Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success
The research is in, and it’s conclusive; sleep matters. Good sleep — both quantity and quality — is critical to every facet of our mental, emotional and physical health. In our culture, sleep doesn’t get a lot of respect; many of us are proud of our ability to “power through” without it. The costs of doing so, however, are significant. The bottom line is that we are more effective, more efficient and happier when we’re adequately rested.
Sleep Smarter provides simple, actionable tips for getting better sleep. I think it’s important to note that any positive change matters; you don’t have to do everything the author suggests in order to benefit. Here are some of my takeways:
- Sleep repairs the cellular damage that we accumulate throughout the day. It improves mood, metabolism, energy and mental function; it regulates hormones and slows aging. It helps you to work more efficiently and effectively. Lack of sleep reduces how much glucose reaches the brain; it actually makes you dumber. (This is also one reason we crave sweets when we’re tired.)
- Sunlight matters. Sunlight regulates hormones which influence our circadian rhythms. It’s important to get adequate sunlight throughout the day, and preferably as early in the day as possible; similarly, it helps to have less light in the evening.
- Electronic light also matters. But it has the opposite effect. Most electronic screens emit a blue wavelength which suppresses melatonin production and interferes with our circadian rhythms. For best results, turn off all electronic devices at least 90 minutes before bedtime or invest in an app or screen filter which blocks the blue light.
- Minimize caffeine and alcohol. I love coffee, but I recently gave it up and replaced it with tea, which has much less caffeine. I’m surprised at how much more even I am, when I’m not spiking my bloodstream with 300mg of caffeine (2 cups of coffee) three times a day.
Caffeine is everywhere, so much so that we forget that it’s actually a powerful stimulant. It has a half-life of between 5-8 hours and can disrupt our sleep as much as six hours before bedtime.
Even as depressant, alcohol actually disrupts your sleep.
- Temperature matters. Try to keep your bedroom between 60-68 degrees; anything outside of this range can disrupt sleep. Avoid using heavy blankets which may raise your core temperature too much. If necessary, take a warm bath an hour or so before bedtime (I’ve always found these to be very relaxing).
- Timing matters. Millions of years of evolution have programmed our bodies to receive the most benefit at certain times of day. We get our best sleep between roughly 10pm and 2am. In other words, sleeping from 10pm to 6am is better for you than sleeping from 1am to 9am, even though the hours are the same.
- Sleep cycles matter. Even if you get a full night’s sleep, you may still feel groggy if you wake in the middle of a cycle. Try to set your alarm to provide sleep in increments of 90 minutes; i.e. to wake you in 7.5 hours.
- Ritual matters. We’re creatures of habit. In consistently preparing for bedtime in the same way, you can associate these activities with sleep in your mind and make it effortless.
You want your mind to associate your bedroom with sleep. Avoid bringing work to bed with you or falling asleep watching TV (see also the point about blue light above). Set your phone in another room, or in the very least, well out of arm’s reach. It’s also important to cut out external sources of light, as much as possible; invest in quality blinds or curtains.
Having sex also produces sleep-positive hormones; as if you needed another reason to indulge. 😉
- Diet and exercise matter. In terms of sleep, lifting weights is more beneficial than cardio. Because it yields more lean muscle mass which boosts metabolism, it’s also more beneficial for fat loss.
Fat — particularly abdominal fat — inflicts continuous stress on your internal organs and causes your body to secrete significantly more cortisol, which interferes with sleep. Thus, unhealthy body weight kicks off a deadly cycle; sleep is essential to maintaining healthy weight, but unhealthy weight interferes with sleep.
Generally speaking, eating fewer carbs and more protein and good fats (i.e. avocado, nuts) also promotes fat loss. Whenever possible, “real food” as opposed to heavily processed food is infinitely more nutritious. For example, I notice a big difference in my energy levels and mood when I start my day with steel cut oatmeal or a smoothie blended from spinach and fruit, as opposed to a “nutri-grain” style breakfast bar.
It’s worth noting that working out close to bedtime raises your core body temperature; similarly, getting up at 3am to hit the gym is equally counterproductive. Exercising at around 7am seems to be the sweet spot, although personally, I also enjoy exercising either at lunch time or at around 4pm.
- Meditate. It calms your brain, amongst so many other benefits.
Shawn also shares some other tips which veer into pseudoscience. For example, he talks about air ionization or use of supplements, including topical magnesium treatments. He suggests that women go braless (which is fine) because wearing bras 24/7 causes breast cancer (which I can’t say one way or the other, but several recent, large studies refute this claim). Finally, he talks about the importance of being outside (again, no disagreement) because it “grounds us” and improves our blood (wait … WTF?)
These caveats aside, there is a lot of good, sound advice here. If you’d like to know more, I recommend you check it out.