When we sleep well, the world is more likely to feel like a nice, soft place where good things can happen to us. And there’s an evolutionary reason for that feeling: sleep is vital for brain plasticity, memory making, recovery from illness, and metabolic/digestive functioning. Inversely, bad things can happen to you when you don’t sleep well. We recently wrote about the costs of bad sleep to human and economic health.
What actually happens to our bodies when we feel sleepy? A few things: the body starts producing melatonin, the core temperature drops, and a neurotransmitter called adenosine (this is what makes us feel sleepy) builds to a concentration that signals the body to snooze. However, there are lots of things that us humans can (and effectively) do to inhibit all of these parts of the circadian rhythm.
Inviting a restful sleep is as mental asit is physical. Chris Winter, a sleep doctor in Charlottesville, VA, told NPR , “the ability to settle your mind and initiate sleep is a skill, it’s like hitting a curveball—the more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it, and the more confident you’ll become.”
Not only is sleep a skill; so is a ritual. And a ritual is more than just a routine; Psychology Today says that while sleep rituals aren’t necessarily religious, “done properly, they are a solemn performance that prepares you and your body for sleep; they also honor you by providing a time and place for you to focus on yourself.”
Savoring is an important part of a ritual; it sounds simple, but it’s actually hard for our wired, distracted brains to do. Savoring is a mindfulness practice in which we pay attention to the sensations of our actions, even if we feel they are mundane. Brushing your teeth or washing your face can be transformed into small pleasures when we regard them as rites of slowness and stillness.
And if you’re into metrics, we recommend the award-winning Oura Ring , which translates your body signals (like heart rate and temperature throughout the day and night) into actionable insights. I spoke with Dylan Bowman, a pro athlete who was an early adopter of the innovation and uses it nightly to cross-check his subjective feeling on the quality of his sleep with the actual data. “It’s shocking how those things tend to overlap. As a pro athlete, it’s great info to have in order to develop habits.” And if he heeds those learnings, “there’s a huge benefit,” which extends to both athletes and the casual fitness and wellness-minded alike.
Here’s how to sleep well, in five easy-ish steps.
Mind your caffeine
Here comes the -ish part; a sleep ritual actually starts when you wake up. Caffeine (a magical potion, in my personal opinion) works by blocking your brain’s receptors for adenosine—that’s the one that makes us feel sleepy. Here’s the thing: like the Agents in the Matrix, these adenosine guys don’t go away; the caffeine just temporarily blocks them from their target. When you feel your afternoon caffeine crash, what you’re actually feeling is a flood of adenosine making you lethargic. The half-life of caffeine is about 5 hours, which means that it can take up to 10 hours to leave your body; so quit before noon. A performance tip: a quick afternoon workout can energize you even more effectively than your 2p.m. coffee or sugar fix.
Don’t go to bed hungry, and consider alternatives to alcohol
You know the adage, “never go to bed angry.” Your stomach agrees . Like emotions, your stomach needs to be settled for a good night’s rest. There are many kinds of cultural wisdom about what time you should eat dinner (try eating dinner before 8pm in Italy). Generally, nutritionists tend to agree that nutritional value and consistency of dinner time is what matters most, and that digesting dinner well before bedtime supports a healthy sleep cycle. If your appetite kicks back in (and you’re not dehydrated), you’ll want a small snack that’s part protein, part complex carbs sans sugar or caffeine (like jerky, fruit and nuts). You’ll also want to wrap strenuous exercise at least 90 minutes before bedtime.
Instead of alcohol—which at first teases drowsiness but then metabolizes hours after and wakes (and leaves) you up in the middle of the night—opt for plant-based alternatives, like valerian, chamomile, magnesium, or CBD. We love Charlotte’s Web™ sleep gummies , a botanical supplement that pairs melatonin with CBD and hemp to help support quality sleep and regulate sleep cycles. They also happen to be super yummy. Pro athlete Dylan Bowman shares our opinion; “When you remove something that’s catastrophic for sleep like alcohol, and you replace it with CBD, you’ll notice a profound difference in quality of sleep, which is essential for performance.”
Turn off the screens, and leave them out of the bedroom
If your screen treats you like a trained dog responding to pavlovian cues, give it a taste of its own medicine—consider the living room its dog house. A 2011 study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that exposure to bright electric lights after dusk can suppress melatonin levels—and it’s well known that blue screen light is especially disruptive.
According to sleep expert Matthew Walker , our brains are so responsive to the power of suggestion that if you do certain activities in bed—for example, working Proust-style on your laptop (since, apparently, a huge percentage of the workforce took to working from bed during the pandemic), or scrolling social media, or snacking—your brain will internalize that “The Bed = The Activity,” and everything that activity does to your brain (dopamine, serotonin, cortisol).
Scientists said it , not us: your brain is for sex and sleeping. Same goes for the state of your bedroom: if it’s messy, you’ll be more anxious, and if it’s de-cluttered, you’ll feel more calm.
Science tells us that the first 20 minutes of your day is when your subconscious is most impressionable—when we wake up, our brain works at 10.5 wave cycles per second. Whatever you experience in those first 20 minutes sets the tone of the rest of your day. That’s part of why we like OneClock , which effectively replaces your phone’s grating wake-up call. An elegant, tactile, low-tech analog clock that wakes you up gently with actually good music (or the music you transfer to its drive), this digital disconnector makes the bedroom a sanctuary for positive feelings. In this case, just as less is more, low-tech is high-tech.
Equally important is self-care to calm the nervous system: this includes soothing activities like baths, aromatherapy, reading, journaling, mental imaging, meditation, and massage.
We’re fans of the Lyric Massager , a new kind of smart massage tool that combines touch and movement with vibroacoustic frequencies that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. On the science behind why this works, doctor of physical therapy Jena Gatses says, "therapies that incorporate rhythmic frequencies have the ability to guide the body to its parasympathetic mode, allowing it to slow down and rest, but they can also activate the body's sympathetic mode, leading to feeling alert, awake and energized.” It’s shockingly quiet for its power, and doubles as sculptural decor.
According to the National Sleep Foundation , the ideal sleep temperature is about 65 degrees. Matthew Walker reiterates this, and says that “your core body temperature needs to drop by about 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate good sleep and then maintain deep sleep.” Our CoolLife sleepwear and sheets (now in new styles and colors) are the first of their kind designed to help your body do exactly that; by releasing 100% of your body heat, they effectively lower your body temperature by about 2°F, inducing deep sleep. Also (if you’re not deeply offended by the concept): wear socks to bed, which draw the heat out of your body’s core.
Leave the thermostat at 65 degrees, and let CoolLife sleepwear do the rest. This conserves energy required to power heating systems, and keeps you in deep sleep.