21 Steps to the Best Sleep of Your Life
Sleep deprivation’s consequences include immune system failure, diabetes, cancer, obesity, depression, and memory loss – just to name a few – and most people don’t realize that sleep is the square root of the problem.
Studies shown just one night of sleep deprivation can make you as insulin-resistant as a type-2 diabetic. This translates directly to aging faster and storing extra body fat.
Here’s how to get the best sleep of your life:
1. Know the value of sleep. Sleep is a natural periodic state of rest for the mind and body, in which the eyes usually close and consciousness is completely or partially lost, so that there is a decrease in bodily movement and responsiveness to external stimuli. If you’re not doing it, then you’re being completely unnatural. Generally, being awake is catabolic (breaks you down) and sleep is anabolic (builds you up). Sleep is actually an elevated anabolic state, heightening the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, skeletal, and muscular systems – it rebuilds you and keeps you youthful. High quality sleep fortifies your immune system, balances your hormones, boosts your metabolism, increases physical energy and improves the function of your brain. With all the essential benefits that sleep provides, you will NEVER have the body and life you want without the right amount of sleep.
2. Get more sunlight. One of the most vital things that induces great sleep is your body’s natural secretion of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in your brain and sends a signal to regulate the sleep-wake cycle in your body. The production and secretion of melatonin is powerfully affected by light exposure. Sunlight provides the natural spectrum of light that we need to help coordinate the cycle of melatonin production. Get more light during the day and less light at night.
3. Avoid the screen. This is likely the #1 thing you can do to improve your sleep quality immediately. The artificial “blue” light emitted by electronic screens trigger your body to produce more daytime hormones (like cortisol) and disorient your body’s natural preparation for sleep. Computers, iPads, televisions, smartphones, etc are kicking out a sleep-sucking blue spectrum of light that can give you major sleep problems. If you want to give your body the deep sleep it needs, make it a mandate to turn off all screens a full hour before bedtime.
4. Use a blue light blocker. Extenuating circumstances come up, and you may need to be on the computer later than you want. This is where cool advancements in technology like the free app f.lux come in to play, automatically eliminating all of the problematic blue light from the computer screen at a certain time each day. The best solution is to shut down the technology at least an hour before bed to get great sleep.
5. Have a caffeine curfew. Caffeine is a powerful nervous system stimulant. If your nervous system is lit up, you won’t get high quality sleep. Set an unbreakable curfew stop time to make sure that your body has time to remove it from your system. For most people, it’s generally going to be before 4 p.m. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, consider and earlier curfew or avoiding caffeine altogether.
6. Be cool. Thermoregulation strongly influences your body’s sleep cycles. When it’s time for your body to rest, there is an automatic drop in your core body temperature to help initiate sleep. If the temperature in your environment stays too high, then it can be a physiological challenge for your body to get into the ideal state for restful sleep. Studies have found that the ideal room temperature for sleep is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above 75 or below 54 will likely cause some difficulty sleeping.
7. Get to bed at the right time. You get amplified benefits by sleeping at the right hours. It’s been shown that humans get the most significant hormonal secretions and recovery by sleeping between 10 pm and 2 am. You get the most rejuvenating effects during this time, and any sleep that you get in addition is a bonus. This is based on the seemingly lost realization that humans are a part of nature, and when the lights go out on the planet, that’s a cue from the universe that it’s time for us to turn down, too.
8. Use high quality magnesium. Magnesium is a bona fide anti-stress mineral. It helps optimize circulation and blood pressure, balance blood sugar, relax tense muscles, reduce pain and calm the nervous system. Yet, because it has so many functions, it tends to get depleted from the body quickly. Magnesium is likely the #1 mineral deficiency in our world today. And getting your magnesium levels up can almost instantly reduce your body’s stress load and improve the quality of your sleep. Because a large percentage of magnesium is lost in the digestive process, the ideal form of magnesium is transdermal from supercritical extracts. More info here: Benefits of Magnesium.
9. Get it blacked out. Having light sources of any type in your bedroom can disrupt your sleep patterns. And even using an eye mask is not going to be 100% effective for most people. Your skin has receptors that can pick up light. If there’s light in your bedroom, your body is picking it up and sending messages to your brain and organs that can interfere with your sleep. The best solution is: black it out! Get some popular blackout curtains and get any other sources of non-stop light out of your room. Sleep experts suggest that your room be so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. This is the one thing that instantly has a beneficial impact on sleep.
10. Create a sleep sanctuary. Stop making your bedroom the entertainment hub of your house. And NEVER bring work to bed with you. Humans are creatures of habit and habitat. If you create the environment where miscellaneous activities can take place in your sleep area, you are not creating a neuro-association that it’s time to sleep when you go in here. We are all just super size babies with the same basic programming. Make your bedroom a sacred place where peace, calm, and relaxation are overflowing. When you walk into a sleep sanctuary it’ll be easy to peacefully drift off to your dreams.
11. Have a big “O”. This is the other primary thing that the bedroom should be used for. Having an orgasm is like a full-on sedative for most people. There’s a rush of relaxing hormones and endorphins when you release, and it’s just the thing to set you up for a great night’s sleep. And you don’t need anyone else to do this!
12. Train hard (but smart). You can kick ass all day in the gym, but you’ll never get the body you want until you get your sleep in order. Instead of long-duration cardio, temporarily banning it and focusing on heavy, superset-style strength training workouts that are short but intense can change everything and cutting your training off at 5 pm can reset your circadian rhythms and have you sleeping like a baby.
13. Get your “friends” out of your room. Numerous studies have confirmed that the electromagnetic fields or electromagnetic noise coming from our everyday electronic devices can cause disruption of communication between the cells in our body. This means you can have everything from hormonal problems to cancer showing up by being exposed to these things too long. And even knowing this, so many people whine and moan when they find out they need to get these devices out of their bedroom to protect themselves. If being healthy and not having a chronic disease is important to you, then you’ll do this. Television, laptops, cell phones, all of these things are kicking out radiation that is disrupting your sleep.
14. Have a high protein, low carb snack close to bed time. If you want to get truly restful sleep, one of the worst things you can do is eat right before bed. Give your body a solid 90 minutes (more is better) before heading off to bed after eating. This is especially true if you’re eating carbs because the inherent blood sugar spike will cause a sharp drop in blood sugar later… and if you happen to be asleep when this hypoglycemia hits, it will likely wake you up and give you trouble falling back asleep. If you must have something shortly before bed (again, at least 90 minutes) then go with a high protein food. The amino acids in the protein food (like tryptophan) can actually aid in getting a more beneficial sleep.
15. No glove, no love (for your feet). Even though the room temperature would ideally be cooler to induce great sleep, some people can trigger sleeplessness because their extremities are too cold. This is because blood flow is the primary method of distributing heat throughout the body. If your hands and feet are too cold, it could be a sign of poor circulation. The solution: wear a pair of warm socks to bed.
16. You booze, you lose. You can actually get smarter while you sleep. One of the most valuable, and overlooked aspects of sleep is a process called memory processing: short-term memories and experiences get converted into long-term memories. Memory processing is predominantly affected by different stages of REM sleep. Studies have proven the good news about drinking alcohol late in the evening is that you do, indeed, fall asleep faster. But the bad news is that REM sleep is significantly disrupted by alcohol being in your system. You won’t be able to fall into deeper levels of sleep, and your brain and body won’t be able to fully rejuvenate. This is why people don’t feel great after waking up from an alcohol-laced sleep. Consider a booze curfew so that your body can have a couple hours to get it out of your system.
17. Calm inner chatter. Now more than ever with the constant flow of information coming at you, it’s important to have a practice to help you (eliminate) that stress. That important practice is meditation. Meditation is like a tonic. A tonic is something that you can use everyday, and the results continue to get better and better. The more you meditate, the more calm and presence you’ll have in your day-to-day life. The effects are cumulative, and the neuro-association your brain and body have made to closing your eyes and focusing on your breath instantly put you in that calm space. Numerous studies show that meditation increases “feel-good” hormones and endorphins, lowers stress hormones like cortisol and even reduces inflammation in our body.
18. Supplementation. Ideally, you need to address the lifestyle issues first that are actually causing the sleep problem. If you jump to taking drugs or supplements then you’ll just be treating a symptom and increase the likelihood that you’ll develop a dependency on something that can harm you long-term. 3 of the more gentle to moderate natural sleep aids to focus on the lifestyle stuff first, and if you want you can add these things in too:
- Chamomile: an excellent tea to have before bed, shown to calm the muscles and nervous system.
- Kava Kava: the national drink of Fiji, has sedative properties and is commonly used to treat sleeplessness and fatigue.
- Valerian: moderate sedative – best for those who have a difficult time falling asleep, also promotes uninterrupted sleep.
19. Mr. & Mrs Smith Glasses. If you’re a fanatic about this stuff, and don’t mind looking like someone from the future, then you can rock some glasses that block blue light and give everything a much safer, softer, yellow tint. They are similar to the glasses that Brad and Angelina wear in the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith during an epic fight scene. If you get the cheap ones, then you won’t look that cool… but hey, this is for science not social points.
20. Be early to rise. Ironically, one of the best things you can do to improve your sleep is to get up early. This goes back to the fact that humans have had certain patterns of sleep and wakefulness that we’ve only (within the last hundred years) found a way to override.By waking up early you start the process of helping your endocrine system link up with the diurnal patterns of the earth. Get up when the sun rises. You might start off having a challenging time, but after less than a couple of weeks, your body will adapt to that pattern and have you feeling more rested and refreshed when you wake up. You can get out of the old pattern of being up at night “tired and wired” by being early to rise and having a natural release of cortisol and going to bed earlier and taking advantage of the natural release of melatonin (that we talked about above).
21. Get grounded – Since the beginning of time humans have had more of a constant interaction with the earth, and only recently have we found ourselves more an more “disconnected” from it. New discoveries have shown that the earth itself is overflowing with free electrons (energy) that actually get transmitted to us when we come in contact with it. There are numerous studies showing radical reductions in inflammation and pain by getting people in contact with the earth’s magnetic surface. Have you ever noticed that when you go to the beach or to the lake you end up sleeping like a baby that night? When it comes improving your sleep, getting your body in contact with the earth’s electromagnetic field might just be the thing that changes the game for you. Using cool technology can bring the benefits of the earth’s energy into your home, such as the Earthing Mat or Earthing Sheets.
Shawn Stevenson, BS, FDN (as seen on TedX, ESPN, Entrepreneur, and more); Host of the featured #1 iTunes podcast “Model Health Show” and Founder of the Advanced Integrative Health Alliance, who just published his bestseller, SLEEP SMARTER: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success (Rodale; March 2016).