“Health is the first muse, and sleep is the condition to produce it. “
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I can compress all of the useful information that I learned about sleep into 4 good practices that, I believe, solve 95% of all sleep-associated problems. These good practices can be summarized as follows:

  • #1. Set the evening rituals.
  • #2. Set the rhythm.
  • #3. Follow the 90 minutes rule.
  • #4. Rise early.

#1. The Evening Rituals.

Setting up the evening rituals is just as important as creating your morning rituals. Evening rituals prepare you for the deep sleep and ensure adequate recovery. Staring at screens before sleep is one of the worst things you can do. Blue light excites the brain disturbing you from falling asleep. Instead, choose evening activities that are calming and relaxing, and can effectively prepare you for sleep. Here is an example of a simple routine.

Light dinner.

Eat some fruits and nuts, drink some water. Eat just enough to kill the hunger so that the thoughts about food do not disturb you from falling asleep. Don’t overeat. In the night your body needs to rest, not digest.

Contrast shower.

Hot water makes your blood vessels relax and widen whereas cold water induces vasoconstriction. Thus, a contrast shower serves as a micro-massage causing blood vessels to dilate and contract in response to rapidly changing external temperature. That increases blood flow to tense muscles promoting their relaxation and recovery.

Eye mask and earplugs.

Using an eye mask to cut out all of the external light significantly improves the quality of your sleep. When your brain senses the complete darkness, it initiates the generation of melatonin — a hormone produced in a pineal gland that is responsible for the regulation of your sleep and wake cycles. Earplugs further secure the depth of your sleep cutting off any audio stimulation of the brain.

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Image by Luke Mastin

Relaxation meditation.

Lie down, close your eyes and start observing your body. Move your awareness within the body sending a command for relaxation to different parts of it one by one. Do a simple breathing exercise — inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 5, exhale for 6. Your falling asleep will be so seamless and natural you won’t be able to notice it.

#2. Set the rhythm.

Go to bed and wake up at the same time. By doing this you will train your body to follow a stable sleeping pattern. If you succeed to get through the discomfort of the adjustment period that may last from 3 -7 days, you will develop the “internal clock” — you will be waking up at the same time without the need for an alarm. In order to set your sleeping regime well, you need to know only one rule.

#3. The 90 minutes rule.

Without getting too scientific, the 90 minutes rule states that you need to sleep in increments of 90 minutes. An interval of 90 minutes is a so-called circadian rhythm which is a period of time required to complete a transition through all of the stages of sleep: falling asleep, light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) stage. Waking up in the middle of the deep sleep stage makes you feel groggy whereas if you “exiting” at the end of the cycle makes you feel refreshed and full of energy.

The number of cycles required for a good recovery is strictly individual. For example, usually, older people need less sleep. For many of them, four 90-minutes cycles are sufficient. Normally, a sleep of 5 cycles or 7.5 hours is considered healthy for an average adult. This time is enough to replenish the energy for the day, regenerate the tissues, and protect the functions of the immune system. The recovery after intense physical work may require 6 cycles (9 hours) and sometimes even more.

You might have noticed that waking up after 6-hours of sleep is relatively easy which can be explained by the fact that you finish 4 complete cycles and wake up at the end of the 4th cycle. Of course, your attention may be blurrier as a result of an overall lack of sleep but the waking up process itself shouldn’t be too painful.

The 90-minutes rule is a lifehack that helps you to get up instantaneously right after you wake up without feeling hazy. Implement it as a part of your sleep hygiene and see if you have any improvements.

#4. Rise early.

Rising early — is the last on the list of sleep practices for well-being. It deserves exclusive attention so I decided to talk about it in a separate section.

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