Nine reasons to fix and optimize your sleep

Sleep: 9 reasons why it’s worth prioritizing

“The simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.”
–Leo Tolstoy

You get sleepy at the end of the day, you tumble into bed at night, and wake up the next morning feeling okay. And you hope that there’s still enough coffee in the cupboard for a fresh pot.

What more could we say about sleep?

Well, what if reality was something completely different than that story we tell ourselves?

What if your body was so good at adapting, that you could be chronically sleep deprived and not even know it?

That being so tired became your new “normal,” and then your body adapted, so it didn’t hurt anymore?

Yes, learning more about sleep sounds silly, almost like trying to learn about how to chew or how to breathe.

But the modern world brings modern problems. We work inside all day. We’ve invented lighting at night. And there’s more good TV at your fingertips than you could watch in a lifetime.

Optimizing your sleep has huge payoffs

And as a society, we’ve come up with some pretty strange beliefs.

In one new study, researchers found that people believe many things about sleep that aren’t true (study).

According to the study, people often say things like:

  • You only need 5 hours of sleep
  • Watching TV in bed can help you relax
  • Hitting snooze is better than getting up right away
  • Snoring is no big deal
  • Drinking can help you get a better sleep
  • Exercising within 4 hours of bedtime will disturb sleep

Even if you didn’t already believe any of those common myths, maybe you’re up to date, is it still possible to improve your sleep even by a little bit?

What if you could unlock a whole host of benefits to improve your work, relationships, and decision making power?

Taking the time and energy to fix up and optimize your sleep is worth it. This is because getting better sleep will pay you back compounding and multiplying returns.

The top 9 reasons why you should fix & optimize your sleep:

#1. Life will feel less painful

Pain and bad sleep are linked. So, is it pain that’s causing bad sleep or bad sleep that causes pain? It’s complicated, and more research needs to be done, for sure. But in this review of many studies, researchers found that poor sleep predicts future pain in people who currently have no pain. On top of that, being in pain isn’t necessarily an indicator of getting poor sleep (2013 review, study, study)

And if you’re dealing with morning headaches, migraines, or muscle pain, sleeping better could help with that (study).

The research so far shows that sleep plays a role in our dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems in our brain, and as such, bad sleep could make life more painful than it needs to be.

#2. You’ll get sick less often

Your immune system is the big bouncer of the club who handles the troublemakers. When you don’t sleep well, it affects your immune’s system ability to work properly (study).

In this 2009 study, getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night meant increasing your risk of getting the common cold by 294%! (study)

Getting enough and getting good sleep will help to erase stress

#3. Good sleep will help erase stress

In this 2015 study, people with sleep deprivation had elevated levels of cortisol (among other stress-related hormones.)

In this 2018 study, people who weren’t sleeping enough had a higher “stress awareness.” And we all know stress is bad. It’s a risk factor for depression, hypertension, and many other health-related problems.

In this study, it showed that if your goal is to reduce stress, make sure that you also focus not just on sleep quantity, but on sleep quality. Good sleep quality can mean a lot of things, but a good way of thinking about it is that you sleep in a dark, quiet, and comfortable room. And you aren’t waking up more than once a night and when you do wake up, you’re able to fall back asleep quickly.

#4. Good sleep will help you stay leaner

Not getting enough sleep will make your body’s systems out of sync. Bad sleep affects blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity, appetite regulation, how much food you eat, and more. Because of all that, being sleep deprived is linked to obesity. (study, study, study, study, study, study)

Lift weights and exercise to sleep soundly

#5. It’ll help you build muscle faster when lifting weights and perform more athletically

To build muscle, you’ll need to lift weights and give yourself lots of sleep to recover (study). Another part of building muscle is continually pushing yourself to become stronger, and having a good sleep is key for getting that performance (study). Not getting enough sleep can make you less powerful and have a slower reaction time, meaning you won’t get the most of our your training session. (study, study)

#6. You’ll look better

In this study, it found that those without enough sleep didn’t allow their skin to recover properly from the daily stressors of their environment. So, over time their skin aged faster (study).

And in this study, photos were taken before and after being treated for sleep apnea. After finally getting some much-needed rest, they were rated as looking more youthful and attractive.

In this 2010 study, researchers took before and after photos of people on a good night’s rest and after sleep deprivation. Same thing as the other study—people who had slept well were rated as being more attractive and healthy looking.

In this 2017 study, it found that people were less inclined to socialize with those who looked tired (and echoing those other two studies, it also found that those low on sleep looked worse and unhealthy).

Be more creative and make better decisions by optimizing your sleep

#7. You’ll be smarter, more creative and be able to learn better

Sleep is a part of properly processing, storing, and retrieving memories—an important part of learning and making good decisions. (study, study, article).

Good sleep is also key for optimal brain processing (study). Sleep can also improve your creative thinking and ability to think up new and good ideas, essential for your purpose in life. (study, study, study, NYT article)

#8. You’ll act the way you want to, with more integrity, while being in a better mood

Part of acting with integrity is overriding the feeling of what could be a bad emotional outburst. It’s also doing the right thing even when it’s tough. That will take willpower. And the better you sleep, the more willpower you’ll have to draw from (Willpower, Baumeister, 2012). Similarly, in this study, it found that tired people are less morally aware.

#9. It’s good for your overall health

In this study, they found that if you sleep less than 7 hours, you’ll have a much higher risk of cardiovascular diseases like strokes or heart attacks.

And on top of everything else we’ve listed, not getting enough sleep is also linked to depression, diabetes, and an increased risk of having an accident happen (position and review).


So now what? How do you get a better sleep?

We plan on making a full course on how to systematically make your sleep more restful and life-giving.

But in the meantime, here are a few quick tricks to try:

  • When it comes to sleep, make sure you get enough (quantity) and that it’s good (quality). You’ll need 7–9 hours every night (joint position from two leading sleep institutions). If you’re a young adult, are sick, or recovering from some sleep debt, you can sleep longer than 9 hours. But if you’re older, sleeping longer than 9 hours might not be a good sign in terms of health.
  • Get outside early in the day, not long after waking up, even if just for 5 minutes like sitting on the balcony with a coffee. If it’s still dark outside because you live in a high-latitude city, you could try using a light box like the Philips GoLite.
  • Go for a walk outside at lunchtime to get some sunshine. This make you generate vitamin D, help orient your circadian system so you’ll gear down later naturally, and help you generate the chemicals needed to fall asleep later.
  • Don’t have coffee/caffiene within 6+ hours of going to bed. It might even affect you longer than 6 hours depending on your genetics.
  • Eat lots of whole, minimally processed foods so you don’t have any nutrient deficiencies that help with sleep. For example, studies show that magnesium can help with sleep, so eating foods with lots of magnesium like almonds, cashews, dark greens, and peas could help with sleep.
  • Sleep like a labourer by exercising such as lifting weights anddoing cardio (study, study). (Want to get started? Check out our free bodyweight program.)
  • If you use a laptop/tablet/phone at night, turn down the brightness and filter it so the screen is yellow. You can either install F.lux (free app) or if you use Apple, use their nighttime mode. This will make the blue light from the screen turn yellow, like a candle, and not affect your sleep as much. If you watch TV on an actual TV, you can buy amber glasses that will help with toning down the blue light.
  • If you live in the city or there’s a street lamp outside your house, try blacking out your bedroom. Light pollution could even be cancer-causing (article) and sleeping in a dark room is a part of getting a good sleep.
  • If you like herbal tea like chamomile tea, it can help reduce anxiety and help people to sleep better.
  • Keep your room cool enough so that you can use a blanket—but don’t make it cold.
  • Work backwards to give yourself enough time to sleep. So if you wake up at 6:30 am and you want to try sleeping for 8 hours, that means you will need to be sleeping by 10:30 pm. It might take around 15 minutes to fall asleep, so be in bed by 10:15. My personal advice would be to be in bed by 10 with something to read until you’re drowsy. If you don’t want to give up the free time that you have at night, try comparing what that extra free time at night would offer compared to the total life upgrades from getting good sleep.
  • Get that TV/cellphone/tablet out of the bedroom. This is one of the worst self-sabotaging things you can do to yourself (and to your spouse.) It blasts bright blue light to your eyes that will wake you up, it’s stimulating, and it makes you associate the bed with not sleeping. If you can’t sleep, get out of the bed and watch TV in the den.
  • If you have a Nest or some other automated thermostat, you can have the temperature of your place slowly warm up a couple of degrees between 3–7 am to help wake up more naturally.

2 thoughts on “Sleep: 9 reasons why it’s worth prioritizing”

  1. Very comprehensive article on the value of sleep. It’s surprisingly hard to find a good set of guidelines on something as simple as sleeping. I noticed you did not include information on sleep cycles. I’d like to try out a sleep cycle alarm clock that claims to wake me up during my “light sleep phase”. Do you think its legit?

    1. Good questions Reno!

      If you’d like to learn more about sleep cycles, I’d recommend checking out this interactive Harvard Medical thing. It feels a bit ancient, but it’s good:
      http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/interactive/circadian

      I used the sleep cycle app for awhile on my iPhone. I found it was too annoying, so I instead just stuck to my Phillips Wake Up Alarm Clock to have a gradual waking.

      To answer your question a bit better, I did a quick search, and I can’t even believe there’s been a study on this 😛
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4481053/

      They took 20 volunteers and used the Sleep Time app on iPhone in a sleep laboratory. They wanted to compare the app against the gold standard in the sleep industry—polysomnography (PSG).

      “Our findings suggest that, unfortunately, despite its high sensitivity for detecting sleep and apparent accuracy in sleep-wake detection, the Sleep Time app performs poorly when compared to the gold standard, PSG, in reporting absolute sleep parameters or staging sleep.”

      “The basic concept appears to be a fundamentally sound one, since such whole-body bed-based actigraphy has been found to be correlate impressively well with PSG and actigraphy in experimental studies. However, clearly, the sensitivity of the smartphone’s accelerometer is a major potential limiting factors in the accuracy of such apps, and the variation in mattress firmness (impacting transmission of movements to the iPhone), would also be a confounding factor”

      But maybe they will make more accurate apps in the future. The researchers said that:

      “It is possible that physically attaching the smartphone to a subject’s body (such as fastening it to a limb or the trunk) may improve the ability of the accelerometer to detect movements and improve app data validity, and this may be worth investigating in future studies.”

      Personally, I don’t like the idea of having the phone turned on and then attached to my body. I don’t even keep my phone in my bedroom anymore. It’s down the hall in the kitchen. I was tired of getting used to waking up to it, and lazing around in bed. Plus, when it was by my bed, I’d put it on airplane mode to shut off the radiation. Now that it’s in the kitchen, I can have the phone turned on in case there’s a family emergency, etc.

      Anyways, hope that helps a bit!

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