Ever have this absurd confidence that you’ll be able to wake up at 6 a.m., plop down at your desk, open your laptop and grind all day until the sun goes down? I used to.
Imagine a young man hunched over at a screen in a dark room, phased out, haggard and hollow-eyed . That young man was me. I saw this as the epitome of productivity—a successful workday in its purest form. I told myself if I could just squeeze in another hour of work, my day would be worthwhile. But it never worked. In fact, it put me in a foggy, frustrated state of mind. This approach made me ask myself, “why am I tired all the time?” I depended on caffeine buzzes to power me through the day. I felt more hermit than human from lack of sun exposure and social interaction. My work habits hurt me more than they helped me. Yeah, I was getting stuff done, but was it necessary to compromise my health, sleep and fun in the name of productivity? Not anymore.
I changed my daily habits and reoriented my schedule around grounding myself in a confident, rested state of mind. Projects that used to take me three hours to finish now take an hour. I feel better about myself and more optimistic. These improvements came from simply getting more sleep, being vigilant about how I consume caffeine and reinforcing new, healthier behaviors.
Keep reading to discover 10 surefire ways to keep your hustle alive AND get more sleep.
1. Cut TV Time
You don’t have to quit TV cold turkey. Instead, plan out two or three specific things to watch throughout the week. Watch the new Game of Thrones episode on Wednesday and go see Avengers: End Game in theaters on Saturday night—but keep it at that. This is better than filling in any free time you have with unplanned Netflix binges. I learned that minimizing TV time quickly opened up my schedule for other things like sleeping more.
2. Being Consistently Active
“But I don’t have time to work out.” Well good news, you don’t have to hit the gym and deadlift for three hours a day. In fact, simply going outside for a 20-minute walk can actually be better to cure your brain fog. Simple activities like tossing around a frisbee, riding a bike or going for a swim can also energize you. For most of history, people lived extremely active lives because their survival depended on it. They trekked miles for food, tended to fields and hunted animals for days on end. Now we spend a lot of time inside, sitting down in chairs when our bodies evolved outside, moving around. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I take breaks by walking outside. And it works extremely well.
3. Drink More Water
Our entire bodies—which includes our brains—need a ton of water to function properly. Even slight dehydration can make you feel the effects of fatigue. Even though the typical doctor’s recommendation to drink eight cups per day might not be scientifically accurate, most of us don’t even come close to the right amount anyway. Water won’t give you a buzz like coffee or tea, but it will keep you properly hydrated. Water keeps your brain like a nourished grape instead of a dried-up raisin.
4. Use Caffeine Sparingly
We all love our morning cup of Joe. But that doesn’t mean you need to hang out with Joe at 11 p.m. If you want to get the most from caffeine without compromising your health and sleep, limit yourself to mornings only. I perform my sacred ritual of drinking one cup of coffee when I wake up. Then I brush my teeth right after because coffee breath smells like farts. Drinking 10 cups a day might wire you like crazy, but it lowers your baseline energy levels. This perpetuates a dependency that hurts you in the long run. Too much caffeine gives you a quick buzz which quickly fizzles an hour later. According to the FDA, the maximum amount of coffee considered safe is 400 milligrams per day. A Venti Starbucks coffee has 415 milligrams, just over the safe amount. Do yourself (and your teeth) a favor and limit your coffee consumption.
5. Fix Your Sleep Cycles
You’ve probably heard the term “circadian rhythm” a time or two. We go through cycles of deeper and shallower rest when we sleep. The peaks represent light sleep while the dips represent deep sleep. If you wake up during a deep sleeping period, you will feel groggy. So the goal is to wake up during a light sleeping period so you will feel naturally rested. Alarm clocks should be set during a time when you will be in light sleep. I realize timing your alarm clock perfectly can be difficult, but it’s best if you aim to get eight hours of sleep and align your wake-up call during the period when you will feel most naturally rested. You’re welcome for the sleep hack.
6. Do Light Yoga Before Bed
Here’s an idea: instead of saying goodnight to all your followers on Instagram, do some light yoga before you get in bed. Stretching relaxes the mind and body, which releases the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain that relieve anxiety and tension. A study at Harvard Medical School suggested that yoga can improve symptoms of insomnia. The light stretching makes your sleep more productive because you’re more likely to avoid lying awake for three hours. It’s important that you feel rested and clear-headed when you wake up. Your ability to hustle hinges on it.
7. Less screens
Using devices at nighttime can stimulate your brain in ways that can make it hard to settle down before bed. The blue light emitted from screens degrades your melatonin levels, causing a delay in your body’s internal clock. The more time you spend looking at screens at night, the harder time you’ll have falling asleep. Screens cause you to release hormones that make you more alert—the exact opposite of what you want. And if you make a habit of using devices late at night, it can cause a chronic deficiency in sleep. I eliminate all screens (for the most part) after 8 p.m. This forces me to maximize the time I spend in front of screens during the day for productive things only.
8. Spend time outside during the day
Our bodies need light exposure during the ideal times during the day—another key aspect of our internal clock. We all know getting vitamin D is important for our health, but so is aligning ourselves with the Earth’s natural rhythm of day and night. We can strike this balance by aiming to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight per day. That doesn’t sound like very much, but the sun’s rays will let your body know, “Hey, it’s not time for sleep yet.” That way once you finally turn your phone off and curl up in the sack, your body senses that it’s time to relax. If you currently spend all day every day indoors, then bring your laptop outside, eat lunch in the sun or go have a picnic. Just go outside, you pale vampire.
9. Intermittent fasting
This one might sound out there, but periodically fasting during the day can raise your energy levels and open up more time in your schedule. I skip breakfast and wait until around 3 p.m. to eat my first meal of the day. Then I stop eating around midnight. This frees up my entire morning and early afternoon to crush all my work like Thor. And don’t worry, intermittent fasting is actually healthy.
10. Cold showers
I know what you’re thinking: how can unpleasant, ice-cold showers make me more productive? For starters, hot showers (aside from drying out your skin) actually drain your energy by dehydrating you. That explains why so many people feel tired after taking hot showers. Cold showers, on the other hand, energize you because our bodies react to cold water by becoming more alert and activating our fight-or-flight response. Every time I take a cold shower, I feel more level and energized than I did before I hopped in. Also, the momentary unpleasantness of the first splash of cold water makes you completely forget about everything else—including your work. Alongside the good hormones released from the cold water, we get a quick mental break from work. This has been shown to be good for productivity.