Sleep, The Elixir of Life by Matt Hoyles

Following on from my previous article, publishing the introduction to my late friend Matt Hoyles’ book, which he sadly never completed, here is another section. It is on sleep, an area I know Matt used to struggle with. But, as he always did, he tried to learn as much as he could on the subject to provide the tools to give himself a better sleep practice. I know he was a big fan of Matthew Walker’s research into sleep, and he highly recommended his book, Why We Sleep.

One note on the below – I am resistant to changing any of Matt’s words, but I have added a slight amend. Matt recommends meditation as a way of relaxing before sleep and as a tool if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep. More recent studies show that focused-based meditations, focusing on the breath, for example, can disrupt our sleep. This is due to these types of meditation activating parts of our brain involved in focus and remaining alert. Instead, a Yoga nidra practice or non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) type of meditation is recommended. I have added this in brackets where appropriate. I hope the below is useful to anyone who wants to cultivate better sleep habits.

Sleep, The Elixir of Life By Matthew Hoyles

There are probably four non-negotiable necessities for maintaining human life. Oxygen, water and food have long been understood to be three obvious requirements. However, the importance of the fourth has for far too long been trivialised, namely sleep. In fact, humans can invariably stay alive over three times as long without food than they can sleep. Only now are we really beginning to understand why evolution has deemed sleep so critical for the maintenance of biological life. Over the last couple of decades, studies are proving how essential sleep really is.

Every animal on earth must sleep, or it will die. For humans, not one major organ, biological system, or process in the brain has been found that isn’t enhanced by sleep and is detrimentally impaired if we don’t get enough. Put differently, at every level of analysis, sleep helps to redress physical and psychological health. Alternatively, sleep loss worsens all aspects of health. Good sleep is the single greatest medicine and the elixir of life. Meanwhile, sleep deprivation is like a slow form of self-euthanasia. As a general rule – the less you sleep, the lower your quality of life and the shorter that life will be.

Matt’s 10 Sleep Tips

Mnemonic - RRR ABCDEFG

Regular Times – c. midnight to 9am

Relax – calm brain & body: PMR, meditation (Yoga nidra/NSDR), self-hypnosis

Read – dim light

Avoid – fluid & food; stimulants & sedatives; bright light; unpredictable noise

Bedroom – only for sleep

Cool – bedroom & body temperature

Dark – before & during (dim light & eye mask)

Earplugs – low noise or white noise

Fan – cools + white noise

Get up – if >20mins move and read or meditate (Yoga nidra/NSDR)


Regular times – keep body clock in regular rhythm (circadian). Two systems ideally need to be aligned: Process-C circadian wake drive (inc. body temp & melatonin) and Process-S sleep drive (inc. adenosine sleep pressure). Know your chronotype: Morning lark, regular or night owl = late to sleep and awaken (c. 1am to 9am)

Relax – ‘slower and lower’ the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight); i.e., need to calm down brain and body to prepare for sleep. Racing mind, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, temperature, movement, etc

Read – helps calm down brain and body, plus low light to aid melatonin release. Bright and blue light are bad

Avoid – fluid as we need to urinate more often as we age (bladder loses elasticity). Food can cause indigestion, bloating, etc. Stimulants like caffeine stop from falling asleep (block adenosine receptors). Sedatives like alcohol mean poorer quality of sleep (fragmented). Bright light affects melatonin release. Unpredictable noises may not allow a vigilant mind to rest

Bedroom – only for sleep as association with being awake makes it harder to initiate sleep

Cool – core body temperature ideally needs to drop before and during sleep. Always better to have a cold than a hot bedroom. Wear socks if cold feet

Dark – melatonin to be released to initiate sleep and get back to sleep when awakened

Earplugs – noise - unless consistent like white noise - can lead to awakenings

Fan – cool down for onset plus white noise to cover unpredictable awakening sounds

Get up – association with bedroom as a place awake hinders sleep onset, plus the mind getting irritated/agitated is not good for sleep onset. Read or meditate (Yoga nidra/NSDR).

If you would like to subscribe to my newsletter, you can here.