Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pillow Talk ~ 9 Steps to Better Sleep

In 1965, a 17 year-old college student tried to set a world record for staying awake. During 264 hours and 12 minutes this record-seeker managed to stay awake (that's just over 11 days straight, by the way) he experienced the following symptoms: visual and auditory hallucinations, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, and psychosis. Luckily, he managed to make a full recovery after sleeping hard for 14 hours and 40 minutes.

The amount and quality of sleep we get each night has a significant influence on the way we feel and perform during our waking hours.  Inadequate rest reduces our ability to remember, concentrate, plan, make decisions, and do math. Too little sleep also results in drowsiness and reduced physical performance, which makes us more prone to injuries, including motor-vehicle accidents.  On the other hand, sleeping deeply at night allows the release of growth hormones, efficient cell growth and repair, and helps us be at our best to engage with others, both emotionally and socially during the day.
A lot of people who have difficulty falling or staying asleep turn to medication for help. If this is a problem for you, the following are 9 steps you can take to help ensure a good night's sleep without a prescription:
1. Limit the use of your bedroom.
Your bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex. Keep office work and other stressful and stimulating activities outside the bedroom.  That includes TV and other entertainment media.  The idea is to not associate stress or any unnecessary stimulation with your bedroom. By doing this, you will condition your body to relax and anticipate sleep (and little else) when you enter your bedroom at night. 
2. Be consistent with sleep and wake times.
Go to sleep and get up around the same time each morning and night. This will condition your body to fall into a routine of sleep and wakefulness.  This works best if you can keep the same routine every day of the week, meaning don't go to bed and rise too much later on the weekends than you do during the work week.
3. Avoid nicotine, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol close to bedtime.
Nicotine, caffeine, sugar are stimulats that cause you to sleep lightly and wake up earlier than you need to because of withdrawal. Common sources of caffeine are coffee, soft drinks, non-herbal teas, and some over-the-counter and prescription medications. Alcohol prevents deep sleep and interferes with REM-stage sleep, the stage of sleep that stimulates the learning centers of the brain.
4. Sleep in complete darkness.
Melatonin is a hormone that initiates our desire to sleep and affects the depth of sleep we achieve. Darkness stimulates melatonin production while light inhibits it. The darker it is in your room during sleep time, the better your melatonin production, and the better the quality of your sleep. Even a dim light from a night or hall light can disrupt your sleep cycle and prevent you from getting deep sleep.
5. Exercise regularly.
Just another benefit from working out with your old pal Tony. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day promotes a greater need for deep sleep and decreases stress. Do not exercise close to your bedtime, because exercise is stimulating and can create difficulties in falling asleep. Ideally, you don't want to exercise vigorously within 3 hours of your bedtime, so when you bring it, bring it early.
6. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress.
Invest in a mattress that you feel comfortable sleeping on.  As simple as that sounds, there are way too many people who aren't sleeping well simply because they're on a mattress that's too hard, too soft, or just not supportive enough.
7. Claim your bed space.
Don't share your bed with someone who crowds your space or moves around so much that you have difficulty falling or staying asleep. This includes your partner, children, and pets. If you share a bed with your partner and/or children and find it crowded, consider investing in a bigger bed, push two beds together, or try sleeping with separate blankets.  For some of us, this one may be easier said than done, but it is important, so I had to tell ya.
8. Get up if you can't sleep.
If you can't fall asleep after 15 minutes, get up and do something else (relaxing and not involving bright light) in another room. Thinking about your inability to sleep will contribute to your inability to sleep, which creates a vicious cycle. Reading and listening to music can be good activities. Watching TV or surfing the net however, may keep you up longer.
9. Figure out how much sleep you need.
Not everyone needs exactly the same amount of sleep to function well. To determine how long you need to sleep, choose a day when you don't have early commitments and sleep until you wake up on your own (without an alarm, loud noises, or other external motivation).  Note when you went to bed and when you woke up.  This exercise will determine the optimal amount of sleep for you.


Anonymous said...

Wow Tony, those kids back in '65 really knew how to have fun, didn't they? And to think that the guy stayed awake for 11 days without the use of any drugs. That's amazing, especially compared to today's standards;) Although, I must admit that I've already experienced visual and auditory hallucinations doing some of your extreme workouts!:) Arrrrgh! Gotta love it!

Anyway, great blog.... A couple years back at NY camp you showed us all a special method to get to sleep. If my memory serves me right, you first flexed your toes, then relaxed and repeated. Performing the same movements (flexing and relaxing), you then moved up the legs, torso, arms and finished with the face. By the time we were done, we were all ready to nod off big time! It's a super way to get away from the stress and anxiety that kills our sleep times as well as our lifetimes.

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast.
~William Shakespeare, Macbeth


Kristen said...

Do you think you can get too much sleep? I regularly get 9-10 hours of sleep, which appears to be what my body likes because I don't wake up to an alarm. ???

Tony Horton said...


I envy you. I've read that 10 hours can cause a person to be groggy throughout the day, but if you feel good and have plenty of energy then then see if you can stick with nine. That way you'll get an extra hour for your workout.


Christopher said...

I totally agree, you can have too much sleep. I actually read somewhere, can't remember where so I can't give a reference here, that if you sleep too long, your body begins to enter rigamortus. That your brain, then forces you to wake up which is why people feel so tired from sleeping too long. I read this years ago so not sure if this still holds true. I will say that I definitely need my sleep but I sleep 6 - 7 hours a night and then on the weekends, a full eight and that works for me.

On another note Tony, and all, I wanted to give you some news.

I wanted to let you know that here in Orlando, FL, they had a contest for The Biggest Loser through an NBC affiliate to name The Biggest Loser for Central Florida and I WON. I was just told today and what I’ll win and all that so I’m not sure if I’m going to be on TV, I think I am. But I wanted to let you know that every chance I get, I’m going to tell how BRINGING IT gave me the body that I wanted. I’ve lost over 80lbs, soon to be 90lbs and I owe it to you and P90X. I have a few P90X t-shirts so I’m hoping to sneak them into photos if I can. :-)

I'll post the URL here so everyone can see, but I'm going to try and get word to all the people about P90X!!!!!

Christopher Ortega

Phil said...


I remember that guy. I was living in CA and remember the news following his progress. I appreciate your insights for improving the quality of our sleep.


Christopher said...

You should really start to credit your sources Tony.

Reita Faria said...

What you eat can greatly affect Better Sleep, even during the early half of the day. Eat breakfast first thing in the morning to Better Sleep at night, and make sure it's a big one. After eating well throughout the day, avoid eating spicy or junk foods at night for Better Sleep, and instead choose something that will help you drift off. And remember: no booze! Not only will it not help you get to Better Sleep, it'll cause you to snore all night, too.

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