So, you get the message. If you read the previous article: Sleep 1.0 then you’ll be well aware of how integral sleep is to almost every aspect of your health. It’s not just an inconvenient obstacle to be dealt with in the minimum required dosage for survival, but rather a key part of what is required for recovery and maintenance of the body & mind. The problem is, that you can take all the information on board and commit to creating that uncompromising 8-hour window each night, but the modern world we live in throws up tonnes of obstacles that affect our ability to actually sleep through it.
Luckily, I’ve got the solutions for you. Think of this article like a basic lifestyle checklist. Whether you’re one of the 15% of people that lie in bed awake unable to fall asleep, or you have broken sleep & wake up in the middle of the night with no idea why, here is every basic component for getting a good night’s sleep. The pattern you’ll notice is it’s about living a life of consistency and contrast, as this is how your body sets its inbuilt clock.
You won’t be surprised that the first thing a personal trainer recommends is exercise. However it does make a big difference and that’s not because “it makes you tired”. Consider the sleep pattern of someone who is bedridden in hospital and cannot move. Albeit they are recovering from injury or illness, but they still nap frequently during the day and then wake up frequently at night. Their body is out of tune.
To achieve the aforementioned contrast that highlights day and night periods, being as active as possible as early as possible in your day is the key to exercise management. If you can do so, find a way to train within 6 hours of waking up.
The only thing to bear in mind is that working to your absolute max for an extended period of time can cause strain to your system that affects sleeping rhythms and recovery. The stress created in each training session from pushing harder each time eventually piles up and begins to affect your ability to relax. Variety has also shown improved sleep in those training particularly hard. Switching up the stimulus to your system with 1 or 2 low intensity sessions each week, or taking a de-load week is necessary to maintain an ideal hormone balance.
Opsin receptors in your eyes are another timing tool that sets the rhythm of your body’s daily cycle. Obviously, it uses light to understand that it is day time, and a lack of it to sense night. However, we live in a world where this natural contrast is constantly manipulated and restricted.
For a start, many of us are able to get from our homes into our offices without any sunlight exposure. We’re relatively awake from the artificial light in all of our homes and offices, but it’s a fraction of the stimulation our receptors would receive from the sun.
Perspective? The measurement for light strength is called “Lux”. Your office ceiling lights are 500 Lux, whereas standing in direct sunlight can be up to 30,000 Lux. This artificial exposure then ends up going from being insufficient to excessive though, as it is enough to keep our bodies thinking that it’s day time in the evenings when in fact it’s night.
What is even worse at hitting these receptors is the screen devices we use. Screens emit blue light that is otherwise only present in sunlight. We then hold them inches from our face, increasing its intensity, and apart from tricking our brains into thinking it’s still day time, it stimulates parts of our brain associated with stress (which is not conducive to sleep).
Focus on contrast once again, getting as much sunlight exposure as early as possible in the day, and keeping all household lighting to a warm, bare minimum in the evenings.
The biggest change in our body temperature occurs overnight, dropping by up to 3 degrees. It’s a key part of our circadian rhythm, with everywhere on earth getting cooler at night, and why one will usually wake up if for some reason they get too warm overnight. As a result, our bodies view a change in external temperature as a major signal that it’s time to start winding down to sleep. The fun part is that it doesn’t appear to matter if the change is warmer or colder. Whilst a cold shower initiates that drop in temperature, the drop in temperature from walking out of a sauna can have the same effect.
Finding out which of the two is more effective for you may take a bit of experimentation, but usually the ideal situation is that which creates the most contrast. Those who are very active and spend the day in a relatively high metabolic state tend to benefit more from have a cold, cool-down shower. Those who spend their day in the relative comfort of airconditioned cars and offices are more inclined to benefit from the sweaty heat of a sauna and the relaxation following it.
Exercise isn’t the only aspect of your schedule that benefits from being appropriately placed. Napping, for example, is best done as far away from your bed time as possible. Think of it like how your mum wouldn’t let you snack near to dinner because you’d “spoil your appetite”. The same thing applies to sleep-snacking.
Speaking of dinner, the timing between eating dinner and sleeping is also ideally as far apart as possible. Despite it seeming intuitive to eat just before bed because it makes you sleepy, this sensation is purely a result of the body’s blood and energy being focused on the stomach as opposed to the brain.
Your Vegas Nerve though, is connected to both your brain and your stomach, so your brain cannot relax whilst you’re still digesting. A brain that isn’t relaxed cannot go into REM or Deep Sleep so you’re wasting the first cycle or two of your sleep if you eat a large meal just beforehand.
If you must eat a meal close to your bedtime, try to ensure it is not too high in fat, protein or sugar – i.e. stick to mainly complex carbohydrates. Fats and proteins digest slowly so are more likely to interfere for longer, and sugar raises the stress levels in your systems which is counterproductive.
The same applies to alcohol and marijuana. Both feel like they help you get to sleep, but they only help you fall into Light Sleep. Like digestion of food, the also restrict you from progressing into REM and Deep Sleep stages.
And then you have your timing of the world’s most commonly abused drug: caffeine. It masks sleep deprivation in vast swathes of the population, but whilst helping those low on sleep stay awake, it’s also impairing their ability to get a good night’s sleep. This results in a vicious compensatory cycle of fixing a problem using the cause of the problem.
The key? Ensure you’re not drinking more than two cups a day and drink them as early as possible, not drinking caffeine within 12 hours of going to bed. Calculating the half-life of caffeine, this is where it shouldn’t negatively impact your night ahead.
Lastly, and potentially most importantly, the timing of your sleep. We’re not built to be nocturnal, or at least only 1-5% of us were. They were the tribe guardians in our evolution, who stood guard at night. The rest of us were asleep by 9 or 10 because the sun set hours ago and there was nothing left to do, and were up by 5 or 6am because we’d had enough sleep and were getting ready for sunrise. We did this every day and we slept brilliantly because our body was in sync with the sun. Keeping variability in your sleep timing is like constantly being jetlagged.
So there you go, the basic guide to living a sleep-centric life. You’ve got a week to give all of the above a go and see the wonders of being a sleeping machine. Complete this beginner level and then read our upcoming Sleep 3.0 of Joompa, where I’ll tell you the advanced hacks to take things one step higher.