It started at 12 years old...
I can’t remember what kind of illness I’d had, but I got to stay home from school, drink ginger ale, and watch MTV and VH1 all day. A classic win for a 90s kid, no doubt. Yet whatever that illness was, it could never be as bad as what followed that night.
After a long day of lounging in bed, when nighttime came, I just couldn’t fall asleep. It was unbearable. For hours I lay there with Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” playing on repeat in my head (I’ve hated the song ever since). When midnight came and went, I grew angry. I punched my pillow. Teachers had always warned that a growing boy needs 8 hours of sleep, and here I was getting 6, 5, 4…it was scary. Would I be okay? Was I that messed up?
I can still remember the frustration clearly.
Unfortunately, it never really ended. Like most insomniacs, however, I did learn to cope. In high school I just stayed up reading. In college, I guzzled coffee and soldiered on, chanting “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” In my twenties I discovered the soporific powers of a bottle of wine (or maybe two), and eventually discovered Z-drugs, which brought some respite (though not without awful side effects).
However, it wasn’t until exactly twenty years later, at 32, that I finally learned how to sleep. I was throwing darts in a bar with my typical raccoon-eyed look, when an older Australian gentleman in a fedora said: “You look like you need some magnesium, mate.”
“Magnesium? Huh? What are you selling?”
At first, I thought this gentleman was crazy. Yet at 67 years old, he looked 45, had a 40-year-old girlfriend, and was allegedly the star of a 50-and-under rugby league (which he’d used a fake ID to join). So, I was willing to listen.
“Just trust me,” he said. “Take a heavy dose of magnesium citrate after dinner. You can get it at the pharmacy down the street. Then, tell me how you feel tomorrow.”
And I did. I went down to the pharmacy, loaded up on magnesium capsules, then swallowed 400mg with a big glass of water.
When I saw the Australian man the next day, he laughed out loud. He didn’t even wait for me to speak.
“See!” he said. “You already look five years younger!”
And I did, truly. Because that night I’d slept like a rock. From that day on, I was addicted. One night of sleep utterly changed my life. In time, and through many conversations with that gloriously crazy Australian gentleman, I started tweaking my sleepy-time concoction, as well as my daily habits. Pale and raccoon-eyed throughout my youth, I wanted to be tanned and energetic for the rest of my life, just like my friend. He gave me more tips. Add zinc. Try a super-tiny dose of melatonin. “And most importantly: have fun every day! The first 60 years of childhood are the hardest, I promise.”
Now, I’m not quite as energetic as my friend. He’s an odd Australian superhero of some kind. I do, however, sleep nine hours every night. Though I spent decades battling soul-curdling insomnia, now, I sleep like a baby. This is how I won the war:
Reasonable exercise (at minimum) every day
I mean it, every single day. Of course, you don’t have to be a full-time gym nerd. 30 minutes of walking and a few pushups are more than enough (and are also great for looking good naked). Moving around daily and making consistent progress is key. Humans evolved to be mobile creatures, to burn calories and traverse our landscape. If you lay around on the couch all day, not engaging your muscles or your mind, then what does the body need to recover from? What compels it to sleep?
To sleep like a human, you need to be a human, to move and get sweaty. So, go walk through the park. Do pullups. Play with your kids and chase the dog. You will sleep better. (But just make sure to take a shower before you get into bed.)
Eat like you're training for the Olympics
Clean, whole, earth-grown foods. Piles of vegetables. It’s magical what this does to your body and your mind. Abs show up. Depression disappears. Libido swells and sleep comes easier.
Okay, okay, you’re not a robot. 80% of the time is enough. Do enjoy wine and cheesecake when you’re having a social dinner with friends. Don’t be a dork about it.
But I promise: if you clean up your diet, you will sleep more soundly at night. That means no Cheetos. No chemistry-in-a-can energy drinks. No stomach-bubbling Taco Bell.
Let’s face it, you’ve got to compromise. The equation of health has to balance out. Luckily, it’s easier than ever. We live in the greatest time in human history. There’s glorious, fresh food available right now at your local grocery store. It’s there. Eat it. Love it. Then go to sleep knowing your body is getting younger on the inside every night.
Take Hibernate after dinner
Backed with the latest scientific research, I designed Hibernate as my own perfect sleep supplement. It’s a dream. It’s everything I want, and it ensures that I both fall asleep, and stay asleep, all night long. It shores up the nutritional deficiencies that are hardest to fill through a natural diet. It’s drug-free and non habit-forming. And best of all, it works. It simply works.
Light candles at night instead of overhead electric lights
This is a pro move. It’s like having your own campfire. It’s cozy, and does great things to our primitive brains.
Seriously, most people have no idea how electric light can disturb natural sleep cycles. Even “good sleepers,” those who say they can fall asleep anywhere, don’t realize how visual stimulation decreases the quality of their sleep.
If candles are just a little too much for you, however. Then there are always blue blocker glasses. Some people love them. I use them myself whenever I have to send a quick message on my phone at night. They aren’t ideal, because they don’t reinforce good natural habits, but as long as you’re minimizing lights at night, chances are you’ll notice an effect immediately.
Get a Kindle Paperwhite
Don’t read on anything with an LED screen. iPads and Kindle Fires are a big no-no. Then, once you’re comfortably set up in the dark, read garbage fiction (well, any fiction) at night. No nonfiction. No self-help. No textbooks. Only narrative fiction, with the Paperwhite light level set no higher than 7. Better yet, read in bed, and just slide it under your pillow when you nod off. (Wait till the 2nd or 3rd time you nod off. Jumping the gun will wreck a whole night's sleep. It's the worst. There’s nothing more annoying.)
Give yourself an hour or more to "fall" asleep
Yeah, yeah, other people fall asleep instantly. Screw them. Sleep doesn’t come easy for you and I, so don’t expect it to. Be good to yourself. Give yourself time to relax, to read, to enjoy the comfort of lying in a big, soft bed. If you stop expecting sleep to come immediately, then chances are you’ll magically find yourself enjoying a long, slow descent into a natural snooze.
Pitch black bedroom. Cooler air temperatures. If you're sleeping with a partner, get two blankets. (Blanket stealers...psssh, now that's how you ruin a good night's sleep.) Change your sheets and pillowcases often. It's cozy, it helps.
Basically, just take control of your sleeping space. Pay attention. Figure out what’s comfortable for you.
Among these 7 steps, I’ve found that taking Hibernate and turning off electric lights are easily the most powerful. Start there. Then pick and choose what works for you. Step by step, you’ll gain a better understanding of how your body works. It’s what I did, and it utterly changed my life. It's like a cheat code. Like living on steroids. I’m never going back to the way I was before I met my Australian friend, and I know you’ll love this feeling just as much as I do.