Sleep when you are dead… or sleep to live?
Attitude towards sleep is changing and for the better. Those that are prioritising sleep are seeing huge benefits. People are waking up to the fact (pun intended) that not getting enough good quality sleep is contributing to many unwanted impairments. The macho era of sleep when you are dead is hopefully…dead!
Are you suffering from poor or insufficient quality sleep?
Here are some of the effects a negative night’s sleep can have on you:
- Weight gain: Lack of sleep can disrupt hormones that regulate appetite, leading to increased cravings and weight gain.
- Impaired cognitive function: Lack of sleep can impair cognitive function, including memory, attention, and decision-making abilities. This has an impact on performance.
- Mood disturbances: Sleep deprivation can also lead to mood disturbances, such as irritability, anxiety, and depression. This can affect your relationships and overall quality of life.
- Increased risk of accidents: When you’re sleep-deprived, your reaction time and ability to make quick decisions are impaired, which can increase your risk of accidents. Studies show tired driving to be as bad, if not worse than drink driving!
- Weakened immune system: Chronic sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses and infections.
Overall, getting enough quality sleep is essential for maintaining physical and mental health and well-being.
So, what is a good sleep?
It’s not just the amount of time you spend in bed.
During the bedtime you can either be awake or in two main types of sleep:
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep
- Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep.
REM sleep is the stage of sleep where most dreaming occurs. During REM sleep, your brain is highly active, and your eyes move rapidly. Your muscles are relaxed, and your heart rate and breathing become irregular.
NREM sleep is further divided into three stages:
- Stage 1: This is the lightest stage of sleep, where you are just drifting off and can be easily awakened. During this stage, your brain produces alpha and theta waves.
- Stage 2: This is a deeper stage of sleep, where your body temperature drops and your heart rate slows down. During this stage, your brain produces sleep spindles and K-complexes.
- Stage 3: This is the deepest stage of sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep. During this stage, your brain produces delta waves, and it is difficult to wake up.
The sleep cycle typically lasts around 90 minutes, and during a typical night’s sleep, a person will go through several cycles of NREM and REM sleep.
All stages are important but…
What Sleep should we be aiming for:
To steer you away from the in-depth science and to at least keep you awake while you read, let’s simplify things.
This is what we need:
Total time depends on your needs, recovery and any sleep debt you may have rolled over from previous night, however:
- Typical length = 7 -9 hours.
- Deep sleep = 20-25%.This is you physically restorative sleep
- Dreaming = 20-25%. This is your mentally restorative sleep
Restorative sleep (Deep + Dreaming) should make up 40 –50% of your time in bed.
What can we do to promote good sleep
Both lifestyle choices and what we choose to put in our mouths impact our sleep.
Lifestyle choice and plans to promote better sleep
Establishing a regular sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine: Engaging in relaxing activities such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing meditation can help prepare your body and mind for sleep.
Creating a comfortable sleep environment: Sleeping in a cool, dark, and quiet room with comfortable bedding can help promote good quality sleep. Temperature plays a large role in both falling asleep and in waking up. There are now smart bedding and mattress solutions for controlling the body temperature when asleep. Weighted blankets are also sleep aids. I have not tried these myself but the science stacks up.
Limiting screen time before bed: Avoiding electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers before bed can help reduce exposure to blue light and promote better sleep.
Managing stress: Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation can help reduce stress and promote better sleep. Adaptogens and nootropics can also help here. (Please see blog…)
Hot or Cold showers. Both have there benefits. Warm showers promote relaxation, reduce muscle tension and improve circulation. Cold showers Stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system so help calm and relax. They also reduce inflammation. A reduction in body temperature promotes sleep. Interestingly both hot and cold showers can promote this. A hot shower raises your body temperature so it drops when you get out whilst a cold shower lowers it directly. What works best for you?
Regular exercise: Regular exercise can help improve sleep quality. It is important to note that exercising too close to bedtime can leave you stimulated and delay falling asleep. Exercise is probably the most valuable tool we have. Quite simply, I do not know anyone who has had an issue sleeping after 8 hours on the ski slopes. However, regular exercise also contributes to stress management, a better diet and making other healthy choices. Not all exercises are made equal. Depending on other factors, goals, metabolism will dictate the balance between training types.
There are several nutrients that support or promote good sleep, including…
Food, drink and supplements and improving sleep
Before we look at a what we put into our bodies there are 2 quick (potentially not easy) wins by avoiding what we put in.
Avoiding caffeine in the body at bedtime.
Caffeine has a half-life on average is 5 hours but it is important to realise that this can vary from 1.5 to 9.5 hrs. (Half-life is the amount of time it takes to half the amount so as an example 200mg drank at 7pm would be like drinking 100mg at midnight.) How you deal with caffeine is linked to your genetics, metabolism and other factors that could impact your sensitivity. You may take something, e.g supplement, to help you sleep but that also increases your caffeine sensitivity. This ultimately could result in a net loss on sleep. This is important to be aware of. Caffeine consumption does not need to be avoided entirely and it has its time and place. This is generally in the morning so the body can be clear of caffeine before bedtime to promote good quality sleep.
There are alternatives to caffeine that can have the same positives without the same downside. I have tried these and can vouch for them.
Alcohol, especially in the evening, is detrimental to sleep quality. Unfortunately, neither passing out from a huge session or a simple glass to relax have a positive impact on sleep. Its best to avoid altogether when good sleep and recovery is required. I still drink but factor in the impact.
Here are a few nutritional sleep aids and the foods they are found in:
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral that can help promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Good sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
- Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and sleep. Good sources of tryptophan include turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. Foods that contain melatonin include tart cherries, walnuts, and oats.
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is important for the production of serotonin and melatonin, which can help improve sleep quality. Good sources of vitamin B6 include fish, poultry, bananas, and potatoes.
- Calcium: Calcium is a mineral that can help promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods such as tofu and orange juice.
- Potassium: Potassium is a mineral that can help promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Good sources of potassium include bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, and leafy green vegetables.
It’s important to note that while these nutrients can support good sleep, a balanced and varied diet overall is important for overall health and wellbeing.Too much of anything is too much.Be aware that combinations impact bioavailability and therefore the impact they have. Generally speaking, if you have a deficit in anything you will benefit from adding to you intake. You also need to factor in its impact on you. Some supplements lead to better sleep but also tiredness during the day which is the opposite of why you wanted good sleep! Others can promote sleep but increase caffeine sensitivity leading to a net loss in sleep quality unless you adjust your caffeine intake. Complicated, I know.
Then you also need to consider timing is very important too. But let’s keep that simple.
Avoid eating too late. Sleep does not want raised blood sugar, to be digesting or a raised metabolism. You do not want to be hungry either though, so take steps to avoid. A light snack can be a last resort.
Stay hydrated but front load the day (drink more in the morning). The number one reason for broken sleep is needing the toilet!
The POWER of a Power Nap
Studies have shown that taking a nap after learning something new can help consolidate the information in your brain and improve memory retention.
During sleep, the brain processes and consolidates information, making it easier to recall later. Napping can also help improve cognitive function, attention, and creativity, which can all contribute to better learning outcomes.
However, it’s important to note that not all naps are created equal. The ideal nap length for learning enhancement is around 20-30 minutes, as longer naps can leave you feeling groggy and interfere with nighttime sleep. Additionally, napping too close to bedtime can also disrupt your sleep schedule.
Overall, incorporating short naps into your learning routine can be a helpful tool for improving memory retention and cognitive function.
Effective study routine:
- Exercise / Cold shower
- Espresso (optional, consider comments on caffeine but this can help you wake at the time required)
- Power Nap
- Tracking sleep
How do we know what type of sleep we are getting?
There are many devices from Aura rings, Whoop, Smart watches, Apps and even smart mattresses and blankets are now available. Not all are as accurate. As any good guinea pig, I have tried a few. Since testing, I have continued with Whoop as some of its other features suit my other needs.
So what do I do on a typical day to ensure sleep is prioritised?
- First thing in the morning I take adaptogens and nootropic mixed in my morning drink.
- These give me great concentration and I feel alert.
- They replace caffeine and therefore reduce my daily consumption.
- I use a decent quantity of water to start hydrating earlier in the day so i’m not playing catch up later and disrupting my sleep with toilet breaks.
- These give me great concentration and I feel alert.
- If possible i get some morning sun, if i can’t i do get some fresh air at some point even if its walking and talking on the phone.
- I’ll ensure I do some exercise. This varies from day to day depending on my goals, previous days and what the rest of my week looks like. I do use my Whoop to access the strain i can put on myself that day will adjust accordingly if I’m in charge of my training that day.
- I’ll use my Airofit or as a minimum I’ll take a minute to do 4,7,8 breathing.
- I take Balance oil which reduces inflammation (a hindrance to sleep amongst other issues)
- I take adaptogens and/or Viva+ in the evening.
- Get regular sports massage – not just for sleep but it is great. Wish i could get one daily!
- I ditch my phone at night and try and meditate if not read before bed. It so easy to slip into watching TV. If that happens, I make sure I’m just watching TV and I’m not simultaneously on my phone, whatsapping, emailing, googling or trapped in down a social media rabbit hole. This used to be my default. Removing social media and installing apps like Headway, Headspace and WithU helped ease me from my addiction. I’ll shift back to those apps if I find my phone wanders from its charging point as the brains of the planet write algorithms to feed my addiction!
- I do make sleep a priority BUT I do not stress about it. That would be very counterproductive.
SO not all days look exactly the same. I’m not that rigid or disciplined, fortunately/unfortunately. I also like to cycle through options, alternatives or guinea pig new ideas. These steps I do take though as they also benefit other areas of my life (as sleep does). I do like to be efficient. None of them are a hardship.
What’s consistent, is that I truly value good quality sleep and how it benefits me.
Do you prioritise sleep? Will you now? Let me know your thoughts, dreams or questions.