I know you've heard that you need sleep, but just about everyone around you is proclaiming on high how they get by with "FOUR HOURS OF SLEEP, and I'm fine!". Are they? They seem like they're full of energy, whatever that means. What do we really know about sleep? Well, let's jump down the rabbit hole!
Sleep. It's pretty clear that getting quality sleep is the lowest hanging fruit you could snatch to give you the greatest return. You'll feel good, and have energy throughout your day. I'm sure you've heard the whole "you're supposed to be getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night". But, if you're like most busy people managing a life that includes a household, a career, fitness, and social life, your sleep is likely inconsistent and being neglected on a regular basis.
Any thought of improving sleep is often pushed aside because your mind defaults to other tasks that seem much more important. Optimizing your sleep doesn't have to feel like some other overwhelming task to do. It just takes a few simple adjustments to practice, and then you'll quickly be feeling rested enough to tackle any further steps toward becoming a superhuman.
Understanding how sleep makes things happen throughout other parts of your life will help you to understand sleep, whether it’s a quick nap, or a good seven to nine hours of deep, restful sleep. You'll soon be past the days of tossing and turning, waiting to drift off, or waking up repeatedly during the night just to wake up with a grumpy disposition and an appetite for every sweet your favorite coffee shop has to offer. This can create a vicious cycle that can lead to a life disaster.
Maybe your life takes you all over the country or the world, and you’re always feeling jet-lagged. Maybe you’ve developed a pattern of staying up past midnight to binge the newest show and getting up in the morning feeling like you're already carrying a load of bricks. Maybe you just feel tired and drained all the time. Whatever the case, not sleeping enough, or not sleeping well enough, can lead to chronic inflammation which then can manifest itself in ways like lack of energy, brain fog, inhibited creativity, memory, and a general feeling of degradation. Sleep, then, is that low hanging fruit that you can't wait to pick off of the tree!
Circadian Rhythms: Let's Learn The Rhythm
It's cool that its called Circadian "Rhythm". It's just like a dance where you need to learn the rhythm of the dance. Circadian Rhythms are physical and behavioral cycles that influence the timing of all your bodily rhythms on approximately a twenty-four-hour cycle.
They lead the dance in a wide array of biological processes...such as
the sleep-wake cycle
glucose homeostasis (sugar balance)
& eating habits
Your body assigns certain functions based on the time of day, such as tissue repair while you’re sleeping and feeding and moving during the day. The primary cues that dictate the circadian rhythm are light, food, movement, and social interaction. If your circadian rhythm is irregular or not synched with the natural light/dark cycle as humans have been for millennia, then you're putting yourself at risk for gaining fat through increased inflammation and that can lead to metabolic disease such as diabetes, and increasing your risk for all chronic diseases with a large side of depression. If your circadian rhythm is timed right, you could be sleeping from about 11 p.m. to about 7 a.m. So, if you’re not there, how do you get there?
Sleep Hygiene 101
Because so many variables influence your circadian rhythm and sleep quality, and because living in the world today has piled on complications that lead to potential sleep disturbances, understanding the major players influencing your ability to sleep is a good place for us to look into.
How Light Affects Sleep
Believe it or not, getting a good night’s sleep begins in the morning before you’ve even gone to sleep. For your body to be in its natural circadian rhythm, wherever in the world you are, you have to be exposed to some kind of natural sunlight, or its equivalent, first thing in the morning. A simple 10 to 20-minute walk outside will help to reset your biological clock.
What if the part of the world you're in lacks sunlight? Well here's what we're going to do, we're going to find a way to bring the sun to you. There are all these little hacks that can mimic exposure to natural light that utilizes blue light. For example, you can replace some of the lightbulbs in your house or apartment with specially designed bulbs that bombard you with blue light. Your phone also blasts your face with blue light.
Because blue light is helpful during the day, it doesn't mean you should overdose on it day and night. because blue light suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin to make you alert and awake during the day, if you're exposing yourself to blue light in the evening, you're inhibiting melatonin production that is necessary for priming your body to sleep. That’s why it is important to eliminate exposure to artificial light at the end of the day as much as possible. That phone is now something you should put down. Generally, whenever the sun has gone down, you’ll want to eliminate exposure to blue light so that it won’t throw off your circadian rhythm. You can also purchase what are called biological LED bulbs, special light bulbs that emit no blue light, and replace the regular bulbs in your bedroom or kitchen or bathroom with some of these.
When it comes to light, more exposure to natural sunlight or blue light will dose you up to start the day, and eliminating exposure to that light, later on, will help you fall asleep more easily.
How Smell Affects Sleep
There are natural olfactory compounds that induce relaxation. Rose, bergamot, lavender, these smells get your body to activate your “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system or as we will refer to it your mindful chilling zone. The mindful chilling zone helps control balance throughout your body, it regulates different body systems and allows it to repair itself. Some of the effects of the activation of this are muscular relaxation, increased saliva production, and greater release of digestive enzymes. Once activated, the mindful chill zone inhibits activity in organs related to the “fight or flight” response and excites organs used to “rest and digest”.
Let's see what's up with lavender. It has so many benefits beyond helping you fall asleep. It’s an antibiotic, antiseptic, and detoxifier. How's that for a win? It’s also a sedative, antidepressant, and stimulates the immune system in a positive way.
Check this out, the results of various experiments suggest that exposure to undiluted lavender for as little as 7 days helps inhibit anxiety-like behaviors that are the result of an overstimulated sympathetic nervous system. All you have to do is place a little lavender oil on your upper lip, and get an awesome essential oil diffuser that brings you joy so you can diffuse the oil into the air around you in your home. You’ll literally breathe your way to a better night’s sleep.
How Sound Affects Sleep
When was the last time you laid awake, and all of a sudden noticed what sounds like a cacophony of sirens, barking dogs, late-night parties at the neighbor’s, and those oh-so-quiet-yet-ever-present creaky house sounds? When you’re flying, there’s always beeps and clicks and the occasional loud children as the engine hum underneath it all. The most efficient way to banish all these noises is to get a good pair of earplugs or quality noise-reducing headphones.
There are some interesting cutting edge hacks available you can try to see how they may affect your sleep, apps like Brain.fm or SleepStream have relaxing nighttime sounds available to lull you to sleep. Binaural beats are another sound hack for enhanced sleep. By sending two different sound frequencies to each ear through headphones, your brain responds by matching the brainwave speed to the difference between the two frequencies. In terms of supporting sleep, binaural beats at a specific frequency will relax the brain into a state of sleep. At least that's the hypothesis. I'm not sure how all of this fits together, but I mentioned it because it's interesting and that could be the nerdy part of me coming out #nerdalert.
How Temperature Affects Sleep
Your body temperature drops when you sleep. Your body temp may drop by as much as 3.6° F while you're in good sleep, and this variation is regulated in part by circadian rhythms – core body temperature is high during the day, peaking in the mid-afternoon, and lower at night. As sleep comes on, the metabolic rate in your cells falls, and as a result, they generate less heat, which means you generate less heat. So, as you drift off, you’ll begin to cool down by what is a significant amount from the human body’s natural set point. At certain points during REM sleep, you’ll start to warm up again, due to a temporary loss of this thermoregulatory response. But, as you re-enter NREM sleep, you’ll start to cool off again.
The issue that comes up is that with external factors throwing off your core body temperature your body becomes misaligned with your natural circadian rhythm.
You can also think about how life activities such as physical activity, drugs, fever, and menstrual phase affect you. If a typical day for you is running around doing errands, going to meetings, working out, and eating a lot for effective recovery, I'm sure all these things are good things, but another angle to look at this from is that by the time you get to bed, your body is generating so much heat from your day that it will take you longer for sleep onset to occur, and your sleep itself won’t be as restful.
Luckily, we're going over this together and we've got some tricks up our sleeve for these very situations. First is you’ll want to drop your thermostat at home to approximately 65° F. I'm sure that different people have different points, but as of now the research which is in its infancy suggests that 65° F is a good place to start experimenting.
A hot-cold contrast shower ending on cold is another quick trick to use. Whatever situation you find yourself in, these options for helping your body along in its circadian mission to chill out when you go to sleep can pay huge dividends in your sleep bank account.
Concepts To Consider For Better Sleep
Reduce and manage stress – Cortisol and melatonin are the major hormones that are influenced by your circadian rhythm and relay messages to the rest of your body's systems what time it is. Cortisol peaks in the morning to rev you up for the day and gradually diminishes so that your body winds down to sleep. Chronically elevated cortisol which is an enormous issue today due to stress can dysregulate your circadian rhythm.
Keep a consistent schedule – You are a creature of adaptation. Circadian rhythms operate on a rhythm. That means doing things outside of your norm can throw your positive adaptations off. This includes an inconsistent sleep schedule (sleeping in on weekends), eating at different times each day (indulging in a late-night snack), inconsistent timing of workouts, and pretty much any other pressure outside of your normal schedule. It may sound boring, but if you don't give yourself time to adjust how can adaptation happen? Try these tips and after a good month ask yourself "Do I feel way better"?
Avoid stimulants after 12:00 pm
Sleep Better Tonight
By hacking these four common factors affecting your sleep, you’ll not only sleep better, but you'll also improve just about all of your body's systems, resulting in better physical energy, mental focus, and clarity to tackle all the things life will continue to throw at you.
Your take away is to ask yourself what is the simplest one thing I can try tonight so that I can begin adaptation towards better sleep? Will it be how you can enhance your lighting situation? Or maybe, sound? Perhaps you try smelling your way to rest and recovery? Oh, yeah, you can see what you can do to create a cooler space, both literally and figuratively, of course!
Here's to getting the sleep of your dreams!
I'd like to share a very special song with you as the song of the day. This is the song I would play for my kids before they would go to sleep when they were little. This song gets me every time!
Track of The Day - Lullabye - Billy Joel