The Definitive Guide to Sleeping Longer and Deeper
In Part 1 of this article on sleep I outlined the latest stunning research which shows that sleep is more important than any other health protocol and impacts not just the body but cognitive performance and emotional wellbeing in a profound way. If you have not read Part 1, here is the link: Is Sleep the Fountain of Youth?
In an age where artificial intelligence and technology is taking over jobs, it is very clear that creativity, imagination, strategic thinking and the ability to connect with others will be the most prized qualities for any person on the planet. SLEEP is your super power in promoting all of these qualities.
In this Part 2 I will outline the scientifically proven factors that impact good quality sleep, as they relate to the four elements: duration, depth, continuity and regularity. Dysfunction in any one of these elements will compromise sleep. Knowing this will help you fix the cause. Later I will list some tips that induce sleep, but without fixing the root cause, those tips are useless.
It is very important to note at the outset that sleep is an innate quality. It will happen automatically with the protocols I am about to share. So, this article will focus on returning you to your natural rhythm, where you will find sleep to be effortless. I know this from experience because I used to find sleep difficult and a waste of time because I had so much to do. Today my respect for sleep has been deepened by the fact that sleep has transformed my performance in all 8 areas of my life.
Depth is the most important element because, you will recall from Part 1 of this article that regeneration and repair of body and mind happens when you go into long-wave deep sleep. Depth activates the mechanism of autophagy and production of human growth hormones. The former helps you live longer, and the latter helps you look younger.
The depth of your sleep is impacted dramatically by the following 4 factors:
1. Not enough sunlight during the day – especially morning light. Exposure to natural light during the day is critical for the production of melatonin. This neurotransmitter gets produced naturally by the pineal gland. Melatonin has two main functions. By day, it plays an active role in energy production by your mitochondria because it is a powerful antioxidant. Secondly, it promotes deep sleep at night. The best way to get more melatonin naturally is to eat out in sunlight and get as much sun on your skin and eyes, especially in the first hour of the morning. I recommend you only wear sunglasses when absolutely necessary. I also recommend the ancient practice of sun-gazing. This is beautifully covered in the book Ancient Wisdom for Modern Health by Mark Bunn.
2. Too Much Artificial Light at Night – especially from screens and monitors. Research shows that we now spend 93% of our time inside surrounded by artificial light. We eat in front of TV’s. We work in front of computers. We play games on screens. We browse social media on phones. This is wrecking us. It is disrupting natural processes that heal and regenerate us. It is disturbing critical neuro pathways. Exposure to artificial blue and white light at night is suppressing the release of melatonin and therefore the depth of your sleep. It also impacts the duration of sleep – see below. Here are some tips:
a. Replace your LED’s with low lux lighting which can reduce blue/white light by up to 80%.
b. Put dimmers on all your lights.
c. Light candles instead.
d. Eliminate screen time at least 1 hour before bed. Ideally 3 hours or as soon as the sun goes down. If you absolutely have to get on your devices for something urgent, then I suggest you use the Apps Flux or IRIS. Both Apps reduce blue and white light considerably, but I prefer IRIS because it also eliminates flicker on your laptop screen. This flicker has been shown to cause a stress response.
3. Body Temperature. Getting overheated at night stops you from getting into longwave ‘delta’ deep sleep levels 3 & 4. (refer to the diagram in Part 1 of this article). You need to ensure that your room temperature is between 17-19 degrees Celsius. The best way to achieve this is to put your bedrooms on different temperature settings than the rest of the house. Secondly do not over-dress for bed or have thick bed covers. Thirdly, roll away from your partner after the initial cuddle at night 🙂
4. EMF Interference. Electro-magnetic pollution from cordless phones, Wi-Fi routers, Bluetooth devices and all devices not in aeroplane mode will all impact your depth of sleep because these frequencies activate your sympathetic nervous system and stop you from going into long wave delta sleep. No ‘ifs or buts’, EMF is very bad for your sleep.
How do you know if you are going into deep sleep?
You can measure whether you are going into deep sleep through the use of biometric devices such as the Oura Ring but I strongly suggest you put it in aeroplane mode, especially at night, and only sync it with the App when you are not wearing it.
Duration is important because we all need 5 x 90 minute sleep cycles every night. This adds up to 7.5 hours. Every cycle serves a unique biological purpose. Duration is mainly impacted when you cannot get to sleep at the optimal time. So you end up going to bed late and reducing the duration of your sleep. It is imperative for your circadian rhythm and thyroid function to wake on or soon after sunrise. So sleeping in to make up the time only makes matters worse. (Your optimal time for sleeping and waking according to your chrono-type is discussed below under Continuity).
Here are the factors that impact your ability to get to sleep. Staying asleep is covered under continuity below.
1. Artificial light at night supresses the release of melatonin so it also affects duration. In fact for every 60 minutes of artificial light you get after sun down, you supress the release of melatonin by 30 minutes. This effectively delays the time for you to start feeling sleepy and ready for bed. You need to get Amish and eliminate all technology at night.
2. Not enough movement during the day makes you feel flat and stagnant. The body needs to get tired during the day for better sleep at night. Movement is also critical to neutralise the effects of work or life stress. TIP: If you cannot play sport or have the time to workout, try minimum effective dose exercise throughout the day. Do Tabata 3 x 4 minutes a day and go for a quick walk before lunch and dinner.
3. Stress boosts cortisol and adrenalin and keep you in a state of fight or flight. This will lead to high blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat, which prevent you from getting to sleep. And even if you do get to sleep it will affect your continuity because chances are you will wake up around 3-4am with your heart beating out of your chest. Stress also raises your body temperature which a we discussed keeps you from going into deep sleep. The best way to neutralise stress is to slow down during the day and perform your tasks at a normal pace. Research shows that it is not the amount of work we do but the speed in which do the work that is the main cause of stress. So slow down. Read the tips by Carl Honore in his book, In Praise of Slow.
4. Too Many Thoughts. Sometimes it is not stress that keeps you up but thoughts that go around and around in your head of things to do for the next day. Getting things down in your diary, gets it out of your head. The 5-10 minutes it takes to do this will save you precious hours of lost sleep.
5. Feelings are bothering you. You will find it difficult to get to sleep if feelings bubbling under the surface are not acknowledged and processed. To heal you need to feel. We all experience rejections, failures, hurts, and disappointments. The best way to process them is to journal your feelings, using the Higher Branch techniques as espoused by our faculty member, Dr Guy Winch in his book, Emotional First Aid.
6. Eating too late and too much can stop you from getting to sleep and consequently reduce your duration. Especially foods high in fat. It is best to avoid food within 3 hours of going to bed.
7. Caffeine Consumption in the 12 hours before bedtime. Caffeine overrides the sleep-inducing effects of melatonin and keeps you awake for longer. Some people can go to sleep after drinking coffee but the research shows unequivocally that the caffeine stops them from going into deep sleep. Therefore, they never get the benefits of autophagy and HGH.
The Best Tips to Induce Sleep and Improve Duration:
· Have a bath, steam or sauna 1 hour before bed. This helps your body temperature to drop which prepares you for sleep.
· Sleeping meditation.
· Listening to comedy.
· Use an acupressure mat. I use the Shakti Mat. It is incredibly effective.
· Socialising by talking or playing board games or cards.
· Essential oils of lavender for stress or rose geranium for anxiety.
· Exercise during the day. Especially in morning.
· Do the 4, 7, 8, breathing technique. Breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 and exhale for 8. Do this at least 5 times before you go to sleep. Do this during the next technique…
· Ground yourself. Standing barefoot on green grass drains all the positive ions from your system and replaces them with the earths negative ions. The latter is healing and calming. It engages the parasympathetic nervous system.
It is natural to wake in the last sleep cycle of the night around the 6-hour mark. But if you are waking earlier in the first 4 sleep cycles, then you have a continuity problem. Some of the factors outlined in the section above on Duration will sometimes affect continuity. For example, if your stress is high then cortisol will surge at night and wake you. Thoughts and feelings that were bothering you during the day will creep in.
But what is it that makes you wake up to begin with and interrupt your continuity in the first 6 hours? Typically they are:
1. Drinking too much fluids before bed.
2. Eating too much before bed.
3. Consuming more than one drink of alcohol within 3 hours before bed.
4. Falling asleep in front of the TV.
If you do wake at night, the best thing to do is roll over and keep sleeping. Do not get up and out of bed to drink or go to the toilet, unless you indulged in the list of 4 things just mentioned.
What about sleeping tablets to help you sleep and stay asleep? Research shows that sleeping tablets grossly interfere with your REM sleep, which is critical for re-setting your short-term memory. This will make you foggy during the day and make you ineffective in performing your tasks, especially tasks requiring client connection and creativity.
Sleeping according to your chronotype can improve regularity, especially during travel and work commitments.
If you are a night person and you try to go to bed before 10:30pm, you will lay awake in bed thinking you have insomnia. If you are a morning person and go to bed too late, you will get over-tired and have trouble sleeping.
According to the research, morning people should go to bed around 9:30pm and wake at 5:30am. Night owls should go to bed around 11pm and wake at 7pm. If you are an ‘inbetweener’, then anytime between 9:30pm and 11pm for sleeping and 5:30am and 7am for waking. In all cases however it is imperative for all chronotypes to get plenty of sunlight within the hour after waking.
If there is any one factor that influences sleep and overall energy levels the most, it would be to practice light hygiene. Direct sunlight during the day will boost your energy; and elimination of artificial light at night will induce sleep. They both improve your gut health profoundly, where the majority of melatonin is produced during the daylight hours. Just think of it this way: good bacteria prefer sunshine. Bad bacteria thrive in darkness.
I wish you light and the softness of sleep.
This article is a paraphrased excerpt from my latest book, Living Longer, Looking Younger. An eBook version of this will soon be available as a free download.