Life principles - Sleep
Sleep 8+ consistent, high-quality hours.
Description: If we had never heard of the concept of mandatory hallucinations that put us out of commission for almost a third of our lives, it would seem like some terrible illness. Sadly, sleep is enviable and unavoidable. This does not mean, however, that it is not optimizable. Sleeping ~8 hours at the same time each night is fairly simple, although getting them to be high-quality hours can be considerably trickier.
Why this principle: Sleep has consistently been shown to be extremely important in virtually every metric related to health, happiness, and work output(1). It takes up considerable time in a day and could somewhat easily be greatly improved relative to its baseline. Furthermore, few people can tell when they have not slept enough. Thus, high performers–and everyone, really(2)–are often chronically under-slept and, as a result, underperforming. When you think about what limits you in life, many make the mistake of believing that it is time (and therefore, sleep eating into that time is something to fight). However, what really limits most people is energy and their ability to perform well. Everyone has the same 24 hours, but one person's output and productivity during those hours might be many times greater than another’s. One extra hour of low-energy time is not nearly as helpful as having 10% more energy for every waking hour.
How to optimize this principle:
Sleep more: The number one action most people could take to improve their sleep is to sleep more. There is a common understanding that people need between 7–9 hours, but many people who need the higher end of this range end up only sleeping around 7 hours. If you are not waking up at a consistent time without an alarm, that is a sign you are not getting enough sleep(3). Very few people can tell if they are sleep deprived and there is a good chance you could benefit from more sleep even if you do not feel deprived(4).
Sleep consistently: Outside of sleeping more, sleeping at the same time every night is the biggest gain you can make in feeling well-rested. Trying to get to bed and wake up at the same time each day is a bit of a pain but leads to huge improvements in sleep. If you know you have social events that sometimes go late, setting your whole schedule later is a viable solution if your work allows it. It’s easy to get smartphone apps or smartwatches that track sleep and keep good records of how consistent you are (likely less consistent than you think).
Invest in sleep: A sleazy bed salesperson might suggest spending a small fortune on your sleep. Thankfully, there are highly cost-effective ways to get the same benefits. Let's start at the lowest cost and move our way up the optimization ladder. Ear plugs and eye masks can significantly improve sleep quality for pennies. If you cannot sleep with them on (although you should really give it a week to see if you adapt), alternatives include getting blackout blinds and running a fan for white/brown noise (or using a speaker and playlist). These options will do a similar job for a pretty low price. Getting a set of cheap but decent sheets (e.g., a middle-of-the-pack set from Ikea) and a new pillow once every 2 years will keep your bed feeling new and make more of a difference than you might guess. A good blanket or duvet cover will typically come along with your sheet set. It’s also worthwhile to test out a weighted blanket, though they do not work for everyone. Don’t think in terms of getting a great bed. Think instead in terms of getting a good sleeping experience. Often, a pretty average bed with an affordable topper will do the same job as a great bed (and the topper is easier and quicker to replace in the future). That white noise fan can also help you keep yourself at an optimal sleeping temperature (~18 degrees Celsius).
Sleeping with others: There is a wide range of patterns in how couples like to sleep and some mixed evidence about whether people sleep better or worse with a partner. Having things like your own pillows and blankets is a no-brainer (even if you share when you first fall asleep, your middle-of-the-night self might want their own option). Often, people will have different preferences in temperature, bedding type, cuddle amount, etc. It's good to keep in mind that people having different preferences does not reflect a lack of personal closeness.
Associative habits: The more you can associate your bed with sleep, the better. This means doing less in your bed (working, movies, etc.) and creating cues that put your brain into sleep mode. Take advantage of multiple senses, like using a smell such as lavender before going to bed and turning on soft lighting past 8pm. Installing Flux or some other app to make your devices less blue in the evening is also worth the short time investment. Reading, listening to a sleepcast (Netflix has some good ones), and meditations can also help your brain mellow down. Taking melatonin (0.03g) and magnesium can be both associated with bedtime and be a powerful aid to sleep quality with few side effects(5).
Going deeper on this principle:
Why this one?
In ~1 hour
A little longer than an hour and a little heavy on meditation as the only solution, but well worth watching. Teaches a lot of content in the time it runs.
In ~1 day
Sadly, I have been fairly unimpressed by sleep pop-psychology so I have to recommend something a little heavier. This is a solid one even if you are not suffering from insomnia or any specific sleep issue.
In ~1 week to ~1 year
At this point, the way to go deeper somewhat splits into starting to read into specific studies, lectures, or meta analyses conducted on sleep, or spending time testing out systems and applying the habits that you want to cultivate to result in getting a great sleep. I lean towards the latter method for most people.