Nothing works until you finally decide to sleep properly.
Our current lives are very busy, I understand. Finding the time to fit in 7-8 hours of sleep is hard. Not only that, it’s a struggle to fall asleep in less than 10 minutes and also feel energized whenever we wake up.
It’s sad, but a fact: so many people are out there using pills to knock themselves out to sleep 4-5 hours, and consequently feel unrested when they wake up.
Sadly, this has become the norm when it shouldn’t be. For those of us who are looking for a higher quality of life, we understand that sleep is a very big component. We must sleep enough, we must fall asleep easily, we must not wake up multiple times during the night, and we must wake up feeling ready and energized.
“What about everyone online, those friends of mine that are crushing life, those who are sleeping four hours a night?”
In rare cases, a rare gene mutation (ADRB1) causes some Homo Sapiens to need less sleep.
Again, that is rare. Evolution brought us here. Unless some of us find that we have that gene, the need for sleep is as real as pooping.
Let’s tackle the issue in the following order:
The Chronic Stress
Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes by not allowing your body to reduce inflammation levels. Another study showed that sleep also played a big role in fat loss. People who were well-rested lost more than 50% of fat when compared to those that had sleep deprivation. Sleep regulates your metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Lack of sleep makes training harder too. A study showed that it depresses our thermoregulatory system by reducing our ability to sweat during exercise. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to negatively change blood biomarkers drastically. Another study showed a decrease of 10-20% in testosterone levels of healthy men. Want to get stronger, but not sleeping enough?
We want to be very objective in how we look at our current situation. If we can’t get enough sleep because we just had a baby, experience trauma, or because we are dealing with health issues - sleeping 8 hours might be a bit tough. So let’s not knock ourselves down with opinions about our present conditions. Let’s just do our best effort. Like the Stoics, we should only think about what lies within our control, everything else doesn’t matter much.
Have you heard of sleep cycles? REM and DEEP waves?
When scheduling your sleep, think of it as going through waves. Each wave is around 90 minutes long, where your brain transitions between different stages (REM, light sleep, and deep sleep).
The key is to schedule your sleep so you wake up at the end of your last wave, that is why we have been told to sleep 8 hrs, approximately 30 min to fall asleep and then 5 complete waves of 90 minutes, totaling 7 hrs and 30 min.
Typically, waking up in the middle of a wave, makes one feel groggy. Test it.
The Chronic Stress
Being chronically stressed without effective downregulation practice impairs our HPA axis, thyroid, and sex hormones.
Remember, our body is a complex system. Messing with one will lead to a negative consequence in another area.
Cortisol and adrenaline help us use body fat as energy. But when we keep them elevated for long periods of time, we might mess with their natural diurnal flow. Ideally, these hormones are high when we wake up, and they lower as the day goes by.
Chronic stress keeps them elevated through the day (which also inverts the diurnal cycle. Note: this is a complex topic that we are trying to summarize here because not everyone is well versed in the endocrine system), making it hard to relax and fall asleep at night.
These are the tools we found worked best with our tribe. We want to implement a strategy that works for us, and slowly develop an arsenal that ensures we get our desired outcome:
1) A Bedtime Routine
We start by scheduling and fixing our routines around bedtime. We should pick a time that works for us, and make sure we are in bed by that time. Our aim is to start our pre-bed routine 30 to 45 minutes before our desired time and make sure it is something we can do every night.
Example: Turn off the TV, go out and read fiction, brush our teeth, go to bed. Or, brush our teeth, take the dog out, drink tea, meditate, go to bed.
Once it becomes a routine, when started, these set behaviors will act as a trigger to our brains in recognizing that we are soon approaching time to turn off. We will start falling asleep faster by signaling specific neurotransmitters that play a crucial role in down-regulation prior to actually lying down in bed.
This is really important. We want data on what is working and how it is working. Getting good amounts of sleep is college football, getting good quality sleep is Pro Football. We want to track our sleep because we want to make sure our sleep practice is working (routines and tools) and that we are getting good quality as well.
Good quality sleep means feeling rested when we wake up, and not waking up in the middle of the night multiple times.
There are different devices and apps that can help us track our sleep. The best ones are the ones that work with HRV (heart rate variability) and resting heart rate markers. The app that we have found most helpful is the pillow app. It syncs with a watch and is constantly measuring heart rate when going through different sleep waves. It gives us a score when we wake up, so we can compare it with previously recorded data.
Other apps and devices we tried were a couple of polar watches, the whoop strap, and the sleep cycle app. The sleep cycle app and some polar watches work with motion sensors, therefore they are not as accurate as the pillow app or the whoop strap. However, they can
still be a great start. The whoop strap is the best one yet, nothing comes close to it. Google “Whoop recovery strap” - it has tons of data on how we are recovering, how much strain is our bodies are handling and gives us recovery scores. The strap assesses each night and gives us minute-by-minute data on each cycle, etc.
3) Nutrition and Supplements
First, we must limit our alcohol and caffeine intake. This is especially important 8 hrs prior to our scheduled bedtime. Also, if we are not doing any glycolytic training, it’s best that we limit our fast-digesting carbohydrate consumption at night, like bread and pasta. These will create an insulin spike, causing us to feel energized and not ready to sleep. Once we are rid of these amateur mistakes, only then can we start thinking of supplements.
4) Bedroom setting
Our bedrooms should be pitch dark. Our brains get confused while trying to sleep with even the slightest light present because until a couple of hundred years ago, humans always went to bed with the sun. Being exposed to light stops melatonin production, which is a crucial hormone in falling asleep. Blue light comes from the sun, but also from screens and LED lights. Let’s make sure we aren’t unnecessarily being exposed to blue lights prior to bedtime.
We have tried blackout curtains, which work well. We can find them for $25 on amazon. For those of us that use computers late at night, F.lux is a free app we can get that adapts computers’ display to the time of the day, so we don’t have to look at blue light at night.
That’s it. Those are all the nuggets and tricks about sleep.
Now that we have a grip on the:
- Science behind sleep and its importance,
- Lifestyle that makes it challenging to get enough sleep,
- Chronic Stress that impairs very important systems, and
- Tools we can use to fix our sleep deprivation,
We can start putting together our own little plan to get enough sleep and crush our goals. Because that's what we do - our tribe crushes goals. All. The. Time.