Getting poor sleep can badly damage your health, career, and relationships. And not knowing the cause is even worse. Sleep specialist Dan Pardi explores the lesser known causes and solutions for poor sleep.  Dan was also recently featured on the Collective Insights podcast where he discusses the foundations of sleep, sleep physiology, why sleep matters, and tools and tips to optimize your sleep. Listen here: part 1, part 2

1.) Create a Cool, Dark, Quiet Sleep Environment.

Keep it dark. If there is light creeping in your windows or illuminating your electronics (particularly blue light), consider covering these sources or covering your eyes with a slumber mask or eyeshade. Blackout shades are recommended.

Keep it cool. The ability of your body to control its own temperature is very important for sleep initiations, sleep depth and sleep consistency. A cooler room with enough blankets to stay warm is recommended. 60 to 67 degrees is the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended temperature for optimal sleep.

Keep it quiet. If noise is an issue, consider wearing earplugs to bed or using a white noise machine or box fan while you sleep.

Keep it comfortable. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.

Sleep Tech to Try:

2.) Keep a Regular Sleep-Wake Cycle.

Make it a habit to get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Even on weekends! When your sleep cycle has a regular rhythm, your body knows when it should be awake and when it should be asleep. Get daily morning exposure to sunlight to anchor your biological clock.

Get Enough Sleep. The amount of sleep a person needs per night is very specific to that individual. Most people get all the sleep they need if they are in bed between 7 and 9 hours per night. The goal is to feel robustly alert during the day (without requiring multiple cups of coffee to address persistent sleepiness). Optimizing the amount of time in bed to get the right amount of sleep may take some experimentation and may change depending on the amount of activity in your life.

Limit Naps. Avoid counting on regular naps to get through the day and instead seek to get all the sleep you need during one consolidated sleep period at night. Regular nighttime-only sleep promotes feeling tired at bedtime and awake during the day. That said, some schedules benefit from routine naps or the occasional weekend nap after a week of less than optimal sleep. When you nap, attempt to sleep for an hour or less.

3.) Exercise Earlier.

Movement and mental activity during the day help you sleep better at night. Exercise in the morning or early afternoon will not interfere with sleep; however, intense exercise a few hours before you go to bed can disrupt sleep. Additionally, don’t curtail sleep to make time for exercise. If you are going to wake up early to exercise before work, you should go to bed early and ensure you have adequate time in bed for sleep.

4.) Use Light Exposure Techniques.

Use light exposure techniques to help you feel more awake during the day and sleepier before bed.

During the Day:

Daily outdoor exercise (even a brisk walk) in the morning supports feeling robustly alert during the day and facilitates deep sleep at night. The blue light wavelength spectrum is particularly alerting. Not getting enough blue light during the day can make you feel sleepy or subdued, and getting too much at night can mask natural sleepiness and shift your biological sleep and wake rhythm (not a good thing when you try to wake up the next morning).

Blue light therapy can help you feel alert during the day, particularly if you work in a room with no natural light or dim light.

Sleep Tech to Try:

In the Evening:

Dim all the lights in your home after sunset. Sitting in a brightly lit room in the evening can make you feel alert when you might otherwise feel sleepy. Artificial light can mask the signals that would otherwise tell your brain to prepare for sleep.

Consider installing dimmer light switches, if you do not currently have them in your home, so you can adjust the light intensity in the evening.

Filter blue light from your Apple device before bed. Color Tint allows you to create a dark mode for your phone. This post explains how to do it.

Avoid screens before bed. If you work on a computer at night, consider installing f.lux software which will automatically reduce the blue light spectrum emitted from your computer once the sun sets.

5.) Track Your Sleep.

Many people are getting less sleep than they realize. Consider using tools to track your sleep. These tools can create awareness about the actual amount of sleep you are getting and help you make sleep a priority.

Sleep Tech to Try:

6.) Be mindful of what you eat & drink.

“Food itself matters as well – Marie Pierre St. Onge did a study that showed that it wasn’t necessarily the food that was taken right before bed but the food that was eaten that day, particularly high-fiber, that actually contributed to deeper slow-wave sleep. Saturated fat in her study was the opposite; it led to more sleep fragmentation and less slow-wave sleep.”

Avoid big meals, alcohol, or heavy exercise 2 hours before bed.

Avoid caffeine or nicotine 4-6 hours before bed.

These things make it harder for you to fall asleep and increase the likelihood that your sleep will be lighter and less restorative. Alcohol, for example, may help you fall asleep, but it also disrupts deep sleep. This disruption might cause you to feel as though you didn’t get enough restful sleep.

7.) Take a Hot Bath or Sauna before Bed.

Finnish researcher Jari Laukkanen, MD, Ph.D, found men who took saunas 4-7 times per week experienced a 66% lower risk of dementia, and a 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease – compared to those who only took a sauna once per week.” (Listen to Dan Pardi and Jari Laukkanen talk about sauna bathing on HumanOS Radio.)

If you are feeling alert close to bedtime, try to manipulate your body temperature to promote sleepiness. Taking a hot bath before going to bed can facilitate a drop in body temperature and might leave you feeling sleepy. For some, half of an aspirin may also help.

8.) Unwind and Clear Your Mind.

Maintain a To Do list or a journal. When you have many things to think about, the mind works hard trying to remember them all. If you have a system for depositing thoughts and ideas, it frees your mind from needing to hold all of this information. It is not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night and realize that you have been dreaming or thinking about something you need to remember to take care of. Keep a notepad by your bed in case a thought arises that you don’t want to forget by morning. Writing it down can help your mind relax and go back to sleep.

Create a wind-down routine before bed. Listen to an audiobook or podcast, read a book, listen to relaxing music, or light a candle.

This post was contributed by recent podcast guest, Dan Pardi, whose work is focused on building systems for health and behavior optimization. Dan is the CEO of HumanOS, an application designed to promote health mastery. He does research with the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford, and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands. His current research looks at how sleep influences decision making. Dan was also recently featured on the Collective Insights podcast where he discusses the foundations of sleep, sleep physiology, why sleep matters, and tools and tips to optimize your sleep. Listen here: part 1, part 2