Note: Many of the ideas mentioned in this article come from the best book I’ve read in my life about sleep and sleep hacking. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find it anywhere anymore except on some dodgy blackhat Internet sites, but I have put some of the best ideas below. It was called the Sleep Hack Dojo by Daniel Ternes. If you know where to find it, drop me a message.
Those who think they have no time for healthy living will sooner or later have to find time for illness. – Edward Stanley
Healthy living consists of a few different aspects like diet, exercise and stress, but a major part of healthy living relies on your sleep.Sleep is considered very overrated in today’s day and age, but it’s oh so important.
Sleep is responsible for recharging your immune system, keeping your energized, helping you to stay focused and for many other cognitive (brain) functions.
Sleep Hacking: How To Sleep Better
There are so many things to do every day, and it seems like there are never enough hours to do them all. It can often seem like a good idea to sacrifice some hours of sleep and use those hours to do the things we don’t have time for. But be warned…if you cut your sleep short without following the various steps outlined in this article and Sleep Hack Dojo, you’re actually going to make yourself more tired and less productive.
Sleep is essential. We can’t live without sleep. The goal of sleep hacking is to be more productive and have more energy, not to mess ourselves up.
If we optimize sleep, we enable ourselves to achieve awesome lifestyles. Our goal is to get as much waking time as possible while keeping energy levels as high as possible to (and, of course, staying healthy while doing so).
Before continuing to learn more about tips and hacks you can use to sleep better, you first need to understand what sleep is and what the claimed purpose of sleep is.
What Is Sleep?
For decades there’s been much speculation about the purpose of sleep. Even scientists don’t really know what sleep is either. Why is that? I think the reasons are:
- Sleep research is a very young field (originated around the 1940s),
- In order to fully understand sleep, we have to understand consciousness. 2500 years of philosophy haven’t figured out what consciousness is and some people think that we will never be able to understand it,
- Sleep researchers usually don’t think about philosophy of mind very much and philosophers usually don’t think about sleep very much.
So we don’t have (and maybe never will have) a complete theory of sleep.
“While we are asleep our bodies are still alert for changes in the world about us. Our vision, hearing, and sense of touch are still functioning, although at a lower level. We are still conscious; our brains are still working. It is just that our level of consciousness differs from that associated with being awake” – Coren, Stanley: Sleep Thieves
There Are Two Types of Sleep
Our sleep is comprised of two basic types of sleep: REM and nREM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement while nREM stands for … non-‘rapid eye movement’. You probably already heard of REM. It’s the stage where your eyes move (obviously) and you experience dreams.
There are four (or five) different sleep stages – three (or four) of them are nREM-stages, the other one is REM sleep.
The Sleep Hack Dojo covers all these stages of sleep in much more detail and explains exactly why they are necessary.
Why You Need To Sleep – The Case of Randy Gardner
So let’s take a look at the world record for sleep deprivation: the case of Randy Gardner.
In 1964, Gardner was 17 years old and stayed awake for 264 hours (11 days, of course under medical supervision). What effects did the sleep deprivation have on him?
He suffered memory loss, lack of concentration and other cognitive functions, hallucinations, paranoia. He is reported to have thought that he was Paul Lowe for some time and praising himself for winning the Rose Bowl. If people told him that he didn’t win the Rose Bowl, he would accuse them if racism.
His speech was totally messed up, he often stopped mid-sentence. He mistook street signs for people. On the 11th day, Gardner was given the task to do the ‘serial sevens’ test: take the number 100 and subtract seven, then subtract seven from the result and so on. Gardner stopped at 65 because he forgot what he was supposed to do.
After the experiment, Randy Gardner slept for 14 ¾ hours (his normal sleeping time was 8 hours). The following two nights, he slept for 12 and 10 ½ hours and then went back to 8 hours per night.
It is possible to die of sleep deprivation. Some sources say that this can happen after as little as 10 days of total sleep
Two More Variables That Regulate Our Sleeping Patterns
The Effect of Homeostasis On Sleep
Homeostasis, from hómoios (similar) and stásis (still) is the bodies physiological regulation system.
The easiest way to think of it is as a type of balance. If you don’t sleep for a long time, your body will (through homeostasis) create a desire for sleep (since it’s very long since the last time you’ve slept). If you sleep for a long time, you will awake.
There are a lot of mechanisms inside the body that are regulated by homeostasis. For our purpose, knowing that it is a type of balance should be sufficient. You will encounter homeostasis in many other fields like exercise, diet, etc.
Homeostasis is one of the reasons that it’s hard to form new habits. If you start weight training, you may really have to push yourself in the beginning. After a few sessions your body will start to adapt to the weight training and it will feel ok.
If you do this for several month and then stop working out, you will actually start to feel weird (in a bad way) if you don’t exercise. That’s homeostasis! You ‘flipped a switch’ inside yourself. Homeostasis will give you some resistance when you try new things involving your body. This works for every kind of behavior: starting a healthy diet, jogging, waking at 5:00 am, etc.
The Effect of Melatonin On Sleep
Melatonin is the bodies sleep hormone.
As you’re exposed to darkness, your pineal gland starts to release melatonin into the bloodstream. As this happens, you’ll get increasingly sleepy. Melatonin levels peak in the middle of the night.
This also works the other way around. Exposure to light (preferably natural sunlight) lowers melatonin production and consequently makes you less sleepy.
As far as I know, melatonin medication is freely available in the United States, but not in Europe). If you want to use it I suggest you talk to your doctor first. However, if you follow the advice in this book, we should be able to regulate your natural melatonin production through simple and healthy lifestyle changes and obliterate your need for sleep drugs.
Suboptimal melatonin production is also associated with a flatlining of the circadian rhythm. Luckily, a healthy lifestyle fixes both.
Tip #1: How To Sleep Better – The Food You Eat
The food you eat and the diet you follow has an enormous impact on your energy levels and the amount of sleep you need every day.
An all-natural diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean meat will allow you to sleep less and feel just as refreshed compared to eating an unhealthy diet and needing more hours of sleep to achieve the same level of energy.
Here are some tips about the foods you eat that you can use to sleep better and have more energy:
Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol not only affects your overall health, it also interferes with sleep. If you drink alcohol every day, keep it below 2 glasses/day (I’m talking about wine, not hard liquor). It’s okay to indulge every now and then, but don’t do it too often.
Reduce caffeine consumption
It’s more widely known that caffeine and sleep are a bad combination. Limit your caffeine intake to 2 cups of coffee/day. Remember that only the first steep contains caffeine. Drink your caffeine in the morning and avoid it in the 6 hours prior to bed time. Caffeine needs 30 minutes to an hour to kick in and is cleared from the system after 6 hours.
Caffeine is also present in a wide variety of drinks, so avoid those fizzy drinks too.
Stop Eating Junk (Chocolate, sweets etc.)
Chocolate (among other foods) also contain stimulants. Chocolate contains caffeine plus theobromine. Stay away from energy drinks and stuff like that. Make it a habit to check labels before you eat something and treat stimulants as you treat caffeine.
Stop Smoking Tobacco
You shouldn’t smoke tobacco – or for that matter: you shouldn’t smoke anything else.
Don’t Take Sleeping medication
I’m not a big fan of sleeping medication. If you don’t take sleeping medication: fine, don’t start doing it. If you do take sleeping medication: talk to your doctor about going off medication and start to regulate sleeping behavior by changing your lifestyle. Tell your doctor how you want to change your lifestyle.
Drink Plenty Of Water
Stay sufficiently hydrated. Either by drinking lots of water or by eating a water-rich diet. If you wake up thirsty, that means you don’t get enough water. Your body needs some amount of water during the night to ensure functioning (just like during the day). I personally don’t make a special effort to drink enough water and only drink when I’m thirsty. If you’re on a healthy diet and eat enough vegetables, I think that’s okay. But in the beginning you should make a conscious effort to get enough water by drinking eight glasses per day.
Don’t Eat Shit Food
Don’t eat shit food. You wouldn’t put diesel into a Ferrari would you? Then why put shit food into your body?
Here are some indicators of bad food:
- It is full of sugar and artificial ingredients.
- It is highly processed
- It is packaged
Avoid processed foods, eat a natural diet. Vegetables are awesome (and make you feel awesome), fruit and nuts are great too. Personally, I’m a vegetarian, but organic meat and fish isn’t bad either. You get the idea, stay away from highly processed and unnatural sugar- or starch-bombs.
Tip #2: How To Sleep Better – Your Sleep Environment
Your sleep quality is heavily determined by the environment you sleep in.
You can easily see that sleeping under a bridge would lead to pretty poor sleep. That may be one of the worst examples, but what is an optimal sleep environment…?
This one is obvious. Most people can’t sleep with the lights on. So turn off all lights and stand-by displays when you go to sleep. Shut the curtains if there’s a streetlamp right in front of your window. The darker it is, the easier you’ll fall asleep and the smoother your sleep cycles progress. Why is that? Because light interferes with melatonin production. No melatonin = no sleep.
A sleep mask could be a necessary and easy solution for some people.
Another obvious piece of advice. Try to reduce noise. In some cases, this isn’t that easy. If loud noises prevent you from getting your sleep (or awake you during the night) routinely, try earplugs.
Try to keep electronic devices as far away from your bed as possible and – even more important – turn them off during the night.
You probably already know that a lower room temperatures leads to a better sleep environment. So turn down the heater or open the windows.
Tip #3: How To Sleep Better – No Alarm Clocks
Generally speaking, if the alarms rips you out of a deep sleep phase (you notice that this was the case when you experience sleep inertia or in plan English: when you feel like a zombie) or if it troubles you in general, I would recommend that you just stop using alarm clocks.
I understand that some people don’t have the freedom to get up without an alarm clock every morning. This means that you should adjust your lifestyle (diet and sleep schedule) in such a way that you’ll actually end up waking up a few minutes before your alarm goes off every morning.
Why are alarm clocks bad? Well, we humans are animals and we function mostly like other animals. What does noise in the middle of the night mean? It usually means danger. Waking up to an alarm clock triggers a stress response and raises our cortisol levels. So I advocate waking up more naturally to avoid triggering unnecessary stress responses.
Tip #4: How To Sleep Better – Bedtime Routines
Most people are lacking a bedtime routine. They go right from action mode into sleeping mode. That’s a mistake. Bedtime routines are very powerful. We need some time to relax and wind down. This makes the transition into sleep much smoother.
So what is a bedtime routine? A bedtime routine can be any sort of activity that calms you down. Whether it’s some grooming ritual, a shower, a pre-bed snack (preferably nuts or protein, nothing containing sugar or stimulants), a walk around the block, meditating, watching a movie (note: some people think you shouldn’t spend time in front of a screen right before you go to bed), listening to music, reading fiction or a combination of any of these things.
You get the idea. Don’t go straight from desk to bed, take a small break to wind down and go to sleep after you’ve calmed your mind. You should create a bedtime routine that works for you.
Make it a habit to go to bed at the same time every night. This gets your body used to a natural cycle so it automatically knows when to make you more tired so that you can get ready to go to sleep.
One of the biggest sins of sleeping is to not have a set sleep schedule, to skip nights, sleep during the day etc.
Tip #5: How To Sleep Better – Exercise Regularly
Exercise may seem like the most obvious tip to improve your sleep, but it’s amazing how many people don’t exercise on a regular basis.
Are you doing enough exercise? Are you doing exercise at all?
Not only does exercising make you tired and thus makes your body eager to sleep, it also releases the endorphin hormone into your bloodstream which helps you feel less stressed and more relaxed.
You should aim to include an exercise schedule like this into your week:
- Weight training: 1-3x/week
- Light aerobic activity: 5-10 hours/week
- Play: at least 3 hours a week
The Sleep Hack Dojo
As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, almost all of the information in this article came from The Sleep Hack Dojo – a guide designed to educate you about sleep and teach you how to optimize your sleep so you have more time and more energy to do the things you want to do. Here is the original video just for reference if a new version ever comes out. It consisted of 4 modules, 100+ pages in total and some very interesting insights to sleep and human psychology that I never even knew before I read The Sleep Hack Dojo. What it also covers in detail that I never mentioned in this article is polyphasic sleep, i.e. breaking your sleep up into small segments throughout the day rather than just one long block of sleep every night.
If you enjoyed this article you may well like our top 7 areas where Personal Development has the greatest impact.