Check Out the Best Sleep Book

Shawn Stevenson offers a fantastic synthesis of the best thinking around sleep, nutrition, and mind/body health – all centered on ways to sleep better. This is a great introduction to better sleep for anyone who struggles to get enough of ‘the sleep sauce,’ as he calls it. He covers a lot of ground but also has a deep list of sources noted for each chapter.

He starts out by making the case that sleep is valuable, much more valuable than our modern society gives it credit for. Sleep affects everything from how our body heals and repairs itself, to our appearance, to our mental health and performance. This is no surprise but the book emphasizes again and again how important it is to make sleep a priority in your life. For me this was the most important part of the book and it’s not something you hear a lot from the popular press. If you google ‘how to sleep better,’ few people offer the advice to change your perspective on sleep. Instead of taking sleep for granted, he says, we need to make sleep a priority.

In the book Stevenson shares 21 Power Tips you can put to work immediately – I picked out a few highlights to share with readers of The Better Sleep Project. Two of his tips relate to my own experiences – turning off the screens before bedtime to reduce blue light, and supplementing with magnesium. He clearly works harder on his health than most of us, so there’s no surprise that Stevenson recommends removing all screens from the bedroom, and even to turn them off 90 minutes before bedtime. Another surprise was his recommendation for magnesium supplements rather than melatonin. After I read the book I started using Natural Calm magnesium powder in a tea before bed and it has been fantastic.

Even though I started taking Magnesium with Natural Calm, Stevenson actually recommends applying magnesium to your skin as a spray. I tried this as well and while he makes a good case for why your body absorbs more magnesium through the skin than with a pill or a drink, I still prefer Natural Calm because it’s become such a nice part of my Sleep Ritual. A cup of hot tea slows things down and sends a strong signal that it’s time to go to bed.

Stevenson’s thoughts on Caffeine matched my own experience and added a lot of new information. I absolutely love the feeling that comes after a strong cup of coffee, but those feelings come rarely these days. Stevenson offers a new take to get the most out of coffee – drink it early in the day and drink it strategically. Instead of having coffee every day, drink it for two days then take three off, or two months on then one month off, or drink a lot for periods when you need it but abstain for the rest. This lets your body process all of the caffeine that has built up and makes sure you get the full effect when you do drink it. It’s taken a long time but I’ve finally realized that caffeine is especially potent for me. Anything after lunch and I’m wired until late that night, and if I drink it a few days in a row I’m jittery all the time. Worse, after the initial good feelings wear off I’m left with powerful anxiety that lasts all day. A mind that won’t stop spinning makes it impossible to go to sleep! So I’ve been following Stevenson’s counsel and only drinking strong coffee once every few days or during important work events and I’m getting much more benefit out of it. I do love those hours right after that first cup… and I really love working out after drinking coffee. Taking a break makes it even better.

The last tip from the book I’ll share is to sleep in a cool room – this seems to be somewhat of a no brainer, but it’s hard to put into practice when you consider that the optimal sleep temperature for most humans is between 60-68 degrees. You have to make a conscious effort to get your bedroom this cold. I’ve been putting on the air conditioner lately, even though it’s relatively cool in the evenings, and the difference is huge (sorry environment – we live on the top floor of a large building and the heat rises…). Another insight that Stevenson shares is that insomniacs (people like me who have trouble sleeping) have been shown to have significantly higher core body temperatures before bed. This totally matches my own experience – my wife used to say that sleeping next to me was like sleeping next to a furnace… I’m sold on doing what it takes to make sure the room is cool.

Sleep was a great read that confirmed a lot of what I’ve read in terms of nutrition (Stevenson recommends that we only eat food our ancestors would recognize, echoing the food anthropologist Michael Pollen), and weight loss (stay away from processed carbohydrates and manage your insulin levels, not your calories). There’s a lot of wisdom packed into this slim book – I’ll wrap it up here with the recommendation that you check out the rest…

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