I read Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution, Transforming Your Life One Night At A Time and created this guide based on the quotes, notes, and research I found most useful personally from the book.
Originally, I did so to keep track of the proven mental and physical benefits of sleep and to use as a guide to get back into a good routine. After finishing the book and following a routine, I fell off the sleep wagon again.
Like many times before, I focused on getting a 6–8am wakeup time for a couple of weeks, and then had one or two late nights which led to waking up later the following day, which leads to not falling asleep early, and the pattern unravels.
Unlike Arianna Huffington, who’s wakeup call was waking up in a pool of blood on the floor of her office after passing out from exhaustion and hitting her head, my sleep wakeup call was thankfully less bloody, but equally powerful.
During a visit to a family member in the hospital, I found myself staring at the hospital floor taking deep breathes, evaluating whether I had regained my sense of balance enough to sit upright in the chair.
I spent the previous week working on a big feature at work, staying up to 3am for a personal project, while dealing with a family emergency. I felt the shortness of my breath increasing and balance starting to go.
Upon quickly realizing I needed to do something quick, I put my head between my legs to regain the blood flow to my head. While staring at the floor I realized I needed to make a major shift.
Taking my sleep seriously was a key place to start. As I learned from the Sleep Revolution, a myriad of physiological processes are optimized by sleep.
I started my sleep revolution in April of 2017 and have been averaging 7-8 hours of sleep, and waking up between 7–8am on average for the last few months.
I’ve regained my normally high energy levels and avoided experiencing dizziness.
Before both reading the book and my wakeup moment, I was cynical about how useful reading a book like this would be. I heard about The Sleep Revolution via multiple podcasts.
I had thought perhaps by deconstructing the sleep process I may find opportunities to optimize. There were a few reasons holding me back from fixing my sleep schedule for good.
Reasons Not To Fix Sleep Schedule
- Anxiety — Ever since first grade I recall having anxiety about going to bed and falling asleep. If I tried going to bed early, I could lay in bed for hours waiting to sleep causing more stress.
- FOMO (fear of missing out) — Anything from the extra bug I can crush for work, a personal to-do item to check off, or staying out all night on the weekend to have fun.
- Not Enough Time — Belief that (I) don’t have enough time to get the sleep (I) need… We actually have far more discretionary time than we realize. — Gary Vaynerchuk
One of the major reasons for not sleeping well is anxiety around not being able to sleep well so when creating a sleep guide I’d rather focus on the positives rather than freak myself out about the dangers of not getting enough sleep.
As Napolean said the moral is to the physical as three to one so even though obvious, let’s start with improved mental impacts.
- Less Stress — REM sleep can help us process emotional stress: Berkeley, found that REM sleep can help us process emotional stress. Participants in the study showed a less stressful response to the stressor provided, with less activity in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. That allowed the calmer, more rational part of the brain to process the images. Sleep deprivation results in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol the next day.
- Happier Mood — Sleep-deprived people were 7x more likely to experience feelings of helplessness and 5x more likely to feel lonely.
- Mental Clarity — 24 hrs without sleep = 0.1 blood alcohol content.
- Better Memory — Sleep-deprived people had memories that were more pliable, remembering things inaccurately.
- Stronger Willpower — Self-control requires mental energy, and when we’re tired it’s easier to become impatient and break willpower.
- Enhanced Problem Solving Via Dreams — Beth Israel Deaconess’ Medical Center in Boston revealed dreaming can help solve difficult problems. The study found that those who napped and dreamed about the maze improved ten times more than their napping counterparts who did not dream about the maze.
The subjects who dreamed about the maze had done relatively poorly during training…. Our findings suggest that if something is difficult for you, it’s more meaningful to you and the sleeping brain therefore focuses on that subject. — it ‘knows’ you need to work on it to get better, and this seems to be where dreaming can be of most benefit.
- Emotional Intelligence —Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, asked participants to identify facial expressions varying from friendly to threatening. Those who had had sufficient REM sleep correctly read the faces; the sleep-deprived group failed.
- Rehearsal of Events — Via lucid dreaming
In a different state you get totally different answers. — Tony Robbins
The research that was the most surprising for me was the physiological impacts.
- Stronger Immune System — Many of the genes affected by lack of sleep are involved in processing stress and regulating our immune system.
- Wash-Away Toxins — Happens only when we sleep, including proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The glymphatic system, essentially the brain’s plumbing system, functions at a much higher rate during sleep and plays a critical role in brain maintenance. As the mice slept, their brain cells actually shrank in size, creating more space for the spinal cord and brain fluid to flow throughout the brain and literally sweep away the toxic buildup associated with Alzheimer’s.
- Better Diet— Mayo Clinic found sleep-restricted subjects gained more weight than their well-rested counterparts over the course of a week. This is mainly due to higher hormone levels of ghrelin — the “hunger hormone,” which increases our appetite, and lower leptin, the “satiety hormone,” which lowers our appetite. Also, the body has a lower blood Glucose response after meals vs. those who are sleep deprived.
- Higher Physical Activity — Sleep produces orexin, a neurotransmitter that normally stimulates physical activity.
- Keep Brain Cells — Lack of sleep over a couple of years showed irreversible loss of brain cells.
- Inflammation — Researchers from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom found that lack of sleep actually changes the gene expression of more than seven hundred genes and increases the activity of genes linked to inflammation. Inflammation is our body’s response to prepare for damage/stress.
- Higher Fertility — If that’s your goal… Sleep deprivation has been linked to infertility in both men and women, as disruption of our circadian rhythms affects hormone production and sperm count… Sleep deprivation has also been associated with erectile dysfunction. This is due to a lack of testosterone which is produced at night.
Fixing The Sleep Schedule
Understanding How Sleep Works
The takeaway from understanding how sleep works is to use the prime sleep zone to your advantage.
The prime sleep zone is the circadian rhythm [that] cycles downward in the late evening, dovetailing with the high sleep pressure built up throughout the day. If we go to bed while our sleep gate is open, then we hit the sleep bull’s-eye or the sleep sweet spot.
There are 2 systems that lead to the prime sleep zone.
- Sleep / wake homeostasis — The longer we stay awake, the sleepier we get; the longer we sleep, the more likely we are to wake up.
- Circadian rhythm — Cycle corresponding to one day. In humans, circadian rhythm is governed by a small group of brain cells located in the hypothalamus (just above the optic nerves). Our circadian rhythm cycle, dipping and rising at different times of the day, needs constant input in the form of natural light to be calibrated properly.
Once asleep, we cycle through 4 stages.
- Light sleep — Transitional stage between wakefulness and sleep. We can wake up easily.
- Slightly deeper — Slowing and stopping of eye movement and a decrease in core body temperature.
- Slow-wave deep sleep — Also known as delta sleep, in this stage the brain creates slow, high-amplitude delta waves — a departure from the higher-frequency beta waves of our waking hours.
- REM sleep — Breathing becomes shallower and quicker, our blood pressure and heart rate — which have been slowing in the earlier stages — go back up, and our brain waves become faster in frequency, resembling those of our awake brain.
There’s No Shortcuts To Sleeping Well — Sleeping Pills
In twenty years, people will look back on the sleeping-pill era as we now look back on the acceptance of cigarette smoking — Jerome Siegel, director of UCLA’s Center for Sleep Research
Globally, people spent $58B on sleep-aid products in 2014, a figure projected to rise to $76.7B by 2019. In high school I took over the counter sleeping pills, and in University I had prescription sleeping pills. For the last 4 years I’ve gone all natural and don’t use either.
Looking back, this was a lifestyle issue.
Aside from the hilarious Ambien stories online and ones my college room mates can tell you about there are proven negative side effects.
- Missing out on restorative slow-wave sleep
- Higher risk of dimensia + alhzeihmers
- Sub-optimal Effectiveness — Only one of the many different chemical systems used by the brain as part of the sleep process, which creates an imbalance in chemical signaling by the brain.
How I Improved My Sleep — My Sleep Launch List
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends 7–9 hours for those 26–64.
In order to hit my 7–8 hour goal per night I created my own sleep launch list. The list is a suggestion of experiments to test which work best for you, not as a comprehensive checklist. I ordered them by the largest ROI for effort.
- Build a healthy sleep pattern, not a rigid dogma — The most important thing when starting this routine was creating a habit and figuring out which items below worked for me so that I could be flexible. Being flexible means I know I could stay out till 6am when I want and bounce back into my normal sleep routine the next day. This had been my breaking point in many past attempts. Following one late night I would fall back into my old sleep patterns to recover on my sleep. The first few weeks of getting into a sleep pattern I would avoid late nights to get your body into a rhythm.
2. Exercise — Regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep. The book suggests 150 min per week. Even exercise in the evening provides more benefit then skipping exercise altogether. I commute every day by bike to work so no matter what I get a baseline of activity in.
- Avoid caffeine — Caffeine when taken even six hours before bed, can decrease sleep by as much as one hour.
- Don’t eat before bed — Don’t eat anything heavy since your body will work to digest it. If you’re really hungry stick with something light.
- Incorporate enough melatonin your diet — Calcium, magnesium, b-vitamins, cherry juice high in melatonin.
- Easy on the booze — Don’t make a nightcap a regular thing, it helps you get to sleep quicker but reduces quality of sleep.
4. Prime sleep zone — If you don’t fight the tiredness you’ll go to bed much easier. I have a set chill-out cut-off time most nights and after that I don’t work on anything productive, no mater how quick it will take. After this time I find it relaxing to listen to a podcast or watch something from my list of relaxing YouTube channels.
My arsenal consists of Casey Neistat’s vlog: Nothing more soothing than drone time lapses of landscapes.
| Bradley Friesen: Helicopters and British Columbia, enough said.
| Primitive technology: This guy builds shelter and tools from scratch in nature showing from start to finish. Forget Bear Grylls, this guys the real deal.
5. Alleviate constant thinking — In order to avoid over-thinking and to help shut my thoughts off I use tools such as Google Inbox Reminders, Calendar, Keep, and Docs to off load thoughts. Inbox reminder’s allows me to create to-do’s for when and where I need them and Keep provides longer list taking across all devices. By doing so I know my to-dos and ideas have a place so I no longer need to continue revisiting them.
6. Optimize environment
- Minimizing phone distractions — No phone or devices 30 min before sleep. If reading use blue light blocker, and don’t check emails. Android and iOS’s latest operating systems now have a night mode built in. On my Mac I use f.lux. It’s recommended to keep the phone away from bed. However, I use mine as a clock, so I decide not to check it once the clock screen is on with all notifications off. 71% of Americans sleep with or next to their smartphones.
- Lighting — Configure lighting based on time of day using LIFX bulbs to set before bed warm and dim lighting that helps circadian rhythm. You can also use LIFX as a light based wakeup system. I used a LIFX for my alarm clock the first few weeks when getting into my routine, but now don’t use any alarm clock unless I have a big event to wake up for early.
- Temperature — 60 to 66 degrees is ideal for the room temp.
- Have specific sleep clothes — Don’t double your workout clothes as sleepwear because it may remind you of getting pumped for your workout.
7. Turning down the mind and body
- Shower — Use hot water to start, then few minutes of cold at the end. See The Scientific Case for Cold Showers. Natalie Dautovich, an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation, said, a small drop in body temperature can prompt sleep signals to our brains.
- Meditation — I’ve experimented with a few Headspace tracks for a couple months and their specific sleep exercises. Also, I’ve heard Gratitude list’s are fulfilling. My friend Manas Kulkarni analyzed his happiness for 736 days.
8. Herbal Remedies
Pick your herbal remedy. I used herbal remedies for the first couple of weeks to get into the routine but phased them out of my daily sleep practice and reserve them for extreme cases of sleeplessness or if I need to get myself back into the routine. Try each of them separately which should provide enough help if you’re not taking them on a regular basis.
Just to name a few…
- Chamomile Tea
- Pumpkin Seed Oil — excellent source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that the body converts to serotonin, which is then turned into melatonin (naturallivingideas.com/pumpkin-seed-oil)
- Deep Sleep Aid (I tried this one from Whole Foods and worked well as a temporary solution)
9. Acupuncture and Accupressure — I’ve started acupuncture the last 3months which has helped with overall relaxation. Check with your insurance provider, because some cover a certain number of visits per year.
Other Notes on Sleep: Naps, Travel, and Work
Notes On Naps
30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep. Ideal in the afternoon, but beneficial any time of the day. More effective than caffeine or sugar.
- Sleep well before leaving for the trip.
- Avoid red eyes, build in extra day of travel if need be.
- Fly in the afternoon if you’re headed west and in the morning if you’re traveling east.
- Adjust your eating schedule ahead of a major timezone shift to help adjust your circadian rhythm.
The Sleep Revolution also introduced to me the Entrain app for Android and iOS which helps you adjust your circadian clock to different timezones by providing recommendations on when to seek light/dark.
Sleep and The Workplace
Arianna makes the strong case that we must make major shifts in work culture with what we now know from science about health and productivity.
- Boards of directors need to acknowledge that a CEO who’s bragging about getting only four hours of sleep a night is essentially saying that he or she is making decisions while drunk. They need to see that that’s not something to be applauded or rewarded. In fact, it’s a massive red flag.
- When venture capitalists and angel investors hear prospective pitches, along with plans for how viable and sustainable a business product is, they should also be aggressively vetting the start-up team’s plans for how to keep their lives sustainable.
- Nap rooms / nap pods should become more regular in office. Arianna naps in office with blinds open instead of closed because it is not something to be ashamed of or hide.
“Finish every day, and be done with it…. You have done what you could— some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as fast as you can, tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Google Productivity Tools
Meditation / Mindfulness
Originally published at medium.com