You would have realized the importance of sleep, if you’ve ever had a bad night’s rest. You may feel unfocused, weak, in a bad mood and with huge cravings for sugar and salty snacks. But, still we underestimate the tremendous effects of sleep & disregard the 100’s of processes in our physiology that require that restorative ‘shut-eye’.
We live in a culture that brags about having little sleep- as if its a good thing, saying things like, “I can still sleep when I’m dead”. However, sleep should be a priority- never something to sacrifice for “productivity”. Let’s face it: it’s impossible to live with vitality if we’re deprived of sleep. There are more than 130 processes in our body which depend on a proper production of melatonin, which is known as the “sleep hormone”. Fat loss, brain power and Anti-Aging are just three of those processes.
Just to illustrate the effects of restorative sleep and the consequences of bad sleep I want to illustrate two examples:
- After one night of bad sleep, even healthy individuals are so affected that they are pre-diabetic for some time due to the reduced insulin sensitivity.
- In a scientific study there were two groups of people with the same nutrition and training schedule. Only the amount of sleep was different. While one group got 8 hours of sleep every night, the other group was sleep deprived. At the end, the group with good sleep had 50% more fat loss than the other group. The only difference was the amount of sleep!
There is a great book „Sleep smarter“ from Shawn Stevenson which discusses great scientific based hacks for a better night sleep.
Here are the 7 most interesting ones that I believe can truly improve your sleep!
Caffeine free zone: Caffeine has a half time of 8 hours, which means 8 hours after drinking coffee, still 50% of the caffeine is in our blood. We might be able to fall asleep after a coffee, and some people even make it a night time habit, but it affects our brain function (the sympathetic nervous system gets activated) which prevents us going through normal sleep cycles and from getting the benefits of each stage. If you avoid caffeine (coke, green and black tea, coffee) for 6 to 8 hours before bed, you can support your restful sleep to a great extent.
Socialize instead of device: Smart phones, tablets, computer and TV are a fixed part of our life, even in bed before we sleep. Changing this habit might be the most challenging task for most of us because we are so addicted to our devices. However, here is the reason why it’s a good decision to change: The blue and white light from our screens confuses our photo receptors, which always try to figure out what time of the day it is. The kind of light from our devices make our brain believe that it’s still day time. But in order to prepare for a good sleep, we need to go through the natural change of light during a day including the warmer, diffused evening light. We can’t just switch off our devices 10 mins before we go to bed and expect our internal rhythm to “jump” to the evening setting. Each hour of exposure to the white and blue rays of artificial lights in the evening, disturbs our melatonin production for 30min. Which means: Watching a 2 hour movie before bed, delays melatonin production for 60 min. The best way to allow our body to adjust naturally to sleep time is, to avoid the use of devices 60-90min before bed. But you can’t just take a drug away from an addict, you have to replace it by something with a similar or even greater value. As weird as it sounds (joke), there is always the option to socialise, to talk to your partner or kids, call a friend, share your day, your dreams and plans. Alternatively an audio book, evening meditation, writing a gratitude diary or planning your next day, are great screen replacements as well. Start easy today and switch your devices off 30min before bed and try to increase the time without devices day by day in small steps.
Sleep early: We often go to bed very late, one reason might be a confused sleep cycle due to the light of our devices and our desire not to miss anything on social media. But science has shown, that the most important reparation and recovery processes take place between 10pm and 2am. Trying to get as much sleep as you can during those 4 hours has a big impact on your sleep quality, weight loss, clarity and focus.
Cool down: Maybe you remember those summer nights, when you hardly could sleep because it was so hot. You just turned from one side to another but you were not falling into a restful sleep. In order to prepare for the night, our body’s core temperature needs to cool down a bit. If it is too hot this process can’t take place. A cold shower 30-60 min before bed and a cold sleeping room are essential. It’s recommended to aim for 16-20 degrees Celsius, which seems to be quite cold if you live in a hot country like Singapore. Try to find a compromise which feels still good for you and your partner. Of course you can use a warm blanket, socks and whatever you need to make yourself cosy!
Black out: City lights, cars on the streets or our neighbour’s yard light might keep our sleeping room lighter than it is good for our sleep quality. But especially the lights from the digital alarm clock or different devices are too bright and should be covered or banned from your sleeping room. The melatonin production, which is necessary in order to recover, depends on a pitch black room. The only exception are natural lights like moon 🌓 or stars ⭐️ because that’s what our nature is adjusted to. Get some curtains which block out any light to improve your sleep even further.
Get up early: If you get to sleep earlier (previous tip), this part of your sleep challenge might become easier over time. Getting up early, synchronised with the natural sunlight and time of the day, helps us to live according to our inner clock. Often we are even less tired and get a lot of things done! Sleeping earlier is definitely a lit easier after getting up in the morning because you are tired enough.
Train in the morning: Incorporating physical exercise in our life is just as essential as sleep and food. We often just see it as something which helps us to stay in shape, but that’s an enormous underrating of training benefits. Our body produces 100s of substances, our natural-internal pharmacy to improve our health, by physical training. Training in the morning is perfect because it increases our cortisol level at a time where it is naturally high anyway. Training in the evening increases cortisol as well but at a time our body prepares for night time which requires low cortisol for a good sleep. If you don’t have the chance to train in the morning, try to train as early as possible in the evening because our body needs about 4 hours to decrease the cortisol level after training.
Starting to incorporate these steps for a healthy sleep, might be one of the best decisions you can make for your health and wellbeing. And the best thing is, it doesn’t require a lot of work nor an extra time investment but will bless you with tremendous benefits!
If you prefer to watch a video instead of reading a book I can recommend Tom Bilyeu’s Interview with Shawn Stevenson, you find the video HERE (YouTube).
Reading & Video Tip:
Book: Shawn Stevenson (2015): 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. Rodale Books. ISBN-10: 1623367395
Video: Why Sleep is More Important Than Diet | Shawn Stevenson on Health Theory