I’ve experienced sporadic energy levels for more years than I care to remember. It’s given me a vivid sense of how different it feels to go through a day rested and alert versus tired and dazed. And it’s generally been the catalyst for burn out, since I would compensate for getting less done from being tired by working more hours and sleeping less, sparking a negative reinforcing cycle until I was forced to take some time to recover. In the past I coped by working longer and maintaining a carefully crafted caffeine daily dosing schedule, but I’ve decided to look at how I can optimize my sleep in order to get more energy, more consistently. My hope is that by raising my energy levels in a healthy way, I can get more work done without having to stretch my work schedule.

I’m still in the early stages of my research, but from what I’ve read, there seems to be a general consensus on the major steps to take for establishing a better sleep routine.

Establish a routine

The first step is make sleeping into a consistent, repeatable routine. That means going to sleep and waking at the same time everyday, even on weekends. Apple recently added a feature in the iOS clock app that can help with this called Bedtime. Beyond going to sleep and waking at the same time, you also want to establish a pre-sleep ritual that helps transition you from the worries of the day into a state that is more conducive to resting. The most common things I’ve seen here include taking a warm shower or reading for some period of time before you go to sleep (but not on a backlit device, like a tablet or phone, that can stimulate your body into being more awake).

Design your sleep environment

Once you’ve settled on a routine, the next step is to design your sleep environment. From what I can tell, this generally means that you want to make the room you sleep in as dark and as quiet as possible and keep the temperature within a certain range (goes with my final point of avoiding stimulation). Of course you are going to need lights in the room to move around and manage at night, but there are special lights that you can buy that are designed to avoid disrupting your body’s sleep rhythm, like the Good Night LED or the Philips Hue lights.

Avoid stimulation

Finally, you should avoid anything that throws your body out of balance or causes you to become alert or awake too close to bedtime. This includes avoiding coffee and other caffeinated drinks after a certain time of the day (it varies for everyone, but I’m going with 2p), and not looking at any bright light sources that can trick your body into thinking it’s day time (computers, phones, TV, etc). Another aspect of this that I hadn’t thought about either was making sure that you aren’t eating too much or too little before going to sleep or drinking a lot of liquids. Both of these things can cause you to either wake up at night or not stay in a deep, restful sleep state.

I’ve started to put some of this into practice in the last week. I MacGyver’ed up a way to black out the window in our bedroom (a blackout curtain is a faster way to do it) and moved all electronic devices out to the living room, where they now charge overnight vs. on our night stands. I’ve setup a 2-hour pre-sleep window around my scheduled sleep time when I stop using devices and start to wind down, opting for a shower and some reading on my Kindle Paperwhite. Finally, as much as I love coffee and tea, I’ve imposed a 2pm deadline for drinking either during the day, instead opting for water or decaf tea at night. I want to address the lighting situation in our bedroom next, but I’ll probably hold off on that until we sort a potential move in the near future.

It’s too early to tell if the changes are having any sort of effect, especially since I’m sick as a dog right now, but I’m hopeful that it will help me out and that I’ll be able to keep it up when I’m working again. Fingers crossed.

p.s. Here is an article with some tips for getting better sleep by the Mayo Clinic.