I recently finished Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, a New York Times Bestseller which has been exploding in the productivity-obsessed circles that I’m a part of. For good reason too — this book distills the vast amount of modern sleep research over the past 20 years into one main idea: sleep is really important. In the past year or so, I’ve been experimenting with everything in the sleep-improvement space, from blackout curtains to melatonin to timing my caffeine consumption (all of these being small but integral pieces of the puzzle).
In a nutshell, there are 3 distinct phases of sleep: deep, light, and rapid eye movement (REM), with each phase being important to brain development in its own way. Deep sleep is for your brain & body to physically recharge, light sleep helps consolidate memories and experiences, and REM sleep is for your brain to form novel (albeit strange) connections from these various memories. Therefore, making sure that you get enough amounts of each phase is crucial to waking up well-rested. These phases follow the grooves of your circadian rhythm, meaning that your brain transitions from deep, to light, to REM as the night progresses. Thus, not only is getting enough sleep important but also is sleeping at the same time every day. Once I managed to implement this daily routine, I attempted to optimize my sleep at these three touchpoints: falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up refreshed.
Falling asleep is the bane of existence for restless children (me) and neurotic adults (also me) alike. So naturally, this was the most difficult chapter of my sleep-improvement journey. For me, this problem broke down into two subproblems, 1) first wanting to sleep early and 2) figuring out how to lull my brain into a relaxing rhythm and sleep.
The first problem (addressing the severe desire I had to stay up late and watch YouTube videos) was fixed when I decided to train my brain to not want to do this anymore. Basically, I forced myself to wake up at an ungodly hour for a couple of days and eventually my…