I learned about the importance of sleep the hard way. Like most people in their 20s, I charged through life like I was invincible. Long days at the office, followed by nights out with friends were the norm. Work hard, play hard.
It doesn’t help that society widely celebrates busyness. How many articles have you read about CEOs who wake up at 5am and achieve more by 9am than we might in our entire day? If they can do it, so can we. Right?
Unfortunately, we’re not all wired the same way. Only about 3% of the population is genetically predisposed to thrive on less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Odds are, you and I aren’t in that category – even if a lot of us regularly get less than 6 hours of shut-eye a night.
Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on our health. I’ve experienced this personally. After feeling completely defeated by what seemed like an endless string of ailments -- and a major health scare with a mysterious auto-immune issue -- I decided I needed to change my lifestyle.
I improved my diet, started exercising and took supplements. Whatever health advice you could think of -- I tried it. Eventually, I realized one thing made the most meaningful impact on my health: quality sleep.
That experience inspired me to learn more about the science of sleep. Eventually, it led me to start restlab. After years of research and learning, it felt apt to consolidate everything I’ve learned to help others who want to improve their sleep.
Help Your Body Fall Asleep
Our sleep cycles are managed by our circadian rhythm – an internal process that responds to light and darkness. When the sun sets and bedtime nears, our body temperatures start to cool down and our brains produce melatonin to help induce sleep. This sleep cycle plays a big part in our bodyies’ temperature regulation, but research has shown that thermoregulation can also impact the mechanism governing sleep. That means we can help induce sleep at bedtime by cooling down our body.
Warm showers should be taken 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Taking a warm shower raises the temperature on your skin, which in turn makes you feel warm. If you do this too close to bedtime, your elevated body temperature may delay the sleep process. If you want to take a shower before bed, an alternative is to use cool – but not cold – water.
Wash your feet with cold water before hopping into bed
- The cold water will cause blood to rush to your feet to warm them. This will reduce your body’s core temperature in the process, helping to bring the onset of sleep.
Turn down the thermostat
- Research suggests that we sleep better in cooler temperatures as we’re more likely to wake when it is warmer. REM and deep sleep are also relatively reduced in warmer temperatures -- which can impact overall sleep quality and recovery.
- Start with a room temperature between 65-72° Fahrenheit (18-22° Celsius). But this is something you’ll need to test out for yourself, since a slew of variables affect your bed’s microclimate (more on that below).
Put away your screens -- or improvise
- You’ve probably already heard that the blue light from electronic devices can inhibit melatonin production and delay sleep. The ideal solution? Putting our phones away and avoiding screens at least 1 hour before bed. But let’s face it – that's hard to do.
- If you want to read electronically, consider a Kindle, as they emit a lower amount of blue light. If putting away devices at night is an impossible feat (it is for me), turn on Dark Mode (and don’t forget Night Shift if you have an iPhone). This should reduce the amount of blue light – as well as eye strain.
Quiet your mind
- Finally! You’ve set up the perfect conditions to induce sleep. Now if only you could stop thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list! For those of us with active minds, it’s always a struggle to fall asleep – even when we’ve done everything else right.
- Meditation is one way to help calm the mind. The idea is to observe your thoughts, but not engage with them. There are many ways to do this, from simply focusing on your breathing to listening to a guided meditation. Another alternative is to jot down your thoughts in a journal to clear your head before bedtime.
- Whatever you choose to do, find something enjoyable -- and keep at it! Over time, a consistent habit will help you become better at clearing your mind to induce a state of relaxation and help you fall asleep faster.
Keep a consistent routine and bedtime
- Humans are creatures of habit. Our circadian rhythms are proof that it’s hardwired in our biology. Having a routine is a powerful cue for our bodies to wind down and prepare to sleep.
- Going to bed at around the same time every night is critical. If we deviate too much from our body clocks, we may find ourselves having trouble falling – and staying – asleep.
Sleep Well Through the Night
Create the perfect microclimate
- We know temperature regulation is important for sleep. That means paying attention to your microclimate -- or the air temperature immediately surrounding your body. Even if the thermostat or air conditioning is set to 70° Fahrenheit (20° Celsius), that doesn’t mean the air around you will be at the same temperature.
- Many factors affect your microclimate – your bedding, what you’re wearing, and even if you’re sharing your bed with someone else! The trick to good sleep is to keep the air temperature immediately surrounding your body in a comfortable zone.
Use the right bed and bedding for your climate
- Let’s start with your mattress. Spring mattresses are generally great at heat dispersion due to the airflow between their coils. Foam mattresses traditionally do not transfer heat as well -- though there are new technologies that help address this issue. It’s important to understand the type of mattress you have so you can also choose the appropriate bedding.
- During the warmer summer months, your body will release heat to cool down for sleep, as well as throughout the night. Support this process with highly breathable bedding materials like linen or cotton with percale weave. Top off your bed with a thin blanket (my personal hack is using the top sheet). This way, you can leave yourself more exposed to the circulating air to cool down, and get under the covers as your body temperature drops during the night. Breathable materials will allow for air transfer so excess heat doesn’t build up.
- The winter months tend to be easier as the colder weather is conducive for sleep. The challenge here is to keep yourself warm without overheating at night. Start with thicker bedding – cotton sateen’s tighter weave not only delivers a smoother hand-feel but also helps trap more body heat compared with percale cotton. Pair this with a top sheet and an appropriately thick duvet. That way you have two layers you can either use separately or combined as the temperature fluctuates throughout the night – and throughout the winter.
Sleep naked! Or add clothing to support thermoregulation
- We know that might sound odd coming from us, but your body is naturally very adept at thermoregulation. If you’re already optimizing your room temperature and bedding to create a conducive microclimate for sleep, then chances are you can let your bare skin bask in your glorious bedding.
- But we understand that sleeping au naturale might not be an option for everyone. So why not wear sleepwear that supports your body’s thermoregulation process? restlab's Equilibrium Sleep Set is specifically engineered to help you cool down for bed, and keep you cozy as your body temperature drops throughout the night.
- Sleepwear is also how couples can optimize their own personal microclimates while sharing a bed. If your partner runs hot while you run cold, it can be a struggle to balance the right temperature for both of you.
- One last tip: consider covering areas of your body that get cold easily. For example, wear a pair of socks if your feet tend to get chilly or a t-shirt to keep your shoulders covered. No two people’s body temperatures are the same -- even if you’re sharing the same bed. This last mile of sleep optimization lets you personalize your microclimate to suit your own needs.
Block out the light
- Beyond temperature, our sleep-wake cycle is also governed by light exposure. A dark bedroom can help encourage the production of melatonin, a key enzyme that helps induce sleep.
- Be mindful of light pollution, especially if you live in a major city. We recommend blackout curtains – which has the added benefit of keeping light from waking you up prematurely.
Light sleeper? Try a sound machine
- For those of us who are easily stirred awake by ambient noise, try a white noise app or machine to drown out unwanted sounds. These typically produce sounds across all frequencies within the range of human hearing in equal amounts in order to help mask sudden changes in sound – think a barking dog, heavy footsteps or a door slamming.
We love learning more about sleep, and will update this article to incorporate the latest research on the topic. Feel free to share any of your own learnings, research updates or personal tips with us on our Contact Us page. We enjoy hearing from our readers!