How to have a great night’s sleep (Avoid Deep Sleep Killers)


If you wake up feeling destroyed instead of rested despite getting 7-8 hours of sleep, it might be due to three common deep sleep killers: caffeine, food and alcohol.

What to do

Avoid the three deep sleep killers by consuming caffeine, food and alcohol strategically – that is, moderately and timely – throughout your day.

Why it works

A great night’s sleep starts with 90 minutes of deep sleep. It can increase our productivity by up to 150% – and prevent acute stress from turning into chronic stress, according to Prof. Andrew Huberman (pictured above). Mastering deep sleep is like landing a plane, which takes three steps: preparing the descent (i.e., setting up your system for deep sleep), setting up the landing strip (i.e., your bedroom), and finally touching ground (i.e., falling asleep). 

If you’re experiencing low energy levels in the morning (or throughout the day) despite getting all of these right, you might need to get more deliberate about caffeine, food and alcohol. While all three are fine when consumed moderately and timely, ingesting them excessively or at the wrong times kills your chances of getting plenty of deep sleep a night.

As you can see in the so-called hypnogram of an ideal night (pictured below), we get most of our deep sleep in the first half of the night. Excessive or untimely caffeine, food and alcohol let you miss that opportunity window. As a result, you’ll spend your night in junk sleep, which sinks your energy, productivity and resilience the following day.

How to do it

1) Consume caffeine strategically. Caffeine kills deep sleep, so pay attention to both timing and quantity. Since it has a half-life of 5-7 hours, sleep scientists recommend avoiding caffeine at least 8 hours before bed. Further, up to 400 mg of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s the equivalent of two to four cups of coffee, depending on the size and strength.

2) Ingest food strategically. To get into deep sleep, your body needs to drop its core temperature by several degrees. Eating, however, activates your digestive tract, which increases your core body temperature for hours. That increased temperature destroys your chances of getting sufficient deep sleep in the first half of the night. Thus, have your last meal at least three hours before bedtime.

3) Drink alcohol strategically. I hate to break it to you, but alcohol is the worst “sleep aid” out there. While it does help you fall asleep, it destroys your sleep architecture and sets you up for a night of junk sleep. Here are three tips for getting more out of alcohol than it gets out of you. First, have three glasses of water with each drink. Second, only drink on weekends. Third, limit your daily intake to 1-2 drinks daily.

(You’ll not only sleep better. Having six drinks or less each week will significantly improve your resilience, mood, well-being and numerous other health outcomes.)

Sufficient quality sleep is the foundation of our mental and physical health and performance. It’s also the most important lever you can pull to master stress.

Next week, I’ll start sharing deep dives into the best habits for mastering stress.