and doing ANYTHING ELSE in there it really helped!


  2. Josh Mehler says:

    I have 2 small kids in my house. Even if I go to bed at 8 I don’t get deep or long sleep. It’s been like this for 6 years. It’s taken a toll on my health, career, and social life. One day they’ll sleep and I’ll follow all the advice in your blog. 🙂

  3. Another tip is to have a routine and sleep similar hours/times even on the weekend.

  4. TV is a big one. We got rid of cable and it’s made a huge difference. The other big one is making sure the kids are in bed when they’re supposed to be. When that happens, it give me and my wife a half hour to an hour of time for decompressing.

  5. My goal is to go to bed at 8:30 every night of the week. I eat and drink less when I’m in bed early and waking up at 5:30 is not a problem. If I go to bed later, then I try to sleep in the next morning. Sleep is sacred!

  6. AmandaM says:

    Hi Matt – where do you get your tart cherry juice? Thank you!


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