Life After Full-time Work Blog

Learn about preparing for life after full-time work through posts from Don's upcoming book.

#155 How To Improve Our Sleep Patterns – And A Podcast

Here’s a list of useful habits … and the link to a podcast I featured in


Before I start, permit me to tell you that I was the guest on Casey Weade’s podcast, Retire With Purpose, released on March 14. It was great to join @CaseyWeadeOfficial / @Casey_Weade as we discussed why your identity is not defined by what you get paid to do, the irrational fears so many people face as they transition into retirement, how to gain control of your finances, and how to find real, lasting happiness at every stage of life.

It was great fun, lasted roughly an hour, and I hope you tune in and enjoy it.

Here are several links to it:


To my delight, on his website Casey also provides links to all the books and the longevity table I referred to in our discussion – showing how thorough and professional he is, not just easy to chat with.

An extract from Casey’s note to me: “Your expertise on building a happy, purposeful, financially-confident ‘Life Two’was insightful, and I know our followers will find just as much value in this discussion as I have.” Casey even has some copies of Life Two and is sending them to listeners who subscribe to the podcast and review it honestly, and send an email to with their iTunes username and mailing address.

OK, now to this blog post’s advertised topic …


This is Part 2 on Sleep. (And in Part 1 I forgot to mention how much I was helped by reading, some years ago, Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep” – the foundation of my learning.)

The takeaway from Part 1 was that sleep is crucial to our health. It flushes out the waste from our day’s brain activity. It contributes to learning, creativity and memory. And it restores our body and helps it to grow. Each cycle of sleep goes through four stages, called N1, N2, N3 and REM, the last two being when most of the good stuff happens.

When we know these facts, it’s easier to understand why N3 and REM sleep are particularly important to a healthy life, both mentally and physically. In fact, sleep is a form of natural therapy, experienced with no effort. But people with insomnia may not get enough sleep to benefit from N3 and REM, and sleep apnea can make it difficult to reach N3 and REM.

Alcohol and other drugs can change the overall pattern, as can irregular or insufficient sleep. Alcohol in particular decreases REM sleep in the early cycles, but as the effects wear off the REM stages rebound.

All in all, despite the fact that it’s always tempting to cut back on sleep because there’s so much else we need or want to do, it’s just plain unhealthy, and we’ll end up paying for it.

No matter how much we try, all of us will experience nights, sometimes for long periods, when we don’t sleep enough. Can we make up for lost sleep? The simple answer is: yes, in the short term. The body has its own mechanisms to recover, even if it’s not numerically precise in terms of the number of hours lost and recovered. I’ve seen an estimate that it takes four days to fully recover an hour of lost sleep. But that doesn’t apply over the long term. And unfortunately we can’t stockpile extra sleep in advance – too bad!

Aging makes no difference to the need for sleep. It’s true that the increasing use of medications can make it more difficult for the elderly to fall asleep; but the need for sleep doesn’t change. And sleeping for longer periods than normal as we age is bad, leading to an increased chance of mental instability.


There are many things we can do to improve our sleep patterns. The expression in common use is to “improve our sleep hygiene.” What does that mean?

  • Have a consistent sleep environment (mattress, pillow, etc).
  • Be regular in our sleeping and waking times.
  • Cut back on alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and exercise (any form of stimulus, really) in the hours before bedtime.
  • Lighting conditions: get natural daylight exposure, and avoid the brain stimulus provided by TV and computer screens before bedtime.
  • Get into the habit of relaxing before bedtime, perhaps via a warm bath, light reading or listening to soothing music.
  • Turn down the thermostat to 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit (18.5-20 degrees Celsius). Your body temperature drops before you go to sleep; a lower room temperature helps to match this and prevent sensitive people from feeling uncomfortable. It’s thought it might also signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.
  • Spend 5 minutes writing a to-do list for the next few days. It helps you relieve anxiety, and lets you unwind and switch off. (I keep a pad and pen on my bedside table, to write down anything that my subconscious reminds me to add to the list, by waking me up in the middle of my sleep!)
  • Don’t lie awake in bed. If you can’t sleep, consciously switch to doing something else, like those relaxing activities before bedtime.
  • Avoid naps through the day longer than 20 minutes.

Obviously even the most diligent of us will fail to follow all these habits every day. That’s OK. They’re good habits, habits that help, rather than a minimum standard which leads to failure unless everything is performed every day.

You’ll find many books aimed at helping you sleep better. My goal here is simply to list the things that they’ll tell you about. What they’ll add is practical ways to invoke these activities, and in fact how to transform these activities into habits in the first place.

In addition, I understand that these days you can also find sleep consultants. Initially focused on the sleep patterns of infants, they also help parents (mostly mothers) cope with infants who aren’t sleeping well, and of course they also help all adults to sleep better. But that goes far beyond what I wanted to focus on.



It’s useful to be aware of these nine habits that help improve our sleep patterns.


I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.

4 Responses to “#155 How To Improve Our Sleep Patterns – And A Podcast”

  1. leonard wissner says:

    You might be interested in the following about the mathematician Ramanujan, the Man who Saw the Number Pi in Dreams

    • Don Ezra says:

      Thanks very much, Len. I’ve always been fascinated by Ramanujan and have tried to read as much as I can about him — without, of course, being able to follow a single thing he did! One of the world’s intuitive geniuses.

  2. Ted Harris says:

    Because of its energy boost, I would add sugar to things to be avoided before sleep.

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