How I Mastered Sleep after 20 years of Struggle

Practical tips to sleep well, learned the hard way …

Photo by Albert S on Unsplash

9 AM in the morning sleeping deep on my bed, suddenly the finest electronic music started playing by a pre-programmed application on my PC, high enough to wake-up everyone at home except me, my brother enters the room and walks towards my bed, he nudged me and said: “wake up … the party has just started” !

That was just one example of how bad my sleep was during my teenage years, in my 20s things didn’t improve much and I always had sleep problems at different levels, fast forward to 2019 I started shifting my life priorities, I started taking sleep more seriously, then in 2020 came the Covid-19 blast. Initially, I was negatively affected by it but it was also the point when I finally managed to fix most of my pending problems, one of which was being able to get consistently high-quality sleep just like any normal human being

2020 was a nightmare and bliss, it gave me two gifts I have never had before: first, a strong motive to become healthier — for better immunity against covid— and second the luxury of time to experiment and improve (I was a Freelancer during the time of Corona and I was directly affected). 2020 helped me take actions and apply all the things I learned about sleep throughout my life, I have watched a countless number of videos, books, blogs, articles and many more but never really succeeded in applying those learning until 2020, it took me from March to October to change and build new habits which at the end led me to a great sleeping experience … finally !

The results of my sleep improvement journey can be summarized as follows

To sleep well, every day, you will need to change … to change your lifestyle completely, what you eat, your bad habits, your environment, your mental & physical health and many more, you will need so much discipline and persistence. Sleep is not easy, there is no shortcuts or free lunch here, but waking up fresh and recovered every day is so damn worth it and will affect your life in many different ways

Your bad habits

Everyone has a set of bad habits that affects sleep and are usually hard to quit or handle, below I am listing mine and how I handled them

Coffee & Drinks

I am a coffee addict, for me, a day that doesn’t start with coffee is a bad day, however, I am also very sensitive to coffee and it was one of the main factors affecting my sleep and reducing my sleep quality

This year I stopped coffee on weekdays for the first time ever — I also tried not drinking after 12, 15, 17 PM, but stopping was safer and more consistent since I am very sensitive to coffee, I also reduced chocolate at night since it contains caffeine

With the reduction of my coffee intake I had to find alternatives, calming hot drinks (like Chamomile, Anise and Mint) in addition to the general health benefits they also reduce stress and anxiety … which fits with well with good sleep

Digital Activity after 10 PM

Screen light from your laptop, smartphone and TV at night affects your ability to sleep well in two different ways, first is obviously “light” which gives a signal to your brain that “it is not sleeping time”, also intense brain activity at night (Work or watching an action Movie) stimulates your brain, such activities makes it harder for your brain to slow down and get into sleep mode

This is what I did to fix that

  • I don’t work, open my laptop or check my cell phone after 10 PM
  • I canceled Netflix completely since I had the habit of watching Netflix every day before I sleep

Eating late

Eating requires digestion, and people don’t sleep well when they have undigested food in their stomach, also the type of food you eat affects your sleep, below is what I did to avoid disrupting my sleep by food

  • I don’t eat any heavy meal after 8 PM — only hot drinks and fruits (bananas)
  • I try to avoid extreme foods that cause bloating or dehydration, also food that contains Caffeine (for example: dark chocolate)

Similar bad habits to look out for

  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Laziness (not being physically active)

Build good habits

Here are some of the good habits I adopted to help me sleep better

  • I play 20 minutes of sport in-house every day (morning and before the last meal)
  • I try to get exposed to the Sun and have long walks whenever possible
  • I “try” to sleep and wake up at consistent times both on weekends and weekdays
  • I try to remind myself before sleep “why I should wake up early and what do I lose when I over/under-sleep”
  • I always try to make sure I am not anxious or have unfinished business inside my head before I sleep. Try to pray, meditate or do breathing exercises, just do your best not to be in a bad mood before sleep

Improve your Environment

I have found sleep to be directly affected by the environment we are in, think about times when you were camping, how easy was it to sleep in nature ?

  • I try to turn off/dim all the lights from 10 to 11 PM which I call the cool-down period, a period to give a clear message to my body that it is sleeping time
  • I make sure the room is dark, not very warm (around 21c) and not very dry (40+ I bought a humidifier for that)

Physical health

  • I take multivitamins (including Vitamin D) daily
  • I started cooking and eating healthy in 2020
  • I tried to find if I have any physical issues affecting my sleep (for example sleep apnea) but luckily I only found that I suffer from light snoring (try SnoreLab App) which sometimes reduces sleep quality. Before I sleep I make sure my airways are clear using many techniques (like mint drinks or nasal wash)

Controlling deviations

Doing all the above improved my sleep significantly, now the norm is “I sleep well”, only in rare cases I deviate and have a bad day, and for that I have my controlling mechanism in place: I use a 1mg Melatonin pill to help me sleep early and well on bad days. It helps me avoid ruining the next day and getting into that vicious cycle

That’s it, HTH & I wish you great sleep and a relaxed body when you wake up everyday

Freelance Consultant — Data & Product. Writing about Data, Entrepreneurship and Life. https://karim.ouda.net