I was sceptical that it was. I’d read all about the 12 tips that sleep expert Dr. Matthew Walker talked about in his excellent book that I’ve posted about before. I just didn’t put them into practice.
Until that is about a month ago when I’d had a couple of weeks of really bad sleep. A couple of nights of not sleeping at all. That’s never good. I’d come across Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s excellent book: The 4 Pillar Plan which aims to help you Relax, Eat Better, Exercise Better, and Sleep Better. He takes a very holistic and preventative approach to medicine, and one of the stories that stuck with me was about phones. He had a young patient come in who had been told to come to see his GP to get some anti-depressants. Rangan asked him a few questions about his lifestyle and said that he wouldn’t prescribe them that day but that he wanted the young man to make a tweak to his lifestyle and if that didn’t work, then he would prescribe the meds. The change was: turn off your phone about 2 hours before bed and don’t reach for it for at least an hour after waking up. A few weeks later, the young man came back to see Rangan and the change was remarkable. The young man was much less anxious and sleeping a lot better.
Why the massive improvement? From other parts of Rangan’s book and from Matthew’s book, it seems like the brain needs to wind down before bed. Scrolling through social media or news right up until you turn the lights off for bed sounds like a recipe for keeping the brain active, looking for that next dopamine hit. It sounds like it’s also the blue light that’s emitted from screens. Rangan is very strict about the light that he’s exposed to whilst winding down. Blue light (from backlit screens) interferes with/inhibits the production of melatonin in the brain, a chemical that helps us feel sleepy and eventually sleep.
That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve made to my sleep routine in the past few weeks. I stop using my phone around 90 minutes before going to bed. This, and another change to my routine, has helped the last 3 weeks have the best sleep I can remember for a long time.
The other change is: write a to-do list for the next day in the wind-down period before going to bed and also write down things that you’re worried about (like a worry journal). It sounds crazy but just dumping down the thoughts that would probably keep you lying awake thinking about, really helps clear your mind. I still have to jump out of bed to jot down some thoughts every now and again, but doing so stops me from worrying about them.
So overall, what’s my current sleep hygiene routine? It’s:
- Turn off or stop using your phone at least an hour before bed, if not before that.
- Write down your to-do list and a worry list before bed.
- Don’t use your bed for anything besides sleep and sex.
- Don’t clock watch – when you’re in bed and not asleep, don’t ever look to see what the time is.
- No caffeine after 11am.
And that’s about it. There’s probably a lot more I could do (and Rangan and Matthew both have a lot more tips such as wearing amber glasses in the evening to really block out blue light), but this has had great results for me in the past 3 weeks: averaging at least 6.5 to 7hrs per night. That’s a huge change for me! If you have trouble sleeping well, give these tips a try and get yourself a copy of both Rangan’s and Matthew’s excellent books.