Six years ago my wife and I moved into our current home, a Brooklyn apartment in a newly-refurbished industrial warehouse. It came with an odd, oversized windowless den. Following a hunch that we’d sleep better there, my wife and I have slept in that den – instead of in the well-lit bedroom – ever since. After just one night in there, we called it our Sleep Cave.
Pitch dark, totally silent.
The Sleep Cave has no windows and receives virtually no light from outside. It’s silent because 18 inches of cement separate us from the neighbors above, there are no neighbors below (it’s on the ground floor), and no neighbors on either side. We don’t even hear car alarms or sirens because we installed soundproof, double-paned glass in the rooms that do have windows.
Here’s what happened in terms of sleep.
We wanted to see what happened if we slept in the cave without any alarm clocks or artificial lighting to wake us. We’ve slept like that for six years now. Here’s what happened:
- We sleep more. Screens and lights cause most of us to fall asleep later while alarm clocks wake us up earlier. Without the morning alarm or sunlight, we now sleep in every day.
- We fall asleep faster. It’s well known that darkness triggers the release of melatonin, a hormone that plays an important role in sleep. Neither of us spend much time tossing or turning in the cave.
- We sleep more soundly. Until the arrival of our now 4-month old baby, we were sleeping through the nights with rare interruptions. Our son co-sleeps in the cave with us, and I have a feeling my wife and I are relatively well rested because all three of us are sleeping deeper in there.
- We dream more. Our REM sleep phase is longest in the morning, so waking later means dreaming more.
- It’s not hard to get out of bed once we are awake. Contrary to popular belief, once one has slept enough, one does want to bound out of bed, with or without light.
- We learned how long it takes to recover from a night out. We’re both night owls so we sleep at 1 am and wake up at around 9 am (though we aspire to sleep before midnight). But if we’ve had a super late-night out on Saturday, for example, we’ll sleep later on Sunday, Monday, and even Tuesday mornings. It takes more than one night to recover.
Here’s what happened in our professional lives.
Clearly this is not an option for people with early-morning jobs or school-age children. But I didn’t realize how profoundly this would change my own approach to work.
- We feel more creative. There may be a reason why so many writers and artists are night-owls; REM sleep is associated with greater creativity. My wife and I took on painting and have decorated our entire apartment with our own work.
- I write more. I started this blog at the same time as moving into the cave. I also write the blog at Power 20, so my writing has increased tremendously over the years.
- We’re doomed to tech or entrepreneurial work. Taking a traditional 9-to-5 job will be hard for both of us unless we move out of that room. Thankfully the tech industry in NYC starts and ends work late.
- We feel great. Instead of looking and feeling like vampires, we both generally feel well-rested and have no anxiety about sleep. Our new baby is rocking the boat, but not so much that we can’t cope.
Overall, the Sleep Cave has been good for us.
Except for probably being a fire hazard, sleeping in the cave has been awesome. I recommend creating your own Sleep Cave if your schedule permits sleeping in every day. For everyone else, build the Sleep Cave whenever you’re on vacation to catch up on much-needed sleep.
Use these products to create your own Sleep Cave:
- Sleep mask with ear plugs. Get the cheap, lightweight ones so you don’t sweat.
- White noise machine. Babies and adults sleep better with these. White noise machines can block out random noises that may wake us up at night. Note: I haven’t tried this one because I use a fan.
- Room fan. This is a more functional alternative to the white noise machine.
- Touch-sensitive lamp. It’s easy to knock things over while trying to turn on the light in a Sleep Cave, so these lamps can make your life a little easier.