We all know that we need to regularly get quality sleep if we are to perform at our best every day. For so many of us, though, even if we somehow scrape out 7-8 hours of shut-eye, we do not feel rested. How many of us are walking around like barely functioning zombies most days? What would our lives be like, what more could we achieve, if we were actually rested?
Do we need more sleep? Do we need better sleep?
Biohackers tend to think the latter is true. They caution us that modern sources of light, sound, and other distractions are robbing us of the quality z’s that we need to perform to our highest potential. Avoiding these artifacts of modern life before bedtime and getting natural light at appropriate times during the day is vital to our mood, our health, and our sleep. This is what is meant by “Sleep Hygiene.”
The truth is, you will not heal, lose weight, think well, or be well if you don’t get quality sleep regularly. If your body is constantly in panic mode, it will not expend energy to detoxify systems properly, clean up cells, create new neural or motor pathways, or repair damaged DNA. It will remain in fight or flight mode, eventually burning out and leaving you broken. David Asprey sums it up by saying, “lack of quality sleep will make you sick, weak, stupid, fat, and eventually, dead.”
So yeah, sleep is pretty important. Here are some tips to get you the best night of sleep you’ve had since childhood:
Get outside in the morning
Within an hour of waking, get outside in the natural light with no sun protection. Expose your eyes and skin to a morning dose of sunlight. Wear as little clothing as you can get away with and leave your sunglasses inside. Even regular eyeglasses have UV protectant, so leave those inside as well. Getting sunlight through a window doesn’t count as most windows also have UV protectant or a light filter of some sort.
Getting sunlight is important for many reasons, but in this case getting natural sunlight in the morning resets your circadian clock. It tells the body that it is morning and we are ready to amp up for the day. Since the body runs on a cycle, starting the clock in the morning will also shut it down at night. This is one of the reasons you get great sleep on camping trips.
Avoid artificial light at night
Along the same lines, if we are to take advantage of this light/dark cycle and how it plays out in our bodies, we have to get rid of artificial light after dark. This is easier said than done. How many of us watch television, cruise social media, or play video games right before bed? This behavior is ruining our sleep.
In order to get quality sleep:
- Avoid junk light after dark. Put your phone away, close up your laptop, and save that last episode for tomorrow. Or invest in blue-blocker glasses like those from TrueDark. Install f.lux software on your laptop. It mimics the kind of light that you would be seeing at that time of day rather than full blast bright light all of the time.
- Blackout your bedroom. Get the expensive blackout shades for your bedroom windows. Pay attention to any light that seeps in at the edges.
- Place electrical tape or TrueDark dots over all of those little lights that tell you things are on. These pesky little lights add up to create big distractions.
- Wear an eye mask. Actually, this is a last resort I use for hotel rooms and when I visit family. Eye masks only work for your eyes and can be uncomfortable. Your skin has photoreceptors as well and can tell if you are being exposed to light whether your eyes know it or not.
Avoid clutter or stressors in your bedroom
If you are stressed it is hard to sleep. Duh. Having clutter lining every level surface of your bedroom is a major stressor for the brain. It wants to set things straight, get rid of chaos, make everything right. So when clutter or unfolded laundry is the last thing you see before turning out the lights, your brain starts to focus on all of the things you didn’t get done or the things you need to do tomorrow. Sound familiar? Pick up, clean up, and get rid of things you don’t need for better sleep.
Quiet down, or at least make sound your friend
This one seems like a no-brainer. A quieter room will be better for sleep than, say, a subway station. Remove sounds that you find irritating or distracting like a dripping faucet, a barking dog, or a snoring spouse (noise canceling earbuds work well for the latter two). Or drown them out with colored noise.
We all know that person who can’t sleep without a fan. This is a type of colored noise. A constant, more neutral sound that will drown out distracting sounds. Different people sleep better to different colors of sound. White noise, for example, is a sound like the static from a radio or television. I sleep best to pink sound, like rain hitting leaves or wind. Other people prefer brown sound like ocean waves. Experiment to see which is best for you.
Adjust the temperature
I’m sure you have noticed that it is difficult to sleep well in a hot room. Your body will get the signal that it is time to sleep if the ambient temperature is lowered. This, like many of the other tips listed here, is a throwback to the old days. Before central heating, when the sun went down so did the temperature. There wasn’t much to do after dark, so that’s when sleep happened. That is how we are wired. To hack sleep in the modern age, we need to work with our natural tendencies and turn the thermostat down. I have also heard that sleeping naked is helpful in this department…and it might also be fun!
Be aware of caffeine
The general rule is to avoid caffeine after 2 pm. Everyone is different in this sense, though. Some people can’t handle much caffeine at all. Others can have tea at 4 pm and be fine. I personally limit coffee and black tea to the morning or very early afternoon hours. If I have caffeine in the afternoon or evening it is green tea or dark chocolate. I have a pretty high caffeine tolerance, so that works for me. I have a friend who can’t do more than green tea at any time of day. We are all different. Experiment to see what works for you.
“Here’s the thing, a small change in your sleep environment equals higher performance the next day. Make it darker, you sleep better, make it colder, you sleep better. Make it quieter, you sleep better. Reduce interruptions, you sleep better. All of those might be a two percent or a five percent improvement. And it adds up.” – David Asprey
Getting in some healthy movement every day can help you sleep at night. We are not meant to be sedentary beings. Sitting at a desk typing away on a computer all day is a far cry from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle we enjoyed not so long ago. Get up and get moving most days for better sleep.
For best results in the least amount of time, try HIIT workouts. Incorporate weights at least a couple of times a week to improve bone density. Practice cardio a couple of times a week to improve endurance, stamina, and cardiovascular health. Working out hard enough to sweat also indicates that you are detoxifying at the cellular level. All of these things are good for sleep.
One of the first things I noticed about cleaning up my diet was how well I was sleeping. Almost right away I was sleeping through the night right up until my alarm went off in the morning almost every night. This is also the first thing to go if I cheat on myself.
Things like alcohol, sugar, inflammatory oils, and foods you may be sensitive to can make a huge impact on your quality of sleep. It may seem as though alcohol helps get you to sleep in the first place, but how often do you wake up hours later and are unable to get back to sleep? Sugar works like this as well. I’m sure you have regretted the decision to have something deep fried and have tossed and turned with heartburn or acid reflux into the wee hours. All these things matter more than you may realize.
Wash your sheets
Not only are freshly washed sheets wonderful to slide into, but they are also healthier. It might be kind of gross to think about, but little bugs like dust mites like to live where your dead skin cells accumulate. Our beds are the perfect place for them. These little guys can cause skin irritation and respiratory issues. Waking up with the sniffles? Wash your sheets.
The usual recommendation used to be to wash your sheets at least once a week. I just read an article that said to change them out every 3 days. Use your best judgment here.
Know how much sleep you need
Everyone has different needs when it comes to sleep. Some people need a solid 8 hours in order to function the next day. Others seem fine with 6 hours. Don’t fool yourself, however. Don’t be a hero and think that you can function on less sleep because you are tough. Your productivity, mood, and stamina will improve if you get the right amount of quality sleep for you.
The better your quality of sleep, the less you will need. Follow the tips above to get better quality sleep. Even then you probably need between 7-8 hours every night. Most of the newer research indicates most people do best on 7 1/2 hours. Some experts even say less is more and that you can actually get too much sleep which can be detrimental to your health over time. I say figure this one out on your own. Pay attention to how you feel with less or more sleep. Your number will likely change over time.
Calculate how much sleep you need, then count backwards from when you have to get up. Simple, right? Get into a good habit and your body will start expecting sleep when it is time.
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Anything recently written by Arianna Huffington. Thrive Global, Medium @ariannahuff, Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder