There’s always that guy or girl, the one who seems to live in that sweet spot of first-cup-of-coffee energy and alertness. I’m not that guy or girl. They make me anxious, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t envy that level of productivity on such a consistent basis. I spend more time reading about the habits of successful and high-performing people than actually emulating them. It puts me at ease to learn that the “10 Things Millionaires Do Every Morning” are things I could hypothetically do. Will I do them? I haven’t yet. But I could.
Well, it’s probably no surprise when I tell you that these high-performing people also have specific sleeping patterns that affect their day-to-day level of output. And compared to the millionaire thing, they’re pretty reasonable. They’re not asking you to check 30 different news sources and run a 5K before daybreak. But there is a level of self-discipline involved, so if you want to craft the best sleeping routine for you, consider these three factors.
SET A TIMEFRAME
Different people and different studies will tell you how much sleep is the “right” amount of sleep for a person. I like a solid 12 hours. Tom Brady enjoys 8–10 hours of uninterrupted recovery. To each his own. After extensive reading on the subject, I’ve compiled other high-performing people’s sleep timeframes. We’ll call them “the ones who sleep” from here on out.*
Jordan Spieth: 7-8 hours
Natasha Hastings: 9 hours, specifically 10:00 p.m.–7:00 a.m.
Liz Arch: 8.5 hours, specifically 11:00 p.m.–7:30 a.m.
Michael Phelps: 9.5 hours, specifically 10:30 p.m.–8:00 a.m.
Bill Gates: 7 hours
Tim Cook: 7 hours, specifically 9:30 p.m.–4:30 a.m.
Ellen DeGeneres: 8 hours, specifically 11:00 p.m.–7:00 a.m.
Barack Obama: 6 hours, specifically 1:00 a.m.–7:00 a.m.
*Like I said, I research this a lot.
If you know how much sleep you need and when you need to wake up, whether it’s when you need to be at the office, want to hit the gym or hit snooze to lie in bed scrolling through Instagram, anchor your bedtime according to that wakeup call.
FIND YOUR WAY OF WINDING DOWN
I remember trying to fall asleep after the Connecticut versus Syracuse six-overtime basketball game. I was more likely to bench press my dining room table than get some shut-eye. I was absolutely wired.
It’s important to engage in an activity that is calm and relaxing before you turn off the lights. I don’t recommended six overtimes — or any amount of overtime for that matter. But hey, I’d be lying if I didn’t fall victim to the Netflix-till-my-eyes-bleed routine that keeps me up for hours.
I’m trying to get better.
Different people have different techniques. There’s a lot of stimulation over the course of the day, and we can get worked up in our mind, which doesn’t allow us to sleep. Here are some rule of thumb presleep tactics from the “ones who sleep” that you should try out.
A lot of “the ones who sleep” recommend reading. Grow your knowledge a little bit before bed. It’s also super boring so you’ll be asleep pretty quickly. Liz Arch reads to help her wind down at night.
Make sure you’re hydrated before bed. Waking up with the Sahara Desert in your mouth is going to destroy your sleep cycle. Plus, you’re then faced with the dilemma of actually getting up for a drink or feeling so tired you just spend the rest of the night sleeping restlessly with cotton mouth. Tom Brady and Misty Copeland both emphasize the importance of being hydrated, too.
Don’t go down the Netflix rabbit hole. Avoiding overindulgence of screen time before bed is a universal tip, but an episode of something mind-numbing and not too intense can help you settle into bed. Jordan Spieth treats himself to 15 minutes of scrolling through his phone before turning the lights off.
A nice, quick stretch can help relax your body before bed. Don’t work up a sweat. Just get the muscles loose, and climb under the covers.
There are plenty of other ways that can help you wind down. Some recommend the scent of lavender. Others will light a couple candles and listen to a soothing instrumental. The point is, finding a way to wind down is very important to the quality of sleep.
BE RESPONSIBLE WITH TECHNOLOGY
This one kind of crosses into the “How to Wind Down” territory but is slightly more specific. Let’s be self-aware for a moment. We’re addicted to technology. Phones, TV, laptops, etc. I exit out of Facebook on my computer so I can reopen it on my phone. It’s bad. And it’s worse when it keeps me up at night. We all have to be strong in our efforts to avoid technology before bed. The memes will be there tomorrow. If you’re someone who can scroll through social media for a few minutes and be content, more power to you. But if you are sensing your tech habits are getting out hand (see: sending friends direct messages past midnight), then you’ll need to adjust.
Turn off your phone. Use an old-school alarm clock. Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” so only the alarm function works. Don’t even allow yourself to be tempted by the noises of your electronics. We all know if you hear the “ding” of a text at 1 a.m., you’re going to roll over and see who it is.
Listen, I know how difficult this is going to be. I already mentioned Spieth can’t even resist a good meme search before bed. Phelps plays card games on his phone. But we all need to try to get better. The fate of our sleep quality depends on it. Avoid technology at night and find a different way to occupy yourself before bed.
There are a lot of factors that will impede your ability to sleep and to sleep well. We’ve addressed some here, but there are definitely others. Noise, lighting levels, maybe you don’t even own a bed — I don’t know. But these tips will help you start on a course to the greener pastures of good sleep, so that you and I can one day be that constant first-cup-of-coffee energy guy or girl. I need you to grab hold of my hand and trust me as we take this journey together.