On a recent flight from London to Atlanta, I had the good fortune to sit next to a very gracious woman. We bonded, not because we had a great number of things in common but rather because she did not complain or object when I inadvertently fell asleep on her shoulder.
Maybe not drooling on her neck pillow saved me.
As my wife can attest, I have become proficient at falling asleep within minutes of laying down to snooze. And while I may not have an advanced degree or certification in the subject, I have devoted almost a third of my life to the art of sleep, so I consider myself something of an expert.
Each one of us should, in fact, be experts. We all started out as small humans with a propensity to sleep for hours, seemingly at anytime of the day and under any circumstance. The sad truth is that we teach ourselves to sleep poorly though bad habits.
In order to re-master sleeping, first understand that focus should be on the quality rather than the quantity of sleep -- and the key to success is conditioning the body and brain by creating habits and an environment that is conducive to sleep. Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Use your bed to (only) sleep.
To get the best rest while between the sheets, our bodies need to be conditioned to associate sleep with our bed. This is easiest to accomplish by eliminating all other activities in bed aside from sleep, such as watching television or reading books.
2. Invest in a great mattress.
Consider that human beings spend one-quarter to one-third of their entire life sleeping, so it just makes sense to invest in the one apparatus that will make this time as comfortable as possible. Test mattresses for firmness and size, or consider any one of the new startups, such as Casper, that will deliver a new mattress to your home and give you 100 days to test it. While this may be an unconventional business model, you can take advantage of it to find a mattress that fits you best.
Most important, do not settle for less because of price. Remember that if treated properly, mattresses can last up to 10 years, so the cost is simply a long-term investment in your happiness.
3. Install really dark curtains.
Our bodies are attuned to daylight, so avoid letting it creep into your room and disrupt your slumber. In the rooms you sleep, install dark curtains that allow you to block out unwanted light. And, for the ultimate in blacking out the light, consider a good sleeping mask.
4. Eliminate or drown out noise.
Unless you are like me -- someone who can (and has) slept through fire alarms and tropical storms -- consider a noise machine for your bedroom, which will aid in blocking unwanted background noises as you sleep. If you happen to use your phone as your alarm or an alarm clock charger, consider any number of the sleep aid apps, many of which have very customizable features.
5. Rethink your diet -- at least late in the day.
Many experts believe it is best to cut out the consumption of large meals at least two hours before you hit the sack. For those who are more sensitive to caffeine, it is also a good idea to cut out caffeine several hours before bed.
As for alcohol, some people -- myself included -- find that a glass of wine or beer helps take the edge off, but as always, moderation is important. While too much alcohol may make you sleep longer, it dramatically reduces the quality of the sleep you get.
Lastly, consuming high-sugar and highly processed foods throughout the day can wreak havoc on insulin levels and metabolism, so consider adding high quality foods to your diet that will provide energy during the day and not disrupt your sleep at night.
6. Relax and decompress.
For most entrepreneurs (Zen masters excluded), business is stressful, and the source of many restless nights. For this reason, give yourself a "mental runway" to sleep. Turn everything off, from your phone to your brain, and allow yourself a few minutes (as many as 30) of complete silence. You can use this time to meditate or to simply talk yourself down with daily affirmations. The key is to clear your mind before you hit the sack.
7. Remove the phone.
Unless you use it as an alarm clock (see above), leave your phone outside the bedroom. Having it on the nightstand next to your bed just gives your brain license to command a quick glance at tomorrow's schedule -- which, as we all know, will devolve into an hour of checking email.
If you must keep your phone in the bedroom, use the " do not disturb" feature, and remember that the blue light emitted from the smart phones can wreak havoc on your ability to fall asleep, so avoid using it immediately before bed.
8. Have a regular morning routine.
After conditioning yourself sleep, make sure you condition yourself to wake up. Formulate and keep to a great morning routine that will cap off an extraordinary night of sleep. A simple habit of waking 30 minutes earlier, consuming a glass of water, stretching and taking a brisk walk can give you a boost of energy that will last the entire day.
Of course, sleeping routines and patterns can differ dramatically, so the key is not to implement every tip you receive but rather find what combination of tips works for you. Also, mastering sleep requires time and practice. I made a significant investment, financially and in time, to become proficient at falling asleep and making my sleep count. You will find, however, that the resulting improvement to the quality of your life is well worth it.
One last tip: When traveling, invest in a comfortable travel pillow, as your newfound proficiency for sleeping may not be as welcome to those sitting next to you.