How A Doctor Calms Down His Nervous System Every Night For Deep Sleep
For me, optimal health starts with consistently getting eight hours of good-quality sleep on most nights. Fortunately, I have always found it easy to get to sleep and stay asleep. I'm not exactly sure why, but I'm sure 30 years of meditation and neurofeedback, along with plenty of physical exercise and stress management have helped my nervous system stay balanced, responsive, and calm. I also credit a simple practice that helps me turn off excessive thought chatter called the Fast Shift Method.
Of course, my sleep will deteriorate if I let certain bad habits slip in. Going to bed late, watching a stimulating program in the evening, not processing accumulated stressors from the day, not exercising, and/or drinking caffeine later in the day all reduce the quality of my rest. I sleep best when I do the opposite of these! Dialing in my sleep gives me the energy and capacity to feel well and show up fully for my personal and professional life. Sleep is becoming even more important the older I get.
Regarding tools that support my sleep, I lean on magnesium bisglycinate, Mack's ear plugs, and more recently, the neurofeedback and light stimulation system from Sens.ai (a company that I am Head of Human Potential Development for). I love the feelings of well-being, relaxation, and expansion that come from training and stimulating the brain early in the evenings.
- Average hours I sleep a night: 8 hours
- Ideal bedtime: 9:30 p.m.
- Ideal wake-up time: 5:30 a.m.
- Nightstand essentials: Salt lamp, Mack's ear plugs, Sens.ai headset
- Favorite place I’ve ever slept: On the beach in Australia whilst backpacking
- Sleep bad habit: Checking work emails before bed
- Caffeine consumption: 100-150mg (1-2 cups of coffee) in the morning — all before 11 a.m.
- How I track my sleep: I don't use a sleep tracker
- The last product or habit that changed my sleep for the better: Shut down all screens by 9 p.m. at the latest — a non-negotiable
- The first thing I do when I wake up: Smile
5:20 a.m.: Preparation for sleep starts early! My body typically wakes up at sunrise. It's summer here in the UK as I write this. When the sun rises later as we move into fall, my routine will start later. The first thing I do is a practice called the Inner Smile. I allow an inner smile to expand within me and fill me up. It's amazing. It fills me with gratitude and an expansive sense of well-being. It also sends a message to my nervous system that we are safe and all is well—for me, it's the perfect start to the day.
5:30 a.m.: I usually exercise for 30-45 minutes. The routine varies but I typically alternate between cardio, weights, and core. 3-5 times a week, I will do Isha Hatha yoga for up to 45 minutes.
6:30 p.m.: The descent to sleep starts with a walk with my family to some nearby woods. This is a new habit that we love. It's great to connect together, chat, and relax.
8:00 p.m.: This is when I typically do my neurofeedback brain training using Sens.ai. I usually do alpha (relaxation training), combined with either heart coherence training (hearted centered breathing, plus felt appreciation), or I choose their chill light stimulation program. After this, I feel great — relaxed and centered.
8:30 p.m.: Most evenings, I will watch something on TV with my family.
9:15 p.m.: I help get my son to bed and say goodnight to the family. Then, it's time to switch the salt lamp on next to my bed. Keeping lights low at nighttime has been super important to help me and my family with sleep.
9:30 p.m.: I don't read when I get into bed. I have an ultra-simple routine: Put my earplugs in, move into my sleep position, and I'm asleep within a minute or so.
5:20 a.m.: I wake up naturally. I haven’t used an alarm for a long time.
Dr. Mark Atkinson is an internationally renowned pioneer in the field of human potential development and optimal health medicine. Through his work as a medical doctor, leadership coach, and human potential teacher, Mark has helped thousands of people, including business leaders and elite athletes optimize their health and unlock higher levels of well-being, performance, and consciousness.
His books include The Mind-Body Bible and True Happiness: Your Complete Guide to Emotional Health. He is the founder of the Human Potential Academy and the Human Potential Coach Certification Program. He is also Head of Human Potential Development at Sens.ai, a pioneering Canadian neurofeedback company.
Mark is an AC Accredited Master Coach, GMC Registered Medical Doctor, Fellow of the Association for Coaching, Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health and Fellow of the American Institute of Stress. He received his medical degree from Imperial College London.