From journaling to playing video games, these strategies help CEOs fall asleep easily, wake up happy, and seize the day. They just might work for you, too.
Start tomorrow right—tonight!
Anyone who has ever had to help a child with a school project at midnight or found themselves binge-watching Netflix until the wee hours of the morning knows that what you do at bedtime can have a huge impact on how the next day goes. Getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health, yet for too many of us, sleep is the first thing that’s sacrificed when life gets crazy. The second thing to go? Good bedtime habits. Even CEOs have to fight this temptation, but some of them have figured out how to do it successfully and consistently. We asked them to share the surprisingly simple nighttime tricks that help them have a happy, productive day. Follow their advice and also make sure to avoid these 12 innocent habits that are totally ruining your sleep quality.
Set an alarm for bedtime instead of wake time
Half the battle of getting a good night’s sleep is getting yourself to bed on time. Douglas Smith, CEO of True Nutrition, has discovered a great hack for making sure he’s consistent with his bedtime. “Most people set an alarm for waking up, but I’ve discovered it should be the other way around,” he says. “I set my alarm for 30 minutes before I should be in bed, and I stick to it. This helps me get to sleep at the same time every night. Once my body adjusted to it, I’ve found that I sleep better and I don’t even need an alarm to wake up. I wake up on my own, feeling well-rested.” If you’re having trouble drifting off to dreamland, try this simple trick that can help you fall asleep in 60 seconds or less.
Use a light-filtering app
Blue light from screens interferes with your natural circadian rhythms, tricking your brain into thinking it’s morning instead of bedtime. Jason McCarthy, CEO of DigiNo, combats this by using apps that moderate the light from device screens. “I use the F.lux app. It gradually decreases the brightness and white light from the screen as bedtime draws closer,” he says. “This leads to much healthier and easier sleep. Plus, it reminds me not to keep working too late!” Frequent travelers should try these 8 tips for falling asleep on an airplane.
Sip some vinegar and honey
Have trouble falling asleep? McCarthy swears by this bedtime tip courtesy of Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. “He recommends drinking hot water with a spoonful of organic apple cider vinegar and natural honey as a sleep aid,” McCarthy explains. “No matter how busy my mind is from a stressful day at work, this drink manages to knock me out for a soothing sleep within 20 minutes. And it tastes better than you think it will!” If you just can’t stomach the idea of drinking vinegar, try one of these soothing bedtime drinks instead.
Utilize a “mail butler”
Managing email can feel like a full-time job for anyone, CEO or otherwise. And going to bed with a full inbox can make it hard to sleep, thanks to constant notifications or worries about missed items. This is why Billy Goldberg, CEO of the Buckeye Group, swears by Mailbutler, an extension for your email that automates certain tasks. “After dinner but before bedtime, I tidy up my inbox and get it down to zero. I use Mailbutler to ‘snooze’ emails and remind me of them at a set time in the future when I’ll need the information or need to follow up with someone,” he explains. “I use the extra time to hang out with my teenage daughters if they are into me at that moment.” Here are another 11 pro tips for handling your emails.
Have a nutritious bedtime snack
It’s hard to sleep if your stomach is grumbling, but a full tummy can also cause insomnia. In fact, overeating is one of the common mistakes insomniacs make. For Goldberg, the perfect compromise is a small snack high in fiber and healthy fats. “This may sound strange, but eating a spoonful of almond butter right before bed is the key to getting a good night’s sleep,” Goldberg says. “I wake up energized, and my blood sugar is maintained. Honestly, it’s been a game-changer for me!”
Pack a gym bag
Exercise can help improve your mood, increase your energy, and even make you more creative, helping to set you up for a productive day. The only downside is that it can be hard to remember all of that when you’re dragging yourself out of a warm bed before the sun’s even up. For Joyce Shulman, CEO of Macaroni Kid, the trick is to prep the night before. “I set out my clothes for my morning workout in the bathroom, so when I get up at 5 a.m., I have no decisions to make—I just do it,” she says. “I also set up my coffee the night before because, well, coffee.” By the way, this is the best time to work out, according to science.
Pack a healthy lunch
Packed lunches aren’t just for kids heading off to school! Bringing your food with you can help you make healthier choices, save you time and money, and increase your productivity at work—something that CEOs particularly love. Similar to having a gym back all packed and ready, doing this before bed is key. “I commute two hours each way and don’t want to scramble in the morning, so the night before, I pack my food and lay out my clothes for the next day,” says Wendy Lund, CEO of GCI Health. “I wake up and I’m ready to go.”
Text loved ones good night
Remember that wholesome scene in The Waltons where all the family members call out “good night” to one another from their beds? Sure, that’s sweet, but modern life rarely works that way anymore. (For starters, houses are a lot bigger, so you’d really have to yell! Plus, kids eventually leave the old homestead.) But you’ve got something the Waltons didn’t have: modern tech that allows you to talk to all your loved ones, regardless of where they are. Lund makes good use of her phone at bedtime. “The last thing I do before going to sleep is text ‘good night’ and ‘I love you’ to my children, who live on their own,” she says. “Staying connected to them in this way gives me peace of mind, and I sleep better.”
Jot down some thoughts in a journal
Journaling is an important bedtime ritual for many CEOs, and with good reason, as Jeremy Lyman, CEO and cofounder of Birch Coffee, explains. “So much of my day is spent communicating with others, including our team, customers, and partners. By taking quiet time for myself at night to write, I let my thoughts turn inward,” he says. “I find this routine has been a great way to relieve stress. It helps me organize my thoughts, cultivate a sense of peace, and wake up the next morning feeling more creative.” Journaling is actually one of the things happy people never forget to do.
Make a prioritized to-do list
Writing out a to-do list each night is a great way to streamline your morning and get you off to a good start, but you can supercharge your to-do list by making one little tweak, according to Jeff Petro, CEO of Cool Beauty Consulting. “Each night, I draft a to-do list for the next morning, and then I prioritize the top three items that must get done,” he says. “This keeps me focused on what’s really important without getting sidetracked by smaller tasks.” And resist the urge to mark everything as a top priority. Sticking to just three will help keep you from getting overwhelmed, and you’ll still feel like you’ve accomplished a lot at the end of the day. Also make sure you know the sneaky reasons you never finish your to-do list.
Take some deep breaths
Bedtime meditation has a slew of powerful health benefits, including better sleep—so it’s no surprise that it’s a habit practiced not just by CEOs but also professional athletes, celebrities, scientists, and other people at the top of their fields. But it’s all too easy to forget or to brush off at the end of a long day, which is why Keith Cushner, CEO of Tuck, keeps his meditation practical and simple. “I spend 10 to 20 minutes using one of a few different meditation techniques, including guided meditations and breathing exercises on my own,” he says. “Using apps like Headspace and Buddhify make it easy. I just have to follow the directions.” Here are some more ways to declutter your mind this year.
Spend one-on-one time with their partner
Raise your hand if you’ve ever laid in bed with your partner, playing on your phones or watching movies, side-by-side but not interacting? (That’s everyone, right?) You’ll sleep better and have a better relationship if you follow the lead of Rachel Pedersen, CEO of the Viral Touch. “Every night before bed, I make sure to have a little flirty time with my husband,” she says. This could mean talking about your day, snuggling, or any other activity (ahem) that helps you bond. “This keeps us connected daily throughout the challenges of our work and personal lives,” she adds. Don’t miss these 48 simple ways to improve your sex life.
Use a smart plug to shut off all screens
“I shut down my phone, laptop, TV, and tablet at least two hours before bed, which is tough when you have a lot to do or are in the habit of checking email and other notifications,” says Michael Alexis, CEO of Team Building Hero. “My pro tip for making the no-screens effort easier: I have my Wi-Fi router connected to a smart plug that shuts off at 10 p.m. and turns itself back on at 8 a.m. when I wake up. When the Wi-Fi stops, so does my access to the Internet.” Here are some more smart home devices that are worth every penny.
Block out all noise and light
You never realize how loud your refrigerator is or how bright your neighbor’s porch light is until you’re trying to fall asleep. Eliminate these distractions simply by using ear plugs and a sleep mask, like Alexis does. “This combination is, of course, helpful for blocking out light and noise, but I find it helpful even in quiet dark rooms,” he explains. “Putting the sleep mask on feels like a trigger to go to sleep, and I usually fall asleep within five minutes or so.” You should also check out these 21 sleep products Amazon shoppers can’t stop buying.
Do some light exercise
Vigorous exercise is energizing and can make it harder to fall asleep, but doing some light exercise an hour or so before bedtime is a great way to wind down, relieve stress, and tire yourself out. “I have a water-rower machine that I like to use each night,” says Ammad Khan, CEO of IrisVision. “It gives me some solitude to clear my mind and helps me focus on things that are most important. I go into a type of ‘meditative zone’ while I am rowing, and many of my important decisions have been made while I am in this ‘zone.’”
Practice a favorite hobby
It’s important to make time for the things you really enjoy, and bedtime can be a great time to wind down with your favorite hobby. “I’m going to be honest: Every night, I play video games on my Xbox for 15 to 20 minutes,” says John Waldmann, CEO of Homebase. “Virtually fighting for survival helps me completely clear my mind from work, even more than running, meditation, or reading do.” Not sure what you love? Here’s how to find the perfect hobby for you.