We’ve all heard the guidance of 7-8h hours of sleep a night, right? And deep down, we know getting a good number of quality hours in bed is good for us.
That said, it’s fair to say that sleep is one of the most disrespected and undervalued things you can do for your health and wellbeing. It’s only once you really get clarity on ‘your why’ behind sleep, that you will make a commitment to change.
That’s been the case for me, and many others in/around my life…
- Sleep is one of the most critical life habits to master for your health and wellness. The Elixir of good health
- Sleep Deprivation is strongly linked to cravings, weight gain, depression, anxiety and many diseases
- The Modern World makes having good sleep difficult. You must plan and commit to having good sleep
- In this article you’ll find my Top 10 tips to help create the optimal conditions for restful sleep – this could be a game changer for you!
TIP: For a deeper dive discussion, check out Importance of Rest, Recover & Sleep AdapNation Podcast Episode, in addition to a fantastic book called Why We Sleep by Prof. Matthew Walker.
Let’s Start With The Impacts of Sleep Deprivation
What if I told you that lack of quality sleep is being pegged as a leading contributor towards many illnesses, mental issues and body fat struggles? Well, there is a large and growing body of clinical trials linking sleep deprivation with:
- Brain fog & general slow brain function
- Similarities of being under the influence of alcohol – i.e. mental/decision impairment
- Dementia and Brain degradation issues due to lack of toxicity/plaque removal via sleep
- Psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and a general lack of emotional robustness
- Proliferation of illness, disease and infections of your gut, heart disease, reduced immune system function, and even cancer
- Ageing of the body, skin, tissues, DNA and overall disruption of healthy cell turnover
- Limiting the bodies efforts to repair and grow damaged and trained muscles
- Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) fatigue
- Weight gain, uncontrollable cravings for carbs and sugary food, and contributing to Diabetes
- A measurable reduction in fertility and reproductive capability
In addition to this concerning list of consequences, the impacts of sleep deprivation, even mild at under 8 hours of sleep a night (by 1 or 2 hours), has a huge effect on:
- Our ability to learn and retain information. Limiting our ability to commit information to long-term memory. This is the role of sufficient Deep Sleep.
- Social depth and capabilities. REM combined with dreaming helps make sense of our emotions and autobiographical memories, and when sufficiently rested allows for greater social sophistication and patience. A calmer, healthier mental state.
Our Lifestyles & Environment Can Be a Big Part of The Problem
Think about it this way. All day long, your brain, muscles, organs, nervous system and digestive system place a huge demand on your body. Consuming energy and creating lots of waste products.
Your body is generally in a sympathetic state throughout the day – the Fight or Flight alert state. This is especially true in this hyper-connected and tech dominant world we live in, where there is a constant low-level stress and distraction caused by the devices, apps and platforms we are addicted to. Then, lay over that any exercise you try to do, whether it be cardio, weightlifting or going beast mode at CrossFit.
Humans evolved to follow the sun – the circadian rhythm. Wake up when the sun rises and sleep when the sun goes down and there is no longer any natural light.
But with the introduction to artificial light, TV’s and the proliferation of devices in our life, we are now hijacking this natural system to wind down when the sun goes down. Instead, our environment and actions are leading for us to be switched on and plugged in all the time.
Why Sleep Is So Important
Sleep and mindfulness/meditation puts you into a parasympathetic state, otherwise known as the Rest and Recover state. This is where your brain slows down to consuming very little energy. Your metabolism slows in response to hormones slowing down the function of all your organs, muscles and cells.
It’s in this state, specifically when you go into REM & Deep sleep, where you look to consolidate your thoughts and ‘clear out the filling cabinet’ of memories and information accumulated in your brain from your day. This is where meaningful learnings are processed and stored. Your brain needs this down time to do this housekeeping, make space for new information/effort and generally rejuvenate your emotional, logical and social capabilities.
All your cells in your body undergo similar processes of removing waste, turning over and rejuvenating whilst you are in this relaxed unconscious state.
Especially For Physical Training
But for those who train and workout to develop a stronger, bigger and/or a more functional body, disrespecting long quality sleep is basically throwing away most of your effort in the gym, field and kitchen. See, when you go to the gym you are purposely damaging your muscles – that’s the process of weight training. You then get into the kitchen and provide the macro and micronutrients necessary to facilitate protein synthesis and muscle repair.
However, for this repair to occur, your body’s energy and resources cannot be overly consumed by other stuff. When you’re awake, just staying in this state is demanding and therefore dampens the repair and recovery of your muscle fibres. It’s when you sleep, especially in Deep Sleep, most other bodily processes slow down to a minimum, this is where the real recovery and repair work can happen.
I cannot emphasise this enough – if you’re going hell-for-leather in the gym and dialling in your diet, it’s all in vain unless you give your muscles adequate time and energy to fully restore, repair and ultimately grow.
Close-To-Home Examples Of The Power Of Sleep (or Lack Thereof)
The above impacts are not theoretical. I see the impacts of sleep deprivation on peoples attitudes, behaviours or energy levels all the time – everywhere.
Example #1 – Life Threatening Colon Disease
A close friend and mentor of mine, known for his huge business success and around-the-clock leadership suffered with a debilitating condition of his colon, that came out of nowhere. He had some of the best doctors work on him and give him counsel. He tried a lot of things, but the game changer was for the first time in his life respecting and prioritising sleep. Then he was able to calm the inflammation, reduce the surgery impact, and is now experiencing a level of fitness, energy and wellness he has never known.
Sleep for this guy is now a non-negotiable. He will have Epsom Salt baths nightly amongst other things to force a nightly wind down.
Example #2 – Not showing up, skins issues, emotional and lack of muscle growth
This is about me personally. I’ve gone my whole life being a ‘night owl’ and someone who doesn’t need a lot of sleep. ‘Just give me four to five hours’ I would say, as my passion and drive seemed to be enough to work through chronic tiredness.
I only started to piece this together in 2017, but now sleep is a non-negotiable. When I mess with 7-8h of good quality sleep, I am now so acutely aware of the impact. Energy is on the floor. My cravings for crappy food increase. I have a lack of enthusiasm and belief, I get irritable quickly. Previous dry skin issues reappear on my face and scalp. Gym performance nose dives and I always feel fatigued and under-recovered. My creative flair is zapped.
It’s like night and day, and only recently have I been able to experience what being rested and rejuvenated feels like – for all my life prior I was successful, but with only 50% of my resources!
Top 10 Tips – Helping Set The Stage For Good Sleep
There are many things you can do, but first you must have the personal motivation to get better sleep. Whether it’s a health scare, trying to move away from problems you see manifesting, or the enthusiasm of being able to show up in life to a whole new, more vital level. What’s your Why?
Below are my Top 10 Tips and tricks I’ve used (and still use) to go from a chronic sleep non-believer to someone that prioritises 7-8h of quality sleep as high as family, work, exercise and food:
1️⃣ Sleep Time Consistency – This is probably the easiest and most impactful thing you can do. Your body has a natural circadian rhythm, and yearns of regularity to match the ebb and flow of hormone production and sunlight. Every day, including the weekends, try to sleep and wake within a consistent window of time.
2️⃣ Blue Blocking Glasses – Blue light keeps you awake. You must eliminate this light if you want the sleep hormones to kick in and create a feeling of tiredness. With TV, Phones, Laptops and lights, we are hacking the system and not getting the signal it’s time to sleep.
3️⃣ Magnesium Capsules / Spray – Magnesium is known to aid with recovery and has a calming effect. Take these an hour or so before wishing to go to bed (or topical magnesium spray for greater absorption). Read the Magnesium Top Tip post to get the low down on the importance of Magnesium.
4️⃣ A Hot Magnesium/Epsom Salt Bath – As above. Magnesium is not greatly absorbed orally, but via the skin 90+ precent is absorbed within minutes. Combine that with a super hot bath and dimmed lights, and you will feel so sleepy! Do this 1.5 hours before bed, so your body temperature peaks and then plummets. Being too hot is a leading cause of insomnia.
5️⃣ Mindfulness Breathing before bed – Deep diaphragmatic breathing is the key approach to moving from a Fight or Flight state to the Rest and Recover State. Use an app or a wearable device if it helps, and do a min of 3-5mins of deep slow breathing. I do this as I get into bed, and often drift off before completing the 5 minutes!
6️⃣ Switching off Tech 1.5 hours before bed – Admittedly, I am really bad with this. But when I do it, it creates a calm and change of pace needed to feel relaxed and ready to sleep. Being plugged in just before bed can play havoc with falling asleep. Reading a book tends to have the opposite effect – many people read a dozen or so pages at night and can’t keep their eyes open!
7️⃣ The best Pillow, Mattress and Duvet Covers you can buy – Breathable Egyptian Cotton covers. A good quality pillow with neck support (I really like FlowSleeps pillows). Breathable cooling and body adjusting mattress (such as Leesa mattress). Let’s face it, you will spend years in this setup and it should be the best sleep possible. Investing in the best quality bed setup you can afford is a sound investment in your health and vitality.
8️⃣ Pillow Mist – grab yourself a scent you like, such as lavender or eucalyptus. They can have a calming a mind clearing effect.
9️⃣ Bedroom Temperature – Whatever you do, don’t put the heating on in your bedroom. It is highly recommended to make your room cool – between 17-19 degrees centigrade. Being hot is a leading cause of sleep restlessness.
🔟 A Mattress Sleep Wedge – Do you snore or wake up congested? By laying flat, blood and fluid pressure increases in your head and sinuses. By sleeping in a slight incline, as our ancestors were reported to do, you minimise the impact. I’ve doctored this sleep wedge by lopping off about 15cm and its made a difference to my sleep comfort.
A FEW EXTRA PRO TIPS:
- Wearable devices or Smart Alarm Apps can be very useful tools in evaluating the quality and quantity of your sleep over the course of the year. Personally, I am using the NEW Oura Ring for Sleep Tracking, as well as the Sleep Cycle iOS App to wake me up at the optimal time, based on my level of wakefulness.
- Digital Sunrise Alarm Clock – Instead of the scream of an alarm clock in the darkness of early morning which startles you and hits you with a spike of Cortisol, consider a smoother awakening. Lumie Bodyclock 150 as an example, mimics a red to bright white sunrise over 30mins, and also brings the morning song of blackbirds into your bedroom!
- Binaural Beats – These almost hypnotic sounds that blend offset tones and sounds of nature create calming brainwaves and often act like a lullaby. Stick on a 30min song (Aubrey Marcus has awesome binaural tracks) over some surround sound speakers, and drift away into an almost meditative calm sleep.
- Back Sleeping – A big reason why people shift around a lot at night is because they’re uncomfortable. Achy shoulders, bent thoracic spine and screwy cervical spine will send a signal to wake up and move. With the right pillow to open up your airways (to reduce sleep apnea), and training your body, you can lie on your back in complete comfort for hours with the need to shuffle!
- Chest Pillow – If you have broad shoulders and train them frequently, side sleeping can get pretty painful. That will result in constant fidgeting, crooked neck, and weaker aggravated rotator cuffs. A high enough pillow with neck support will help, but you will likely benefit from having a pillow on your chest. This will keep your other arm elevated a little, and prevent the collapsing of your chest which can cause sheering and compression on your shoulder joints.
- Eye Mask – Especially if you’re sleeping on your back, you might benefit from an eye mask. We tend to like our heads buried in pillows – an instinctive ostrich-like protective habit. When back sleeping, you don’t have any face coverage, that can make drifting away difficult, and REM/dream sleep often suffers. A Face Mask, beyond the light elimination, places some pressure on your forehead – this creates the same sensation of burying your head away from ‘dangers’.
Commit to making sleep more of a priority, and you may just significantly improve your quality of life. More energy, sharper brain, more creative, less disease prone, more control over food cravings and greater muscle development.
That sounds worth it to me! Use what you can from the above, and take your time to introduce these tactics as and when you’re able. The most important thing is being conscientious about setting yourself up for a good restful nights kip.
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