Earlier in the week I posted an article about sleep trackers. Well here is the promised article on sleep hacks.
As seen as we spend a third of our life sleeping you would think we would place a good nights sleep at the top of our priority list. But the fact is we don't and our sleep is often neglected and fragmented. Not many people have what you would call an established sleep routine in order to maximise their sleep quality. Well hopefully in this article I can can give you a few tips on how to prepare your body for quality sleep.
So what is sleep and why do we need it? Well everyone knows the answer to the first part but not many people know about the processes that take place within the body whilst we sleep.
So lets take a look at these so we have an understanding of why sleep is so important.
For those of you that didn't know our sleep is made up of numerous 90 minute cycles. These cycles are then split up into 5 different stages.
Stage 1- Sleep/Awake (The stage between being awake and falling asleep)
Stage 2- Light Sleep (Onset of sleep, breathing and heart rate is regular, body temperature starts to drop)
Stages 3-4 Deep Sleep (This is the deepest and restorative part of sleep, blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower, muscles are relaxed, blood supply to muscles increase causing tissue growth and repair, energy is restored and hormones are released to support growth and development)
Stage 5- REM/Dreams (This stage provides energy to the brain which is active as dreams occur. Eyes dart back and forth whilst muscles are turned off)
Research has shown that if you wake up in the morning at stage 1 of your sleep cycle you will feel more refreshed as opposed to waking up during stages 3 and 4 where your likely to feel groggy. With that in mind you actually may feel better having 6 hours sleep rather than 7 hours sleep which would have you waking up in the middle of a cycle. So putting that theory to the test you want to be having 7 ½ hours sleep which is a total of 5 sleep cycles or 9 hours sleep a total of 6 sleep cycles.
More sleep is not necessarily better for you. Always choose quality over quantity.
So as you can see from the various sleep cycles above our body is carrying out various tasks as we sleep. You can see that our muscles are repaired and injuries are healed. If your weight training in the gym this process is called hypertrophy and the muscles actually grow when you sleep. So as you can see for muscle growth quality sleep is the key along with protein to support the repair.
Sleep also helps us produce the necessary hormones required by the body for various functions. These include the support of our immune system. So if your sleep deprived you will likely become susceptible to more infections. Sleep also regulates the hormones ghrelin and leptin. These two hormones are responsible for telling us when to eat and when we are full. Again sleep deprivation causes this imbalance which leads to us eating more and weight gain.
As will be mentioned in my forthcoming article on cortisol this hormone is responsible for our sleep/wake patterns. Our cortisol levels starts to increase at around 4am everyday and it is at its highest between around 6 to 8 am. It happens this way so that we can meet the demands placed upon us for the day ahead. Throughout evolution and dating back to caveman times humans lived on a daily basis which started with hunting for food with the possibility of being eaten by predators. This cortisol allows us to be sharp and prepared. It then gradually decreases throughout the day to reach its lowest point at around 10pm in preparation for sleep. As the cortisol decreases hormones such as HGH, Testosterone and Melatonin start to be released in order to prepare us for sleep, healing, growth and repair. This pattern is known as the circadian rhythm which I’m sure you’ve heard of.
Now sticking to this rhythm is essential for a long and healthy life. It has been clinically proven that night workers live a shorter life due to living outside of their circadian rhythm. To stick to our circadian rhythm we need to be asleep by 10 or 11pm and awake between 6 and 8 am.
Now as you can see from that cycle, our bodies start preparing us for sleep from around 8pm every evening. To do this the body starts to lower our cortisol levels and increase our melatonin levels.
Now it is very easy to disrupt the lowering and release of these hormones. The following is a list of things that will do this as well as disrupt your sleep quality
1. The consumption of caffeine should be stopped around 6 hours before sleep. As a general rule I don't have caffeine after 12pm. Caffeine is a stimulant and will offset your circadian rhythm.
2. The consumption of alcohol can make you sleepy and fall asleep faster however it causes the quality of your REM sleep to diminish. This results in you waking up not feeling rested.
3. A large meal just before bed can overly stimulate your digestive system which will prevent optimal sleep. The reason for this is that the digestion of food requires lots of energy. This energy is taken away from the brain which requires this to process your sleep.
4. Limit the amount of water drunk late at night to avoid waking up with the need to go to the toilet.
5. The use of electronic devices several hours prior to sleep. Now I know this is common and I do fall foul of this myself. When I say electronic devices I mean mobile phones, tablets, gaming platforms and TV. Now the first thing that they all do is stimulate our brains. This stimulation can cause our bodies to release cortisol rather than melatonin. This will ultimately stop or delay us sleeping in line with our circadian rhythm. So if you can try not to use your phone in bed prior to sleep or watch TV.
6. There is also another thing which electronic devices do and that is emit blue light. Now blue light is known to stimulate the release of cortisol whereas a reduction in blue light is known to stimulate the release of melatonin. This follows our circadian rhythm of day and night.
Now the first thing everyone can do is invest in some lined curtains which block all light into the bedroom. Also tape over any small LED lights that emit from your devices. A lot of these now tend to be blue which even with your eyes closed can cause your brain to stimulate the release of cortisol.
7. Like me you can also invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses. I have had these for a few months now and can say they really work. I put them on from around 9pm and I find I fall asleep much quicker that usual. They work by allowing your body to reduce cortisol and increase melatonin even when watching TV.
8. I also have various sleep trackers which allow me to track my sleep. These are handy if your trying different things to improve your sleep. I have also just ordered an earthing mat to place in my bed. My article on earthing and grounding fully explains this.
Well I hope this has given you a few tips on how to maximise your sleep potential.