Learning how to sleep better is something that we’re all supposed to do when we’re young. Unfortunately most of us on the planet never really learn this essential skill and have to settle for what we can get every night.
It should be simple… right?
You lay down at the end of your day and you should pass right out. That’s rarely the case for most of us. Whether you’re dealing with stress, bad sleeping habits, health issues, or just a bad sleeping environment, they all matter and drastically affect your sleep cycle. Your sleep cycle, in turn, affects how your entire day goes.
I’m 36 years old now. When I was younger, I could get away with sleep that wasn’t optimal. The older I get the more I’ve realized how much not getting good sleep was affecting me.
I’m a nut for self-improvement and I spend a ton my of time trying to figure out how to get more done in a day.
I’ve been looking for ways to improve my sleep for the last 5 years. The last year, however, I started to get really serious about it. In this post, I want to walk you through all the small things that have helped me finally figure it out (and one big thing that finally made all the small things matter).
Why this may be one of the most important post you ever read.
This post is a departure from the “how to make money online” stuff that I usually talk about. I wrote it because so many of my entrepreneur friends seem to suffer from sleep issues. I sincerely hope that my struggle (and the path I took to fix this) can help you too.
It doesn’t matter how productive you are. It doesn’t matter how much money you make. It doesn’t matter how great your health is right now. If you figure out how to get better sleep, all of the above will improve.
If you’re reading this post, it’s most likely because you’re either a chronic bad sleeper, or because something has recently changed in your life that has caused you to get sleep that isn’t as good as it used to be.
No matter the cause of your sleep issues, this post should help you to figure out what you can do to fix them and help you understand how to sleep better.
If you can fix your sleep issues and dial in a more consistent sleep cycle, you’ll be able to see improvement in all areas of your life. Sleep is literally the foundation of everything that you do during the day. If you don’t establish a good foundation, nothing you do will be as good as it could be.
What I did to fix my sleep cycle may not be your exact solution. My exact formula isn’t the important part of this post (although I suspect that my exact formula can help the majority of folks out there). The important part of this post is that you understand that changing your daily “rituals” is the key to getting better sleep. Sleep is about rituals. Specifically… it’s about having a “Linchpin Ritual” (more on that below)
YOU SHOULD ALSO KNOW:
When you follow the advice in this post and start to change your daily rituals, your body will fight back. It’s not going to be the most comfortable months that you’ve ever had (lol). That said, don’t try to change everything at once. This is about consistency. If you’re more tired at first, that’s to be expected. It took me 43 nights to feel like I had finally achieved what I was after. There were benefits starting in the first week, but I didn’t get to a “full change” until about night 43.
In summary, this post can absolutely change your life by getting you better sleep, but it’s going to be work (there are no quick fixes when it comes to changing habits or developing new ones).
What my sleep cycle looked like for my entire life.
I’m an insanely productive person by nature. I don’t work a ton of hours every day, but I make the hours that I do work count. With all that said, if I miss a day of work because I feel groggy and my brain isn’t working, it matters a great deal to my business.
When I was a baby I slept horribly. I’d get a few hours at a time at most and that continued through my early childhood.
When I got to my teenage years, I figured out that life was far more interesting late at night (haha) and that began a pattern of staying up late. While that was functional to a point, it really caused a problem when I needed to get to sleep at a decent hour (like before a big test or a big presentation).
All of these bad nocturnal habits translated into my adult life. I found it easiest to study late at night and found that I was more productive during the late night hours. It all seemed extremely effective and I excelled in life because of my odd hours (or so it seemed).
When I got out into the “real world”, and had to get up to see patients (I was a practicing Chiropractor for years before I started my “backpack business”), my sleep cycle proved to be a big problem.
I would sleep for 4-5 hours a night and try to find a way to get my extra 1-3 hours in short spurts throughout the day. In short, my sleep was super gapped up into a series of naps.
I started getting into a really bad pattern of putting in a few days with really terrible and inconsistent sleep and then crashing hard one day a week. This pattern got worse and became my “normal” for years after it started (even after I no longer worked my “Chiropractic office hours”).
Because of all this, I started getting really bad tension headaches (that sometimes developed into migraines) at least once a week. Those were due to the fact that my body was over stressed because I wasn’t resting enough at night.
Considering how crappy my sleep was, I still believed that my weird schedule gave me an advantage in my life.
Why I thought my terrible sleep cycle was a blessing.
It was completely stupid, but I truly believed working these weird hours was giving me an advantage and that it fostered some sort of creativity. I would stay late into the night and had fully convinced myself that I could only be creative in those late hours.
I created some very lucrative businesses while sleeping this way and it really played into the fantasy that my business relied on me keeping these odd hours as a part of my daily habits.
In reality, I was only a fraction as productive as I could have been and my brain was literally running on fumes every single week (until the inevitable crash day when I recovered and “caught up”).
It wasn’t until I had an unexpected change in my business that I stumbled into something that would finally force me out of this pattern and finally start me on the path to fixing my sleep pattern.
The “hard to swallow” change that accidentally fixed my sleep cycle.
In early 2019, I got rid of a lot of waste in my businesses and, as a result, they started running more efficiently and cheaply. Because we started running more smoothly, I was able to focus more of my mind of how to improve other parts of my life.
And that’s when I took a look in the mirror and realized that I had let myself get a little more out of shape than I was comfortable with. I had become so consumed with my business, that I hadn’t focused much on keeping my body in tune.
I’m not talking about sleep here. I just didn’t like the way my body looked when I looked in the mirror. I still hadn’t made the connection between my terrible sleep patterns and the physical shape my body was in.
The “vanity” of not liking what I looked like in the mirror lead me to a very happy accident, however.
I started with a simple thought.
“I need to get my ass back into the gym”.
And that simple thought led me to a ton of really inconsistent trips to the gym that didn’t really turn into anything. I would try to go when I had a free moment, but that just never really turned into a habit. As a result, I didn’t feel like I was getting in any better shape.
And that lead to the breakthrough.
I decided to stop being a wuss and to try to get to the gym at a consistent time every day. I am a firm believe in the power of “rituals” and figured that, even if I couldn’t make it to the gym everyday, I could at least get to the gym at the same time when I did go (this may sound silly but keep reading).
At the time, I was going to a gym that wasn’t open 24 hours a day. It was only open from 5am to about 8pm at night. I decided that I should “suck it up” and get my ass out of bed in the morning at 5am. It seemed crazy at the time, but “vanity” will make you do crazier things than “health” will sometimes.
Needless to say, the first 2 weeks of this “experiment in vanity” sucked.
What the first 2 weeks of getting better sleep looked like. (hint: it sucked)
I’ll be the first person to tell you that I didn’t start going to the gym at 5AM to get better sleep. I started going to the gym at 5am in the morning because I was sick of looking overweight and feeling like I wasn’t doing something about it. After weeks of not being able to get consistent with my gym trips, I had decided that it was because I wasn’t setting aside a consistent time to go every day.
That led me to the sentence that changed my sleep cycle forever…
“Alexa, set an alarm for 5am”
As my nightstand “echo dot” replied back with “Okay, alarm set for 5am”, I felt a sense of dread washing over me. Lucky for me, I had literally hit “rock bottom” with how sick I was of looking at my flabby gut.
The next morning, “Alexa” woke me up at 5AM and I proceeded to lay there with the thought that I could smash my “echo dot” and no one would ever know. One quick “grab and throw” against the wall and I could go back to sleep. Instead, I rolled out of bed and threw some clothes on.
Before I knew it, I was in my car and driving across town to my gym. I don’t really remember driving to the gym, but I remember the workout.
I did a mile on an elliptical and then I did 3 sets of 6 different upper body lifts (15,12,10 reps). As I walked out of the gym at around 6am (I had gotten out of bed late and only actually worked out like 25 minutes), I was ready to throw up.
When I got home, I ate something and then I went back to bed for another couple of hours. I was exhausted. The rest of the week, I only got 1 more workout in. That first week, I only got 2 of my 5AM workouts in, but I got them in.
In week 2, my only goal was to get 3 workouts in (so that I could beat the week before). I ended up going on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that week.
I hated it, but continued going to the gym and then crashing for a few hours as soon as I got home.
The funny thing was that I was starting to go to sleep a few hours early each night because I was exhausted (and because I knew that I had to get up at 5 the next day).
Without really trying, I was starting to form “rituals” so that my body could adapt to the 5am schedule.
THE IMPORTANT PART:
All I had to focus on was one simple thing. I had to focus on getting up at 5am and getting to the gym. I didn’t worry about sleep or getting in shape. I just focused on getting to the gym around 5am. This is key. Humans are terrible at the finer points of being healthy. We are pretty good at adapting to things, however.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY:
At the end of the second week, I started to notice that I was going to bed earlier (around 10PM compared to my normal 1-2AM) and falling right to sleep. The problem was that I was now waking up at 2AM and laying in bed waiting on my alarm to go off. That sucked, but I kept my focus on making sure that I made it to the gym at 5am at least 3 days a week.
What weeks 3-4 of sleeping better looked like (it was better but not perfect).
The next two weeks were still tough.
I was getting extremely consistent with going to bed at 10pm (even when I didn’t have to go to the gym the next day), but I was still waking up around 2am the next morning.
Instead of laying in bed pissed off that I was up so early, I started getting up and working from 2am-5am. It was extremely quiet and I was able to get a ton done.
And then a funny thing happened…
I was up anyway, so I started going to the gym another day of the week (from 3x a week to 4-5x a week). I would get home from the gym and crash for a few hours and then go about my day and get stuff done.
All of this was hard because my sleep was still unpredictable. It had just shifted a bit in where I got my 6-8 hours.
THE IMPORTANT PART:
I didn’t realize that this was happening at the time but now I realize that, during this period, I was turning my “3 days a week routine” into something that was a “5 days a week routine”. Even though my sleep was still off, I was seeing a shift into more consistency.
ANOTHER BIG TAKEAWAY:
I didn’t go to the gym and kill myself. I’m only there 20-30 minutes most days and I take it easy when I’m tired. They only thing that I’m focused on is actually getting there and going through some sort of workout.
Little did I know that things were about to take a monster shift.
What my sleep looked like after 43 days (it’s hard to explain but I’ll do my best below).
At about the 43 day mark of being extremely focused on getting to the gym at 5am, I started seeing big things.
- I was going to bed at around 10PM every night.
- I was getting up around 4:30am every morning before my alarm (consistently)
- I was sleeping solid through the night now. I would only wake up occasionally to go to the bathroom (this starts to happen when you get older kids), but would immediately get back to sleep (unlike in the past).
- I was no longer going to sleep after my workout. I took a small amount of time to eat and cool down (that just means watch cartoons, the news, or sportscenter) and then I was ready to go to work.
- I was more productive between the hours of 8AM-11AM in one day than I had been in an entire week in the past.
- My time management through the day got better.
- I started making more time to do small things for myself in the afternoons.
- I was starting to eat dramatically better. (I still indulge in eating “bad things” but my body wants those things less often).
- I had this immense sense of happiness and contentment wash over me (and it actually stuck around).
- My self confidence skyrocketed.
The most important thing about the above points are this. I wasn’t trying to do any of the above. All I was focused on was making sure that I got my ass to the gym at 5am in the mornings (which was now a solid 5 days a week).
That one “linchpin routine” was forcing my body to adapt by developing supporting routines. Those supporting routines included better sleep.
The best part?
I was more creative than ever and it wasn’t brought on by stress (all my past creativity came from “panic”).
How to Sleep Better (the secrets)
The most important part of this post is to understand how a “linchpin routine” finally helped me get my sleep in order.
That said, I want to talk about all of the important things that go into my sleep routine (this is the “how to sleep better” checklist)
- I try my best to not drink any caffeine after 5PM
(If you are a soda junky, just try to drink caffeine free after 5PM).
- I try to load my dinner meal up with protein.
(carbs will put you to sleep but it’s not the kind of sleep that seems to carry you through the night. Carbs always lead me to an hour long power naps and then I’m wide away and pissed that I can’t go back to sleep for hours)
- I make my bedroom as “single purpose” as possible.
Your bed should serve two purposes. It should be for sleep and for sex. Sleep is about routines and your bed should serve as a cue to your body that it’s time to sleep. If you also read in your bed, it can send the wrong signal to your body. Do all your reading (especially if you read on your phone or tablet before bed) in a chair outside of your bedroom. You’ll still get the relaxing effect of reading, but you won’t ruin your “bed is for sleep” cue.
- I Make sure my bedroom is dark.
Get rid of as much light in your bedroom as possible. Any light (especially blue light) can cue your body that it needs to stay awake.
- I Minimize my Phone’s ability to Screw me Over.
I get it. I read on my phone before I sleep. I’m not going to stop. That said, I do my best to make sure my phones brightness is all the way down and that I’m using only apps that offer “dark mode”. I also stay away from Video and Audio at bedtime (I tried to use relaxing audio cues to sleep for years and it never worked consistently)
- Develop 2 distinct routines.
This is the revelation. Good sleep comes from having 2 great routines. You need a good “go to sleep routine” and a good “time to wake up routine”. I didn’t realize this before. I only figured it out when went through the process that I’ve been walking you through. I watch an hour of tv with my wife at night after my son goes to bed. I brush my teeth and then I browse reddit for a few minutes before I pass out. In the morning I focus on my “linchpin routine” (aka my morning routine). In the morning, I am exclusively focused on getting up at 5am and getting to the gym. It’s not the gym that matters however, it’s the routine.
- Have a “Linchpin routine” for when you get lost.
You’re going to have events. You’re going to have vacations. Life gets in the way. The secret to great sleep is having a “path back” when you get out of your routine. That’s where the “linchpin routine” comes into play. Mine is getting to the gym at 5am. Yours might be something different. This is your “northstar” when you lose your way. It will always lead you back to good sleep.
How I screwed my sleep schedule up again (and fixed it in 3 days).
The most important lesson that I’ve learned in this journey in learning how to sleep better is that I’m going to absolutely mess up my sleep routine from time to time. I love to travel. I love going out with my friends and staying up talking into all hours of the night. I love random adventures. That’s what makes life great.
The key is that, when you mess up your sleep pattern, you have a way to get back to it again.
Recently I went on vacation and was at the beach for 7 days with my family. In the past, this would have been devastating to my schedule and my happiness. Being in a different bed every night and not having a gym to get my normal workout in would have had serious consequences.
This is where the “linchpin routine” comes into play in a big way.
Once I got back home, all I had to do to get back in my sleep routine was focus on that single routine. For me, it’s getting to the gym at 5am. Those first few days back sucked, but it was amazing how quickly my body fell back in line (it only took 3 days to get back in my mode).
The same can be applied to your situation. Once you find your “linchpin routine” (it’s a morning routine for most people by the way), you can effectively get right back in a good sleep schedule after you’ve fallen out. It won’t take 1-2 months if you focus on the “linchpin routine” as soon as you get back to your normal environment.
A ton of people are going to glance at pieces of this post and think…. “That’s great Ben. You started going to the gym at 5am and that tires you out to the point that you sleep better”
Those people are missing the point (and magic) of this post entirely.
The secret of how to better sleep is simply… intelligent routines.
If you’re horrible at forming new habits and routines (like I am), you just need to find the one thing that forces your body to adapt and give yourself some room to go through the process. This is your “Linchpin Routine” and will force your body to slowly build all the routines you need to sleep better (and be healthier) over a period of a few months.
Don’t get to crazy about going hard and trying to overload yourself with a bunch of sleep advice from “experts”. Give what I showed you above a shot. Get up and do a workout earlier than you normally would. It can literally be a simple 5 minute workout (I recommend this one if you don’t want to go to the gym). Go back to sleep after. Take your time getting into a new routine (it took me 43 days).
The above changed my life.
Let me know how it works out for you.
Got any great tips on how to sleep better?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Post them in the comments below.