We hear about this all the time – get 8 hours of sleep per night. But it wasn’t until I experienced the effects of long-term sleep deprivation personally that I realized how true this prescription really is.
Having just marked the 1st year of my son’s life, I can say for a fact that plenty of high-quality sleep is essential to performing at your highest levels (and being a nice person).
I noticed something along that journey – the more tired I got, the more I tried to supplement for my lack of high-quality sleep.
For instance, one cup of coffee in the morning turned into two, and a cup of tea on some days.
Or I’d try to battle the feeling of being tired with calories – maybe I feel “low” because I’m not eating enough…? Wrong.
On the other side, I’d be so over-tired at night that I pretty much always wanted a glass of wine or a beer to wind down. Then I’d wake up the next morning (having not slept enough or well enough, again) and feel worse from the alcohol.
Then I started restricting things.
I’ve never restricted my intake of anything – calories, fats, sweets, alcohol, caffeine. I never needed to. But as I got more tired, and started trying to replace sleep with those things (only making matters worse), I started thinking in terms of “restrictions.”
Ok, only ONE cup of coffee per day. Ok, a glass of wine or beer ONLY on weekend-nights.
But just like the supplements, restricting myself didn’t do anything to address the real problem…it just made me frustrated.
A few weeks before my son’s first birthday he started sleeping through the night. I can remember the first morning I woke up after a continuous 8-hour sleep. I felt like someone had injected me with that stuff they pumped into Ivan Drago in Rocky IV…complete with the cheesy music:
My energy was through the roof. My training and recovery improved immensely and immediately. My mood was in the clouds (rather than in the mud). Life suddenly was bright and sunny again…
What to Do
Knowing that it makes us better people to get 8 hours of high-quality sleep per night…what do we do?!
Well, first we have to define “high-quality.” High-quality means that the room is dark, the temperature is comfortable (probably relatively cool), and it’s quiet.
Basically, consider yourself a bear in a cave in the middle of a forest, hibernating for 8 hours.
With that said, the rest of the formula is relatively simple:
- Stop supplementing for lack of sleep.
- Stop restricting your supplementation (rather than sleeping enough).
- Do enough physical work (exercise or whatever) during the day that you are actually physically exhausted by sleepy-time.
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime, or drink too much water.
- Get your hibernation cave setup.
- If you sleep next to a snorer, wear earplugs.
- If you’re a snorer, do everything you can do to resolve that issue (see a professional).
- Do calming things the closer you get to bedtime. Some people like reading. I say reading is great, as long as it’s not a page-turner that’s going to keep you up all night, or a thriller that’s going to give you nightmares. Try technical manuals for a few nights…
- Make it a fixed routine in your schedule.
Of course, there are people who do fun experiments with sleep schedules…sleeping 2 hours at a stretch or whatever, multiple times during the day. I’ve experimented with that – it’s called having a baby – and it didn’t work for me. Good luck if you go that route. Remember, this post will always be here when you need to change up.
One More Thing…
Share your own sleep story here, or with friends or loved ones. Part of the sleep dilemma is that we hear expert opinion all the time, but don’t really talk about our own experiences with others…so we spiral into bad patterns without realizing there are alternatives, or that other people are experiencing the same things we are.