Sleep is generally underrated. I love sleep though, as I’m sure most of you do!
For some reason, it seems that sleep is the first thing that is “given up,” as if it were a luxury. Sleep is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Nearly every bodily function revolves around the quality and quantity of sleep our body receives. Let’s put on our thinking caps and go back to the basic necessities of life… what do you think you need to survive in order of importance?
In order to survive, these basic needs must be met. Generally, we can survive for 3 minutes without air, 3-4 days without water, between 8-11 days without sleep and probably three times that without food. According to this Dec 2013 Gallup Poll, 40% of Americans are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep each night, an average of 6 hours and 48 minutes compared to an average of 7 hours and 50 minutes in 1942. Yet, while the recommended amount of sleep each night has been established as 7-8 hours of sleep, I believe this is subjective to each individual person and the quality of their sleep. I believe we should not only focus on the amount of sleep, but the quality of our sleep. The Gallup Poll did find that 67% of those receiving less than 6 hours of sleep and 45% of those receiving 7 hours of sleep would feel better if they received more as opposed to a mere 13% of those receiving 8 hours of sleep! Additionally, according to Elizabeth Kolbert’s essay in the New Yorker, the time that we report spent “asleep” inaccurately represents the actual time we spend sleeping. The author stated that while she had been in bed for 6 hours and 42 minutes, the hypnograph reported she had actually only slept for 4 hours and 2 minutes. Apparently she woke up 141 times during the night, sometimes for random 15 second chunks and spent the last hour awake. So, the quantity of our sleep is critical, but the quality should not be overlooked.
My question is… why are Americans only sleeping 6 hours and 48 minutes on average?
Is it because we want more hours in a day to accomplish more, study for an exam, hang out with our friends or family?
Here’s a quick list of things I came up with on the top of my head that keep most of us from getting adequate, restful sleep:
- Procrastination- we know we could go to bed but we would rather relax and watch TV
- Unaware, naïve or ignorant– to the negative effects of sleep deprivation
- Poor time management skills– we have so many things going on that we can’t stay organized
- Lack of a routine or habit- our circadian rhythm is a cycle that can get thrown off
- Blue light from technology– after the sun sets, blue light inhibits melatonin production
- Mental stimulation- cannot keep songs, memories, ideas, occurrences that day out of head
- Productivity– wanting to be more productive & accomplish more
- Alcohol- while it may seem to help us fall asleep, it is not restorative and disrupts the quality of sleep
- Caffeine– drinking too much coffee, energy drinks etc. before bed
- Room temperature- is your room too warm?
- Exercising- within an hour of sleep or a lack of exercise all together
- Darkness– a lack of darkness in your bedroom or before bed
- Insomnia- this may be subjective
- Anxiety– upcoming test, interview, speech, race, big event etc.
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Poor sleeping posture- many people sleep in bad positions or on uncomfortable surfaces
- Nutrition– lack of proper or sufficient nutrient, magnesium deficiency
- Eating window- within two hours of bed time
- Children or family obligations
- Work– emails, phone calls
- School– cramming for exams
- Peer pressure– going out with friends, nothing good ever happens before midnight?
- Obesity and or diabetes- related illness that inhibits natural sleep
- Not believing in or having never experienced a truly restorative sleep! – chronic environmental sleep disturbances keep you from ever experiencing what it feels like to wake fully rested… once you taste that feeling, you will always try to find it again.
Now for the part we have all been waiting for…
How To Perfect Your Sleep In 10 Steps
1. Get into a natural sleep routine
Let your circadian rhythm do the work for you! Wake up when the sun rises and go to bed when the sun sets around the same time each day. This will allow your body to produce proper melatonin–the sleep hormone–before its “usual” bed time, the core temperature to self-regulate itself and wake up feeling refreshed!
Additionally, receive great amounts of blue light using a Philips GoLite BLU or preferably full on sunlight for vitamin D in the morning after waking to stop the secretion of melatonin in the day time. Also, get rid of your alarm clock… check out the Philips Wake-Up Light to assist with a natural wake up or leave the blinds slightly open so you can wake with the sun as it slowly filters into your room.
Then, follow #2 to prevent melatonin from being blocked at night
2. Eliminate blue and green light before bed
Wear blue light blocking safety glasses within 2 hours of bed. You can find these on Amazon for around $8. My girlfriend Jessica and I have them and it makes watching her favorite show before bed dorky, fun, and possible. Also, it allows us to set our phone on airplane mode without being blasted with blue light before bed.
Download a blue light blocking app such as lux for your computer and devices. It’s very simple to navigate and free to download. If you are comfortable jail breaking your iPhone it is possible to install f.lux onto your IPhone! You can also download an app called Twilight for your Android. Sorry Windows phone users, keep checking!
If possible, manage your day so that you don’t need to use your phone or technology within an hour or so before bed.
Keep your bedroom BLACKED OUT. Completely. No alarm clocks, night lights, street lights at all. Even tiny amounts of artificial light can interrupt your sleep patterns. Buy a blacked out window blind at the local hardware store to assist with blocking unwanted light from outside. Although not as effective as complete darkness, you can also wear a sleep mask.
Install several red light bulbs throughout your home- This helps reduce blue light exposure from even white light bulbs in your ceiling or lamp. We have one in the bathroom for late night potty breaks and a mandatory bed lamp for reading before bed. On that note…
3. Read an autobiography or non-stimulating book before bed
Reading an actual old school turn the page book with a red light before bed is a great way to relax the brain, stop thinking about your exam, project, work, brilliant ideas etc. The great thing about an auto biography or biography is that unlike a fictional book or a creative thinking book, this will help shut your mind down rather than stimulate it.
4. Set the temperature to 68 degrees at night
Sleep like a hibernating bear. Keep your room cool and your comforter warm. If your core temperature becomes too hot your body will be restless and you will toss and turn all night. Additionally, unless you are a baby, you can use a fan to create “white noise” which will drown out other disturbances and help you sleep “soundly.” You can also buy a cooling mat such as the ComforPedic cool gel memory foam mattress topper. Alternatively, you can sleep with a far infrared Biomat such as the Therasage Heating mat that has been shown to improve quality of sleep. Additionally, take a hot/cold contrast shower (cold last) before bed to increase circulation and lower your body temperature to allow for a restful sleep .
5. Use a planner, Google Calendar, make a to-do list… become organized
I believe many of us want to sleep more but do not organize our time and make sleep a priority. It may be time to rewrite your priorities, get a new job, clean out the house, become a minimalist and use a calendar or planner. The more “things” we have in our lives the more obligated we are to use them… go without TV, movies, video games, unnecessary clothes… get rid of distractions in your life. Also, you can use a journal to write down your thoughts and worries before bed rather than letting them simmer all night. Also, check out some of the ways successful people prepare for sleep here!
6. Take GABA and magnesium before bed and drink matcha green tea during the day
Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) has been shown to regulate brain activity and has been dubbed “the brakes of the brain.” Taking GABA will decrease anxiety and those racing thoughts that are going through your head. Magnesium is a critical component of muscle relaxation that most Americans are deficient in. Take this before bed and you will have an overwhelming tiredness and sense of calm. If you have restless leg syndrome, this is for you! Drinking matcha green tea during the day is the best way to get L-Theanine which has been shown to calm brain activity, block unwanted hormones such as cortisol late at night and allow you to sleep deeper.
7. Stop eating, drinking alcohol, and drinking water within an hour and a half before bed- at least. Limit caffeine to before noon
Unless you have to eat and it is relatively low in sugar. For optimal sleep, you don’t want excess calories or insulin throwing your body temperature, blood sugar, and hormones off kilter. If you must eat, try to stick to protein and some coconut milk/oil or similar healthy fats. Keep caffeine, to include coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks limited to before noon for the best sleep. Preferably, try not drinking alcohol at all and although it might put you to sleep faster, you will sleep better and deeper without alcohol. For obvious reasons, try not to drink more liquid than your bladder can hold for over 8+ hours. Even disrupted sleep such as going to the bathroom can be the same as no sleep if you cannot enter REM because you have to pee.
8. Use an app to track your sleep quality
This is one of my favorites because you can actually see your sleep patterns throughout the night and perform self-experiments with it. BUT, test it out to see if it really works for you, here are a few of the best ones…Fit Bit One, SleepBot, Sleep Cycle, Sleep As Android, Jawbone Up, Sleep Well, Withings Health Mate, Beddit, Motion X 24/7, Sleep Time, Smart Alarm Clock.
9. Exercise during the day, relax before bed
Exercising is one of the most simple yet effective ways of ensuring a good night sleep, even for insomniacs. However, exercise, especially intense exercise or activity before bed can be too stimulating and result in high cortisol levels and body temperature which may keep you awake in bed. If you’re going to work out within an hour of bed time, keep it light or a few hours before bed.
10. Sleep with the right posture
Sleep in a comfortable environment where you love your mattress, your pillow, your sheets, your comforter etc. Sleeping on your back is considered the best position according to most doctors because it puts your spine in a neutral position. However, make sure you place a pillow underneath your knees to elevate your thighs and keep your low back flat on the mattress. This will help low back pain or prevent an arch in the back caused by stiff beds. You can also sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees to keep your hips aligned and then place your head pillow between your arm and neck so that you are not crushing your shoulder. This helps significantly with a good night sleep, don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself!
As always, prioritize your day to get at least 8 hours of sleep- don’t argue, just try it for at least two weeks and let us know how much better you feel. Make sleep a priority. Schedule it into your day. Remember, we are each different, self-experimenting with your sleep habits will help you discover what works the best for you.
That’s all for now folks! What prevents your from getting enough sleep or getting quality sleep? What biohacks do you use or recommend for a better, deeper, higher quality sleep? We would love to hear from you, what keeps you up at night, and or what works for you!