OK, I love the title. It reminds me of those late night videos, of books on tape that would apparently cause you to magically lose weight. (Actually as you will see if you read on, they probably caused you to gain more fat!). Also I apologise if this post seems like it was written hastily. I was tired and wanted to get it out
Sleep Hygiene. I love this term. By using a word which is a social taboo (being unhygienic is considered bad I think) it associates bad sleeping conditions with the same importance as having fresh breath.
Sleep hygiene refers to the sleeping conditions you make for yourself. A lot of us don’t consider this at all and consider any room with a bed as being ready to sleep in. We spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, and just because we aren’t active during this time doesn’t mean we should neglect giving our bodies the best environment we can to sleep
Sleeping IS directly linked to fat-loss as well as general health and unfortunately, most of us don’t get enough of it (or too much of it, or not enough of good sleep etc. etc). Our current society seems to favour a caffeine fuelled, overly stimulated, and multi-tasked lifestyle, that is by all accounts killing us. Lack of sleep has been linked to obesity and hypertension, amongst other things.
The lack of sleep causes a powerful stress on your system, which releases the stress hormone cortisol. The cortisol in your system then begins producing glucose (often converting muscle into glucose) which then prompts an insulin response, all the while telling your body to store energy as fat. For a lot more information on the science of sleep I highly recommended Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival
Benefits of getting a Good Nights Sleep
Apart from counteracting the issues listed out above (which should be enough to get you on your path to sleep serenity), the pro’s for getting good sleep are also numerous. Your mental health and the amount of sleep you get has a very high correlation. Have a look:
ScienceDaily (June 10, 2008) — Getting extra sleep over an extended period of time improves athletic performance, mood and alertness, according to a research abstract that will be presented on June 9 at the SLEEP 2008 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) in Baltimore, Md.
Athletes who get an extra amount of sleep are more likely to improve their performance in a game, according to a research abstract presented at SLEEP 2007, the 21st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).
Sleep has often been associated with creative insights, but its role in the process has remained unclear. A new study into the effects of napping suggests that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep may help the brain to create associations between unrelated ideas, enhancing creative problem solving.
Going on a rampage at pubmed you will find study after study, affirming the fact that sleep is good for you. Got it? good!
When should I go to bed? How long should I sleep?
What time you should go to bed, and how long you should sleep is often completely subjective. The key is to listen to your body and sleep when you first feel tired and wake up when you feel refreshed. I have found that 7 hours +-30mins is the optimal sleep time for me. (I could have listed here a bunch of studies that al show different optimal hours but I won’t.)
Ideally you should sleep as long as your body needs, however, in the real world, with work commitments etc we often have a set time we need to be awake. The system that has worked for me is always waking up at the same time (6am weekdays) and then going to bed as soon as I feel tired in the evening (often around 11pm). Sometimes I get tired earlier and get to bed earlier, other times I feel wide awake to midnight, but I always try wake up at 6am. This way, if I stayed up late one night, I should technically feel tired earlier the next day and vice versa.
How to get better sleep hygiene?
So we are happy now that lack of good quality sleep is bad for you, then how can we fix it and get all the benefits of a great nights sleep? Well read on for a list of simple things you can do which will help you get that perfect night of shuteye! Note that I tried to keep emotional stress out of this list as it can cover a whole other blog post, but reducing your emotional stress is key to getting a good nights sleep. I have added some links at the bottom of the page to help for now, but meditation, sorting out your finance etc. all helps with reducing stress.
Get it out of your head!
We have all done this, we force important personal or work deadlines into our brain so we don’t forget them by constantly repeating it to ourselves. They go from trivial, "remember to read that article when I get home" to important "need to pay bills tomorrow!". We worry about it, and as we lay our heads down to get some sleep, they are still flooding our brains.
There are many methods for managing the madness online. The solution for me however was ridiculously simple. Write it down. I always have a pad and a pen, or a smartphone with me wherever I go and constantly jot down important deadlines. Before I go to sleep I put my little notebook on my bedside table. I go to sleep with not a worry in the world and when I wake up my little list is there for me.
For me, sitting in an office and a screen at least 8-hours a day I get my unhealthy share of visual stimulation. Staring at the screen all day, makes me feel like my retina melting. When I get home, I’d jump on my computer and then leisurely surf the inter-webs until I got so tired I would pass out in bed.
F.Lux, is a program which is available on Windows, Mac and Linux changes the color ‘temperature’ of your screen based on what time it is in your part of the world. During the day, when you need to be most active it glows a brighter bluer which is found to enhance brain function and then at night, when you are beginning to wind down it takes the colour temperature down to a warm orange/pink/red type colour. Check out their site for a whole bunch of research on the topic.
Install it, and forget about it.
Alarm Clock Hell!
Harsh alarm clocks that scare us awake put stress on our systems from the moment we wake up. Our primal fight or flight system kicks in, floods our body with adrenalin and cortisol and we wake up ready to kill run away from a saber tooth tiger. Fortunately there are know saber-tooth tigers, unfortunately this massive jolt to the system can over time cause damage. Our ancestors used to wake up to the sun with the birds chirping, we wake up to a screeching repetitive noise.
The Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock iPhone application aims to help your alarm clock blues. Not only does it show us awesome metrics, regarding how deep our sleep is, but after a while it ‘learns’ when your sleep is the lighted. It then uses a 30minute window from the time you have set for the alarm to go off. It will then attempt to wake you at your lightest sleep phase, with one of many very gorgeous alarm tones.
Turn your bedroom into a cave.
Remove all visual stimulates from your bedroom. Train your body to think of your room as a place where you sleep and only sleep (and maybe bed favouring activities ;)) I used to have a TV, laptop, digital picture frame all buzzing around in my room as I went to bed. There was a constant glow and I rarely if ever experienced pure darkness. It was my other office. Once I removed all these stimulants, my sleeping improved exponentially.
If Reading Helps, Read!
If you’re a reader (I am) read before you go to bed to get some sleep. However have books specifically for bedtime reading in you bookshelf. These are normally fiction books with no deep complex concepts you need to think about. Just some nice simple stories are perfect for bed-time reading.
I recently discussed the benefits of magnesium in a recent post. Have a quick read, and then consider adding magnesium to your diet.
Ahh caffeine, my twisted love. I was at one stage horribly addicted to caffeine as my primary fuel source. I would down coffees and caffeine pills like candy, just to stay awake. After going paleo, and upping my potassium, my energy levels are a nice constant glide throughout the diet, rather than a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
These days I still drink coffee, however I have more de-caf than caffeinted, and when I do take caffeine pills , its for a workout boost. I found however that if I have coffee after lunch, I wouldn’t be able to sleep as well that evening and would often go to bed later than my body would like.
Grow your own fresh air!
See the below ted talk on using plants to clean the air in your office/living space. A lot of muscle maintenance occurs whilst you sleep, so having good clean oxygen in your place of sleeping is a good idea! I have a couple of pots of Mother-In-Law’s tongue in my bedroom, which I clean regularly.
Supplement Omega3 to help against inflammation
Add some good quality Omega3 Fishoil to your diet to counteract the inflammation caused by stress and lack of sleep (yes another reason to take omega 3). Take a good quality fishoil like Carlsons Liquid Fishoil, and slurp up a couple tablespoons with dinner. iHerb is the cheapest place to find it for me (use coupon code KOS516 for $5 off).