12 (Pill-Free) Ways to Improve Your Sleep
12 (Pill-Free) Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Good sleep is foundational, we all know that, and we all know what it feels like to wake up on “the wrong side of the bed”. There are no pills, including natural supplements, that are needed to get your body to do what it was designed to do - which is get good, restorative sleep. There are only good habits, and those good habits begin first by realizing the importance of sleep to your overall health and well-being, and then by understanding the importance of circadian biology and how you can optimize your environment for better sleep.
Sleep Basics -
During sleep you cycle through various stages, which I refer to in the podcast simply as light sleep, deep sleep, and REM, or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. I briefly discuss some of the very basics of the importance of these cycles in the podcast - deep sleep is restorative, you release a lot of HGH, you clear beta-amyloid plaques from your brain, etc; REM is when you have dreams, it’s equally as important but very different, important for memory formation and learning new skills. As the night progresses you spend more time in REM and less time in deep, so on and so forth. This isn’t a podcast episode on the science of sleep, the point is - IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT!
This is a podcast about how to improve your sleep, and I talk about how I was able to take my deep sleep from an average of 15 minutes a night to an average of 60 minutes a night now by following these steps.
Your daily and nightly rhythms are called your circadian biorhythms and are largely dictated by the 24 hr cycle of the sun rising and setting, so the light in your environment plays an incredibly important role in setting (or disrupting) your circadian biology. It’s been discovered that around ⅓ of your genome is under circadian controls or influences, so this concept goes well beyond just getting a better night’s sleep, and it’s one of the reasons that things like shift work are associated with poor health outcomes including a higher risk of certain cancers.
In the podcast I give several resources for digging deeper into the science of sleep, including the great book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD, and Dan Pardi PhD’s interviews such as this one with Rhonda Patrick PhD on her Found My Fitness podcast and his personal podcast HumanOS Radio, which I’ve really been enjoying lately.
12 Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Buy an Oura Ring
I’m hesitant to recommend this right now because they are having a heck of a time with placing orders currently, but having an Oura ring has helped me just to know. My first week with the ring I was at 15, 35, 7, 13, 19, 12, 10 minutes of deep sleep. Now my overall average is 54 minutes and my weekly average is more like 60 minutes because of all the things in this podcast. What can be measured can be improved! To learn more listen to High Intensity Health interview of the Oura Ring CEO Harpreet Rai or a similar interview on Bulletproof Radio.
You need to let your body know that it’s day time, especially in the morning. This sets your daily rhythm for hormones like thyroid, cortisol, and testosterone. No artificial bulb can replace what the sun offers! Whenever you get a chance throughout the day get exposed to daylight. Real sunlight - no glasses, contacts, windows - real light as often as possible, preferably early. In the podcast I give several suggestions how to make this happen throughout the day.
First rule - do it. Second rule - do it regularly. Third rule - do it early in the day for a harder workout, but then keep moving all day to increase your sleep debt. If you aren’t sleeping well the first thing to look at are the basics - are you eating real food, are you moving often. This one isn’t rocket science, but if you aren’t sleeping as well as you would like then exercise more or at a different time of the day.
Change your Blue-Lit Devices (and put them AWAY AT NIGHT)
Let’s face it, although they may be bad for our sleep our devices aren’t going anywhere, so change them to be the least-damaging they can be. Download F.lux for your computer monitor and implement night-shift on your Apple devices to the warmest settings as low-hanging fruit. You can get things like Zen-Tech covers too. But then even if you have changed the light - TURN THEM OFF AT NIGHT!
Change your Light Bulbs
Install incandescent bulbs, red bulbs, amber bulbs to use around night. This can be done during the day, but it’s most important at night. You can still buy incandescent bulbs, which give a full-spectrum of light (which is why they are energy inefficient!), you can buy amber bulbs, red lights, red head-lamps even so that your house isn’t pitch dark, it just doesn’t have any blue light.
Wear Blue-Blocking Glasses
After sunset block all blue light sources by wearing blue-blocking glasses. Pretty straightforward, when the sun goes down the glasses go on. I personally have 4 pairs (it has just evolved this way!) - dorky orange Uvex safety glasses (first pair), a “professional” looking daytime pair, another daytime pair, and a darker orange wayfarer for night. In the podcast I mention how Harpreet Rai, the CEO of Oura Ring has said that the 2 biggest changes they have seen affect deep sleep are wearing blue-blocker glasses and #7, stop eating sooner.
Stop Eating Sooner
When you realize that your body is working on a 24-hour clock, you start to think about the “triggers” that are setting that clock - what do you do on a regular basis over and over again? Light is a big one, setting the daily 24 hour cycle but you don’t have much control over that one, but what about food? Do you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at roughly the same time each day? Probably. Could those meal times be sending your body the wrong signals? Possibly! Time-restricted feeding is gaining popularity in the scientific community and now the lay-community because of its ability to impact circadian biology. Try to shift your eating window to earlier in the day and stop eating sooner, so no calories after 5 or 6pm.
Meditation can help nearly everything, and especially in today’s over-stimulated environment I feel like it’s a must-do. Meditation can help stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is your “rest-and-digest” nervous system as opposed to your “fight-or-flight” nervous system. Meditating at the end of the day especially can help calm your nerves and slow your heart rate, a key component of a good night's sleep. I threw journaling in here as well because for many people writing in a journal before bed can help them “dump” their thoughts out before bed so they aren’t lying there thinking of everything they have to get done the next day.
Take a Hot Bath/Shower Before Bed
Raising your body temperature right before bed and then having it drop can help stimulate sleepiness and a good night’s sleep. Take an uncomfortably warm bath or shower as part of your wind-down routine, you can add things like magnesium or lavender oil to help you relax.
To kill multiple birds with one stone - take a hot bath, on an empty stomach, with filtered water, add epsom salt and lavender oil, while in a room lit with red lights, and do deep breathing or meditation while in the bath.
Keep Your Room Cold
If you think about this from an ancestral viewpoint, we never slept where it was warm. Even in the desert - it’s coooooold at night, the ground is cold everywhere. Step out of your comfort zone! Keep your room uncomfortably cold at night for a better night’s sleep. You can open a window, they even make pads to run cold water through.
Use Black-out Curtains/Eye-Mask
At night you want it dark. Like really really dark. You will often hear the term ‘cave-like darkness’. I’ve heard of people travelling with electric tape for outlet lights! Professional athletes are starting to travel with black-out curtains because it’s that important for their sleep and performance.
I’m obsessed with my eye-mask. Mine personally has magnets, which I know you do get better deep sleep while in a higher magnetic flux, but I don’t know how the face magnets work, but I love it. Try a cheap one first. Try a (clean) black sock even.
Turn off EMFs
Turn your phone off, turn your router off, look at where your router is located, make sure you aren’t sleeping on the other side of the wall to a computer or a smart meter. If you aren’t sleeping well and you are doing all the previous 11 things - especially exercising regularly controlling light exposure by getting plenty of sunlight in the daytime and blocking blue light at night - then there could be something more serious like an EMF exposure that you are missing. It’s something to be aware of!