This article is part of a series on evening habits of successful entrepreneurs. To make the article more readable, we divided it into four parts: the cost of work addiction, habits to wind down from the day, self-care habits, and habits for winding down for sleep.
#3 Wind Down Before Sleep
You know the feeling. You lie down in bed. You close your eyes. Instead of disappearing into the oblivion of sleep, you disappear into your thoughts of the day. You desperately want a good night's rest, but your body doesn't seem to care.
"Our body craves routine and likes to know what's coming," says Dr. Epstein, also co-author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep, in a PsychCentral interview. "By creating a pre-sleep ritual, you're establishing a clear association between certain activities and sleep."
Parents of young children will recognize the danger of varying from a routine and finding a little one up hours past their typical bedtime. But just as for toddlers, sometimes what your routine is doesn't matter as much as the fact that it is consistent.
Here are some routine practices that have been incorporated by busy sleep-enjoying entrepreneurs:
1) Brush Your Teeth, Floss, And Use Mouthwash Immediately After Dinner
According to renowned willpower researcher Roy Baumeister, "Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast... Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight."
That's been the experience of Adam Gilbert, founder of the weight-loss program MyBodyTutor. Gilbert has coached thousands to have healthy eating habits with daily accountability, and he's noticed the same pattern.
"In the evenings, people often fall prey to mindless eating and emotional eating," Gilbert said. These are often caused by boredom, stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Because people's willpower is zapped, instead of choosing to deal with the underlying cause, many choose to dull it."
Immediately after dinner everyday, Gilbert brushes his teeth, uses mouthwash, and flosses in order to resist making a decision he regrets and to subconsciously trigger his body to prepare for sleep, and he recommends the same thing to his clients.
2) Follow A Progressive Muscle Relaxation Routine
When Rohit Anabheri, founder of the venture capital firm Circa Ventures, has trouble falling asleep, he turns to progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), a practice that was first developed by Harvard-educated physician Edmund Jacobson.
During Anabheri's 15-minute routine, he takes deep breathes, clears his mind, and tightens and releases his muscles, section by section, from his toes to his head.
Since our bodies and minds are intimately linked, reducing physical tension allows us to also decrease our emotional stress. In a study of patients suffering from insomnia due to cancer, PMR reduced the time to fall asleep by 75%, and the effect of easier, faster sleep lasted for 3 months.
3) Practice Something You Want To Get Better At
The time right before sleep is also the perfect time to learn something new, because sleep will actually help cement new concepts or ideas in your brain. It's been an effective tool for Josh Waitzkin, who writes about using this technique to become a world master at chess and Tai Qi Push Hands in his book,The Art Of Learning.
In an interview on the Tim Ferriss Experiment podcast, he shares how the approach is centered around creating rhythms that feed the unconscious mind in the evening, and tap into it in the morning. That's why he recommends ending the day by focusing on a certain area of complexity and then thinking about it again first thing in the morning--after your subconscious has processed the issue in your sleep.
"It's a way of systematically training yourself to have a crystallization experience," said Waitzkin, whose early chess career was the basis for the 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fischer. According to Waitzkin, using this habit can multiply the number of 'aha moments' you have everyday.
This same process has been copied throughout history by innovators like Salvador Dali, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison, all of whom used a nap-variation on the same approach to foster creative insights. In a study, the practice of sleeping right after working on a cognitive task allowed an 200% increase in number of subjects to discover a hidden insight and improve their performance after they woke up.
4) Give Your Mind A Spa Break
Every night before he goes to bed around 11 p.m., Ryan Simonetti takes a 15-20 minute hot shower.
The co-founder of Convene, which has 150+ employees, finds that the shower gives him a peaceful place where he can close his eyes, let his mind relax, and allow his thoughts to drift over the day. This is a powerful tool for vision planning and creative problem solving.
One study shows that by closing your eyes and cutting down on visual stimulation, you allow your conscious mind to take a break, while your subconscious mind works on the ideas you had earlier in the day.
Sometimes, Simonetti will also visualize how key issues in his life might be played out in the near future, giving more focused attention to specific problems and upcoming meetings.
"I'm a visual learner so being able to see the conversation happen, the people in the room, the body language, and the desired outcome is really powerful for me," Simonetti said.
5) Reduce Light Pollution
Research by Professor Charles Czeisler shows that bright light in the evening hours before bedtime can push back our biological clock as much as 6 hours, causing us to have trouble falling asleep. Furthermore, in our modern society, we are increasingly susceptible to light pollution.
To reduce light pollution, Bulletproof Executive founder and CEO Dave Asprey sleeps in a pitch-black room. He advises, "Make it as dark as you can possibly make it. If you live in a city, you need blackout curtains."
He also recommends dimming house lights a few hours before going to bed, specifically those that emit blue light, a type of light that suppresses melatonin (a sleep-regulating hormone) commonly used on computer screens and mobile devices.
You can reduce blue light from screens with products like the f.lux app for computers, and Zentech mobile screen protectors for mobile devices. Zentech uses transparent protectors that block at least 28% of blue light.
Special thanks to Rachel Zohn, Sheena Lindahl and Ian Chew who volunteered their time to edit this article and do research.
Disclosure: Some of the contributors featured in this article are members of Seminal, a selective council that distills research-backed, actionable insights from world-class entrepreneurs and leaders.