Getting a lot of sleep has never been my thing. And definitely not since I started Blister.
But the continuous findings coming out from the field of sleep studies make it crystal clear: the quantity of sleep we get each night and the quality of the sleep we get each night dramatically affect our physical performance, our mental performance, and our day-to-day happiness.
To be honest, I am quite glad that I wasn’t aware of this research in the early years of Blister (when, out of necessity, I would sleep about 4 hours a night and run on a massive amount of cheap coffee), because I’m not sure that Blister would exist today if I had slept more and worked less.
(As a new company, you have to find your competitive advantage somewhere, and one of our competitive advantages was a willingness to just work round the clock.)
But it’s time now for me to try to get my sleep game on track, and over the past year or so, I’ve been trying. To help the cause, I figured I’d start this series to keep myself honest by letting you know how it’s going. And maybe in the process, it’ll help some of you do a bit better, too?
So I’ll be updating this series as my ‘sleep experiment’ continues, and for now, here are some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to, and some of the tips, tricks, habits, and products I’ve been using.
WHAT I’VE BEEN READING
To be honest, I’ve never been all that interested in the concept of radically extending our lifespans. But I have always been very interested in how we can maintain high levels of fitness — both physical fitness and mental fitness — as we grow older.
But David Sinclair is obsessed with the former, and he is a professor in the Department of Genetics and the co-Director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at Harvard Medical School.
And so while I might currently lack Sinclair’s vision, I do share with him the interest in better understanding why we age and how to slow its effects, and so … I’ve just started reading this book, and I suspect that he is going to have at least a bit to say about the topic of sleep.
If you are going to read one book about sleep, this is probably the book — or it is, at least, a very good place to start. Walker is a scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and he published Why We Sleep in 2017.
To be clear, the science of sleep is not settled, and new findings continue to come out. On that note…
WHAT I’VE BEEN LISTENING TO
As the podcast description says, “The Matt Walker Podcast is all about sleep, the brain, and the body.” Walker has been putting out very short episodes (~10-15 minutes each) that focus on one particular topic related to sleep. New episodes have been rolling out every other week. Check it out.
PRODUCTS I’VE BEEN USING
I’ll say more about these soon, but here are some of the products I’ve been using over the past year to sleep better. (Click on each product to expand)
As I’ve mentioned on GEAR:30, we reached out to Avocado about partnering with us because their Avocado Green Mattress is currently the highest-rated mattress — out of all categories of mattresses — on Consumer Reports.
And equally important, as a company, Avocado really stands out in their commitment to sustainability. Here is a paragraph from their Avocado Green Brands 2020 Impact Report:
“In March , we became the first carbon negative mattress company on the planet — 20 years ahead of the target set by the Paris Agreement. In May, we became a Certified B Corporation. (…) We set a new standard for 1% For the Planet members — the organization named Avocado its inaugural Pinnacle Award winner. The distinction honors a business that raises the bar for environmental responsibility and goes above and beyond the commitment to the organization. 1% chose Avocado Green because we’ve donated millions of dollars to support 30 nonprofits that address their core mission and our commitment to carbon neutrality.
My Hunt for the Right Mattress
When I moved into my house a couple years ago (after having lived in a hotel room for over a year), the people I bought my place from left a full-size bed frame and mattress when they moved. (I was being nice, and told them I’d find a good home for the bed set and deal with moving it out.) Of course, I then got way too busy to move the thing, so instead, I just slept on it for the next year and a half.
But while the mattress on the bed turned out to be very expensive (I looked it up, and it was selling for between $4,000 – $5,000), the mattress was too firm for me. And it became far too firm after I crashed mountain biking and broke four ribs and tore all the ligaments in my AC joint. I’m a side sleeper who apparently also likes to alligator roll over the course of the night, and the combination of my broken bones, torn shoulder ligaments, and side sleeping led to weeks of not sleeping.
So it was very much time to investigate a new mattress, I started doing a deep dive on mattresses on Consumer Reports, and that’s when I settled on the Avocado Green Mattress.
Avocado gives their Green Mattress a “7-out-of-10” in terms of firmness, which they also call, “Medium-Firm.” I’ll say more about this later, but for now, I’d call it “just right” for me.
And here are a few more specific details from Avocado about this 100% certified organic mattress:
“The Avocado Green Mattress has up to 1,414 pocketed support coils arranged in 5 zones. No polyester, polyurethane foams, or toxic fire retardants. Needle-tufted by hand, not glued.
It is GREENGUARD Gold Certified — and made with natural and organic materials, including GOLS certified organic latex (CU 863637) from our co-owned farmers’ collectives and co-owned processing facilities in India and Guatemala, operating under the USDA National Organic Program; GOTS certified organic (CU 863637)and STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified wool from a farmers’ society we also co-own; and GOTS certified organic cotton (CU 863637). Our non-toxic green bed combines the finest natural cushioning with an internal, zoned, pressure-point support system for proper back support and extended durability.”
First, here are some of the things you need to know about Avocado’s City Bed Frame. Avocado states:
“We handcraft our affordable City Bed in our own FSC®-certified Los Angeles woodshop from sustainably harvested American timber in a non-toxic brown stain or clear blonde finish. It’s so sturdy, we got a patent on it! Assembly is a cinch. And its sleek, modern design is easy to move and perfect for small spaces.”
And here’s my take, having now spent a couple of months sleeping on this bed frame and the Avocado green mattress: I will definitely vouch for the stability of the bed frame: zero movement, zero creaking.
I did opt to add the optional headboard, and if you’re into headboards, this is also quite sturdy, well-built, and solid, and mates very well with the bed frame. Speaking of mating (cough), should you happen to find yourself in a situation where you or someone you know is grabbing the headboard and trying to get it to move, you can move the headboard an inch or two. Still zero creaking noises, but should this be a relevant consideration to your particular lifestyle, then you might just want to keep the bed and headboard about 3 inches away from the wall.
(I mean, come on, this is still BLISTER, so we’re always going to try to give you all the information you might need.)
Avocado calls the assembly of the City Bed “a cinch.” So what does that mean? Well I asked my friend / neighbor, Josh, to come over to help me carry the bedframe box upstairs, he showed up with his roommate / our friend (who is also very confusingly named Josh) and some beer, so it then turned into a ‘let’s drink beer and assemble a bed frame’ party.
What we learned: when Josh and Josh come over and beer is involved, you will probably not assemble a bed in record time, but you will have more fun. We think you ought to give yourself 60-90 minutes to assemble the bed, and maybe just a bit more time than that if you are going to also attach the headboard.
We also think assembly will be easiest with two people. But maybe not three people. And maybe not three people all drinking beers that have a high ABV%.
Also, the instructions recommend that you begin to assemble the bed frame upside down. We opted not to do this, I guess because, Stop Bossing Us Around, instruction set!, but after a false start, we took the frame apart, flipped it upside down, and everything went much more smoothly. So don’t be all anti-authoritarian like me and Josh and Josh; just follow the damn instructions.
Finally — and importantly — you will need to have a Phillips screwdriver and a ½ inch socket or wrench. These are not included with the bed frame, so hopefully you already have these or you have good neighbors you can borrow them from.
I do really like the “sleek, modern design” of the City Bed frame, I do agree that it is “easy to move” — to assemble and disassemble — and I do think this frame is “perfect for small spaces.”
And I really like the Queen-sized City Bed Frame + Green Mattress combo in my own not-massive bedroom. A king-sized bed wouldn’t really fit in the space, but with the City Bed, I was able to bump up from the “full” size bed set (and much bulkier bed frame) that was previously in the room.
If the average person sleeps about 8 hours a night, then the ‘average’ person spends almost 3,000 hours a year on a pillow. And even if you’re in the sub-8-hours a night camp, that’s still a ton of time spent on and with an object that often gets overlooked.
We all know that mattresses are a huge factor in a good night’s sleep, but I’d argue that pillows are just as important. And in the case of a bad pillow, the neck pain can last a long time and impact daily life.
So how much do you know about pillows?
Until I started this experiment, I knew very little, and I just used whatever happened to be around. (And yes, this is rather embarrassing to admit given how much time I spend researching other gear that I spend far fewer days and hours using.)
Like a lot of gear, choosing a pillow definitely involves personal preference. In this case, it’s based on your sleep position and preferences for certain materials and levels of support. And some people will prefer a certain firmness or material their entire life, while others might change throughout their lifetime.
Furthermore, pillows (and mattresses) have a lifespan. And while a mattress can last 8 years or possibly more — if it’s a quality mattress that has been rotated and taken care of — pillows ought to be changed out more regularly.
When I finally started thinking about pillows (which happened after I broke four ribs and tore all the ligaments in my AC joint while mountain biking, which pushed me to look for a new mattress and led me to start this whole sleep experiment in the first place) I started by assessing what I did and didn’t like about my current pillow situation, then also thinking more about materials. And while I think I can get along with a number of pillows (so long as they are neither super soft nor super firm), for the several thousands of hours a year I’d stick my head on these things, I decided that I wanted to go with something that was organic and that wouldn’t be off-gassing — and every Avocado Organic Pillow is Greenguard Gold Certified.
Avocado’s Green Pillow is natural and organic certified and “certified MADE SAFE.” MADE SAFE certification means that the product does not include any known toxic chemicals. It is surprising how many common household products would not qualify for this certification.
Furthermore, unlike all the other pillows I’ve ever used that have a fixed firmness, the Green Pillow is actually customizable. It’s delivered fairly firm but you can add or remove “fill” as you like (additional fill is included).
Many pillows claim to work best for a certain type of sleeper (back, side, stomach), but being able to adjust the firmness of the pillow allows anyone to customize it for their sleep needs. The fill is accessed via an interior zipper, and it is actually GOLS certified organic latex and GOTS certified organic kapok tree fiber. (Kapok fiber comes from the fruit of the tropical kapok tree and it is a vegan alternative to down. Kapok is also hypoallergenic and resistant to mold.)
So if you’re in the market for a new pillow, the Green Pillow ought to be on your radar. And Avocado’s 100-day trial makes purchasing it risk-free.
For those of you who know you prefer a slightly firmer pillow — which is not to say a higher volume pillow (than the Green Pillow) just a slightly firmer one — than the Avocado Molded Latex Pillow could be the right call for you. I ended up adding a bit of stuffing to the Green Pillow, and now can quite comfortably sleep on either the Green or the Molded Latex Pillow. So I think this one might come down to whether you prioritize the customizability of the Green Pillow, or you prefer the materials of the Molded Latex Pillow, which, according to Avocado, is supposed to regulate temperature well and eliminate odors and excess moisture.
The Molded Latex Pillow is molded from a charcoal-infused latex core. The pillow is made of natural, vegan, and organic-certified materials, and is Greenguard Gold Certified. To be named Greenguard Gold Certified, products are scientifically tested to have low chemical emissions (i.e. only very low levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, can be emitted).
And just like the Green Pillow, the Avocado Molded Latex Pillow comes with a 100-night trial, a 1-year warranty, and is made in the U.S.A.
Jonathan: I’ve never used a silk pillowcase, but every single thing I’ve read about sleep talks about the importance of staying cool. So I thought I’d see whether a silk pillowcase performed better than cotton?
Kristin Sinnott: When Jonathan told me he was going to test an Avocado Silk Pillowcase, I was pretty envious. Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty happy with my then-favorite pillowcase (the Zenbivy Motobed pillowcase which I included in our holiday gift guide) but a silk pillowcase sounded a bit more luxurious and I liked the idea of keeping my camp pillowcase with the coordinating sleeping bag. And Jonathan liked the idea of someone who doesn’t shave their head testing the pillowcase.
The Avocado Silk Pillowcase is made using 100% pure 22-Momme Mulberry silk. And in case you are unfamiliar with silk ratings and types … the density of silk is measured in momme, and the higher the count, the better the silk. Silk sheets are typically between 19 and 22 momme, and 22 momme is considered to be of excellent quality with a long lifespan.
Mulberry Silk is considered to be of the highest quality and is produced from the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori. It is reportedly considered to be the strongest and smoothest type of silk in the world.
But before I knew any of this, I knew that I loved sleeping on the Avocado Silk Pillowcase. I tend to toss and turn a bit while sleeping, and my cotton pillowcases would be strewn with strands of my hair every morning. I’ve never found a strand of hair on my Silk Pillowcase and that in itself was cause for celebration because I was always worried that my hair was thinning when I’d wake up to a pillowcase with strands of hair all over it.
[Jonathan Ellsworth: In the comment section of our group Google doc, Luke Koppa highlighted Kristin’s statement, “I’ve never found a strand of hair on my Silk Pillowcase,” and commented, “Crap. I may need to get one of these, too”. We gotta get some more Silk Pillowcases and save Sexy Luke’s hair!]
Silk pillowcases create a lot less friction, so strands of hair aren’t snagged by the fabric. And of course, they are extremely soft and smooth, which is what really attracted me to the pillowcase.
(Jonathan: And in addition to “soft” and “smooth,” I would add, “cool” — I don’t have the problem of any pillowcase ripping out my hair, but sleeping “hot” can be disruptive to good sleep, and this pillowcase feels cooler to me than cotton pillowcases.)
Beyond the smooth feel and hair benefits, the Silk Pillowcase is fairly large and can easily accommodate a standard-size pillow. It has an envelope-style closure that helps to keep the pillow fully covered. And the pillowcase can be machine washed (Avocado includes an organic cotton wash bag). I’ve used the Silk Pillowcase for the past 3 months and I have no intention of giving it back to Jonathan. In fact, next time I’m at his house, I’m going to snag the matching pillowcase.
There are a number of “wearable” products that are designed to help you monitor your sleep and make you a bit more accountable. I.e., I bought this watch on the hopes that it would shame me into actually Going The F@%! to Sleep. (Also, the watch features the art of Blister Member + our friend + telemark coach, Geoff McFetridge, on it … so that was another big draw.)
At some point I may try some of the other wearables to see if I find them to be any more or less effective than the Apple watch is at getting me to go to bed or get more than five hours of sleep.
My friend Dana gave me this tea kettle because she has a far more fancy kettle that I am pretty sure has the ability to safely land a rocket on Mars. (What the hell, Dana.)
Anyway, I am very happy to have been gifted Dana’s much simpler, much cheaper hand-me-down tea kettle, because this kettle has actually successfully launched another experiment of mine: Jonathan’s Tea Experiment. I honestly never thought I’d see the day. But here we are. What a time to be alive. Tea is slowly becoming a part of my sleep protocol.
WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING
EXERCISE (SPECIFICALLY, STRENGTH / RESISTANCE TRAINING)
In short, I sleep best (and feel like this has been true for about three decades now), when I am lifting 4-5 times a week, even if those are only ~30-40 minute sessions. The key for me isn’t the duration of the session (lifting for an hour or two), but getting to the point where I am working up to and performing 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions of “hard” work. I.e., where I can complete the sets, but I might not be able to perform another 1-2 repetitions with good technique.
And while a hard day of inbounds skiing or ski touring or mountain biking or trail running can (and does) often leave me feeling very fatigued, when it comes to the depth and length of sleep, the type of resistance training I’m describing above seems to be most effective — for me.
I’m very curious to hear whether any of you can relate to this one.
To go into a bit more detail, here are some of my favorite exercises (and perhaps I can say, some of the exercises that I have found to be most effective for inducing great sleep): barbell squats; lat pull downs; wide-grip pullups; cable rows or dumbbell (“db”) rows; db military press; heavy db shrugs; db bench press; dips. These are not the only exercises I do, but w/r/t the sleep discussion, these are some that I suspect are the most relevant.
I am extremely fortunate to have a phenomenal gym at Elevation Hotel & Spa. It’s seriously the nicest, best-equipped, legit gym I’ve yet to encounter next to a ski area, with three professional-grade squat racks, which (if you’re the type who cares about stuff like this) you know how big of a deal that is.
But when COVID first hit and the whole world went on lockdown, I purchased the Ironmaster 75 lb. adjustable dumbbell set + stand and their Super Bench. And perhaps especially if you are someone accustomed to strength training with professional-grade equipment and hate the chincy feel of most home exercise equipment, then I highly recommend these products. Especially if you don’t have enough space at home to purchase non-adjustable dumbbells.
I’ve been using these products for well over a year now, and I’ll say it again: if you typically hate the feel of home equipment and adjustable dumbbells — and you don’t prioritize adjusting your weights super quickly (~10 seconds) for the sake of doing drop sets (I don’t care about this, because I’m not trying to do cardio while I’m trying to do strength training), then check out Ironmaster’s products.
Of course, this is a massive topic. But I have found it to be a massive variable when it comes to how well or not well I’m sleeping.
THE GREAT TEA EXPERIMENT
Most of you know that one of my favorite things about human existence is that we get to drink coffee. But most of you also know that getting great sleep and consuming a lot of caffeine are definitely at odds with each other. But on the recommendation of Matthew Walker (see book & podcast recommendations above), I have started to shut off my caffeine intake 10 hours before I intend to go to bed.
Now admittedly, I’m still sometimes not making it to bed till 1 or 2am. But I’m currently shutting off coffee and caffeine by 2pm.
And I confess: I do often start eyeing the clock around 1:30 and will be sure to sneak in a last cup of coffee before the clock strikes 2. And I’ve been quite consistent with this — though also admittedly, I have not been attempting to reduce my coffee / caffeine intake, just cram the same amount in before 2pm. Because again, see the first sentence of this section.
But this is where tea has come in. Turns out, something I’ve learned is that I really like the ritual of having a hot mug of something next to me while I work. So after 2pm, I will sometimes switch over to a cup of non-caffeinated tea. This is not yet a daily practice for me, just a new go-to move if I find myself jonesing for another cup of coffee after 2pm.
I’m also experimenting a bit with having a cup of (non-caffeinated) tea about an hour before going to bed. I think there might be something here about establishing a new ritual, and maybe a new Pavlovian response: Drink Tea, Go to Sleep. Maybe this will just be a winter thing, I don’t know. Have any of you tried this?
This is just a start. I’ll flesh this article out in the coming days and weeks.
And I’ll also be saying more about some of the habits I’m (more or less successfully) trying to cultivate.
Basically, if we put my sleep skills in terms of skiing skills, I’d say that I can pizza-wedge my way down most blue runs without falling. So I’m not very good, but I have high hopes of getting better.