On Thursday, best-selling Why We Sleep author Matthew Walker addressed the tired TED Conference audience and shared with them why they should prioritize sleep, including that better rest can help you live years longer. The elite conference was packed with powerful politicians, billionaire entrepreneurs and world tastemakers. Sleep is not a priority, for many of us trying to change the world. He argued that it should be.
His most valuable message, though, may have been on tackling insomnia. Like many creatives, my best ideas seem to happen when I slow down -- including as I try to fall asleep. Here's what the sleep expert said you should do.
Get out of bed.
If you've been laying awake for an hour or two, then don't fight your body and make yourself go to sleep. Walker, a neuroscientist, argues that you can't. He recommends getting out of your bedroom and doing something else entirely.
The problem: The longer you stay awake in bed, the more your body will associate your bed with being awake. It can start a cycle of insomnia, so the next night, your body will come back to bed and assume that you are supposed to lie there -- awake.
Instead, get out of bed and do another activity until you naturally feel sleepy. Then, the next evening, try to go to bed at your normal time.
Put the phone away.
Expanding on Walker's talk, you'll want to remove distractions out of the bedroom - especially your smartphone. Your phone screen emits "blue light," a glow that your brain associates with waking up. Experts recommend not looking at your phone at least an hour before you go to bed. If you must look at your phone, then, at minimum, put it into black and white mode to lessen the color.
Blue light aside, phones also create a psychological association with being awake. You may be tapping away at your smartphone in bed, but it's the same activity you were doing on the subway commute or when you were waiting in line at the groceries. You are usually very awake when you are on your phone, so why would your body think it's time to shut down when you're on your phone in bed?
Lastly, Walker says a great way to block insomnia is to be consistent. In fact, consistency may have as much weight as length of sleep. Studies found that people sleeping at the same time every evening had a better sleep.
When I ran my last startup, Cuddlr, my work day started at 3:15 am. However, it was consistent for about two years! If my schedule was more chaotic, then I'm not sure if I would have even been able to lead, nevertheless function.
Walker emphasizes that rest is the one area we tend to neglect, perhaps more than diet, exercise and overall health. If we want to impact the world, though, we need to make sure we have the energy to do so. It all starts with a good night's sleep.