How I Got Better At Sleep

I remember listening to William Dement who had spent his life studying sleep give a retirement speech. He said, “As far as I know, the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.”  His quote stuck with me. I’ve run the gamut of problems with getting good sleep. When I was a boy my mom worked the third shift and I stayed up every night waiting for her to get home. As my pursuits of a PhD were coming to an end I couldn’t sleep from heavy stress and anxiety. When I started sales management I couldn’t sleep because of excitement and a drive to do more. I've slept through high powered rifle fire less than a meter from my head and I've found myself unable to sleep for days at a time occasionally. I get what feels like great sleep now.


Everyone’s journey to great sleep seems to be different.  I don’t understand the science behind what works and what doesn’t. I'm not sure anyone really does.  I do understand what works for me. Here is a list of things that I used to help get to bed and still use today. I've bolded the main points so you can avoid reading my other extraneous thoughts on each topic.

Let go (of excitement and of problems)

To-Do Lists And Prioritizing To Be Less Overwhelmed:

When I've had what feels like hundreds of things to do I make a list right before going to sleep.  I write down all my tasks, circle my top task, and commit to getting those done the next day. I accept not getting any of the uncircled tasks done.  As I've gotten better at prioritizing I've narrowed down to only circling my top 2 from circling my top 5 when I first started. I'm not sure the number actually matters. What matters is that I don't feel the need to keep running through everything I need to get done in my head. I can't sleep when I feel like there is too much that needs to get done or important actions I have not taken.

Gratitude Journaling To Turn The Bad Into The Good:

Bad things happen, but whether something is bad or good for you is a matter of perspective and a decision you make. Whenever I get down on myself about something that has happened I write it down and then write out why it is good for me. I can't sleep when I feel sorry for myself so I decide to feel good.

Try: Five Minute Journal ( )

Reading Fiction to get out of My own Head:

If you enjoy reading this is easy. If you don't enjoy reading than reading more will make you a better reader. We tend to enjoy things we are good at. I only read fiction before bed. It takes me away from my life and puts me into someone else's story. Spend some time picking a book out you think you would really enjoy and read it in low brightness red shifted light before bed. I can't sleep because I am too wrapped up in myself so I just escape.

Right now I am reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman (


No Light While Sleeping and No Blue Light before Bed: 

I use the flux app on my computer, and I have painted a book light with orange nail polish to lower the brightness and try to filter blue light. In my apartment we use Philips Hue lights that turn a low brightness orange after 10:45pm on weeknights.  Apparently blue light stops natural melatonin production.  If I'm asleep I try to make the room as dark as possible. I tape over any small indicator lights on my tv, air filter, and smoke detector and I use black out blinds.  When I wake up the lights turn on automatically with my alarm, but you could also just get in the habit of turning on all the lights as soon as you wake up. I can't sleep it my brain still thinks it is daytime so I make sure my lighting works works with my biology.

Phillips Hue Lights (

Temperature That Is Not Too Hot or Too Cold:

I keep my room at exactly 67F. I have found that for me personally, that is the optimum temperature for falling asleep and staying asleep. I would imagine everyone is different. If I don't feel too hot or too cold it is easier to go to sleep and stay asleep.

Humidity That Fits Upper Respiratory Needs:

I stick with 50% humidity. I feel like it prevents dry mouth, difficulty breathing, and sore throats while sleeping. I found an inexpensive humidifier with a humidistat that keeps the air at exactly 50% humidity. I snore and the right humidity makes snoring less painful and helps me stay asleep.

Air Innovations Humidifier with Humidistat (

Air Quality That Lets Me Breath More Easily:

When I was a senior in college I moved into a horrible moldy old house with my friends that was later condemned. I struggled with breathing so I bought an air purifier. It made a big difference in my quality of sleep so I stuck with it after we moved out. After 8 years of almost continuous use, my purifier broke down. My girlfriend thought it was ugly and made me buy a nicer looking one, but I still think the old purifier is the way to go. I can't sleep if I can't breathe so I make sure the air is clean. 

Honeywell HEPA Air Purifier (

Sound That Drowns Out Inconsistency:

I've used my air purifier to provide white noise since buying it, but I've noticed that I struggle to sleep when traveling without the purifier. I think in general having a consistent sleep environment is really what is needed. It makes sense to me that my body would look at consistency as being the same as safety and allow itself to rest more easily.

Commitment to waking up at a certain time:

Doing Things That Are Enjoyable in the Morning

I found that I use to do only things that suck in the morning. Showering, getting dressed, grooming, brushing my teeth, packing, and basically everything else that I hate doing. I started to put the time in for things that I enjoy. Going for a walk, eating the perfect omelet, stretching, making a great cup of coffee, reading something that makes me feel good, writing, meditating, breathing exercises, and more. The list goes on. I don't do everything every day. If I have something I want to do when you wake up it is easy to get up early and becomes easy to go to sleep.

Make Early Morning Commitments to Other People I Care About

I could never go to sleep if I didn't have something I felt like I needed to do early the next morning. For about a month when I was trying to get to bed earlier I partnered up with a friend who also had a tendency to stay up and do relatively unproductive work until 4-5 AM. He and I decided to start holding each other accountable. Whoever woke up closest to 6 AM would call the other person until they also woke up. I will still schedule early morning calls with people I want to talk to occasionally and only if they are also waking up early. I don't like letting people down so I wake up. If you wake up early 3-4 days in a row it becomes really hard to stay awake late.

Exerting Myself More:

Getting More Exercise

A common suggestion. I've actually found that when I exercise a lot (40 mile bike ride v. 30 minutes in the gym) I can't sleep. It's like my body is still pumping some kind of hormone that keeps me going. I've read about this happening to other people, but apparently, it's not common. I've found that when it comes to consistent exercise I need to enjoy it to keep doing it. I pay the extra money to go to a nicer gym because it makes me want to go more. I don't listen to music or podcasts while in the gym because I want to like what I am doing enough at the gym to not feel the need to distract myself.  I mountain bike and ski on the weekends. If I enjoy exercise I will do it more. If I exercise more I will be more tired.

Meditation to Focus More

I try to work hard at my job, at the gym, with my family, and other relationships. Sometimes spending 10 minutes in the Calm app focusing on my breathing lets me feel rejuvenated and get back to giving 100%. I don't think anyone can be always on all of the time, but trying to shut down my brain and focus on my body for a few minutes seems to help me work harder.  If I try and stay at 100% all day and grind as much as possible you will definitely be tired at night.

Calm App (

TLDR: There is a lot of stuff that has helped me sleep. Everyone's journey to good sleep is different and complicated, but if you create a good sleep environment, commit to waking up, let go, and exert yourself more during the day you can get the sleep pattern you want.

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