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How To Sleep Better And Wake Up Ready To Go

America has a sleep issue. At least half of all Americans report they suffer from insomnia[1], and nearly 9 million are using prescription sleep medication.[2]

One of the most common sleep hacks is sleeping pills, however, these come with a laundry list of side effects. Even worse? They mask the underlying issue for why you can’t sleep in the first place and stop working the second you stop taking them.

Getting good sleep is both an art and a science – yet the overwhelming majority of people have trouble sleeping, including many high achievers who have mastered every other aspect of their lives. Even if you had time to sleep an entire eight hours a night, would it be optimal, uninterrupted sleep?  Would you wake up feeling 100 percent refreshed?

Are you ready to start sleeping better? Read on to find out why sleep matters, how much sleep you really need, and science-backed sleep hacks to improve your sleep.

Why Sleep Matters

Sleep is one of the pillars of high performance. The benefits of sleep include better brain function, muscle recovery, hormone balance, longevity, and fat burning. It is truly the foundation of our health and the foundation of our body and mind. In short if you want to live longer, feel better, and perform better, it pays to understand how sleep impacts your body.

Deep Sleep Improves Brain Function

After mild sleep deprivation (staying up for 19 hours), your reaction time, attention, memory, and mental accuracy all drop significantly,[3] and your brain performs as if you had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent.[4] A night of deep sleep, on the other hand, gives your brain a chance to clear out cellular waste and repair old or damaged brain cells.[4] You wake up with 50 percent faster mental processing,[5] stable mood, and an increased ability to learn.[6]

The key is getting into the two deepest stages of sleep: stage 3, which is when you dream, and stage 4, which is when your brain does the most repair and restoration.

Low Quality Sleep Impairs Muscle Recovery & Fat Loss

Poor sleep will also slow down your results in the gym. When you don’t sleep well, your hormones go in all the wrong directions: your testosterone and growth hormone levels drop, impairing your protein synthesis so you struggle to build more muscle.[7] At the same time, your cortisol goes up, promoting fat storage and activating muscle degradation pathways that break down your hard-earned lean mass.[8]

If you exercise regularly, aim for between seven and nine hours of high-quality sleep a night. Athletes who got an extra one to two hours of sleep saw significant increases in sprint speed, muscle repair, and hand-eye coordination, as well as decreased fatigue.[9] They also reported better mood.

Deep Sleep Helps You Live Longer & Better

Plentiful sleep has a profound effect on longevity, too.

  • People who get deep sleep in complete darkness have a 200% lower risk of cancer than people who don’t sleep well or sleep with light exposure at night.[10] Researchers suspect the change in cancer risk has something to do with how consistently you produce melatonin, a sleep hormone that you don’t produce as well when you expose yourself to light at night. Light exposure has a huge impact on sleep quality.
  • Getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night doubles your risk of heart attack[11] and increases diabetes risk by 25 percent.[12] That said, five or six hours of sleep a night can be plenty if you improve your sleep quality to make those hours count.
  • Consistent sleep deprivation (either low quality sleep or fewer than seven hours a night) increases your overall risk of death by about 25 percent.

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need

You’ve likely heard that a good night’s rest equals six to eight hours of sleep. But research shows it’s not the number of hours you sleep that matters the most, but rather it’s the quality of the hours you are getting. The largest sleep study ever conducted on 1.1 million people shows that it’s quality, not quantity, that matters most.[13] The researchers found that participants who slept only six and a half hours a night lived longer than those who slept eight hours. It’s easy to conclude that you’ll live longer if you sleep for six and a half hours a night, but the reality is more complicated. It’s possible that the healthiest people simply need less sleep. And when you’re getting good-quality sleep, you likely need less of it.

So how do you make sure that the sleep you’re getting is of the highest quality? Read on for science-backed sleep hacks to help you fall asleep faster and deepen the sleep that you’re already getting.

8 Science Backed Sleep Hacks To Improve Your Sleep

1. Use Light Exposure Techniques

If you try just one sleep hack, make it this one. Use light exposure techniques to help you feel more awake during the day and sleepier before bed.

During the Day:

Daily outdoor exercise (even a brisk walk) in the morning supports feeling robustly alert during the day and facilitates deep sleep at night. The blue light wavelength spectrum is particularly alerting. Not getting enough blue light during the day can make you feel sleepy or subdued, and getting too much at night can mask natural sleepiness and shift your biological sleep and wake rhythm (not a good thing when you try to wake up the next morning).

In the Evening:

Avoid junk light — the blue light that emits from your television, smartphone, laptop, and tablet screens — is wrecking your sleep. Too much blue light messes with your brain’s production of melatonin — the hormone that tells your body when it’s time to snooze. Blue light wakes you up and tells your brain that it’s daytime. Screens aren’t the only source of junk light — street lamps and LED lightbulbs are also to blame.

The best ways to protect yourself from too much blue light exposure:

  • Use blackout curtains
  • Unplug unnecessary electronics in your bedroom
  • Wear blue light blocking glasses
  • Shut down electronic devices two hours before bed
  • Increase the warm light setting on your phone
  • Install light filter apps: If you don’t have an Apple device, you can use apps like f.lux or Iris, which adjust your display’s color temperature depending on the time of day
  • Make sure you spend some time outdoors in the sun every day to balance your exposure to artificial junk light.

2. Don’t snack before bed

There is a time for digestion, and there is a time for sleep. Science has discovered that just like our brain, almost every organ has its own clock. Your stomach, your liver, your brain… every organ in your body has times when it performs certain functions. Digesting food when your digestive system is supposed to be inactive can throw off your sleep circadian rhythm, which disrupts your sleep stages and makes you feel tired the next day.

3. Keep a regular sleep-wake cycle

Make it a habit to get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Even on weekends! When your sleep cycle has a regular rhythm, your body knows when it should be awake and when it should be asleep. Get daily morning exposure to sunlight to anchor your biological clock.

Get Enough Sleep. The amount of sleep a person needs per night is very specific to that individual. Most people get all the sleep they need if they are in bed between 7 and 9 hours per night. The goal is to feel robustly alert during the day (without requiring multiple cups of coffee to address persistent sleepiness). Optimizing the amount of time in bed to get the right amount of sleep may take some experimentation and may change depending on the amount of activity in your life.

Limit Naps. Avoid counting on regular naps to get through the day and instead seek to get all the sleep you need during one consolidated sleep period at night. Regular nighttime-only sleep promotes feeling tired at bedtime and awake during the day. That said, some schedules benefit from routine naps or the occasional weekend nap after a week of less than optimal sleep. When you nap, attempt to sleep for an hour or less.

4. Lower your core temperature at bedtime

The ability of your body to control its own temperature is very important for sleep initiations, sleep depth and sleep consistency. A cooler room with enough blankets to stay warm is recommended. 60 to 67 degrees is the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended temperature for optimal sleep.

Sleeping in a cool room, dropping the thermostat, using a device like the chilliPAD Cooling Mattress Topper, or even showering before bed lowers your core temperature, which results in better quality sleep.

While some people like a cold shower, most prefer a warm shower. Whatever shower you take, your blood circulation will draw towards your skin and away from the core and that helps to cool your body down.

4. Exercise

Exercise is amazing for your body and brain. It turns out exercise can help you sleep better, too. People with mild to moderate insomnia saw these benefits when they began to exercise regularly:[14][15]

  • They slept longer: 13-18% increase in sleep time
  • Fell asleep faster: 55% decrease in sleep onset latency (how long it took them to fall asleep)
  • Woke up less: 30% decrease in time awake during the night
  • Caught more restorative sleep: 13% more time spent in deep sleep

In other words, exercising daily can make it much easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep, and you’ll sleep deeper and longer. That translates to much better recovery and more mental and physical energy the next day.

Exercise can also help with anxiety- and stress-related insomnia. If you find your mind races at night, or you’ve been working all day and you can’t seem to get your body out of fight-or-flight mode, exercise can make a big difference.

Anxious people with chronic insomnia who started running daily saw a 15% decrease in anxiety.[16]

Yoga may be even better, because it combines exercise with mental relaxation. Yoga outperformed anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs at lowering cortisol (your stress hormone) and relieving anxiety and depression.[17]

5. Try a high-tech sleep device

You know now that it’s not about the amount of sleep that you get, but the quality of those zzz’s. You can deepen the sleep that you’re already getting with the help of high-tech sleep devices on the market. For a budget buy, a smartphone sleep app like the Sonic Sleep Coach can track your sleep and play audio to cover any disruptive noise. On the higher-end, wearable sleep devices like headbands and the Oura Ring measure your sleep, and in the case of headbands, increase the number of your slow brain waves. The result? Deeper, more restorative sleep.

For a non-electronic option, weighted blankets are the sleep aid du jour. Fans of these heavy blankets — they can weigh anywhere from two to 24 pounds — claim they improve sleep and ease anxiety.

6. Figure out your sleep chronotype

Time to bust some long-held myths: Waking up early does not make you a better person. The early bird does not always catch the worm. Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock, and it’s going to look different to your neighbor’s. When you go to sleep and wake up in accordance with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, you’ll sleep better, and be more alert and productive during the day. Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert, identified four sleep chronotypes (aka your circadian rhythm personality). These are:

  • Bear: Most people fall into this category. Bears’ circadian rhythm follows the sun, and they sleep easily. If you’re a bear, recharge during the mid-afternoon, when bears feel an energy dip.
  • Wolf: If you’re a night person (aka wolf), burn the midnight oil and go to bed later so there will be less tossing and turning. Get most of your work done between noon and 2pm, and around 5pm — those are wolves’ most productive times of day.
  • Lion: Lions wake up early and power through the morning. If you’re a lion, go to bed early instead of binging on Netflix.
  • Dolphin: If you struggle to fall asleep and wake up frequently during the night, you’re a dolphin. Schedule your most demanding work between mid-morning and early afternoon.

7. How you sleep matters

You probably don’t lose any sleep thinking about the best sleeping position. But how you sleep can have a surprisingly big impact on your performance.

Or try this revolutionary sleep hack — stack pillows or raise the top of your bed frame by a few inches. Sleeping at an incline helps your brain flush out the debris that has built up during the day, in a process known as glymphatic drainage.

8. Take these supplements

Let’s be honest: Who really wants to be dependent on sleep medication to help them sleep? You have other options. A lot of supplements really can help you fall and stay asleep.

Here’s a summary of the top ones:

Activated charcoal: Toxins from kryptonite foods like refined flours and factory-farmed meat cause inflammation in your brain, interfering with your sleep. Cleaning up your diet is the first step to flushing out toxins. An activated charcoal supplement speeds up the process, removing toxins from the gut before they reach your brain.

Vitamin D: Low levels of vitamin D are linked with poor quality sleep.[18][19] There’s a strong chance you’re deficient in it — more than half the world’s population isn’t getting enough of this vital nutrient.[20] The best source of vitamin D is moderate sun exposure, preferably earlier in the day.

Krill Oil: Oily fish like sardines, krill, and salmon are full of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which research shows improve sleep and help you fall asleep faster.[10][11] Eat at least three servings of fatty fish a week, or take two krill oil supplements (1,560 mg of omega-3’s), twice a day, with meals.

Magnesium: Supplementing with magnesium can help you nod off and sleep more deeply.[12] It does this by lowering stress and regulating melatonin. Supplement with 600 to 800 milligrams of magnesium a day, or take an Epsom salt bath before turning in for the night.

Ornithine is a relaxing amino acid that helps your body to eliminate ammonia in the gut (excess ammonia causes stressful feelings).  Some people sleep MUCH better with ornithine.  Try 1-5 grams.  It may improve growth hormone levels too.

5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, the neurohormones that make you happy and sleep, respectively. 5-HTP is converted from the amino acid tryptophan, then converted into those helpful neurotransmitters. But your body can sometimes struggle with these conversions. Supplementing with 5-HTP — which readily crosses the blood-brain-barrier to create the happy hormone serotonin — is the easiest way to organically support your levels of mood-lifting and sleep-inducing brain chemicals. Basically, you’re giving your body a little break at making the chemical conversions itself. This can be super helpful if you’re having trouble sleeping. Cycle on and off with this one or use as needed.

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