I've never been a good sleeper. I've never felt the need to lie in bed once awake, enjoying the comfort and warmth of the slumber. My mind is busy. It's the way I'm wired. I found that if I woke during the night, my mind would kick into gear, the cogs would start whirring, and that would be me awake for the day. Often this would happen at 2, 3 & 4 o'clock in the morning and irrespective of how hard I tried, it was very difficult to get back to sleep.
I have recently come across the term "biohacking" and the brand of Bulletproopf products that address all kinds of biological system requirements in order to help us build resilience, and perform better in life at what ever we choose to do. The Bulletproof brand was founded by a guy called Dave Asprey, but more about him in the coffee blog post.
The following points are things that I've found have categorically improved my sleep. I'm not saying that just because I feel better. I'm saying this because I know why I feel better, and why my sleep has improved. I have tracked and experimented with it in a controlled and methodical way, and recorded and monitored my sleep patterns.
Track your sleep. "There's an app for that" - a phrase these days almost as common as McDonalds' "do you want fries with that?" of my youth. Before you change anything, you need to know your baseline. How good is your sleep? How long do you sleep for? Did you know there are three phases of a good nights sleep that normally cycle three or four times within the night; light sleep, REM sleep and deep sleep. We must spend time in each and every phase in order that our bodies and our brains can restore, replenish and refresh ready to bounce out of bed in the morning and kick ass at our chosen life. My favourite app is Sleep Cycle. This allows you to record what you do, eat and drink, and then you can start to see how it affects your sleep.
Blue light. Blue light destroys your ability to sleep. Increasingly these days, there are more and more sources of blue light surrounding us. The quest for low energy lighting has led us to use LEDs more frequently. LEDs inherently have a much greater proportion of light emitted in the blue light spectrum. Blue light inhibits the production of the hormone melatonin (the sleep hormone) which is released at night, and makes us sleepy. If you inhibit it's production, you won't get to sleep easily, or stay asleep particularly well. You may not even enter the phases of REM and deep sleep that our bodies need to recharge and cleanse itself. ALL technology emits blue light; computer screens, televisions, tablets, ipads, iphones, mobile phones. There is a significant amount of strong evidence linking the use of mobile phones to ADHD in children and adolescence. Blue light is easy to reduce; watch less TV, dim your phone or better still turn it off late at night, use software to change the palette of light emitted from your computer. F.lux is free to download and works beautifully by linking with your time zone and changing your screen colour in accordance with sunrise and sunset. Wear orange glasses - these cut blue light, and all dentists have access to these because they use them on a daily basis to protect their eyes from the ultraviolet light that we use to set tooth coloured filling materials. And yes, I do wear them in the house for 2 hours before I go to bed, and you would be amazed at the effect it has on the quality of your sleep and your ability to get to sleep. My wife and I have enjoyed watching less TV, we have read books, we've had some brilliant games of scrabble, and some magical conversations.
Nutrition. The obvious one here is caffeine. Don't drink caffeine after 2pm, or even earlier if you are sensitive - I try not to drink any caffeine after about 11am. Other things can also markedly effect the quality of our sleep. I have found that red meat for dinner caused me to wake at 4am, couple this with red wine and I rarely go into REM sleep. It doesn't have to be much red wine, just a glass effects the quality of my sleep. Sugar in the evening also adversely effects the quality of my sleep, whereas fruit improves it. There is a significant amount of research around the use of raw honey. Between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of raw honey last thing at night can help the quality of your sleep, and I have found this has worked very well for me. The science behind this is that the raw honey is used preferentially for fuel by the brain, rather than liver glycogen. Less demand on the body for it's processes while you are sleeping means a more peaceful sleep.
Blackout your bedroom. That means killing every possible source of light in the place where you sleep. This is very likely to be the windows and just using blackout linings or blackout curtains won't generate a pitch back room. I have gone to the trouble of making frames with blackout material on them that slot into the window frames and take just seconds to fit and remove as needed. Where I have not been able to do that, I have fitted a box and a valance to stop light emitting from above and to the side of curtains. Also cover anything that glows; watches, clocks, switches and LEDs of any kind. Your brain and your body will thank you for it, and you will wake feeling refreshed and ready to go.
Supplements. There are several safe and inexpensive supplements that you can take to enhance your ability to sleep. I am not talking about sleeping tablets. Magnesium has been shown to have beneficial effects on our brain chemistry to help us sleep and we very rarely get sufficient in our diet to achieve this. Coconut charcoal - there are links between bacteria in our gut and the productions of toxins, and our ability to sleep. By eliminating toxins and looking after our gut flora, our sleep will improve. Fish oils, and especially krill oil will be used preferentially over carbohydrates by your brain for fuel during it's necessary processes that occur when we are sleeping. There are other supplements including 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan, Valerian, Chamomile and various nootropic supplements that can effect our brain's neurochemistry, but these require particular care and attention.
Work out. We all know that exercise is good for us, but the timing is critical to ensure we get a good nights sleep. Working out late at night inhibits good sleep in 2 ways. Our stress hormone, cortisol is raised during and following exercise in order for our bodies to recover well. However, it inhibits the production of our sleep hormone melatonin so we should not work out or exercise within 2 hours of bedtime. Doing so means that we won't get to sleep particularly quickly and won't drop into a deep sleep in order for our bodies to recover effectively from the work out we have just performed. Secondly, working out raises our body temperature, which will adversely effect the circadian rhythm that occurs daily within our bodies. A part of this is a natural cooling of our core temperature, which makes us feel sleepy and prepares our bodies for sleep.
All of this might sound a bit too much trouble and far fetched and you might ask yourself, is it really necessary? If you sleep well naturally, then yes, it is very unlikely that you will understand the need for any of this. However, if you do have disturbed sleep or you wake up tired and groggy and lacking energy, then my personal experience is that this stuff is simple and works. I sleep less, and wake up feeling more refreshed than I have felt in 10 years! I am performing better both at work, and in my chosen hobbies and past times, and I have more energy throughout the day to play with my children. Surely a little bit of that would be good for everybody.
We've often heard the term 'quality, not quantity' is important, and we know from science that this is absolutely true with sleep. Just 1 hour less time spent in bed per day over a 20 year period is 7,300 hours of wakefulness! Just think what you could achieve in that time, and what experiences you could have. Over a lifetime, from the age of 20 to the age of 80, that's nearly 22,000 hours, which equates to an amazing 2 and a half years of being awake! It would be a great shame to miss it.