I'm An M.D.: This Is My Nightly Routine For Deep Sleep & Better Brain Function
I've had a tough relationship with sleep for many years. Growing up, I tried all manner of strategies for better sleep, including pharmaceuticals. Over time, I realized that stress was the biggest driver of my poor sleep. Finding better ways to manage and mitigate psychological sleep has been the biggest contributor to my current usual sleep quality, which tends to be pretty good.
I believe that a good night of sleep is the single most important thing for my mental health and quality of brain function the next day. I find it lets me think clearer, focus, and even regulate my emotional state. Nowadays, I have my best rest when I've had the opportunity to spend the day outside. The biggest barriers to my sleep include getting my mind wrapped up in thinking through projects and having too much coffee too late in the day (for me, that's any time after 2 p.m.).
- Average hours I sleep a night: 7.5 to 8
- Ideal bedtime: 10 p.m.
- Ideal wake-up time: 6 a.m.
- Nightstand essentials: Alarm clock
- Favorite place I've ever slept: Our log cabins at summer camp on a lake in Ontario
- Sleep bad habit: Starting brain-engaging conversations with my partner right before we go to sleep
- Caffeine consumption: 2 cups of coffee a day
- How I track my sleep: I don't use a tracking device; I judge it based on how I think and feel the next day
- The last product or habit that changed my sleep for the better: New mattress from Avocado, stopping caffeine after 2 p.m.
2 p.m.: Stop drinking caffeine for the day. (Yes, my sleep routine begins this early!)
5:30 to 6:30 p.m.: Finish eating and stop taking in calories. I find I sleep much better when I stop eating several hours before bed. This includes, ideally, all alcoholic beverages as well (but not sparkling water!).
Sunset: I change all computers/mobile devices to night mode so they emit less blue light.
7:15 p.m.: Take our pup for a walk around the neighborhood
7:30 to 8:30 p.m.: Watch something on TV or sometimes play games (Rivals for Catan is a favorite two-player card game!). I'll also lower the temperature on AC (if it's summertime) to ~67 degrees.
9 to 9:30 p.m.: Take a shower.
9:30 to 9:45 p.m.: Brush teeth, floss teeth, take out contact lenses, and switch to glasses.
9:45 p.m.: Let our pup outside one last time.
9:45 to 10 p.m.: Sometimes I'll read; sometimes I'll have a quick conversation or check-in about the next day with my partner.
10 p.m.: Turn on the sound machine (we like this one from Marpac), close all the blinds, and kill all the lights (darker is better!).
10 to 10:15 p.m. I do a nightly gratitude practice, in which I close my eyes and think through/visualize people in my life I'm grateful for, before falling asleep.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter is a board-certified internal medicine physician and internationally recognized expert on how environmental influences affect our mental and brain health.
His research on lifestyle factors in depression have been featured and cited in peer-reviewed literature and he educates on the topic on top podcasts, and in keynote presentations around the world. He is a co-author of the New York Times and international bestseller Brain Wash, which he wrote with his father David Perlmutter M.D. and covers our poor modern-day brain health and the role of everything from diet to social media on our cognitive and mental state. He is a frequent contributor to websites including MedPage Today, Doximity, KevinMD, Medium, and Psychology Today, and hosts the Get The STUCK Out podcast.
He currently serves as the Senior Director of Science and Clinical Innovation at Big Bold Health, where he is running an IRB-approved pilot trial exploring the effects of polyphenols on epigenetic expression. His overarching focus is in helping people find non-pharmaceutical strategies for getting "stuckness" out of their brains and bodies using the best that science and nature have to offer.