5 Keys for Better Sleep
One of the biggest obstacles I face when coaching people for optimal health is the overcoming the lack of quality sleep. In a world with constant stimulation of late night TV, e-mails, and smart phones, we are constantly exposing ourselves to unwanted artificial light. Believe it or not, there was a time when humans relied on the sun and moon to dictate when to start and end their days. This schedule called "circadian rhythm" is still essential if we want to optimize energy, cognition, and performance.
As legendary health practitioner, Paul Chek explains, "whenever light stimulates your skin or eyes, regardless of the source, your brain and hormonal system think it's morning." In response, our body releases the stress hormone, cortisol, which prepares the body for work and movement...not exactly ideal if we're trying to catch some quality zzz's. In addition, the cortisol stays in the blood for hours and prevents the normal release of melatonin and growth hormone--which are both essential for our body's recovery.
Now, I understand that you have a lot going on. A high-stress job, a family to support, bills to pay, and facebook friends to respond to; however, I'm confident that if you really want to, you can sleep better. That is why I created this 5-step protocol that is simple and easy to follow.
1) Airplane Mode - Don’t get tempted or distracted by late night notifications that can wait until the morning. I recommend activating airplane mode at least 1 hour before you go to bed. The blue light from screens seems to be the most potent at disturbing sleep. Studies have found that people who use these devices at bedtime take longer to fall asleep and have disrupted circadian rhythms.
Specific Recommendation: Activate Airplane Mode at 10pm. Get to sleep at 11pm.
2) No Eating Within 3 Hours of Sleep - Don’t put the unnecessary stress on your GI system and stomach to absorb and digest foods before bed. This is especially harmful if you consume something that contains stimulants such as caffeine, sugar, and/or alcohol. Also, be mindful of what you eat at dinner. A lot of simple carbs, like pasta and bread, will dramatically spike your blood glucose levels, making it more challenging to fall asleep.
Specific Recommendation: Don't eat anything after 8pm.
3) Stretches to Activate Parasympathetic Nervous System - Unlike the high stress, fight or flight mode that we spend most of our day in, the goal here is unwind before hitting the hay. We can accomplish this by performing specific stretches that focus on decompressing the hips and spine. After a long day of training, working, and driving, our bodies become tense and tight. Stretching before going to sleep helps us rest, digest, and properly wind down before bed. Try these three moves for a couple minutes each and feel some of that tension melt away!
4) Cool It Down - You don’t want freezing temperatures, but a cool bedroom—around 65-68 degrees—is best for sleep. A National Sleep Foundation study puts the magic number at 65 degrees. Our bodies' temperature cools down during sleep, so a cooler room temperature helps create synergy between ourselves and the bedroom.
5) Read DON’T Watch! - Blue light exposure alters circadian rhythm and reading makes most people tired...and smarter! Seriously though, if you follow step #1, but still watch TV before bed, then you are defeating the purpose of step #1! No screens whatsoever. Save your Netflix binge for the weekend!
Here are a few of the books that have had the greatest impact on me...
1) The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
2) How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
3) Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
4) The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
5) Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
If you're still struggling to get the necessary quality sleep, Onnit makes an incredible anti-stress supplement, called New Mood, that has really improved my sleep in a profound way. You can find this product at all Whole Foods locations, or you can get it at a highly discounted price here.
Serotonin has been linked to positive mood and a healthy emotional balance. But you can’t just take a serotonin supplement and call it a day. Serotonin cannot cross the all-important blood-brain barrier. Serotonin has to be produced by the body in order for you to benefit from it. One of the best ways to do this is to supplement with serotonin’s building blocks, such as L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP. New Mood contains L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP and is combined with B-vitamins to create a time release effect that assists the body in generating serotonin.