I have trouble sleeping. Well, i mean I’ve ALWAYS had trouble sleeping, since I was 10 years old probably.
But in the last few years, I’ve been taking tons of notes about what I eat & when and its impact on sleep, monitored my sleep duration and quality (even had a tracking device put on my head while I slept for a full month) and so on. I read a TON of articles, books and seen tons of videos on the subject because I’m really obsessed on mastering sleep and regaining the energy i never had. Feeling like garbage all day is really a no-go for me so I needed change.
Before I tell you what is the one thing that I tried and had the most impact, here’s a few things that are amazingly helpful on improving my energy levels and sleep quality, from YEARS of TESTING and writing personal reports, keeping notes, etc. This is not some “listicle” that I grabbed from some other site, this is the culmination of literally years of my own testing and reporting. In descending order of importance, here’s what improved the most my sleep and affected the quality of my energy:
11 – have ZEN, slow movements
This might sound weird or a bit whoo-hoo, but after long experimentations & notes, I realized that when I get too much inside my mind (thinking, solving problems) I walked faster, had jerky movements including fast leg / feet movements, other stress tics, bad sitting habits, etc and that all led to my stress level and cortisol being more elevated during the day, which in turn impaired my night sleep quality.
So now I really try having a very zen mood continuously throughout the day and avoid all fast movements inclusing feet jerking which is such a bad habit anyway. To help me do that, I bought simple silicone bands that I put on my wrist to remind me to stay zen. And it really works well.
When I really focus on avoiding all stress-related tics it really makes me more zen and calm at night before bed, which helps clear my brain. I might do some more in-depth tests in the future just to check out my cortisol levels and other blood markers because the impact of a calm day is massive on the quality of sleep.
10- Never… really, NEVER snooze
That is simple: if you’re like me and snooze often then try this for 3 days and take notes of how you feel during the day:
As soon as you realize that you’re awake, remove your bed cover, take 5 deep breaths and sit on the side of your bed. Do that slowly, methodically, like a routine. And be strict: never cut yourself slack or you’ll fall back into old habits (I know I did). Then after 2 more breaths, get up and make yourself a green tea or coffee and you should be fine. The goal is really to make that a routine.
I’ve struggled with snoozing for 25 years so I know it sucks. When you snooze you get into another sleep cycle and don’t finish it, which leads to feeling energy-less and grumpy all day, even if you had enough sleep.
9- wake up with automatic lights, not alarms
I’ve made that change 7 years ago and it has had an enormous benefit on my mood. I really hate alarms since they wake me up in bad mood. So a few years back I went to a hardware store and bought a simple power outlet timer which automatically turn on my lights in the morning and that wakes me up much more naturally.
It’s very cheap and one of the best alarm I’ve ever had since I sleep in complete darkness (see point below) and can’t be waken up by the sun. What I do is I have 2 of these, one on a small 40 watt light 15 feet away that lights up first, and 10 minutes after another one lights up my whole room. It’s slow, natural and there’s no need to snooze a loud noise.
8- drink just enough water / liquid so you NEVER wake up during the night
After a few years of taking notes on my sleep quality, I’ll tell you right away: 90% of the time, if I have to wake up during the night / early morning because I need to pee it totally ruins my sleep quality and I’m always feeling low energy during the day.
So now I don’t drink tea, beer, wine, home-made vegetable juice, soup, well any liquid at least 2 hours before bed otherwise I know that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night.
7- what you eat during the day… REALLY matters (including coffee)
Like I said earlier, at one point in 2012 and 2013 I slept with an head strap with a sensor that detects the quality of my sleep. At both occasion, I used that sensor for 30 days and tracked all results in an app and analyzed all the food I had the previous day, exercise, sleep quality, etc…. and what I learned really made an impression.
If I had a pizza at noon, or a coffee in the morning, or chicken wings at night or any other type of harder to digest or unnatural food like hot dogs, processed meats, cheese, etc at ANY point during the day it would affect my sleep in a very noticeable fashion. The sensor was clear: my sleep was much lighter and my deep sleep periods were shorter, with less REM sleep and more wake moments.
The thing that really blew my mind was that coffee in any quantity (just a small 250 ml cup) would throw off my sleep for one to TWO days! I’ve heard before that you shouldn’t drink coffee 8 hours before sleep but never that one cup would affect the quality of my sleep 2 days in a row…
What does this means? Well eat a small portion of meat (think one or 2 eggs in size MAX) on your last meal of the day, along with at least one large salad as a meal any time during the day or 50% raw vegetables with meat / protein source at least once per day.
PS: green tea had little to no effect on my sleep, which is great since I prefer that in the morning.
PPS: my theory is that the next day, there is probably no more caffeine in your body, but the bad sleep from the previous day just makes the next day bad too, until you catch up and re-establish a good, non-caffeinated sleep pattern.
PPPS: here’s something strange, I noticed that when I eat half a tomato (NO more) + some sea salt + sprinkle on it some olive oil just before bed I always have a great, zen-like sleep. I have no clue why, but it works for me. Try it and tell me what you think.
6- sleep in TOTAL darkness
Haha! That one took me so much time to fix I wonder why it didn’t make sense earlier… As we get closer to #1, sleeping in TOTAL darkness is one of the biggest way to improve my sleep quality and it really help staying in deep / REM sleep longer. In fact, these 6 items are so important they could all be called “#1”.
Before I did anything to my curtains, all I had was some semi-transparent white curtains which would bring a lot of light in at night (I live in the city). In spring 2015, I decided to build myself the ultimate sleeping room by making a custom 100% opacity curtain made of 4 large, thick, black garbage bags and taping over it aluminum foil (total of around 5$) and 3 hours of work.
I also bought some black electrical tape and covered ALL leds and other small pilot lights that stay on when your electronics are off. That included all monitors on/off lights, printer, laptop charging lights, microwave, internet router, everything. Once that was done and my new homemade curtain was in place my room was 100% dark. REALLY. I can stand in the middle of it with my eyes wide open and can’t see a thing, just like if my eyes were closed. This is a strange and relaxing feeling.
The results? EPIC sleep quality, no more waking up at night because the light pouring from everywhere woke me up from light sleep, etc. I honestly can say that even if it looks bad, you should definitely try that one. It’s a 5$ that could totally change your life and the 3 hours it took me to do it was totally worth it.
5- last 2 hours before bed low light, no computer
I work a lot and in the last 10 years or so have always worked on my 8-monitor computer until the last second before going to sleep. I knew it was a bad habit but it took time to find the motivation to stop earlier and slow down and relax before bed.
So now I stop my computer a full 2 hours before going to sleep, turn off most lights and sit on a comfortable chair and read a book on my kindle in night mode (white text on black background) for 1 hour 30 minutes, and then I do some yoga / breathing and go to bed.
It really help since it slows my mind, relaxes me, and it stops the “blue light” from the monitors coming into my eyes and messing up my circadian rhythm. Doing this helps me fall asleep much faster: I’d say that if I stay on my computer until the last minute, it takes me around 1 hour to fall asleep. If I stop 2 hours before, then it takes me around 30 minutes to fall asleep. I can reduce that time even more if I do all items on this page.
4- eating at the SAME time every day
This is one of those things that I never read anywhere but has such a big impact on energy, health and sleep quality. Since I work from home, I can get up at whatever time I want and eat at whatever time I feel like and that’s something I’ve done for almost 12 years. It makes you more stressed, fat (you accumulate fat easier) and rob you of precious energy. It also screw up your biological rhythms and make them go all out of sync. Your body is confused, and it doesn’t like to be.
When you synchronize all your meals to be always at the same time (+/- 20 minutes) it gives you more energy and makes you sleep deeper, recuperate more since the residual energy that you accumulate during the day helps your body focus on repairing the daily damage during the night instead of just “catching up”.
3- bed at SAME time every night
For 25 years I’ve been going to sleep as random hours and it’s been having a very negative effect on my day energy, sleep quality and overall health. Some day I would go to bed at 2 am, the next day I would go to bed at 4 am, then 5:40 am, then back at 2 am and it would wildly swing like that every day for most of my 25 years. No kidding.
I have realized how bad that is for sleep and how much it affects my whole life so in the last few months I’ve worked very hard on bringing it down to +/- 30 minutes and it helped tremendously. I am most energized when I go to bed at say 1:30 am night after night. Exactly. And it helps to build a routine before heading to bed, like some breathing, stretching, yoga, reading, etc which announce & prepare your body that you’re about to sleep.
So why do I go to bed at those random times? It’s because I always have “one last thing I want to finish” and since I’m a programmer, you know when you start and you never know when you finish… Now I have an alarm that tells me when to just drop everything and pick up a good book to read.
Now I’m aiming to go to bed at 1:30 AM EVERY night, +/- 10 minutes. And I am RUTHLESS about it. There are no reasons for me to miss that mark, since it makes my next day amazing because my energy, motivation, drive, mood are all much higher. Going to bed later “just to finish one last thing” will NOT make you more productive, quite the contrary: it will make the following day much less productive.
2- sleep duration (9 hrs)
Just like me, you’ve always heard that you must “sleep around 8 hours per night” and for most of my life I’ve tried to hit that mark…. exactly. Which, I admit was really dumb. “Sleep 8 hours” for me (for some reason) meant “go to bed at exactly midnight and wake up at exactly 8 am” which of course doesn’t include or take into consideration your 90 minutes sleep cycles or the fact that it takes me 1+ hour to fall asleep.
So after years of forcing upon me the 8 hours rule, I gave myself some slack and decided to try to be in bed for 9 hour 30 minutes and wake up naturally and see what happens. The results? Mind blowing. My sleep was way deeper and most importantly I stopped waking myself up artificially in the middle of a sleep cycle which made me feel like crap all day and groggy and energy-less.
This simple approach was my way to waking up energized… until I discovered……..
1- Take Melatonin 15 minutes before bed for a few days (at the SAME time)
I discovered Melatonin. I already tried “sleeping aids” (the non-prescriptions one) and although they worked, I never got up full of energy. In fact they made my next day worse for some reason. But a few weeks ago, I saw melatonin pills while buying groceries at my health store. I picked up a bottle and tried it…
…the results were IMMEDIATE. First of all, 15 minutes after taking those things I fell really tired and couldn’t do anything else (never use those if you have anything to do after). Then as soon as my head hit the pillow, I would have the deepest, nicest, cleanest sleep I’ve ever had AND woke up naturally before my “light alarm”. In fact, the thing that blew my mind the most is that I almost always woke up after exactly 6 hours of sleep! Not 9, 8 or 7, but 6!
You need to understand here that I’m the type of person that is in a really bad mood when I sleep less than 8 hours and really feel bad, so for me to wake up naturally after only 6 hours is mind blowing, something I’ve never ever done by a long shot.
Not only that, but after 4 days of taking them I discovered an amazing side-effect: I didn’t need them anymore! For 4 days, I took one pill at exactly 1:30 am (I had a reminder on my phone to do so) and on the 5th day, I basically felt the same tiredness naturally, without the pill at around 1:15 am. It was like if my body was saying, “man that melatonin thing is amazing, let’s build some of that before bed time”. I don’t fully understand the what or the why I didn’t feel tired at specific times before, but the melatonin (which is super cheap by the way 🙂 ) REALLY had an impact on my body rhythms and sleep quality.
So here it is, my latest, most precise top list of things that improved my sleep quality that I discovered after years of notes, experiments and reading.
I really hope this helps you and if you try any or many of those items, please leave a comment below.
PS: Please SHARE on your site / blog / Facebook if it helped you. It might also help one of your friends. And it helps me and encourage me to write more and do more complete reviews / analysis, which is also great 🙂
PPS: if you want to know more about sleep, you should definitely listen to this interview (the full 1 hour of it) by Dr. Rhonda Patrick of Dan Pardi on sleep and health. It’s really fascinating and you’ll learn a ton. Dr Patrick can look young but she is extremely knowledgeable and professional.
Oh… you’re still here? Well if you read to this point, it’s BONUS TIME! 😉 This part has actually been added after this article was originally posted… because something else changed in my life and quest for higher energy: I bought a Green Star Elite twin gear juicer. (you can see my full review + video here)
I’ve had a Breville Juice Fountain for about 7 years now but I was only using it about once a week on average because I hated how noisy and complicated and wasteful it was. But now with my new Green Star juicer, I use it 5 to 7 times per week.
So why am I talking about that?
Well…. because since I started juicing daily amazingly tasty, highly nutritious juices, my energy levels have gone up significantly. I just feel good, in “a zen state”. And since when you have energy, you’re more motivated to do things that are hard, my productivity has gone up. And now I’m even training harder than before.
To give you an example, have you ever felt so tired and trashy that you just have a hard time getting up from the couch? I sure did, often, especially in the morning. Would you want to train, go running, do push ups, etc while you feel like that? Hell no, right? So here’s my point: because I just more and because it is so complete and nutritious my body feels so amazing that it just want to run, train, do things. It’s begging for it! And that feeling is weird, especially from someone like me who has always been too tired to do anything.
And, because I feel good and train, I SLEEP BETTER. When I go to bed, I’m exhausted but in a fantastic way. I just feel great… and fall asleep fast (note that I still also do all the 11 points above).
So if you think that what I wrote above is great and you want to try it, I definitely encourage you to check out my full review & comparison of the Breville Juice Fountain (my previous juicer) VS my new Green Star Elite here. (note: links do have affiliate code so that allows me to make a few bucks but feel free to just search the product names and buy them without the affiliate links if you prefer it that way (it doesn’t cost you more anyway). I really really wholeheartedly recommend the Green Star Elite juicer for your health and sleep).
Bonus 2: Here’s my favorite kick-in-the-but recipe that I like to make: 1 small apple, 1 small beet, 3-4 leaves of kale or other green, 1 small 1 inch long piece of ginger (that packs a punch!), a small teaspoon of curcuma, 2 carrots, 2 celeries. But I warn you: it’s very potent and very strong! But you’ll feel like a million dollar after it. I call it my “hero’s tonic”. If you don’t want it as strong, just remove the curcuma and ginger root and add one more small apple.