You’re here because you want to get better sleep.
Well my friend, you’ve come to the right place!
We believe proper sleep is so critical for health, we discuss it with each one of our coaching clients. Today, we’ll share our tips for sleeping like a log with you too.
Here’s what we’ll cover in our Ultimate Guide to Getting Better Sleep:
Let’s get right to it so you can go hit the hay.
Sleep is freaking important, and you should get more of it!
Article over, I’m going on break!
Before we cover why sleep is important, let’s talk about what happens when you don’t get enough.
For example: If you manage to only get four hours of sleep, a sleep deprived body can actually act similarly to an intoxicated body. 
Getting less sleep than average regularly? This is correlated with increased bodyfat percentage, more issues with insulin sensitivity, and even a disproportionate decrease in lean muscle mass when eating a caloric deficit.
We all know missing sleep can make us grouchy, miserable, unfocused, and unproductive.
I know I’m going to have a crappy day in the gym when I don’t get enough sleep the night before. I know not sleeping enough AFTER a workout day can further hinder the muscle-building process. So, what else happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
Here are some potential consequences of forgoing sleep:
- Brain shrinkage. Studies have found a correlation between sleep deprivation and brain atrophy. While correlation doesn’t prove causation, it’s believed that disrupting sleep impacts our ability to restore and heal our organs, including our brains.
- Raised blood pressure. Insufficient sleep might increase your blood pressure. A lack of sleep can impact your central nervous system and your body’s ability to regulate blood pressure.
- Increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Certain metabolic diseases, like diabetes, are associated with sleep deprivation. This study found that disrupted sleep might influence our hormones, perhaps increasing our chance of insulin resistance.
- Shortened lifespan. When you add up the increased risk of disease from too little sleep, it’s no wonder that a meta-analysis found a lack of sleep is associated with an increase of all-cause mortality.
Conversely, let’s talk about the awesomeness that is sleep. Here are the benefits associated with getting enough shut-eye:
- Sleep will enhance your memory performance and creative problem solving skills. You know, those things that make you smart.
- Sleep can boost your athletic performance. And we all know appearance is a consequence of fitness.
- Sleep triggers the release of human growth hormone (HGH), which plays a huge role in muscle and cellular regeneration.
- Sleep cuts your risk for the common cold and other basic illnesses. Less sick days at work = more productivity, more awesome, more leveling up.
- Sleep makes you more resilient to daily stress..aka more willpower!
Moral of the story: Sleep is awesome.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
There’s some debate on exactly how much sleep a person needs.
But there are some best practices.
7 to 9 hours is widely accepted as the ideal target for a good night’s rest. The National Sleep Foundation promotes this range, and researchers in the UK did a study that corroborated the recommendation.
We’ll roll with 7 to 9 hours as an ideal target for a good night’s sleep.
I should note, that there is a small percentage of people who have a “rare” gene that allows them to get by on 6 hours of sleep or less.
“Steve, I’m sure I’m one of those mutants who only needs 6 hours of sleep. Sounds like I’m good to go, right?”
As much as we all want to be part of the X-Men…
I used the word rare there intentionally because only about 4 in 100,000 people have this specific mutation.
Realistically, you probably don’t have the special gene that makes you need less sleep. Sorry.
This is why the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society both recommend “healthy adults” get at least 7 hours of sleep.
Knowing you need to get 7 hours of sleep is one thing. But knowing is only half the battle…
So let’s get to the root of the problem for most:
“I know I need to sleep more, but my day is too busy and I just can’t get to bed sooner or wake up earlier.”
First and foremost, you’re not alone. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a third of all working Americans get six hours or fewer of sleep a night.
Does any of this sound like you?
- I am always freaking tired, and I need five cups of coffee to get through the day.
- Even on days when I get enough sleep, I wake up groggy.
- I get to ‘bed’ but I toss and turn and it takes me forever to fall asleep.
- I hit snooze half a dozen times before miserably crawling out of bed.
What Does Good Sleep Look Like? (The Perfect Night)
Let’s imagine a perfect night:
You go to bed at a time that you’re happy with. You’re not stressed out because you didn’t just watch The Walking Dead, you’re reading a good fiction book in bed that’s putting you closer to sleep rather than checking your smartphone or screwing around on the internet (damn you Twitch.tv).
You sleep uninterrupted through the night. You have kickass dreams.
When you wake up, wither naturally or with an alarm…you immediately get out of bed, without a single snooze, and you feel damn good. You then crush your morning routine and dominate your day.
If you’re looking at your screen and laughing right now, you’re not alone. I’d guess this is a pipe dream for a huge majority of our society because they’re not sure how sleep actually works, and thus have NOT made sleep a priority.
It’s time to start looking at sleep as one of your most important tasks. Like I said, we value it so much here, that we bring up sleep duration and quality with every single member of our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program.
What Are the Stages of Sleep?
Like the Indiana Jones movies, sleep can vary in quality.
Some types of sleep can be great, while some sleep can be crappy (and potentially involve aliens).
Let’s take a quick look at the different stages of sleep first.
We have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep, and Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep:
- Non-REM Sleep Stage 1: Where you’re kind of asleep…but not really…but working on it. This lasts about 5-10 minutes.
- Non-REM Sleep Stage 2: Your heart rate slows, your body temperature decreases, and you start to drop further into slumber…this can last about 20 minutes or so.
- Non-REM Sleep Stage 3 and 4: also called “slow-wave sleep,” and each can last up to 30 minutes. These stages are where you get “deep sleep.”
- REM Sleep: This is the point of the night where your eyeballs flail around your eye socket. It’s also when dreaming occurs, and one of the most important stages for mental functioning the next day.
Your body goes through these stages in order, but as you repeat sleep cycles (which are 90 minutes), the duration can shift dramatically.
Sleep Junkies provides a pretty good graph of different sleep cycles (in their article on sleep and alcohol), which we’ll borrow below:
In this example of “Cycle 5” the sleeper barely spends any time in “deep sleep,” but much more time in REM sleep.
Our bodies are cray like that.
What’s with the different stages of sleep?
- During the deep stages of NREM sleep (3 and 4), our bodies build bone and muscle (like after you strength train), repairs tissue, and boosts our immune system.
- When your body kicks into REM sleep, this is when your brain has increased activity and leads to dreaming, while your body is the most ‘paralyzed’ and knocked out. Some studies say that REM is most important for restoring brain functions. 
What’s crazy is that your entire morning can be dictated by what stage of sleep you were in before waking up. If you’ve ever only slept a few hours and woke up feeling great, or conversely slept plenty of hours but woke up groggy, this could explain it!
Don’t worry, I’ll explain exactly how to stop this from happening with the Nerd Fitness Sleep Calculator.
How to Get Better Sleep (The Single Best Advice on Better Shuteye)
We have a circadian rhythm (a daily biological clock) that ebbs and flows throughout the day.
Our body uses outside stimuli and our own activity to produce certain hormones at certain times to make our body more prepared for the required functions at that time (alertness vs restfulness).
Look at it from an evolutionary perspective – way back in the day (which was a Wednesday):
- When the sun rose, our bodies are signaled “the day has begun! get cracking!” We reduce the hormones that make us sleepy, and produce more hormones that allow us to do the things that need to get done.
- As the sun went down, our body starts to produce more melatonin, which produces that sleepy feeling and encourages us to rest/recover. Our only option for light back then was a candle or campfire. If that went out, we’d have moonlight and nothing else.
- While sleeping, our bodies knew to cut back on urine production, decrease body temperature, decrease heart rate, and muscle activity. Our brains are still highly active during our sleeping.
Unfortunately, these days, our bodies aren’t tied to the rise and fall of that giant ball of gas above us.
Instead, we can use electricity, alarm clocks, computer screens, smart phone screens, and all other sorts of outside stimuli to adjust our natural sleeping schedule.
This means that our bodies often have no effin’ clue what time it is!
Outside of our circadian rhythm, we have another biological system that tells us when to go to bed: the chemical adenosine.
Think of it as “sleep pressure.” As soon as you wake up, your body starts to produce adenosine. When it hits a certain threshold, you get tired and start thinking about your pillow.
You really want your circadian rhythm and adenosine buildup in sync. When they’re not, it’s terrible.
You may have experienced it: jetlag comes about when you’re in a different part of the world than your home, so the change in daylight throws off your circadian rhythm.
For example, let’s say it was daylight when I left London and it’s daylight when I arrive in New York 10 hours later.
But your sleep pressure system doesn’t know this, so it’s trying to send you to bed, despite it being high noon.
Here’s when things can really go haywire: you finally get to bed in New York, but your circadian rhythm is still linked to London (which is now morning), so it starts making you more alert despite being nighttime in Manhattan.
And insomnia ensures…
This brings us to the single best advice on getting better sleep: do what you can to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Even on weekends whenever possible.
This helps your circadian rhythm and adenosine buildup stay in line with each other. Things get awful when these two systems are out of whack.
This isn’t our only piece of advice on getting better sleep!
Here are 10 more tips on engineering a perfect night’s rest:
#1) Avoid screens as you get closer to bedtime. Why avoid screen time? A couple of things to consider:
- There is some evidence that the light emitted from electronic devices interferes with our circadian rhythm. Artificial light, specifically blue light, is thought to confuse our body’s internal block. To capitalize on this concern, companies are now selling blue light blocking glasses, which are advertised as sleep aids. Studies done on the effectiveness of these blue light blockers are mixed.
- What else can be going on? Our devices are designed to monopolize our attention, which means we spend more time on our phones instead of sleeping. We’ve all been there. Which is why there’s an association of social media use and sleep deprivation.
#2) Consider purchasing red lightbulbs to use in your bedroom lamps, so your bedroom is a place of soft light rather than bright/harsh light.
#3) Keep your bedroom cool (but not too cold). Outside of light, our bodies use temperature as a signal to go to bed. It gets colder at night, so this shift in temperature tells our body it’s time to go to sleep. Personally, I’ve found that keeping my bedroom cool helps me fall asleep. It’s been a real gamechanger. What’s the sweet spot? Experiment a little here, but shoot for somewhere between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit (15-19 Celsius). Just don’t go too cold, which can also disrupt your rest.
#4) Consider getting black-out curtains for your bedroom windows, especially if you live in a city. Living in a city, there’s always something bright and shiny happening outside my window – it wasn’t until I purchased super dark curtains to cover up my windows that I noticed an improvement in my ‘fall-asleep time.’
#5) Earplugs or a white noise machine might be a good idea. Sounds and other forms of ear pollution can be a distraction when you’re trying to sleep. White noise machines might drown some of this out, and studies show they do help, but some good ole fashioned earplugs could do the trick too.
#6) No TV in bed. This might be incredibly difficult for you if you’ve been falling asleep to TV for years. Instead of falling asleep with the blue glow of a TV at the foot of your bed, read a book – trust me, it will put you right to sleep.
#7) Get in the habit of reading fiction. Reading puts me to sleep within a few minutes most night, though only if I’m reading fiction. When reading non-fiction, my mind starts to race with all of the new ideas and things I could be working on. Either read real books or read on a Kindle, no iPads!
#8) Buy the right TYPE of Mattress for you: I slept on a soft mattress with two mattress pads for a few months years ago and wondered why I woke up with lower back pain every day. Turns out, my back was jacked up, and the soft mattress made things even worse. Since switching to a firm mattress, I wake up without back pain. Lesson learned here: I’m not smart.
#9) A lot of this can depend on HOW you sleep! Are you a side sleeper? Back sleeper? Stomach sleeper? Turns out there’s some evolutionary reasons why some styles work better than others! Personally, I use the “half-military crawl position” outlined by Tim Ferriss (scroll down to tip 11 for the position)
How to Get More Sleep
So we’ve covered how to get BETTER sleep, what if you also need to get more of it?
In order to start getting more sleep, sleep must become more of a priority. If you constantly stay up too late because things need to get done, evaluate how your time is spent after work. Seriously, think about it!
- Are you doing the important tasks first? Or are you messing around on the internet and not starting your tasks until late in the evening.
- Are you watching late-night shows long after they’ve become enjoyable, simply because your DVR records them?
- Are you checking your smart phone while in bed, watching Twitch, or using your laptop to watch more shows you don’t really care about on Netflix?
Yes, I understand we have parents who read Nerd Fitness and have to stay awake and function on minimal sleep (I commend you, and wish you luck!).
However, for many of us, less sleep is often a result of disorganized priorities and poor use of our time.
Here are the best practical tips for giving you the greatest chance at getting into bed earlier:
- Don’t drink caffeine after lunch if possible. Caffeine can have an effect up to 6 hours after consumption. We love caffeine for many reasons (in moderation); however, you want to make sure its not consumed too late or your body will revolt.
- Turn off the electronics sooner. I have to enforce a “laptops closed by 8PM” or a “TV off after 10PM” rule on many nights or I never get to bed. I get lost in Internetland far too easily. Putting in actual barriers really helps. If you find yourself checking Facebook and Twitter and other sites incessantly, BLOCK YOURSELF from those sites after a certain time.
- Stop watching crap TV shows! Just because it exists doesn’t mean you need to watch it. Pick a FEW shows you watch on Netflix, but be wary of the “auto-play” next episode! Netflix is counting on you to be lazy to watch another episode accidentally instead of getting sleep.
- Shift things by 15 minutes every week. If you want to get to bed sooner, don’t just try to get to bed an hour earlier than normal. You’ll probably lie in bed for that whole hour wondering why you can’t fall asleep, stressing yourself out and making things worse (remember our lesson on circadian rhythm). I shifted my pattern by waking up 15 minutes earlier and getting to bed 15 minutes sooner. Then I repeated that process over a series of weeks. Eventually, you can shift your bedtime by an hour or two, but do it gradually!
How to Wake Up (The NF Sleep Calculator)
Is there any more annoying sound in the world than the “beep beep beep” of an alarm clock?
Well, maybe this.
But you get the point.
So here you are, dreaming about riding a dragon, doing improv with Liam Neeson, and playing poker with Iron Man and Spock…and that damn alarm clock wakes you up. You are now incredibly groggy and miserable.
Here’s what’s happening: Remember earlier how we talked about different sleep cycles? Depending on which cycle you were woken up during, your body can struggle to move from “asleep” to “wide awake.”
- Wake up in the right phase and you can feel energized and ready to go.
- Wake up in the wrong phase and you will feel lethargic and sleepy.
Because we’re often waking up at times when we’re not ready to wake up, timing can be everything when it comes to getting out of bed.
Have no fear! Let’s give you a timetable to base your sleep schedule on, so your alarm clock isn’t so jarring.
Here are some assumptions we’ll use:
- You need about 15 minutes to fall asleep.
- A sleep cycle is 90 minutes.
- You want 5 or 6 sleep cycles (our 7-9 hours range).
THE NERD FITNESS SLEEP CALCULATOR
Wake up: 5am
- Bedtime for 5 Sleep Cycles (7.5 hr): 9:15pm
- Bedtime for 6 Sleep Cycles (9 hr): 7:45pm
Wake up: 6:30am
- Bedtime for 5 Sleep Cycles (7.5 hr): 10:45pm
- Bedtime for 6 Sleep Cycles (9 hr): 9:15pm
Wake up: 8am
- Bedtime for 5 Sleep Cycles (7.5 hr): 12:15am
- Bedtime for 6 Sleep Cycles (9 hr): 10:45pm
You get the gist. Try to time your alarm clock to a natural break between sleep cycles.
Technology might help here too!
- Set a “go to bed” alarm, rather than a wake up alarm! Remind yourself WHEN you should go to sleep. Bonus points if you can rig it to also shut off your wifi so that you actually have nothing exciting left to do in your house except read a book and go to sleep!
- Try a dawn-simulator alarm clock. Rather than waking yourself up in the pitch black with a disgusting beeping noise, why not gradually rise as if there was an natural sunrise in your room?
Feel free to sing the first line of “Circle of Life” at this point. I just did.
Also, DON’T SNOOZE!
Instead of snoozing, set your alarm for 30 minutes later and SKIP snoozing entirely. If this is an issue for you, put your alarm across the room so you need to physically get out of bed to turn it off!
Here are a couple more tips to help your alertness in the morning:
- Still feeling groggy? Go for a walk first thing. A mile every morning, if you can. Heck, do it while walking to Mordor! Walking outside and seeing that blue sky can trigger your body to release the hormones that encourage you to feel more awake and alive.
- Consider blue light therapy during the day. Productivity guru Tim Ferriss swears by it, and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, so I’ll be testing one out during the winter months to see if my mornings are marked by increased energy. If you’ve used one and had positive/negative experiences, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Am I a Night Owl or a Lark? (Why Am I Not a Morning Person?)
According to studies, about 1 in 10 people are true morning people (“larks”), while 2 in 10 are considered “night owls.” The rest fit somewhere in the middle as “hummingbirds.”
What this means: Some of us are more alert at certain times of the day and naturally want to rise earlier or stay up later. 
Now, the difference between the two extremes isn’t as DRASTIC as we’ve made it out to be. Humans can never be truly naturally nocturnal – we don’t have night vision (yet…).
We’re not programmed to operate during the middle of the night. But, we CAN use our natural tendencies to help us be more efficient and productive during certain parts of the day.
We can change and adapt. Just like those who successfully work a night shift job (tips on that here), many who consider themselves a night owl may find they can become a morning person if they set themselves up for success.
I used the excuse for years of being a “night owl” to screw around all day and work from midnight to 4 AM each night, when it really just required a shifting of my priorities and productivity hacks.
What this all means: Identify your biological clock and try to adjust around it if possible. However, if your job requires you to get up early or stay up later, most of us can make an adjustment. Don’t let your poor habits blame “being a night owl” like I used to.
Should I Take Naps? (How to Nap During the Day)
Although generally not part of a day here in the States, we’re actually programmed to desire a quick nap in the early afternoon.
In other countries, naps are more socially acceptable (Siesta? Si, por favor!). If you feel bad that you get tired in the early afternoon, it’s not because you’re lazy. It’s because you’re naturally wired for naptime. Now, you might still be lazy, but it’s not related to your nap schedule.
So, behold the power of the power nap:
Didn’t get enough sleep last night? Only have 20-30 minutes for a quick break? Try the caffeine-fueled power nap.
Fun fact: If you’ve slept less than normal, taking a 90 minute nap the following day could lead to an increased amount of REM sleep in that nap.
What Is Sleep Apnea? (What’s the Best Treatment for Sleep Apnea?)
Sleep apnea is a condition where someone periodically stops breathing while sleeping.
While there are a few different versions of sleep apnea, the most common is “Obstructive Sleep Apnea,” which occurs when throat muscles become overly relaxed.
A telltale sign of obstructive sleep apnea is loud snoring, although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can potentially be pretty serious, what with the whole not breathing thing going on. It depends on the severity of the condition.
- If it’s mild, it could be mostly harmless.
- If it’s serve, not breathing correctly could majorly disrupt sleep, to the point of increasing the risk of certain diseases.
How do you know if your sleep apnea is mild or severe?
Unfortunately, the only way to really be sure is to head to the doctor. If you go to your primary care physician, they will likely refer you to a sleep specialist to find out.
If you feel tired in the morning despite getting plenty of sleep, and a partner or loved one complains that you snore, it might be worth looking into a sleep apnea diagnosis.
I will mention that being overweight can contribute to obstructive sleep apnea, so weight loss could be a possible treatment.
If weight loss is your goal, then you’ve come to the right place. We specialize in helping people achieve sustainable weight loss.
I’ve got a couple of resources to help you start your journey:
- How to Lose Weight (Without Dieting): check out our guide on the 5 rules for sustainable weight loss. If you’re not sure where to start, start there.
- Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program: if you want a trained professional to tell you exactly what to do, check out our coaching program. Many clients jumpstart their weight loss journey with the help of a NF Coach, and the results they’ve achieved can be incredible.
In the meantime, try a different sleeping position (like the aforementioned half-military crawl position to keep your passages open).
What Is Second Sleep? (Waking up in the Middle of the Night)
Biphasic Sleep is sleeping in two distinct periods.
We’re gonna go back in the day again: during winter months, night time could last 12-14 hours.
With our bodies’ production of melatonin (the “sleepy time” hormone) kicking into high gear when that sun drops, people had nothing else to do (no TV, PS4, or iPads) and would fall asleep early. Then they would wake up for an hour or two in the middle of the night to read, pray, or think, and then fall back asleep for another 4-5 hours before waking up for the day.
If you’ve ever gone to bed at a normal hour, and then woke up in the middle of the night without being able to fall back asleep for an hour or so, you know what I’m talking about.
Here’s the thing: this is actually quite natural!
Rather than freaking the heck out and lying in bed wondering why you can’t fall asleep…consider it something that is more common than our current sleep schedule. Don’t be afraid to turn on the light (red light!) and read a book or use the time for meditation until you can fall back asleep.
4 Tips and Tricks to Hack Sleep
I stumbled across the BEST biohack for optimal human performance.
It’s tricky, but here’s what to do:
Lie in bed with your eyes closed, for like, 7-9 hours.
If you can actually pull this off, productivity for the next 16 hours will be INSANE.
I call it “Macrodozing.”
— Steve Kamb (@SteveKamb) January 31, 2020
#2) Clear your mind, Neo.
I often spend my nights in bed thinking and worrying about all of the things I need to do the next day. Instead of stressing out about it, take a minute and write down the things you need to do the next day, and then set it aside.
A notebook, a post-it note, an Evernote file, whatever.
Do a brain-dump and clear your head so you can focus on reading A Game of Thrones without thinking about the next day’s tasks.
#3) Want to control your dreams? It’s called “Lucid Dreaming,” it’s possible, but requires work. I’ve only been able to do it once, but haven’t given up hope that it can become a more common occurrence! Ultimately, this allows you to live out a real-life version of Inception.
#4) Have way too much time on your hands and not constricted by societal norms? Try Polyphasic sleep and then tell me how it goes 🙂 It didn’t work for Kramer, but it might work for you!
Start Sleeping Better Tonight (Next Steps)
Like, anything, that which gets measured gets improved.
Now, if you’re somebody that isn’t really detail-oriented, just start by picking ONE or two changes above, and focus on building that Hard Hat Habit. However, if you like to nerd out about certain details, why not nerd out about your sleep?
Starting tomorrow morning, when you wake up, recap the previous day with a journal entry:
- What time did you wake up, and what time did you actually get out of bed?
- How many times did you hit snooze?
- After work, how much television did you watch? After you finished watching, did you go right to bed? Did you fall asleep with the TV on?
- How long did you lie in bed before actually falling asleep (obviously this will be tough to tell, but you can estimate).
A quick recap on what to do:
- Change one or two things about your current strategy.
- Turn off the computer 15 minutes earlier.
- Stop watching TV in bed.
- Read fiction.
- Limit the amount of blue light and screen activities that amp you up at night.
- No more snoozing.
- Set the alarm clock across the room.
- Go for a walk in the morning outside.
That should just about do it for today’s article.
If you’re looking for where to go from here, I’ve got some options for you. But I’m only gonna tell you, because you’ve been a good sport this whole article.
NEXT STEPS IF YOU WANT TO GO FARTHER!
#1) Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program: a coaching program for busy people to help them lose weight, get strong, and level up their lives!
We take sleep so seriously, we discuss it with each and every client.
#2) Exercising at home and need a plan to follow? Have questions you need answered? Join Nerd Fitness Prime!
Nerd Fitness Prime is our premium membership program that contains at-home exercise routines, live-streamed workouts with NF Coaches, a supportive online community, group challenges, and much more!
#3) Join our amazing free community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion! Not only is it free to join, but we’ll provide you with loads of free goodies when you sign-up:
Get your Nerd Fitness Starter Kit
- The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
- Full guide to the most effective diet and why it works.
- Complete and track your first workout today, no gym required.
Now, I’d love to hear from you:
- What questions do you have about sleeping?
- How have you learned to be better at it?
- What are you still struggling with?
- Have you tried sunrise alarm clocks or blue-light devices?
- What are your favorite sleep aids or sleep hacks?
Let’s hear it!
photo sources: Sleep Cycle, Tired Lego, Sleeping Lego, Sleeping Puppy, Sleeping Baby, Sleeping Cat, Sleeping Koala, Sleeping Bunnies, Side Sleeping Lego, Sleeping Kitty, Owl, late alarm clock, Sleeping Tiger, Notepad, Laughing Buddha,