April 24, 2022

How to Hack your Sleep

Dr. Darren Bowles

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30% of Americans do not get the recommended amount of sleep (>7hrs)

...but as we found out in The Science of Sleep - quantity does not mean quality.

So how do you improve your sleep health? Some things are completely out of your control when it comes to your sleep. However, we promise that focusing on the elements below will improve your sleep health and bring you closer to a sounder slumber.

Time

Quantity may not rule as supreme as it once did. There is no magic number of sleep hours that is optimal for everyone and, chances are, you know yourself how much sleep suits you.

However, getting between 7 - 7.5 hours of sleep is what studies have shown to be the ‘best’.

Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society

Less sleep would incur penalties to your bodies recovery, memory and cognitive status.

Bottom Line: If possible, organise your day and night so that 7 hours sleep can be achievable for you

Routine

Your body loves routine and the chemicals in your brain are no exception. The circadian rhythm, your body’s time-keeper, flourishes when you give it a set time to sleep and a set time to wake up.

Wild variations in your timing may interfere with this rhythm and the quality of your sleep will be effected. In fact, this is the premise of social jetlag.

Bottom Line: Have a set bed-time & wake time each day to optimise your bodies rhythm.

Light

Light is a stellar way for your circadian rhythm to keep itself in check.

Exposure to bright light in the morning, natural or otherwise, has been shown to improve sleep by giving your circadian rhythm the context it needs to plan its day.

Before we enter the land of slumber, we rely on an increase in our levels of melatonin - which signals our body to sleep

Exposure to bright light at night, even for as little as 20 minutes, interferes with your melatonin production which consequently interferes with our sleep.

Bottom Line: Aim to get bright light early in the morning and avoid artificial light at night.

Caffeine

You don’t need to preach the good effects of caffeine to us, but caffeine can also affect the quality of your sleep.

Caffeine can stay in your system for 10 hours and research has shown that taking 400mg of caffeine 6 hours before your sleep can reduce your sleep time by one hour.

We are certainly not saying to get rid of it completely, nor are we saying most people take 400mg of caffeine before bed, but cutting caffeine out of the latter part of your day may be the key to perfect sleep for you.

Bottom Line: Reduce your caffeine intake in the latter parts of your day.

Alcohol

Alcohol may help you get to sleep faster. In fact, alcohol has been used for centuries as a ‘nightcap’.

However, alcohol also disrupts your sleep quality by increasing the amount of times you wake at night. Low doses may not have the same impact, but, bear in mind, the effects of a nightcap disappear with continued use. Moderation is key throughout all aspects of health and alcohol is no exception.

Bottom Line: Reducing your alcohol intake will improve your sleep quality

Napping

A well timed nap can be a powerful thing, but sometimes waking up from a nap can feel more like a battering than a blessing. Altering the time of your nap can improve your sleep. It comes back to our friend the circadian rhythm.

Typically, our body reaches a natural lull around 2pm. Capitalising on this lull with a well timed nap can improve your mental alertness.

Synching with this natural lull is the basis of the siesta.

However, napping for too long or timing it poorly can mess up the circadian rhythm’s balance and disturb your sleep in the long run.

Bottom Line: If you are going to nap during the day, aim for around 2pm and keep it less than 90 minutes.

Your Bedroom is a Bedroom

Although your bedroom should be strictly for sleep, many of us are guilty of having our phones or laptops within arms reach from where we sleep. Whether it’s for movies, socials, Wordle or ... whatever your heart desires - introducing these elements into your sleep environment has been demonstrated to disrupt your sleep quality and duration.

Eliminating screens from the bedroom and even reducing your screen usage for 30 minutes before bed can improve your sleep.

Bottom Line: Reduce your screen-time before you sleep and optimise your bedroom for sleep.

Temperature

Nailing the temperature in your bedroom is a sure-fire way to improve your sleep - but why is temperature so important?

During the day, your body will keep heat in to make sure you are running optimally. Throughout the night, however, your body will begin letting heat off through your head and limbs. The theory behind the need to cool down at night is that it helps with body recovery and energy conservation.

In order to let heat off, there needs to be a temperature difference between your body and the environment.

If your environment is too warm, your body will be unable to cool down, disrupting your sleep quality. Too cold - your body will use energy to ensure your core temperature remains safe.

Temperature regulation is crucial in leveraging your body into a perfect sleep. In fact, controlling your environment’s temperature is the crux of some innovative sleep-tech. Technology Designed To Help You Sleep Better

Bottom Line: Optimise your room temperature to enhance your bodies thermoregulation and improve sleep.

Eating

Eating close to bedtime can wreak havoc on your sleep quality. Energy is needed to move food throughout your gut and break down the food as it goes around.

The hormones involved in this digestion can also interact with your circadian rhythm and interfere with your body-clock. This means your body is focusing on digesting rather than catching some Zs.

Not only that, the types of food you can eat hugely effect your sleep quality.

Bottom Line: Eating your last meal 2-3 hours before your bedtime will avoid sleep disruption.

Exercise

Exercise is arguably the best thing you can do during the day to prime your body for sleep.

Nobody can point to the exact reason as to why exercise improves sleep quality (aside from feeling tired!), but given the fact it prolongs the N3 stage of sleep, it is likely because your body is looking to recover.

The more you supply your body with a reason to restore, the more time your body will take to do so.

Word of caution - Exercising too late in the day can release chemicals that, as you can predict, interfere with your circadian rhythm and disrupt your sleep quality

Bottom Line: Exercising during the day, at the right time, can help improve sleep quality.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a tool that can gear down your body and mind before you sleep.

Meditation, CBT and mindfulness can regulate your hormones and lower your heart rate to a level that emulates sleep. This will smooth the transition you need to go from awake to sleep.

Filling your mind with action packed TV or rage inducing tweets will have the opposite effect - disrupting your natural circadian rhythm by putting it on high alert.

Bottom Line: Calming your mind while avoiding excessive stimulation before bed will help improve your sleep

Take Home

Any advice you get regarding sleep health should be tailored to your circumstances. However, whether it’s reducing your screen-time, eliminating your caffeine or regulating your temperature, investing in your sleep health may be the key to unlocking a better you.


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