Time to Read (using avg wpm): 11.5 mins
Click here to go to Part One.
Otherwise, let’s get to the good stuff.
The Remaining Elements of Sleep:
- Tactics to Optimize Your Sleep
- Optimize Your Wake Up
- Final Words/The Sleepy Brain Paradox
Tactics to Optimize Your Sleep
With all of these tactics in your arsenal- you will be able to sleep indefinitely- if you so choose.
Your brain is a pattern machine. That’s why routines work so well; when you get to the next phase in your routine your brain kicks in and says, “Don’t worry, I got this.”
So, following the same principle, if you only use one room for kick boxing, when you enter that room, your brain will recognize the pattern and tell your leg to start kicking things.
Likewise, when you have a room for sleeping; your brain will start easing you into sleep when you enter that room. This is called association.
The only way for your brain to associate that room with sleep is to only sleep in that room. No TV, no eating in bed all the time, no cigarette smoking or belly dancing. Just sleep.
Controlling your environment to only elicit sleep cues is just as important. Have you ever tried to sleep in a loud and brightly lit place?
Light– Avoid bright lights for the last 30 mins before you go to bed. Lights wake up your brain and stop the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Got it… no bright bathroom lights…
Yes- and no phones or computers either. The blue light from phones and computers stimulates the brain as much as (and sometimes more than) caffeine (link). You can be seriously messing with your quality of sleep by checking your Facebook right before you go to bed.
Now if you can’t just give up phones and computer before bed cold turkey there’s a way to at least lessen the effect; cut out the bright blue light. One of the most popular blue light inhibiting apps out there is f.lux. Install it on your computer or phone and at a certain time, that you choose, it will turn the blue light on your phone/computer down. Check it out here.
Also keep your bedroom as dark as you can while you are trying to sleep- the less light the better.
While you are sleeping you could wear a sleep mask to avoid all light but that would interfere with your ability to wake up with light- which we will get to a little further on.
Sound– Sounds can have the same effect on your brain- causing your quality of sleep to degrade. Ear plugs are a great way to block out sound- but if you have a baby to listen out for (like me) I would recommend not wearing earplugs.
I would recommend some earplugs but I haven’t tried enough of them to give an educated recommendation (I sometimes wear earplugs while I meditate– not while I sleep though).
You could also try white noise if you don’t like the feeling of earplugs or you can’t stand silence. Here’s a white noise app I used to use when I lived in a party apartment with a friend and sometimes needed white noise to block out the shenanigans:
Smell– Don’t have strong smells. Take away all brain stimulants and have a totally sensation-void environment while you sleep.
Temperature- This does matter. There are a couple different ways to come at this. Studies show that colder temperatures are better for your body’s natural sleep processes and growth- and warmer temperatures slightly inhibit this process.
At the same time though, shivering because you are too cold interrupts your ability to sleep deeply.
A Time article recommends to sleep with your body under blankets, staying warm, and your head out in the cold, about 65°F or 18°C.
The optimum sleep temperature varies from person to person but your internal body temperature does need about a 2-3°F shift downward to get the best sleep.
If you like to stay warm under blankets and you aren’t willing to put your head out into the cold there is an alternative… introducing the ChiliPad (a little pricey currently). This is a mattress pad that runs water through it at a temperature you set, say 65°F, that you can lay on top of.
Whether you set your thermostat, your bed temperature or just adjust your clothing and/or blanket amount, it is important to give your body a nudge to a slightly colder temperature for a better sleep quality.
Apart from relaxing, these are things to consider before getting some shut eye.
Eating/Drinking– Don’t eat anything 2-3 hours before bedtime.
While you are sleeping your body likes to have all of it’s resources available for sleep processes. Digestion distracts and takes some of those valuable resources. Don’t eat anything 2-3 hours before bed to help your body focus on good sleep and not have any distractions.
Don’t chug a jug before bed either. You don’t want to have to get up in the middle of the night to empty your bladder and disrupt your sleep. Try to void your bladder before you lay down to rest and don’t drink too much water right before bed.
Alcohol- And I’m sorry to say that alcohol, while it may put you to sleep faster, is not good for sleep quality. Avoid drinking alcohol before bed if you want to get the most out of your sleep.
Caffeine– Caffeine keeps your brain from getting tired. Your brain naturally becomes tired as the day goes on but caffeine is able to bind with certain receptors in your brain, keeping your brain from becoming tired and instead waking it up more.
Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours, which means if you drink 100mg of caffeine, which is about a cup of coffee, 6 hours later you will still have 50mg of caffeine in your brain- and 6 hours after that you will have 25mgs in effect.
I’ve heard it recommended on The Cabral Concept podcast not to drink and coffee or caffeinated drinks after 2pm, to save yourself for better sleep. Having too much caffeine still active in your brain while you are trying to sleep can keep your brain from relaxing and getting it’s sleep-work done.
Here’s a video below that further explains caffeine and the particular hormones involved.
Reading or Journaling– Anything you can do to wind yourself down that isn’t bright blue light involved is good. Watching TV or looking at phones before bed obviously has negative effects as we saw earlier- but how am I supposed to avoid those things for a whole half-hour before bed?
Some good alternatives are reading and journaling. I like to read before bed, if I get the chance (I work late most nights so I generally just get home and pass out).
It’s also good to just meditate or practice any sort of mindfulness to help wind yourself down.
Supplements- There are some supplements you can use but I am not willing to recommend any, all that I would say is that if you choose to go the supplement route, only use them to ween yourself off of or shift yourself into a different sleep pattern. It’s not healthy to rely on supplements in order to sleep.
Talk to your doctor if you are interested in learning more about sleep supplements.
How to Optimize Your Wake Up
What’s the point of getting optimum sleep if you can’t wake up at your best?
Your Circadian Rhythm
Almost every being on the planet has some sort of biological clock or circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is what has been developed through millions of years of existence as a way to efficiently sustain the body through automatic actions like the release of proper hormones at the right times of day.
When it gets dark outside your brain will slowly release melatonin and decrease your body temperature to promote sleep. When it’s light outside your body will cut back on melatonin and produce cortisol to wake you up.
For more on circadian rhythm:
So to optimize your sleep quality, go to sleep when it gets dark and wake up with the light.
All you really need to do to accomplish this is keep your curtains open and let the outside light levels do their thing.
Potential problems with this:
- There is a street light outside your window or you live among city lights and you can’t get actual dark from the outside, so you have to close your blinds or blackout your room… but now you won’t be able to wake up with the sunlight!
- Not everyone can go to sleep at 9 or 10 and wake up at 5 or 6. Maybe your work schedule keeps you from this (like me- I’m at work till 12:30am).
If this is you, have no fear- the solutions to your problems are a scroll away.
Trick Your Circadian Rhythm
(as best as you can trick a 10,000,000 year old biological device)
As long as you are consistent, you can actually halfway trick your circadian rhythm into doing what u want.
The goal here is to give your brain a sense of darkness when you want to sleep and a sense of sunlight when you want to wake up.
Doing this consistently is the key to training your circadian rhythm and optimizing your body’s ability to prepare to both sleep and wake up.
Now the rest of this is assuming that you can’t just sleep with the natural patterns of sunlight and you need to get a little creative:
If you practice this consistently, you should be able to ease your circadian rhythm onto your own schedule.
Ex: If you work third shift this may be your only option to get the most our of your sleep. Have your bedroom set up so that as you get off of work around 8am and the sun is out. You can roll up in your bedroom with your blackout covers on and find only complete darkness- perfect for sleep. Then have your sunrise simulation light set up to wake you up in eight hours, 4pm. Do this every day for 3 weeks, even weekends, to set your circadian clock to those hours and have your body preparing you to sleep at 8am and actively waking you up at 4pm.
This can work for any schedule- just remember to be consistent to get your circadian rhythm into play and make your sleep schedule more effective.
Wake Up at the Top of Your Sleep Cycle
I believe that how you wake up sets the tone for the rest of the day.
If you wake up at the bottom of your cycle, during your deepest sleep in stage 3, then you will be tired and groggy to start your day off. As opposed to waking up at the top of your cycle, during your lightest sleep in stage 5, then your body will be more prepared to start your day.
It is kind of hard to wake up in the deeper stages of sleep- well at least it used to be… now we have these evil contraptions called “alarm clocks.” An alarm clock doesn’t care what stage of sleep your are in- you will be awoken whether you like it or not.
The goal here would be to get yourself to wake up at the top of your sleep cycle. There a few ways to accomplish this:
- Since the average sleep cycle is 90 minutes, only wake up during times that are multiples of 90 minutes, eg: 1.5 hrs, 3, 4.5, 6, 7.5 and 9 hrs. Everybody is different so this may not match your sleep cycle, so if you try it out and it doesn’t seem to keep you from being groggy in the morning you may have to pull out the big guns.
- Wake up with the sun or with the sunrise simulation light. Your skin can feel the light and your eyelids glow red and that tells your body it is time to start waking up. Don’t play an alarm with this one, just wake up like humans were meant to.
- Use a sleep tracking app or product to gauge and then take advantage of your personal sleep cycle. We will go over this option in part 3.
We all sleep. We don’t all get the most out of our sleep. This post is intended to set you apart from the sleeping chaff and put you above the average. Perform at your best and feel good!
In the next post we will get to a few more ways to get the most out of your sleep using technology and apps, like waking up at the top of your sleep cycle, along with biphasic and polyphasic sleep, which is what I use (biphasic) to get the most out my sleep with my late shift schedule.
The next post will finish up this 3-part sleep series with:
- Final Words/The Sleepy Brain Paradox
I hope this was helpful, thank you for reading! References for further reading will be in the next post as well.
If you think your friends would get something out of this post, share it!