5 Steps to Getting Better Sleep and Being More Productive

Being wasteful is pompous. Some people prefer wasting talent, some time, others their resources. I see something deeply irresponsible about being wasteful.

As a result of my inability to waste time, I’ve forced myself to be as productive as possible. I have studied and implemented productivity hacks and time saving tips throughout my days. But there is one hack that improves the rest with ease.

Start At The Top Of The Funnel

Last week, I heard Noah Kagan on an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show say,

“Work on things at the top of the funnel that will improve everything else.”

Most of us don’t have the same funnels. Our daily tasks and specialized positions don’t allow us to make a boiler-plate “this is how to be more productive handbook,” that fits everyone’s life.

One thing we all have in common is our need for sleep. According to Gallup, over 40% of Americans don’t get enough sleep. I was a part of this majority for a number of years. I didn’t sleep enough and I didn’t sleep well. I told myself and others, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and kept burning the midnight oil. I worked early, I stayed up late, and ultimately I wore myself down.

Then, I rediscovered sleep.

I started having longer stretches of sleep for the first time since college. I felt invigorated and refreshed from full eight hour bouts of rest. My nights were filled with dreams instead of tossing and turning. I popped out of bed in the mornings instead of hitting snooze 14 times.

I fell in love with my sleep. Not to the point where I overslept or where I stayed in bed all day, but to the point where I felt sharp. My body thanked me by giving me more focus, a better mood, and more energy to tackle my day.

As entrepreneurs and business people, you are constantly multi-tasking. If you cannot focus on the task in front of you, you’ll end up wasting your day. Having a sharp mind, a positive attitude, and energy to confront your day is crucial to your continued success.

Quantity AND Quality

I’ve been healthier and more sharp since I discovered full nights of sleep. But that wasn’t enough, I wanted to get a better quality of sleep. Not every one of my nights included dreams. I still occasionally woke up feeling drowsy, even after a full night’s rest.

The learner in me went on a rampage digging for clues about how to get even better rest. I found that not only was a full quantity of rest important, but giving your body the opportunity to fall into quality (REM) sleep was crucial, too.

The ultimate productivity hack is obviously getting better sleep. Here are five tips to help you achieve a better night’s rest.

1) Turn Your Lights Down Low

On it’s most basic level, your brain associates light with daytime. This can be sunlight, a lamplight, or even blue lights from devices. It’s mostly the same to your brain. To begin prepping your brain for bed, try to avoid bright lights right before bed. This helps to slow your brain down, signaling that sleep is on the way.

In order to put this to practice, I stopped using the overhead light on my ceiling fan after dusk. Instead, I’ll use a small lamp on the end table next to my bed. This isn’t the worst offender though, that comes from the restroom. If your bathroom is anything like mine, it’s as bright as spring break in Florida. Instead of using the overhead lights in the room, trying using a nightlight or a candle or even install a dimmer to lessen the blow to your brain. Your body will begin to slow down before you’re ready to crawl in bed, helping you fall asleep faster.

2.) Stop Staring At All Those Screens

I know it’s hard to turn down the newest episode of House of Cards, but it’s worth it. According to WebMD, when you use technology right before bed, “your brain revs up, its electrical activity increases and neurons start to race.” When you are playing video games or responding to emails your body tenses up. This is the exact opposite feeling you want before you get ready to get into your jammies.

I don’t have a TV in my bedroom and I try to shut down all electronics (unless it’s an emergency) after 8 pm. Some people will make a “no technology in the bedroom” rule, which is great unless you use your phone for an alarm. Find what works for you and put it into practice, discipline is the key.

3.) Roll It Out

I love picking up random tidbits of information from unexpected sources. I listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast because Tim has world-class performers on his show as guests. Many of them are business people and I can always pick up something that is applicable to work.

But in this episode the author of Becoming a Supple Leopard, Kelly Starret goes into detail about how to improve your sleep with a beautiful anecdote about getting a massage. Starret asks the host how many people walk out of a massage and want to punch someone in the face. The obvious answer is not many. Why? Because you are relaxed. Foam rolling has the same effect on your body as a massage. If you take five minutes before bed to roll out large muscle groups, your body will be significantly less wound up when you climb into bed.

I wasn’t sure what to think about this, so I tried it for myself. Eight hours and a night full of vivid dreams later, I was hooked. I foam roll every night before I go to bed, rolling out my IT bands, quads, groin, hamstrings, calves, and back before I get under the covers.

4.) Fill Your Room With… Nothing

It may sound odd, but that night light you used to use as a kid was actually detrimental to your sleep. A ceiling light in your room is exponentially more powerful than moonlight, the only light your body is used to absorbing past dusk. The below excerpt is from this article by George Dvorsky, an incredible in-depth read on the effect of light on our bodies.

Prior to the end of the stone age, humans were exposed to two different kinds of natural light responsible for regulating circadian rhythmicity. During the day we had the sun, while at night we had the moon and the stars, and perhaps the light from campfires. The binary day/night pattern was unrelenting, and our biological programming followed suit.

This means when you sleep with a TV on silent, a hallway light on, or open shutters that allow streetlamps to shine in, you are throwing off your body’s natural cycle. Studies have linked overexposure to light with depression, immune system complications, and even cancer.

The chart below shows the difference between sunlight, moonlight, and all of the other light we experience in between.

getting better sleep

Chart provided by iO9.com, click image for the original article.

Once you have cleared the room of your light emitting products, find out what’s making that noise.

The National Sleep Foundation warns us, “Noise can jostle your slumber—causing you to wake, move, shift between stages of sleep, or experience a change in heart rate and blood pressure—so briefly that you don’t remember the next morning.”

Is it a ticking clock? Is it that John Mayer playlist on repeat? Find out what’s creating that racket and replace it with something less offensive to your eardrums like white noise, or better yet, silence.

This one is hard for me because I live on the second story overlooking a semi-main road. But hey, you can’t win them all. Do your best to follow as many of these as possible. Your body is still capable of getting better sleep even if you only implement a few of these tricks.

5.) Less Stimulation

I know it’s blasphemous, but maybe it’s time to give decaf a try.

Caffeine will keep you up at night, there are a number of studies on the subject. Not just for a few an hour or two, we’re talking up to six hours after you consume it. And not only will it keep you up, it will disrupt the quality of your sleep. If you want to fall asleep fast and get a full night of rest, stay away from caffeine later in the day (after 2PM is what I try to stick to).

This is hardly the first article on the topic of sleep. One last “hack” that you may have heard is not to eat before bed. Or maybe it IS good to eat before bed, I can’t remember. Either way, there is conflicting evidence for either side of this argument so I intentionally left it out. The bottom line is if you’re going to eat… don’t crush a tub of ice cream, opt for something a bit healthier.

Sleep is important. I didn’t realize that until I wasted a number of years avoiding it. Use these tips to help you fall sleep faster and get a better quality of sleep. You can’t be productive if you’re constantly on edge or always wanting to nap. If you improve your sleep, the rest of your funnel will begin to fall in line.

I love hearing about ways to be more productive, whether it’s concerning sleep, how to stay focused, or the best way to fold shirts. What is your most important productivity hack?

Leave a comment or chat with me on Twitter. Have a great weekend!

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