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Want To Sleep Better? Clean Up Your Sleep Environment

By: Joe Burton
Painting of the night sky above the ocean with man sitting on the moon fishing for stars

According to the National Sleep Foundation, one-third of people suffer from insomnia. More is being written that poor sleep is a killer. It can take years off of your life. Worse, it makes for a poor company culture when ⅓ of your teammates come in grumpy, unable to focus, and generally not much fun to be around.

In the spirit of extending your life, and not being a jerk to your coworkers, here are 10 fundamental principles from Dr. Jeff Durmer, RethinkCare Master Trainer, to develop a healthy sleep lifestyle:

  1. Temperature: research shows that sleep is induced by a cool sleeping temperature (below 68 degrees Fahrenheit).
  2. Noise: sounds that are continuous and monotonous can “mask” background noise that may wake a light sleeper. Try a ceiling fan, white noise generator (there’s an app for that), or nature sounds like water, wind, or waves.
  3. Food: eating signals the brain and body that we have more energy to use and we should be awake. Large meals are to be avoided in the hours before sleep. You literally want to be “hungry” for sleep.
  4. Alcohol: Ben Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that there is a God.” But what Ben did not say is that alcohol is also a potent REM sleep suppressant. Avoid it whenever possible.
  5. Nicotine: sitting may be the new smoking, but smoking is still cancerous life-altering stuff. It also kicks the wake system into overdrive through receptors for nicotine in the brain.
  6. Drugs: this is a huge category that includes over-the- counter sleep aids (they’re all basically antihistamines), prescription drugs, illicit or recreational drugs, and even vitamins. If you are regularly using some kind of substance to help you sleep, you could use some help. The very nature of sleep (like hunger, remember), means there’s no need for supplements. Do you take a drug so you can get hungry? No.
  7. Exercise: using up energy increases the signal for “time to sleep.” Regular exercise is key to accentuating your “sleep hunger,” but try not to jump right into bed immediately after exercise, because your nervous system may continue to be “stoked” for a couple of hours.
  8. Unhealthy patterns: What do you do when you lie down to rest? Experts suggest turning off the TV and doing stuff to calm the mind, like reading a book. Too many of us spend our bedtime watching TV or surfing the web under the bright light of a mobile device. Both tend to keep us awake and excite neural pathways versus relaxing them.
  9. Make the bedroom a sacred place: the bedroom is for sleeping and for occasional sexual activity. And if you’re married, increasingly occasional sexual activity. Use it for its intended purpose. Do not have a work desk in there.
  10. Focus on your breath: mindfulness training helps you sleep by calming and relaxing you. One study found that insomniacs went to sleep 30 minutes faster and slept 22 minutes longer thanks to mindfulness training.11 Focusing on your breath removes distractions. It’s the equivalent of telling those negative board members in your head to take the night off.

If you take better care of your sleep, you’ll feel better. You can thank Dr. Durmer for the tips above. And if you follow them, your coworkers may even thank you for being a better version of your sleep-deprived, can’t be bothered, you better get outta my face, self.

About the Author

Headshot of Joe Burton

Retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace

Joe is an entrepreneur in the digital wellness space, retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace, and spent fifteen years as a global COO in public companies. He’s an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and The Huffington Post. He’s worked in over 50 countries and travels the world speaking on topics including disruption, culture, resiliency and mindfulness.

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