Practical PKM

😴 Sleep is the Killer App

Published 15 days ago • 6 min read

In this edition of Practical PKM:

  • 💡 The Big Idea: Tips to help you sleep better
  • 😎 Something Cool: An Obsidian web clipper that I actually like
  • 📚 My notes from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

💡The Big Idea: Sleep is the Killer App

The purpose of your PKM system is to help you make sense of the world.

Unfortunately, that’s almost impossible when you don’t get enough sleep. So in this newsletter, I want to share a few tips for helping you think better by resting better. It’s a little bit of a different newsletter this time around, but as always I hope you enjoy it, and it helps you to be a little bit more productive and creative.

But first, let’s go to McDonald’s.

My Sleep Origin Story

It’s the summer of 2000. School’s done for the year, and I’m working on shooting video for a software product to help lower-functioning special education students learn basic functional skills. After our morning shoot, my friend & I decided to go to McDonald’s to grab lunch before going to our second location for the day.

But while standing in line to order my food, I start to feel light-headed. A few seconds later, I faint and fall forward onto my friend who’s in line in front of me.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the ambulance. I briefly saw my dad driving close behind through the window in the back before blacking out again.

When I finally come to, I’m lying in a hospital bed. The doctor comes in and tells me I have epilepsy, and I’ve just had a seizure.

The happy ending to this story is that it hasn’t impacted my quality of life. In fact, I haven’t had another seizure in almost 25 years 🎉 But since lack of sleep can be a trigger, I was instantly forced to care deeply about the quantity and quality of my nighttime rest.

But you don’t need to have a medical emergency in order to understand how important sleep is. The research shows that most of us don’t get enough sleep. And the scary thing is that most of us think we’re just fine. Which means that we may not even realize the impact a lack of sleep is having on us (even though it’s comparable to being legally drunk).

The bottom line is that the sooner we start sleeping better, the sooner we can truly wake up and start living.

Tips to Help You Sleep Better

The tricky thing about sleep is that the more you want to sleep, the harder it is to do so. But if you create the right conditions, falling asleep becomes a lot easier.

Here are some of the things that have worked for me.

  • Keep it cool. According to Matthew Walked (Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science), the ideal temperature for sleep is about 65 degrees (we keep ours at 70). That may be a little cooler than you may like, but it may help you sleep better.
  • Make your bedroom as dark as possible. The darker the better. For a long time, we humans went to sleep when the sun went down. Artificial light of any kind can keep you from entering slumberland. We use blackout curtains to make our room as dark as possible (the only visible light is the small green one on the smoke detector in our room).
  • Avoid blue light before bed. Speaking of light, the blue light from your phone and computer screens convinces your body that it’s not as late as it really is. This causes your body to delay the production of melatonin, the chemical that helps you feel tired and transition into sleep. Quit staring at your phone at least an hour before you go to bed.
  • Cut the afternoon caffeine. Caffeine is removed from your body by an enzyme in your liver, but it takes a while to do so. On average, caffeine has around a 5-hour half-life (which means that half of it will still be in your system 5 hours after you drink your afternoon coffee). So think ahead and make sure you give your body enough time to flush the caffeine from that coffee (or soda) out of your system before bedtime.
  • Try a weighted blanket. If you’re wound up, you can’t fall asleep easily. Using a weighted blanket can help calm you down and make it easier to fall (and stay) asleep. We found a weighted blanket on Amazon that fits our queen-size bed and chose a weight that was enough for me but not too heavy for my wife.
  • Use white noise to block out other sounds. Particularly if you’re a light sleeper, white noise can help mask other sounds that prevent you from falling or staying asleep. I do this by playing white noise on our HomePod Minis, though I did cut some covers to block the light on the top.
  • Get rid of the clock. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, the worst thing you can do is look at the clock. Doing this instantly creates anxiety about not getting enough sleep, which prevents your body from being able to rest. I know a lot of people who love the Standby feature of their Apple products, but I personally can’t stand having a clock in the room.
  • Have a consistent evening routine. Following the same evening routine every night can signal to your body that it’s time to transition to sleep.

As I shared in my story up above, I have to take this stuff seriously. So I’m pretty militant about the evening routine.

My Evening Routine

By 9 pm, I make sure that I'm finishing up on my screens. Usually, this includes a quick Spanish lesson in Duolingo if I haven’t done it yet and journaling in Obsidian. I answer my daily questions using a Shortcut on my phone that writes my responses into my Daily Note in Obsidian (YouTube video on how it works here), then use a couple of QuickAdd macros to add journal entries for what happened throughout the day as well as evening gratitude.

Once I’m done journaling, I make some Yogi bedtime tea. I sip my tea while I read for about 20-30 minutes. I’ll take notes on my iPhone in MindNode, but it’s sporadic and I’m not really staring at my phone while I’m reading.

When I’m done with my tea, I refill my water bottle (I try to drink 20oz of water first thing when I get up in the morning) and go get ready for bed . I leave my phone on the charger in the kitchen and don’t bring it into the bedroom. I turn the big lights off and turn our bedside lamps on (we have Hue lights in our lamps and we set them to ~30%) while I get ready for bed and lay out my clothes for the next morning in the bathroom. Then I close the blackout shades, turn on the white noise, and climb into bed. Before I fall asleep, I set a silent alarm on my Apple Watch using Sleep Cycle for 6:45 am.

The whole routine takes 60-90 minutes, and I’m usually asleep by around 10:30 pm.

A Final Tip

You can’t force sleep. You can only invite it. So do what you can to set yourself up for sleep success, but don’t stress if it doesn’t happen right away. Sometimes you can do everything right and you just can’t fall asleep. But the more you anxious you feel about not being to sleep, the harder it gets to do so.

😎 Something Cool: Stardown Plugin

One question I hear over and over again is, “How do I copy/link to web pages from Obsidian?” And while there are lots of browser extensions for this, I’ve never really cared for any of them. They are either too complex (try to do too much) or I don't like the way that they send the text/link to Obsidian.

Stardown is the first one that I feel like I actually want to use. It adds a button to your browser (support Chrome, Firefox, and Edge) that will copy the URL of the current page in Markdown format so you can paste it easily into Obsidian. It doesn’t create a new note, and it doesn’t grab the whole article or text of the webpage. It just grabs the Markdown URL so you can link to things.

If you do want certain text from the website to be copied over too, just highlight it on the webpage before you click the button. When you paste the text, it pastes the text into your Obsidian note as a callout with the linked webpage title as the source.

I know there are other more powerful plugins for sending web text to Obsidian. And if you like those, more power to you 😉 But if (like me) you haven’t found one that has clicked for you yet and you want something super simple, you might want to check out Stardown.

📚 Book Notes: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Last week on Bookworm, Cory & I read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (which is what got me thinking about the topic for this week’s newsletter). He's a serious sleep nerd, so if you’re looking for the definitive work on the science of sleep, this is the book for you.

If you want to download my mind map notes for this book, click here.

— Mike

Practical PKM

by Mike Schmitz

A weekly newsletter where I help people apply values-based productivity principles and systems for personal growth, primarily using Obsidian. Subscribe if you want to make more of your notes and ideas.

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