A Simple Protocol to Help you Sleep Better
Dr. Greg Wells
Think for a minute about how proactive, detailed and passionate you are when it comes to the things that you care about the most. Family? Career? Fitness? Food? Whatever is on your list, if you care about it, you are getting it right.
Sleep needs to be on that list. As the foundation of all health and performance, sleep is something you need to take seriously. And while you may not have access to a sleep coach like the pro sports teams do, you can still put a protocol in place to help you achieve optimal sleep.
Here’s some homework: I want you to create a sleep protocol. A routine. A way to approach your final hours each day that will set the stage for world-class sleep. That’s how you can be your absolute best on a consistent basis and get out there and rock the world.
Before giving you some specifics to consider, though, here are four general guidelines for your sleep routine:
1) No devices for an hour before bed. Tablets, smartphones and computers emit light that hits your retina and is converted into electricity, which passes through the optic nerve into the pineal gland. By using your devices close to bedtime, you are actually telling the pineal gland it's morning. It will act as if the sun is up and not cue the release of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycles. E-readers that don’t emit light are fine.
2) Create a digital sunset in your home. Deepak Chopra has circadian lighting set up in his home. At my house, we have dimmer switches everywhere. With two young children, by 6 pm, we are lowering the lights in the entire house to get them to wind down. You should do the same for yourself. Start to lower the lights as you are moving toward sleep. Blasting yourself with bright light in the morning is a bonus. At night, it’s the opposite of what your brain needs.
3) Do a hard workout during the day: Sleep is enhanced by vigorous exercise. It aids in the production of melatonin and improves the quality of our slow-wave sleep, which happens in the deep stages.
4) No caffeine after 2 pm: Caffeine stays in your system for over six hours, so make sure that by the time you head to bed, it has all cleared away.
With those four guidelines in mind, here’s a sketch of the protocol I follow at home. This is the approach that allows Judith, the kids and I to love life, recover, regenerate, reconnect and sleep deep.
6 pm: We begin helping our kids wind down and move toward sleep. Screens are off, we have dinner, we do the kids’ baths, we read with them. It’s an hour that we always spend together as a family. When I’m on the road, I dial in via FaceTime during this hour so that we sustain the routine. And when I’m home, I always stop the world to make sure I can put them to bed.
7 pm: The kids are in bed, and Judith and I spend this hour together. We do some yoga, relax or have dinner just the two of us. With close to a hundred engagements a year that require me to travel, this time is a critically important base for our family. It allows Judith and I to remain connected and in tune.
8 pm: Judith and I do a focused half hour of taking care of ourselves and cueing our parasympathetic nervous system: meditation, gratitude journaling, massage, or foam rolling.
8:30 pm: We do a hot bath/cold shower cycle to decrease body temperature and trigger the release of melatonin. I also do this when I’m on the road and staying in a hotel. Get in the bath, sit there for 10 minutes, do a little meditation, get out, have a cool shower. Amazing. Hot then cold. You can also use Epsom salts, which elevate your magnesium levels and, with guidance from a professional, take some melatonin as a boost.
9 pm: In bed and reading for 20 minutes. Always fiction. Do not read the New York Times or an industry report. Read an amazing fiction book. Read something that activates the same parts of your brain that you use to dream. This helps to create a barrier between your day and your sleep.
9:30 pm: I turn out the light. I get up at 5 am at the latest, so I get to bed early. I love to get up, do a workout, do meditation, do journaling, and strategize about the day before my kids get up at seven. This bedtime makes that possible.
No matter what you do, please defend your last hour before you sleep. Give yourself a chance to slow down. Allow your physiology to work the way that it's designed to work, so that you can get a world-class sleep and set yourself up to rock the day.