Sleep is possibly the most significant component of the journey in getting our brains to work to their fullest, for both ADHD people (who often have sleep problems) and non-ADHD people. So lately I’ve been doing a lot of work on my own sleep quality, and the book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson is my latest read to that end. And it’s taught me a few things that even a veteran sleep hacker like me did not know.

About the book

Sleep Smarter is a book with 21 research-based strategies for improving both the quality and quantity of your sleep by way of lifestyle, nutrition, and other means like the types of odd but effective biohacking methodologies that someone like myself isn’t scared to try out.

Shawn Stevenson learned about sleep the way many of us learn things of this nature: by necessity. As a teenaged athlete who seemed to be in peak condition, his hip decided to break in a way that doctors said would never be healed. After a good amount of emotional frustration, blaming others, and being generally angry and depressed, he sought out to find a better way to heal himself.

What he found was that his lifestyle was a big part of what was destroying his body: his diet was horrible, he stayed up late at night playing video games, and had other bad lifestyle habits. As a result, both his nutrition and sleep were lousy. And from being so depressed and deterred by doctors about his “permanent” injury, his exercise habits suffered too.

By obsessively researching and improving all of these things—his nutrition, movement, and sleep habits—he was able to make a miraculous recovery over time. But he attests that improving his sleep was the most impactful of those areas of improvement. And as such, this book outlines the research-based strategies that worked for him, and work for others he coaches.

Major takeaways

The book is incredibly thorough. I thought I knew a lot about sleep after working on mine for 10 years—and I do. But Stevens goes into a deeper level of detail on many things I knew and more.

For example, it’s well known that having good magnesium levels (and taking magnesium supplements) can help your sleep if you’re deficient. I’ve been taking magnesium for years (currently this brand), but I had no idea that magnesium was more absorbable through the skin than by taking a supplement. So I have been rubbing Ease topical magnesium into my skin at night as per the book’s recommendation. The effect is subtle, but it definitely seems to reduce morning soreness and stiffness of muscles, and increase overall relaxation.

Another thing I learned from the book was that although I was getting a good amount of daily sunlight (which is known to help regulate your sleep cycle), there’s an optimal time to receive that sunlight. The hours from 6:30 am to 8:30 am are when the effects of getting that direct sunlight are going to have the most impact. So lately I’ve been going for a walk during that timeframe, several days per week.

For a while, I’ve instituting caffeine and technology curfews, but after listening to the Sleep Smarter audiobook, I’ve made them both earlier. The book alerted me to the fact that caffeine’s half-life is 5-6 hours, which means half of it is typically out of your system at that time. Which would mean that stopping 6 hours before bedtime is sufficient for most people, but if you’re caffeine sensitive—which I suspect that I may be—you need a lot more time than that to prevent messing up your sleep. So I raised my caffeine curfew from 1 pm to 11 am and cut out coffee for a week to detox.

Reading the book also just reminded me how much technology affects my sleep which I knew from personal experimentation. But it’s easy to slip up on that front being a software engineer and tech lover. So lately I start putting on my TruDark light-filtering glasses (which I swear by) a bit earlier (7 pm instead of around 8 pm) and turning off the laptop and smartphone (and sometimes the lights) at 8:30 instead of 9 pm or later.

My own results

Here’s the recap of the recent things I did as a result of reading Sleep Smarter:

  • Getting sunlight / light exercise between 6:30 am and 8:30 am daily
  • Using topical magnesium before bedtime
  • Eating a half-teaspoon of raw local honey before bedtime
  • Putting on my light-filtering glasses a bit earlier
  • Raising caffeine curfew
  • Raising technology curfew

Overall what I’ve been noticing is an improvement in my sleep quality and the way I feel in the morning. My deep sleep (as measured by my Oura Ring) was floating below 10% on average (sometimes way lower), but after these changes it seems to be between 10 and 15% on average, sometimes going as high as 24% for the first time since getting the ring a number of months ago. I’m waking up far more easily in the mornings lately, and that’s a BIG deal since mornings are typical hellish for me. Instead of needing a half hour in bed to fiddle with my phone when my alarm went off at 7:30, I’m waking up at 6 am frequently and often getting out of bed in minutes.  It’s been pretty amazing.

Check out the book

Sleep Smarter has a ton of useful tips for improving your sleep, backed by research. It’s stuff you can find on the internet, but all in one place and delivered in actionable ways. And as far as I can tell, I’ve seen some improvements as a result of trying the strategies in the book. I highly recommend checking it out on the Sleep Smarter official website or Amazon.

Remember, you’re probably not sleeping as well as you could. And improving your sleep could make you smarter.