A Comprehensive List of Ways to Sleep Better and Wake Up Full of Energy

By on January 17, 2015

If you’re looking to improve your physical performance, your energy levels, your mood or your productivity then enhancing your sleep is probably the very best place you can start. No amount of pre-workout or other supplements will boost your gym performance half as much as getting proper sleep and likewise it’s much more effective at increasing brain power than any nootropic. We all know this really but unfortunately most of us just don’t give our sleep all that much priority. Start to, and you will immediately be improving your improvement across the board. Struggling to stick to a training regime? Set a strict bedtime and you’ll have just increased your chances several fold. Learning a new topic? Sleep is when brain plasticity happens.

So you need to get better sleep, that’s decided. The question is… where to begin? How about everywhere.

There are countless tips on how to sleep better or how to ‘hack your sleep’ but finding and trying them all can take some time. To help make life easier, I’m going to share all the major ones here and go into whether they work or not. Likewise, I’m also going to look at some ways you can start waking up with more energy and getting rid of ‘sleep inertia’ because this is a problem I’ve had for a while (and am just getting rid of). If you could wake up full of energy, you could probably squeeze about two hours of extra productivity into the day!

Sleep Tips Everyone Knows Already

Before we start looking at the fancy ‘sleep hacks’, let’s just go over all of the ‘obvious’ stuff that you should be doing to sleep better.

  • Make your room as pitch black as possible (use tape over your LEDs and get heavier curtains)
  • Block out as much noise as you possibly can
  • Make the temperature just slightly cool (Tim Ferriss recommends 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit based on self-experimentation)
  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping (and boinking)
  • Have a set bed-time and a set wake-time
  • Aim for 6-8 hours per night
  • Have the temperature just slightly cool
  • Avoid caffeine before bed
  • Avoid any activities that will get you amped up
  • Avoid looking at screens which emit blue light and stimulate cortisol/suppress melatonin
  • Try taking a hot shower
  • Drink a big glass of water before bed
  • Avoid caffeine in the latter half of the day
  • Get exercise during the day
  • Get fresh air during the day

My Favorite Sleep Hacks

Okay so that’s the obvious stuff, now onto the fun stuff. This is what I’ve been doing lately that’s really helped me to feel more productive in the day and to actually get stuff done in the mornings. Before I would just lie in bed dribbling while Hannah got ready for work (the joys of being self-employed). Now I make breakfast and lunch, wash up in the kitchen and sometimes make it to the coffee shop to work by 8am.

Sleep Hacks for Getting to Sleep

Take Vitamin D: Vitamin D is not so much a vitamin as a hormone in many ways and its job (among other things) is to regulate the production of other hormones. Getting vitamin D in the morning is a great way to simulate getting sunlight in the morning and this can encourage the production of melatonin later on in the evening when you’re just getting to sleep.

Blue-blocking Shades: Back when we lived in caves, we didn’t have lamps or computers or televisions and so when it got dark… it got dark. This sent a signal to our brains that resulted in the production of more GABA and melatonin and less glutamate and cortisol. Even more recently, working by candle light would have gotten us good and ready for bed.

Today though, bright lights are everywhere and they prevent us from feeling tired. Blue-blocking shades can prevent this problem though by blocking out the blue end of the light spectrum. In short, your brain now sees a TV screen the same way it sees a candle and you’re better able to relax before bed. Personally my favourite thing about these is that they make the world look like Deus Ex.

blue blocking shades for sleep

Some bloggers recommend you start wearing these shades an hour or so before bed and so tell your body it’s time for sleep. Let’s be real though: are you really going to want to do that? You’ll look like a prick and it’s hardly relaxing or practical to wear shades when you’re watching TV with your partner. These are a bit of a gimmick solution then but I do wear mine when I’m working late (12am) to try and achieve a little damage limitation.

Stretch Before You Sleep: Stretching before you go to bed can help you to relax your muscles and ease out any tension and according to research it can also prevent cramps (1). Handy if they’re waking you up!

Take Creatine: Creatine isn’t just about improved strength and muscle mass, it can also boost your memory and IQ (2) and help you to sleep better. It even helps to combat the effects of sleep deprivation (3) and so that way can prevent sleep inertia.

Boost Your Mitochondria: The mitochondria are the ‘energy plants’ of your brain and are what help you to use ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – the most fundamental form of energy that all living organisms rely on.

Increasing the number and function of your mitochondria can help you to lose weight by helping you burn more energy, can help you to run further and faster and can help you to feel more alert and switched on. And as it turns out, the mitochondria are also possibly used during sleep to help the brain rid itself of toxins via the glymphatic system (4).

How do you improve mitochondrial function? By supplementing with things like CoQ10 and lutein and by engaging in HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training which has been shown to increase the number and function of mitochondria moreso than steady-state cardio. My current nootropic/bodybuilding stack is based entirely on boosting ‘brain energy’ and you can check it out here.

Zinc & Magnesium: Often used for boosting testosterone, zinc and magnesium are also popular for boosting sleep. Magnesium aids the function of GABA receptors (an inhibitory neurotransmitter that’s crucial for sleep), it deactivates adrenaline, it aids hydration, it relaxes muscle and more. Likewise zinc is also very important for good sleep and muscle relaxation – and awesomely it has even been shown to boost dream recall! There is a lot of positive feedback on this one around the web and some people even say it cured their insomnia. This is one I certainly recommend trying at least.

Omega 3: Seeing as omega 3 fatty acid is excellent for just about everything it should come as no surprise that those with higher levels of it also tend to sleep better. Absolutely everyone should be supplementing with omega 3 IMHO…

Regular Massage: Did you know that regular massage actually increases your number of mitochondria? Pretty good excuse to ask your partner to rub your back! What’s more, regular massage increases oxytocin and helps your ability to get to sleep. And of course in the short term massage can help to relax your muscles and eliminate aches and pains. I just actually got a massage chair for Christmas, whether or not this will do the same job as getting a massage from an actual person I can’t say for sure! Foam rolling might also be useful when used before bed.

CBT: CBT is ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ or simply – changing your thought patterns in order to encourage good mental health. You do this by looking at the thoughts you have that cause you problems (such as preventing you from getting to sleep) then using ‘cognitive restructuring’ to challenge and change those thoughts. I was once a troubled ten year old who struggled to get to sleep until I used cognitive restructuring and the mantra ‘I don’t need to get to sleep’. I learned that simply lying down relaxing was enough and as soon as the pressure to sleep was gone, I was dozing off in minutes every night. If you struggle with insomnia, see a cognitive behavioral therapist or do some reading to learn how to use it on yourself. It’s also generally a great way to learn to relax.

Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation techniques can do a great deal to help you unwind and settle down. Simply breathing deeply and slowly can be great for activating the parasympathetic nervous system for instance which is implicated in tranquil activities. Another good one is to try gently tensing and then releasing your muscles travelling up your whole body. This is an excellent way to release tension.

Sleep Hacks for Waking Up Refreshed

The Lumie Starter 30: The Lumie Starter 30 is just one model of ‘daylight lamp’ from Lumie that wakes you up gently with a simulated sunrise. It’s designed to treat SAD (seasonal affective disorder) by helping you to maintain your body clock using the ‘external zeitgeber’ (cue) of blue light. In the morning, blue light is a good thing.

Better yet though, it means that instead of being jolted awake by a nasty alarm, you’re instead gently eased out of sleep by slowly brightening light. Sadly, I don’t usually get woken by the light as I’m a heavy sleeper but it still means that when the alarm goes off I’m already in lighter sleep and the room is nice and bright. This is also handy if you’ve gone to lengths to make your room pitch black just before bed.

lumie starter 30

And there have been a couple of times when I did get woken by the Lumie alone and those mornings I felt really refreshed and like I had been asleep much longer!

Have Half a Teaspoon of Honey Before Bed: The theory goes that one of the reasons we naturally eat sweets last after a meal is so that we can enjoy the benefits of having energy throughout the night to power us through the functions required for sleep. Having half a teaspoon spoon of honey can provide you with a supply of energy through the night and you might well feel healthier in the morning too – one of the reasons we feel groggy when we wake up might in fact be low blood sugar. I don’t always do this and it’s hard to say whether the benefits I notice are placebo… but it does seem to leave me feeling a little better in the mornings. Not feeling the honey? Try peanut butter instead!

The Jawbone UP: The Jawbone UP is a fitness device that both works as a pedometre and a sleep tracker. It does both using a gyroscope and at night it will measure how much I toss and turn in order to workout whether I’m in light or deep sleep. This is handy for generally tracking sleep and seeing how effective each of the different techniques I’m using is.

Better yet though is the ability it has to wake me with a light vibration when I’m in a light stage of sleep. You set the alarm for when you need to be awake and it then tells you to get up some time within 30 minutes prior to that at the point when you’re in your lightest stage of sleep.

Jawbone UP

I kind of like it but I’m not 100% convinced that it’s always correctly assessing my sleep stage. And surely I could be in deep sleep for more than 30 minutes – seeing as a full sleep cycle is about 90 minutes? I’m looking forward to the Jawbone UP3 which should be coming out in the next few months – that one will use bioimpedence sensors to measure your heartrate throughout the day and night, hydration and even body temperature.

Other Causes of Morning Grogginess

Constantly wake up with a slight headache, a dry throat and extreme lethargy? Lots of people do but you shouldn’t feel like that. If you’ve tried the honey then it’s not low blood sugar and if you’re drinking enough water then it’s not dehydration (check your breath – halitosis is a sign of dehydration).

In that case, the chances are that something is wrong. It could be a mental health disorder (like depression), it could be apnea, it could be diabetes or it could be medication. That’s all beyond the scope of this article but here are just a couple of other things that it might be that you should check:

  • Allergies – Even if you aren’t aware you have allergies this is possible as they can develop at any age. If your throat is scratchy in the morning no matter how much water you drink, see if your symptoms improve when you stay at friends’ houses – it could just be one of the bushes in your garden causing the problem!
  • Mold – Likewise mold poisoning is also very possible. As is generally having the wrong amount of humidity in your room. Test for both.
  • Caffeine Withdrawal – Apparently many people who think they have sleep inertia actually have a caffeine addiction. If you don’t feel ‘right’ until you’ve had your morning coffee, try detoxing from caffeine for a bit and see if that helps.

Sleep Hacks I Don’t Use (But You May Want to Try)

Timing Your Meals: Your body uses lots of external cues to try and work out what time of day it is and one of the most common is when you eat. Thus being more consistent with your meal timings is supposed to also boost sleep and there are even ‘jet lag diets’ designed to help those flying to other time zones to shift their body clocks. I don’t use this one because a) it’s impractical and b) ‘there’s very little evidence that diet can shift body clock’ (5).

Valerian Root: Valerian root is a muscle relaxant and this is also supposed to help you to get to sleep a little better. I still think a hot shower beats this one though.

Chia Seeds: This is an idea I’ve had rather than a hack I’ve read but I’ve yet to try it. Chia seeds can store huge amounts of water and are thus used by runners who want to supply themselves with steady hydration over long distances. They’re also used by the amazing tarahumara tribe. So then, why not consume chia seeds and water before bed and wake up still hydrated? As an added bonus, chia seeds are packed with tryptophan (700mgs).

Nightwave: Nightwave is a lightly pulsating light that you stare at as you fall asleep. Gradually it gets slower and slower and the hope is that this will gradually relax you and slow your heartrate. A lot of people like this, but I’ve never tried it. You might also consider using brain entrainment.

Sleep Induction Mat: This is a mat with uncomfortable spikes on it that you lie on. The idea is that your body responds by releasing hormones like oxytocin and serotonin. It’s based at least partially on acupuncture but to be honest I see this one as being a little impractical and unlikely to have much benefit. This is mere speculation however – I haven’t tried it myself. I’m including it just to try and include as much as I can.

Wearing Socks in Bed: Some say that wearing socks in bed can help your body to better regulate its own temperature and that this can thus help you to sleep more soundly. I am a very metabolic guy though and I found this made me way too hot – I have to sleep with my feet out the covers as it is. Give it a go though, it may work better for you!

Huperzine-A: Huperzine-A is a supplement that’s popular as a sleep aid and which might also help you to recall your dreams and even achieve lucid dreams. It works by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine and is also a popular nootropic. I don’t like messing with neurotransmitters though, especially as this one can also alter your mood.

5-HTTP: 5-HTP is derived from L-trypophan – the amino acid that is found in things like turkey and recommended for sleep. It’s said to enhance mood, decrease appetite and aid sleep. It’s a precursor to the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin too and is often used in combination with GABA. I don’t recommend it for the same reasons as I don’t recommend Hyperzine-A.

Melatonin: Melatonin is the main sleep hormone and it can be taken as a medication. In fact, this is what most sleeping tablets consist of. I don’t recommend it though as it can leave you feeling groggy in the morning and can lead to dependence.

GABA: GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter and like melatonin can be used as a sleep aid – but risks leaving you groggier in the morning and causing dependence. It’s also uncertain whether it can really cross the blood-brain barrier so I’d leave it.

Meditation: Of course meditation can also help you to sleep better by calming your mind and helping you to relax. If you get really good at it then you can even put your brainwaves into calm theta. This is how you enter that hypnagogic state (the moment just before sleep). I really should try using meditation properly but haven’t yet gotten into a good routine. I’ll be experimenting with and writing about meditation a lot more soon though.

 

So there’s 30+ ways to start improving your sleep. You won’t find they all work for you but try them in different combinations and find the ones that do. I’ll be adding to this list over time, so be sure to check back.

Sleep well!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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