When I thought I was going to die at 24, I made myself a promise. The promise that every dying person probably makes to themselves: If I survive this, I will never take my life and my dreams for granted. I will take risks and dare to be the person I know I am. I will take care of myself always and make sure that my body and mind are my priority because without them - well, I don't exist.
Fortunately, I am one of the ones that did not die. I am eternally conscious of this fact and have been challenged by it daily. One of the promises I made to myself then - was that I would travel to Latin America - learn Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese, and truly become bilingual and a person of the world. I did it. I left the U.S. and got a job in a small town in the mountains of Costa Rica, teaching science and art to kids ages 5-17. I lived in a house made of plastic - Casa Plastica - on the edge of the cloud forest. My other job while there was to wake up and walk the forest trails to look for host plants for a species of treehoppers that had developed the terrible habit of inbreeding. As there were no phones, electricity was consistently on and off daily, and roads consisted of river-like mud or dust scars in the forest or pastureland that made up my area.
As there was not much to do - in the modern sense of being entertained - I read, played guitar, walked in the forest, sketched, and wrote. I also played Futbol (soccer) three times a week with local kids and teams, sometimes hitching a ride on the back of a cow truck or old Landrover. At the end of the day, I was always physically tired because even going to the store meant walking at least 2 - 4 kilometers. There were days that I averaged 17 kilometers per day or more.
But it is only now, many years later, that I have truly begun to understand how the habits, methods, and ideas I learned then would form a pivot part of my mind and body's way of optimally living. And now, years later, I can share the first and simplest habit on How To Reset Your Brain, Change Your Mindset, and Sleep Better, featured by scientists such as Andrew Huberman on his popular podcast.
Sleep is fundamental to life. Every animal sleeps and rests intuitively. But unfortunately, as humans, we have created so many distractions and things that disturb, disrupt, interrupt, and cut short our ability to relax and recover. If you are a parent or anyone that has suffered from insomnia, you know from your experience how difficult it is to function well without proper sleep, rest, and recovery. But one of the factors that most people don't know or tend to underestimate the most is that your Sleep Schedule and your ability to maintain it consistently has a profound effect on the quality of your sleep and life. So let's travel back to my days in the rainforest for a minute so we can review what I am talking about in context.
The sun rises and sets at almost the same time of day, every day, the entire year when you are near the equator. This meant that my eyes received roughly the same amount of sunlight - all year, from early morning until the evening. This fact is important because science has taught us that consistent stimulation of the optical nerves, particularly at dawn, supports optimum health and nighttime sleep. One factor here that is important for me to mention or reiterate: I lived in a place with little artificial light - distractions - things to do = and stimulation after daylight hours. Simply put - when I was physically tired at 8 or 9 pm, even though I was young, I went to sleep. And that I did this for years, almost every day consistently.
So, three of the critical ingredients to optimal sleep were naturally a part of my daily experience:
- Consistent sleeping schedule
- Few distractions
- Little to no artificial light stimulated my optical nerve past sunset
After I left Costa Rica and moved back to New York City, I noticed a pattern in my body and mind. When I paid attention to not stimulating myself with something past a specific time - like with TV, nightlife, or some other thing, and I went to sleep at roughly the same time, I felt better. However, I did not immediately draw the connection to what I experienced in Costa Rica, and I had yet to dedicate my career to functional fitness and health, where I would dive deeply into the methods to optimize human performance. But I made a mental note and started to practice going to sleep and waking up consistently at the same time of day. For me, it felt natural to wake up with the sunrise and go to sleep a few hours after it went down. This became my pattern long before I connected it to the science of peak performance or optimal sleep.
So what does this mean for you?
Here's the simplest way to start getting better quality sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up every day at the same time.
- Stimulate your eyes (optical nerve) with direct sunlight within 30 minutes of waking. If cloudy and your sleep quality is terrible, substitute "daylight artificial sources" to mimic sunlight.
- Eliminate stimulation, distractions, and as much artificial light as possible past sunset. Turn off your phone, tv, lights, or anything that creates and stimulates your optical nerve by simulating bright light.
I plan on offering a sleep workshop as part of my ongoing coaching programs to help you regain control of your mind and body and optimize your life. If interested, please subscribe to my newsletter or become a member. I hope that you have a beautiful night's sleep after reading this!