1. Be consistent:
Always wake up and go to sleep at the same time, every single day (even during the weekends). Consistency is key. If you have the same bedtime routine, after a while you’ll notice that your biological clock will do the work for you: You will get tired at the correct times and you will wake up at the correct times. Your body will adapt to whatever circumstances it faces. So that means that if you jump out of bed at 7:00 for a few days, you’ll sometimes even wake up spontanious just before the alarm bell rings. Commit to your determined wake up time regardless of how many hours you’ve slept. The first few days are hard, but then your body just adjusts.
Set up some water next your bed and immediately drink it when you wake up. Drinking gets you out of theta state. Theta is a state between being conscious subconscious. This is also the time in which people hardly remember pushing the snooze button. You should never ever ever ever snooze, you’ll wake up worse than ever. Turn off the ability to snooze, set your alarm at a place where you have to get up out of bed and immediately drink some water to become wide awake.
Key takeaways: Have the same routine in the morning and in the evening so that your body knows exactly when to sleep or when to wake up. Drink water when you wake up. Don’t snooze.
2. Optimal external sleeping conditions
I personally recommend that you keep the curtains open at all times so that natural light can come in. The reason for that is because the brain receives signals based on your environment and it activates hormones to keep you alert or draw you to sleep (melatonin). So keep the curtains open and use a sleep mask instead.
Get enough natural light exposure during the day and block blue light coming from your devices in the evening. People who don’t get natural light in their room tend to sleep a few hours later than the people who do; especially if you use bright screens before going to bed. Hence why you should always dim the brightness on your phone as much as possible and preferably download an app that blocks the blue light coming from digital screens. You can even buy glasses with a blue filter already in it. Ideally you want to start doing these things an hour or two before actually sleeping.
Always use noise cancelling earplugs. Noise is another important thing you have to take care off. Sudden loud noises at night can disrupt the quality of your sleep, even if you are not aware of it.
The room temperature has to be just right. According to studies the best temperature is around 18 degrees celcius. Not too warm, nor too cold.
A bad sleeping position can cause snoring, symptoms of sleep apnea, neck and back pain, and other medical conditions. Never sleep on your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach is bad for your back, as it places a certain amount of strain and pressure on your spine. If you sleep on your side: try putting a pillow between your lower leg, that will help better align your hips to avoid low back pain. Some people also swear by sleeping on the ground to feel less knotty. There’s some merit to the idea; a soft mattress doesn’t have a lot of support. It lets your body sink down and causes your spine to curve which can lead to back pain.
Key takeaways: get enough natural light exposure, block blue light, sleep in ultimate silence, sleep in 18 degrees celcius, sleep on your side or on your back.
3. Beware of caffeine
Minimalize your caffeine intake. Caffeine is a naturally occurring drug found in coffee, tea and other energy drinks. Caffeine has an effect on your brain; tricking it into thinking that it is not yet time to sleep, thus making you “feel” more awake.
You should only consume caffeine in the morning. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-7 hours. That means that after 5-7 hours, half of the caffeine is still in your system. And after another 5-7 hours, another half of that half. In other words: if you drink a cup of coffee at 16:00 you probably still have a lot in your system at 23:00. At that moment your body will feel exhausted, but your brain will be wide awake (because caffeine block the feelings of tiredness).
It’s best to wait at least an hour after waking up to drink coffee. Many people drink coffee first thing in the morning, but that isn’t the best time to get your caffeine in. Drinking your coffee right after you wake up may interfere with your body’s cortisol production.
You should only drink 1 or 2 cups of coffee in the morning. More than that can bring your caffeine tolerance down, which means that you need to keep drinking more and more to have the same effect 1 cup used to give you. I enjoy the taste of coffee but I don’t enjoy my caffeine tolerance going down. I need that one special cup of coffee in the morning to hit me in the face, so I can use it as a natural pre-workout before going to the gym.
You can bring your caffeine tolerance back up again by detoxing. If you are someone who consumes lots and lots of caffeine, for example drinking multiple cups of coffee/tea/energy drinks during the day or even drinking a pre-workout: you need to detox. (A pre-workout drink contains the same amount of caffeine as 3 espresso shots). Slowly start consuming less and less and eventually stop consuming caffeine altogether for a while. Start drinking decaffeinated coffee instead of normal coffee. Your body needs time to reset so that you can eventually enjoy a single cup of coffee again with the same effect as the first day you started drinking.
Key takeaways: Drink 1 or 2 max in the morning, one hour after waking up. Preferably around 06:00-8:00 so you’ll get tired soon enough to do that powernap around lunchtime.
Most people’s bodies naturally become more tired in the afternoon (about 6-8 hours after we wake up). Usually that is the time around lunch break, hence why people call it the after lunch dip. Research shows that a nap can reduce stress, reset the system and give you a burst of alertness.
It’s advised to keep the nap around 20 minutes, as sleeping longer gets you into deeper stages of sleep from which it’s more difficult to awaken. Also, longer naps beyond 20 minutes (or naps after 15:00) can mess up your sleep later that night.
Key takeaways: Nap around 12:00. Don’t nap longer than 20 minutes.
5. Times to sleep or stay awake
According to Hamza Yusuf, an islamic scholar, there are certain times during the day where you should or should not sleep. If you sleep during a particular time frame, your sleep can become positive or negative. A positive sleep is worth twice the hours that you’ve slept. If you sleep an hour within that time frame: it’s as if you’ve slept for two hours. A negative sleep is the opposite: sleeping 1 hour in there feels as if your deprived of two hours of sleep; you won’t get rest from it.
The first rule is to never surpass 8 hours of sleep. Some people need a lot of sleep, but the maximum should be 8. More than that will actually become negative sleep.
The second rule is: sleeping during dawn (fajr) is negative sleep. Dawn starts approximately one and one-half hours before sunrise. Sleeping after sunrise is fine.
The third rule is: sleeping at midday/noon is positive sleep. To be save, nap around 12-2 so you’ll have enough sleep pressure to go sleep early that night. That nap around lunch time is positive sleep and counts double.
The fourth rule is: sleeping late in the afternoon is negative sleep (after asr). These are the naps that you wake up without knowing what year it is. There’s also a high chance that you can’t sleep early on that day anymore, so you will end up in a bad sleeping cycle. But don’t worry, there is a way to get out of a rut quickly that we will discuss later.
The fifth and final rule is: the sleep you get from isha (approximately 90 minutes after sunset) till midnight is positive sleep. You’ve probably heard before that the hours before 00:00, is where you get the most regenerative sleep from. So that means if isha is at 22:00 and midnight is at 02:00, the four hour you sleep in that time frame will feel as if you have slept for 4×2= 8 hours.
Key takeaways: Negative sleep more than 8 hours. Positive sleep between isha – midnight. Negative sleep from fajr – sunrise. Positive sleep from dhuhr -asr. Negative sleep from asr – isha.
6. Clear mind
Having a clear mind is necessary to go to sleep. We all remember those nights where we had so much stuff on our minds; things that we had to do the next day, deadlines, full agenda’s, that we just couldn’t fall asleep. One simple trick for that is write things off of your brain. If you write it down, you don’t have to remember it anymore. Writing things down clears out all clutter in your brain, it de-stresses you.
7. Physical activity.
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. However, avoid being active too close to bedtime. Exercise increases your body’s adrenaline, which actually will keep you awake longer. I recommend going to the gym as early as possible. One of the reason for that is because you don’t want to be all pumped up from your gym session while trying to sleep at night. And the second reason is that in the morning your testosterone levels are the highest. If you go to the gym early you can benefit from high testosterone and from your morning coffee, win-win situation.
Walking at least an hour every single day also has a positive influence on your sleep at night. Studies showed that the more steps a participant took, the higher their self-reported sleep quality. Moreover, regular exercise can help regulate your internal clock, keeping you on a consistent sleep schedule.
Key takeaways: Walk daily, exercise regularly.
8. Get out of a bad sleeping cycle (a rut)
If you find yourself sleeping at 2:00 or 3:00 every night for days on end and you can’t seem to get out of that cycle, here’s the cure:
Set an alarm clock, approximately 5-6 hours after sleeping. If you sleep too little, you might crash during the day and nap for hours. If you sleep too much, you’ll just continue the bad cycle. You have to find a balance in being energized enough the next day, but not so energized that your sleep pressure is kicking in way to late again.
The main objective of this day is survive on less sleep and get tired on the right moment. So wake up early and skip your morning coffee for this time. Be active, don’t lay in bed. Go outside, workout or take a walk. Especially on this day you should take a nap around 12. If you miss this nap you run the risk of crashing in the afternoon, which will worsen your sleep cycle. You should also make sure that you don’t exceed the 20 minutes of your nap: if you get into deep sleep, you’ve lost that day. Immediately drink a cup of water after you wake up from your nap and be active again. Watch out for bright screens and try to sleep before 00:00.
Key takeaways: Wake up early and don’t drink caffeine. Take a nap. Don’t crash.
9. Morning and night routine example:
06:00 Alarm clock.
06:01 Immediately drink water to let your body knows it’s awake
07:00 Drink coffee
07:30 Hit the gym or go on a walk
12:00 Nap 20 minutes
22:00 Dim bright lights
23:00 Go to bed
Don’t eat to much just before sleeping, plus watch what you eat. I find that eating junkfood makes it harder for me to get up early in the morning. Also eating lots of dough always makes me sleep more hours than usual.
Get a sleep tracker. I use the xiaomi mi band 5. It’s a simple smartwatch for like €30. It can track the quality of your sleep and also count your steps.
Try a breathing exercise to fall asleep, the one I use is called 4-7-8. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7, breath out for 8. If you do this a couple of times, you’ll immediately feel more relaxed.
There is some evidence that meditation, mindfulness, rememberance of God (dhikr) can improve the quality of your sleep.