You (probably) need more sleep

June 30, 2022
How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? Proverbs 20 v 13

Struggling to make sense of sleep

How many of us have a strange relationship with sleep from our culture or upbringing? Generation X will recall being told we can “sleep when we are dead.”

Too much sleep is bad as the proverb above reminds us, but too little and we run into other problems. - bluntly put, if we don’t get manage the restorative gift of sleep correctly, we store up ill health and unproductiveness for the future.

As a teenager and a younger man, I used sleep unwisely, as an avoidance strategy. Life took a lot out of me. I have never had that effortless grace that so many enjoy as they waltz through life, comfortable and confident in their own skin. In particularly challenging moments, I used to calculate by the hour how much extra sleep I could squeeze in to reduce the amount waking consciousness, thereby reducing the time available to worry. Then at other times I went to the other extreme, where I barely slept during the work week as I didn’t want tomorrow to come and then languished in bed during the weekends. Looking back, what a waste of my precious youth.

By my mid-30s I realised I had to sort myself out in so many areas. Slowly, I understood effective sleep was the #1 building block to a productive and full life. The Goldilocks principle applied - not too much, not too little - I had to work out the right amount and be consistent with it. For me the answer is about 8 hours 30 minutes a night. Of course, I can get by on less but after weeks of not enough sleep..the chinks in my armour appear as mood and motivation problems along with dull aches in my limbs. When this happens, it can take at least 2 weeks to get it all dialled in again.

The melatonin window

I always thought it an old wives’ tale about the hours before midnight being the most important, but there is something to it and it is called the melatonin window. For every individual, this will differ. For me, this kicks in around 2130hrs to 2230hrs. Imagine it like a breeze that blows out to sea every night from the shore. If you are sitting in the harbour on a yacht waiting patiently with your sails unfurled, from the very first gust it carries you far out to sea. Those that come down later to the harbour to launch their boats may only catch the final breaths and so will not be pushed out as far.

All those years I stayed up missing this window because I believed it would delay the inevitable arrival of the morrow with its attendant problems. Once I started going to bed early in anticipation of this zone, I fell into the arms of Morpheus more quickly, and the sleep was deeper and more rewarding than any I had known. In fact, I think it may even allow for a shorter sleep because of the improved quality. I’m testing out this idea now.

The important thing to point out in my experience is that a single night to bed early doesn’t fix the problem. It requires at least 2 weeks of consistent effort. Even once you are on top of your sleep deficit, you probably still won’t leap out of your bed on a work day excited to face to the world, but after an hour you should sense an improved alertness and lack of brain fog. The things that were causing stress will still cause stress, but your ability to not crumble or flip at the first sign of trouble will be strengthened.

I know that this advice is not new -we all know it to be true, but do we act on this information consistently? Life gets in the way, right?

Imagine it like a breeze that blows out to sea every night from the shore. If you are sitting in the harbour on a yacht waiting patiently with your sails unfurled, from the very first gust it carries you far out to sea. Those that come down later to the harbour to launch their boats may only catch the final breaths and so will not be pushed out as far.

In a nutshell:

   Go to bed earlier to catch the melatonin 'breeze'

   Sleep in a dark, well-ventilated room.

   Sleep the same amount every night

   Get up at the same time, even on weekends

   Take a 15 minute nap in the early afternoon if you can. Nothing longer or it will mess up things later in the evening.


Over the next month, try to work out what your optimum sleep requirement is. You can get a sense of this by working out what time you would naturally sleep to on a weekend if you went to bed at a sensible hour the night before. The answer will probably be between 7- 9 hours. Now for trial and error. Pick your number ( be conservative) and go to bed at a time that gives you this amount of sleep. Do you wake up just before your alarm the next morning? No? Go to bed 15 minutes earlier the next night and try again. Rinse and repeat. When you are getting between 7-9 hours and waking up just before the alarm goes off, run this through for a fortnight and assess how you feel at the end of it. There is no right answer, really. In winter, you may sleep longer than in summer, but whatever you do, just try to get more sleep and the more you get before midnight, the better.  

Additional thoughts

Unsychronised spouse

One difficulty I have is that my wife doesn’t yet know how much more sleep she really needs. I go to bed early, but she risks waking me. If you have a similar problem, I have found that if i can get at least a 30 minute sleep head start on her - I don’t hear her coming in. If she wakes me after 10 minutes of slumber, then I can’t get back over.

Blue light exposure

I think there is something to the blue light exposure. As bedtime approaches, start to wind down and keep the house and rooms with subdued lighting. Don’t look at your smartphone before bed. I’m stating the obvious here... you know this already, but I bet you still do it?

Build an evening routine

Have a night-time routine. I have an evening close-down checklist - from making sure all the doors are locked to having my lunches ready for the next day. That way I go to sleep with no nagging doubts or loose ends.

A technique to fall a sleep

I use a technique to help nudge me over the edge into sleep, and it works reliably. Work through each of your body parts, starting with my feet and working upwards. Imagine each body part relaxing. Feel it relaxed and hold that feeling for a moment before moving onto the next part. Finally, work your way up to your face - relax every muscle - there must be zero tension in the face - usually within a minute of this I’m out for the count. If you are not quite asleep at this stage - next imagine yourself lying on a boat on a calm lake, the sun is setting and its warm glow is washing over your body. Feel the gentle movement of the boat.


I got a specially made snoring guard called a mandibular advancement device from a company called Panthera. I didn't have sleep apnea but it did stop the heavy snoring. It wasn't cheap but it made me feel so much sharper during the day. This combined with a low carb dinner and not eating for 4 hours before bed definitely an approach that works for me.

Parting shot

My point in writing this article is to encourage you to see sleep as necessary as breathing. It is not an optional activity, whatever the hard charging corporate types say. While we want to make every waking moment count, doing it in a sleep deprived state reduces the quality our lives. Without sufficient sleep, we find ourselves like drunken sailors - swirling in a sea of brain fog.  

If you continually feel unwell, lack motivation and the world seems to be collapsing around you  - sorting your sleep out might be a just the first step in piecing everything back together.