Five ways I’ve improved my sleep based on tips from the book “Sleep Smarter”

What if I told you there was one thing you could do that would change nearly all the aspects of your life for the better — but it would take a little work to make it happen? Would you work on it? And no, it’s not your diet. It’s your sleep.

I’m not going to say that sleep is a cool thing to talk about, but it sure is an important one. Have you noticed that more and more celebrities, athletes and experts are speaking out and even writing books about it now too? 

Why everybody is talking about sleep

There’s Ariana Huffington, the super-successful creator of The Huffington Post, who was severely injured one day when she collapsed from exhaustion due to her demanding schedule and minimal sleep. Once she realized she was totally sleep deprived and that’s what was causing her issues, she changed her life to make sure she put sleep as a priority, and she’s never felt better.

There are the world-class Olympic athletes, who are adamant about scheduling nine full hours of sleep a night and often count sleep as part of their holistic training routine so they can be successful. They do not skimp on shut-eye.

In addition to that, there have been more and more studies of collegiate sports teams, in which the athletes on those teams have made vast improvements in their running speed just based on increasing the time they were able to get good sleep each night.

It’s a thing people, and it’s not just about more sleep, it’s about better sleep. So listen up …

The key is to getting quality sleep that can give you a better life is making a few smart changes in your life all day long. And that’s where Shawn Stevenson comes into play. You have probably heard me talk about Shawn’s top-rated podcast “The Model Health Show,” many times, because it’s the greatest podcast ever. (Truthfully, I only listen to a few podcasts, but I feel fairly certain you’re not going to find a better or more well-rounded health podcast, because it’s full of such valuable information. And by the way, in addition to being Shawn’s fan, I actually had the chance to interview and spend time with Shawn in person a few months ago in L.A. for 24 Hour Fitness, which was awesome.) But I digress, because today, it’s all about what I learned from reading his first book, “Sleep Smarter.”

Five ways I've improved by sleep based on the book Sleep Smarter by A Lady Goes West

Five ways I’ve improved my sleep

Since reading this book, I’ve absolutely implemented some changes into my life (and the life of Dave, of course), and I wanted to share what I’ve done and how it’s worked, because I can truly say that I’ve felt more energized than ever before. And hey, maybe some of these tips will be helpful for you too.

1. Dropping the A/C.

This one was tough for me at first, because I’m pretty conservative when it comes to using the electricity in our home – especially because we lived for so long with no A/C and a $60 power bill when we lived in downtown San Francisco. But utilities aside, this one change has made a significant impact in our sleep. Both of us. Point blank – cool it down. The best temperature for sleeping is between 62 and 68 degrees, Fahrenheit, so about 10 minutes before we’re ready for bed, the thermostat gets dropped. During the evening, our bodies go through thermoregulation and our temperatures naturally drop, that’s why we have to make sure our rooms can support the change with cooler air. When it doubt, drop the temp. It has been a game changer for making our bedroom what Shawn calls a “sleep sanctuary,” because the only time we make it that cool is at night before bed.

2. Dimming the phone lights.

Shawn suggests that people get real alarm clocks and get rid of phones and laptops in the bedroom entirely, but I haven’t made it that far. But I do use the dimmer button on my iPhone every night starting around 8:30 p.m., so the screen isn’t as bright and the harsh blue lights aren’t messing with my mind. I also have stopped scrolling through email and social media in the bed before I go to sleep. I will admit, I still do it in the morning, but never at night. And it’s helped my brain get into the sleep zone and stay there much more easily without waking up in the middle of the night running. This one can be really hard for those of us who are tempted to be glued to our phones, but it’s an important one.

3. Never missing the core hours.

While some people would say they operate by sleeping from midnight to 6 a.m. each day, what they don’t know is that their bodies are naturally in favor of getting core sleep each night starting at 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. Those are the hours when the best rest happens. When I read this in Shawn’s book, I started pushing my bedtime closer to 10 p.m. (it had creeped up to 10:30 p.m. for the past few months, because Dave and I always wanted a little more time to watch a full TV show). Getting in bed earlier has helped me to get better sleep. It really has. While it doesn’t always happen on the weekends, I’m really sticking to the 10 p.m. cut-off when I can, and it helps. (Need help getting ready for bed earlier? Set an alarm for 30 minutes before you know you need to have lights out. It’s a good reminder.)

4. Rising with the sun and moving around.

Because of my current schedule, it’s usually better for me to work out in the morning first thing before I head off for a day for work. Yet, because I often teach classes in the evening or try to hit up new workout classes at that time, evening workouts do happen. However, after reading this book and taking Shawn’s advice, I really have been trying to get the movement done in the morning only. And that’s because, during that time I can take advantage of the natural rise of cortisol that happens in your body. When you work out in the evening, you force another rise in cortisol, which has to come down before your body transitions into the melatonin hormone (which regulates your circadian rhythm) you need to get and stay asleep. This does not have to be a hard and strict rule though. As long as you get outside shortly after waking up to get a little of natural sunlight with a walk, you’ll take advantage of the rise in cortisol to help you through the day. Then, if you have to work out later in the day, that’s okay, but try to do it earlier, rather than later. Everybody is different, but I do notice I sleep better on days when I work out in the morning.

5. Turning off more lights and keeping my room as dark as possible.

Because a lot of times I go to bed a little before Dave, I would always leave the hallway light on for him, and that light always seeped into the bedroom. But I noticed I didn’t always get into strong sleep right away. These days, I make the room as dark as possible (Shawn suggests black-out shades, which we haven’t gotten yet, but I keep bugging Dave that I want them soon). That’s because even a little bit of light can creep into your skin all over your body and disrupt your sleep, so get things as dark as you can. Embarrassingly enough, I do wear a slumber mask, and it helps a little.

Other honorable mentions:

  • Increasing my magnesium intake. I have an entire post about magnesium brewing, which I’ll share soon. But my first experimentation with increasing magnesium in my diet was in order to improve my sleep cycles. Magnesium just relaxes you and helps you get and stay asleep — it relaxes your muscles, helps reduce cortisol and overall just calm you down. And many people are lacking in it. You can take magnesium supplements, which help a little, but you can also eat your magnesium. My favorite magnesium-rich foods are pumpkin seeds, yogurt, almonds and bananas. I eat all of those items on a daily basis now and have seen some improvement in my sleep because of it.
  • Thinking of sleep as a comforting reward. Now that I’ve improved my sleep, I look forward to bedtime and think of that amazing rejuvenating feeling I’ll have when I wake up well rested. It’s a beautiful thing, and it takes some work to get it — but once you start feeling the energy in your life because of the better sleep, you’ll crave it. Having a “reward” mindset makes me so thankful that I have a great “sleep sanctuary” at home and can crawl in bed each night and make my body and mind stronger and more fulfilled because of it. I love to sleep!

Shawn also talks about getting high-quality organic sheets, changing out your bedding, spending time with your feet on the natural ground outside “earthing” to get positive neurons through your body and even more interesting tips, but I haven’t done all of those yet. There’s still time!

I’ve learned so many other things from Shawn’s podcast as well as his book which I’ve incorporated into my life, so I’ll definitely be sharing more. But perhaps the sleep makeover has been the best thing so far. It touches so many parts of my life.

Why you should improve your sleep

When you improve your sleep, your skin looks better, you are more alert, you have better ideas, you have more energy, your relationships thrive, your metabolism runs more efficiently and you can basically do everything better.

And listen up: If you think you’re getting by just fine on few hours of sleep, you may be surprised to see how amazing you feel when you improve your sleep. For the full 21-step plan, you’ve got to buy Shawn’s book, Sleep Smarter, which is not only a useful guide, it’s a super funny and interesting read. Just do it! Happy sleeping!

How to improve your sleep by A Lady Goes West

Learn how to improve your #sleep and get a better life with these tips. Thanks to @apstyle and @shawnmodel ... Click To Tweet

Question of the day

What’s the biggest thing you think you need to change about your sleep?

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30 Comments

  1. I am so guilty of always scrolling through social media right before bed. I constantly say I need to be reading instead, but it almost never happens. However reading does put me to sleep almost instantly. And I hear ya about the lights being left on. I even have a hard time sleeping if my husband isn’t up in bed yet, and the dog too because she sleeps with us =)

    1. Hi Patricia! It’s such a hard habit to break with the social media at night. I get it. And as far as reading — that helps me get to sleep too. 🙂 And yes on the dog in the bed hehehe Hope you had a great weekend, lady!

  2. I’ve found that falling asleep on the couch has actually been really helpful in me getting to sleep! The key is that Alex gets me to move to the bed. But I kind of transition on the couch, and just kind of relax with him, and I sleep way better when I do!

  3. My sleep is great! Since having 2 kids I’ve come to respect sleep so much. I sleep 9:30pm-6:30am most days. I’m now pregnant with #3 so my own sleep regression is about to begin lol. But the benefits of sleep are immeasurable. Love your post!

    1. Hi Liz! Oh LOVE to hear this! That’s a great sleep schedule, and as a busy Momma, I bet you rely on good sleep to get you through the next day. 🙂 Happy sleeping, lady! Yay for baby number three!

    1. Hi Heather! It’s so hard to stop looking at the phone late at night, but once you do, you’ll be so happy! hehehe! Give it a shot, lady. Hope you had a nice weekend!

  4. I need, need, needed this post! The school year is right around the corner, so getting my sleep back on track is a must. I’m really going to try to commit to a 10 P.M. “bed time”. I also want to try doing some meditation to unwind before bed because I definitely has a busy brain that keeps me up.

    xxMeah

    1. Hi Meah! Meditation before bed is an excellent way to wind down and get in the sleep zone. Good luck to you with making some positive sleep changes in your life. 🙂

  5. I think I need to get a lot closer to the core hours, and I need to not be on the computer or working late at night. Our bodies were made with such a need for sleep, and I think I take that for granted. Getting up in the morning and breathing fresh air is ALWAYS wonderful too; it usually wakes me up quickly!

    1. Hi Emily! YESS, it’s so nice to get a bit of fresh air first thing in the morning to get moving. 🙂 Glad you like to do that too! And yes, shutting down the computer a while before bed is a game changer. You can do it!

  6. Great post! We have been focusing a lot on sleep at our house as well. It really is amazing how much better the day is when you get a full night of rest. We’ve been going to bed at 10 so we can wake up at 6:10 and take the dog for a walk before it gets crazy hot outside. I’m hoping to continue early morning walks this fall :). It’s a nice start to the day.

    1. Hi Jessie! YES! How nice you’re focusing as a team on sleep in your house. It’s way easier to make changes when you have others on board. 🙂 Happy sleeping, friend!

  7. And THIS is why I love your blog. This post is genius! Thanks for sharing with us. I use my phone as my alarm and always check something before going to bed. I know it isn’t good for me, but I didn’t know that I could turn the blue light down. I did it right after reading this post. You’re the best! I look forward to learning more tips from you. 🙂

  8. The past few weeks I have made a solid effort to not look at my phone for 20 minutes before trying to fall asleep. It definitely seems to have helped with how long it takes me to drift off!

    I have to be at work for 5am, so finding enough sleep in the night is a CONSTANT battle since I also teach classes in the evenings. It’s so hard to find enough sleep hours when work is so early!

    Danielle @ afloat on a full sea

    1. Hi Danielle! Even 20 minutes of no-phone time helps, so nice work on making that little change. And WOW, 5am is quite early to have to work. Hopefully you can get some naps or extra zzzs on the weekends. 🙂

  9. I definitely need to get better at number 3. I’ve been so bad lately at going to be at a reasonable time and then I end up getting less sleep than I need and missing those core hours. I love these tips!

    1. Hi Katie! I know, I know! Always want to stay up to do one more thing or watch a little bit more TV, right? It’s okay!! Keep working on it, because we all are. 🙂 Have an awesome day!

  10. Awesome post, Ashley! I’ve always been a firm believer that sleep should be a #1 priority so it feels good to read something that justifies that. I used to be so good about going to bed at the same time every night and reading myself to sleep. Now I stay up finishing blog posts, etc and wake up late on my days that I work from home. It’s not a good habit. Thanks for the reminder and the other helpful tips!

    1. Ahhh yes! The routine changes when you don’t have somewhere to be in the morning, right? Can you track of Brandon’s schedule and stay consistent?? 🙂 Hope all is well, lady!

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