Tips for Better Sleep

I wanted to share some ways to think about and take care of insomnia problems. This is one of the top complaints that I see as a psychiatrist and one of the really big pieces of mental fitness and mental health that we have to get right. Having great sleep hygiene is something I often find people may have heard about but a lot of folks aren’t practicing. We clean out toxins from the brain when we sleep. Our course Healing the Modern Brain talks a lot about sleep and the glymphatic system, which is where about seven grams of waste get excreted every night out of your brain. The brain is your most metabolically active organ. So giving it time to rest, to heal and do all the things that it does during sleep is important. So let’s talk about some of my top tips.
Table of Contents
  1. Dim the lights
  2. Make your bedroom a sleep shrine
  3. Consume less caffeine
  4. Exercise
  5. Early morning light
  6. Avoid looking at the clock
  7. Track your sleep
  8. Create a routine

Dim the lights

Number one, dim the lights early. When you’re having dinner, when you are hanging out at your home in the evening, try and minimize the amount of artificial light. This sounds easy but a lot of people struggle to do this. A lot of lights will be on bright, after seven, eight or nine o’clock. This gives your brain a signal to stay awake and you want to get rid of that and minimize light and stimulation as early as possible in the evening to let yourself get into a routine of winding down.

Make your bedroom a sleep shrine

Number two is to make your bedroom a sleep shrine. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, have nice humidity, and the temperature should be cool as this often gives people a deeper sleep. A lot of the time people experience this when they camp and sleep outside in the cold and sleep really well. A sleep shrine might also consist of a little lavender aromatherapy that can be relaxing or a buckwheat pillow. That’s one of my favorites. Whatever you choose, make sure that your bedroom is associated in your brain with sleep.

Consume less caffeine

Number three is to consume less caffeine. If you are consuming lots of caffeine and are always fatigued during the day this is going to be problematic for your sleep. Afternoon caffeine consumption is still in your system when you go to bed. It’s going to affect your sleep and sleep cycle, even if you’re getting a good amount of sleep. So avoid caffeine after 2pm. The other day I found caffeine was in a little protein bar I was eating. So there are a lot of sources of caffeine and some people are quite sensitive to some of the molecules in dark chocolate that can be stimulating so it is best to limit caffeine.


My next tip is to exercise. Get your body tired. Early or midday exercise is great. Some people find exercise stimulating in the evening so get a great sweat in, ideally outside. A lot of people wonder whether aerobic or anaerobic is the way to go and I’m a big fan of all movement, whether you’re ballroom dancing, lifting weights or going for a walk in the woods. Get out there, try and be a little vigorous about it and build up a sweat.

Early morning light

My next tip is to get in some early morning light. There has been a lot of talk about this in the wellness space because of Andrew Huberman’s insights on his podcast that illustrate the concept of low lateral lights. Low lateral light is light early in the morning and in the evening. It is a special quality of light that sets the clocks in our cells. All of our cells have some clock genes which is how a cell keeps track of where you are in that 24 hour cycle of a cell. All cells kind of do different things during the day and during the night so getting some of that low lateral light in the morning is a really important way to start your day. Ideally we would all get outside for this, not through windows or a windshield. You want to have that light go directly into your eyes. The more light, the shorter amount of time you need to be outside looking at it.

Avoid looking at the clock

My next tip is for when you wake up in the middle of the night. Some people have problems initiating sleep. They struggle with settling down, letting go of anxieties and worries. Other individuals struggle with middle insomnia when they wake up after a couple of sleep cycles at two or three in the morning. A quick tip around this is to not look at the clock and not look at your phone. It’s a hard habit to get into. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night and might check my phone and start doing the math of how many hours of I’ve gotten and how many more I have left. That’s what you want to avoid. You want to avoid that neurotic math equation of how much sleep you’re going to get. Instead, get up. Use the restroom if you need to, get back into bed, take deep breaths, put your head on the pillow, and try and relax. Let your mind wander and fall back asleep.

Track your sleep

Another tip I have is to track your sleep. I don’t have any affiliation with my Oura ring but I love tracking my sleep because it told me how much I was getting wrong as a physician. We often just asked people, “Hey, how much are you sleeping?” Folks would tell me they are trying to get seven or eight hours a night and I’d tell them good job. A lot of the time this is inaccurate. That’s what I was doing for most of my career until I started tracking my sleep and it informed me that even if I was in bed for eight or nine hours, sometimes I was only getting six or seven hours of sleep. My sleep cycles were interrupted. I was waking up a lot during the night and it allowed me to take some very clear steps and now I know what my bedtime is over the last several years, what my sleep cycles look like, what my heart rate variability is etc. A as we often say, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So if you’re someone who likes some of these trackers, or if you already have one, maybe in your Apple Watch or in another device that you wear, pay attention to some of the sleep data.

Create a routine

I would say that the last tip is create a routine. Everybody needs a routine of how you signal to your brain and to your body that it’s time to settle down. I’ve mentioned some of my favorites that we use in my household and I use in my life to try and keep my sleep in a good spot.

I hope these tips help you improve your sleep. Please check out our course Healing the Modern Brain on our website if you are still curious about improving sleep.

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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