Not-so-secret secrets to sleep

When people express envy about the fact that I only require about five hours of sleep a night and can often get by with less, I like to say that in addition to requiring less sleep, I am also a productive and efficient sleeper, and this plays an important role as well. This causes my wife to often roll her eyes, but it’s true.


While many people spend eight hours in bed, I question how much of that time is actually spent sleeping. When I ask more probing questions about a person’s sleep habits, I often find that at least some of the time that they claim is spent sleeping is actually spent watching television in bed, tossing and turning throughout the night and snoozing in the bed in the morning after the alarm has gone off.

When I say that I sleep for five hours, that means that I spend five hours in bed, and almost every second of that time is spent sleeping.

I can fall asleep in about 30 seconds on almost every night (as my eye-rolling wife can attest), and when my alarm goes off (or more often, when I awaken prior to the alarm going off) I immediately climb from bed.

For me, five hours in bed truly equals five hours of sleep.

I find that this is not the case for many, many people.

Yes, insomnia is a legitimate medical problem for many people.

But I also think that at least some of these troubled sleepers (and non- insomniacs) could benefit from a few less pills and a healthy dose of my simple sleep suggestions, which are not actually my suggestions, but the suggestions of sleep experts that are frequently ignored.

The three suggestions to which I adhere are:

  1. Exercise vigorously for at least 30 minutes every day. I promise that this, more than anything else, will lead to more restful sleep. If you can’t find 30 minutes a day to exercise, sleep 30 minutes less and exercise then. The 30 minute loss of sleep will be more than negated by the improved quality of your sleep and overall health.
  2. Do not eat anything two hours or more before bedtime. Avoid caloric intake of any kind.
  3. Never watch television in bed. Never read in bed. Never use an iPhone, iPad or similar device in bed. Train your body and mind to think as your bed as a place to sleep and nothing more.

That’s it. Simple, right?

Except I have found that people do not like simple answers when it comes to improving their lifestyle.

Over the past two years, I have lost almost 40 pounds and managed to keep every bit of it off without much trouble.

When asked how I did it, I tell people that I eat a little less, I exercise a little more, and for a time, I counted calories.

This answer is rarely greeted with enthusiasm, because it sounds both too easy and too hard.

Too easy because it does not require a person to begin eating only bacon, running 32 miles a week or fasting for three days on guava juice, but also too hard because it involves changes to a person’s entire lifestyle.

Every meal should contain less food. Every day should contain more exercise.

For many people, fasting on guava juice and become a marathoner would be easier.

Sleeping is the same way.

You have to start exercising every day.

You can’t eat Doritos or drink wine while watching television at night anymore.

You can’t read or send a couple emails or watch the evening news or that Seinfeld rerun in bed anymore before turning out the light.

And yes, you can start sleeping better. And perhaps less.