Understanding Your Hormones to Hack Your Sleep — Four Tricks to Get Better Sleep Instantly

In this article, we will explain how you can significantly reduce the time of sleep needed by:

1. De-stressing before going to bed

2. Not working out during evening and night

3. Not eating carbs three hours before going to bed

4. Not drinking coffee 10 (!) hours before going to bed

Moreover, you will have understood your hormones and apply that knowledge to affect your sleep in a much broader sense by defining your own rules and principles.

Hacking is a short-cut leveraging superior knowledge

To begin with, we don’t believe in ‘hacking’ in the sense of applying a cheap trick to achieve some goal. Yet, we believe in the superiority of knowledge and that, if applied correctly, knowledge is the key enabler to help you live smarter. For example, assume you know how a certain hormone controls the quality of your sleep. You might also know what to eat or which actions to take to facilitate the release of that hormone. This is what we understand when talking about ‘hacking’: Leveraging knowledge to optimize behavior. In order for that to work as well as be possible, we keep things simple. We teach you how your body works and how you can ‘manipulate’ your body to achieve certain results quicker. Let’s jump straight into it.

Just sleep faster. — Arnold Schwarzenegger

When Arnold Schwarzenegger famously ridiculed his audience during his motivational speech in 2018 with the comment ‘just sleep faster’, after a listener complained that he needs 8 hours of sleep, he made a fantastic point: There are great differences as to how individuals sleep. While ‘sleeping faster’ might sound a little bit off, it is actually true that sleep quality can be increased significantly. To make it short: We can get as much rest in 6 hours as other people get in 8 hours. The greatest improvement in sleep quality usually comes from having a solid, healthy hormone regulation.

Let’s begin with one of the most essential lessons when it comes to sleep: The ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin. It affects your sleep quality to a great extent: It makes you feel tired and helps you to fall asleep quicker as well as sleep deeper — which is essential for great sleep. One of its counterpart is cortisol which is a much more sophisticated hormone mostly released in periods of stress. For you to get a better understanding of how both of these hormones work, we’ve inserted a graph below.

Figure 1: Melatonin and Cortisol; Source: http://www.biochronoss.com/en/about

Observation 1: When cortisol is up, melatonin is usually down and the other way round. This is called anti-cyclical behavior of hormones. Yes, hormones do influence each other, and some hormones suppress others as is the case with melatonin and cortisol.

Observation 2: Cortisol peaks in the morning while melatonin peaks in the middle of the night. Melatonin starts kicking in before we go to bed and decreases to its base level when we get up in the morning. It’s almost as if melatonin would make us tired and cortisol wakes us up in the morning. Guess what? That’s actually how our body works.

Knowing that melatonin makes us feel tired increasing both sleep quality and ease of falling asleep, we want to make sure that our melatonin level is high and our cortisol level is low in the evening before we go to bed. How? Let’s jump into our practical conclusions.

1. Destress before going to bed

We can’t highlight this enough. We are constantly stressed — consciously or unconsciously — by social media, work and entertainment. Yes, entertainment can be stress for our body. Stress, in turn, triggers our body to release cortisol, which lowers our blood level of melatonin. Hence, the last hour before we go to bed should be one in which we calm down. Take a warm shower if that relaxes you, turn your phone to flight mode, dim your lights and calm down. This will allow your body to produce melatonin. Consequently, not only will you fall asleep faster and sleep better, you will feel fit, alert and fantastic during the next day. You can also take GABA as a natural supplement to help reduce mental stress, if things are really severe. More details on supplements and their pros and cons from a scientific angle will be covered in one of our upcoming articles.

2. Do not work out three hours before going to bed

Testosterone and adrenalin are hormones that suppress melatonin. After a heavy workout, your testosterone levels and adrenalin levels will be up [1][2] and subsequently inhibit your melatonin secretion. Although workouts during the day are a fantastic means of regulating your melatonin and improving its secretion [3], be careful with working out in the later evening or even at night. Doing so will disturb your hormone cycle and negatively impact your sleep quality.

3. Do not eat carbs three hours before you go to bed

When you eat carbs, especially short carbs such as sugary food, pizza, bread, etc. your blood sugar level will rise. Your pancreas will try to get that blood sugar back to normal and hence increases insulin levels to swamp that blood sugar out. Yet, amino acids essential for melatonin secretion are swamped out, too, as a by-product and your sleep will suffer. Hence, do not eat carbs before going to bed — in the best case even try to eat nothing three hours before winding down. [4]

4. Do not drink caffeine 10 (!) hours before you go to bed

First of all, opposed to what many believe, drinking coffee in general does not have significant negative effects on your overall health [5]. Up to a range of 4 cups a day, coffee has in fact mostly positive effects on your body: It boosts physical performance, burns fats, lowers risk of stroke, heart diseases and even reduces risk of suicide. [6] In a lengthy meta-analysis of current findings however, it became apparent that drinking coffee up to 10 hours before going to bed increases time you need to fall asleep, decreases sleep efficiency and worsened perceived sleep quality. [7] In scientific terms, the half-life period of coffee is on average 5 hours [8]. That means, after approximately 5 hours, our system has gotten rid of 50% of the caffeine we consumed. Only after our body got rid of at least 75% of the caffeine, i.e. after 10 hours, do the effects on sleep deprivation become insignificant. Further studies back this and indicate that melatonin secretion, the hormone you should now be very familiar with, was inhibited when drinking coffee. [9][10]

We have to emphasize the positive effects of coffee. By any means, given the current state of research it would be stupid not to. However, if you want to improve your sleep consider to stop drinking coffee after 1 pm if you go to bed at 11 pm. Have as many as four cups of coffee until then without having to worry about any health risk. If your sleep quality is very bad, consider not drinking any coffee at all and relying on green tea instead as the tannins in it will bind the caffeine. We also recommend doing so if you are prone to stress. Coffee stresses your adrenal glands, which are helping you to cope with stress. If your adrenal glands are overworking trying to help you destress, it is not a smart idea to give them additional work.

Another last myth buster: Very often do we hear statements such as ‘I can drink three cups of coffee in the evening and perfectly fall asleep’. This is fantastic, but ease of falling asleep does not equal sleep quality. If you drink 3 cups of coffee before going to bed we can guarantee that your sleep quality will be worse, even if you fall asleep quickly. In fact, that is often a sign of sleep deprivation.

Note that this is article one in a whole series of articles. You can find the subsequent articles on our website. After you have read our articles, not only will you have a thorough understanding of your body and your inner workings, but also will you be able to put that knowledge into use and apply it flexibly throughout your live to design your individual desired plan of winning life.

We do hope that our science-based content helps you to succeed within your own life. Feel free to subscribe and comment below — we’re here to help!

Sources

[1] Tayebisani, S., Fooladi, P., Alikhani, F., Aghayan, S., & Zani, H. G. (2012). The effect of weight Training in morning and evening on testosterone and cortisol in. European Journal of Experimental Biology, 2(4), 1109–1112. Retrieved from http://www.imedpub.com/articles/the-effect-of-weight-training-in-morning-and-evening-on-testosterone-andcortisol-in-bodybuilders.pdf

[2] Vingren, J., Kraemer, W., Ratamess, N., Anderson, J., Volek, J., & Maresh, C. (2010). Testosterone Physiology in Resistance Exercise and Training. Sports, 40(12), 1037–1053. doi: 10.2165/11536910–000000000–00000.

[3] Oral, O., Kara, E., Akdogan, I., Isbilir, M., & Bekir, H. (2014). Relationship between Melatonin and Exercise. International Türkbilim Journal, 2. 1–15. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269279180_RELATIONSHIP_BETWEEN_MELATONIN_AND_EXERCISE

[4] Sardi, B. (2018, April 16). Resveratrol: The Biological Rhythm Reset Button. Retrieved from http://www.resveratrolnews.com/resveratrol-biological-rhythm-reset-button/1599/

[5] Nawrot, P., Jordan, S., Eastwood, J., Rotstein, J., Hugenholtz, A., & Feeley, M. (2003). Effect of caffeine on human health. Food additives and contaminants, 20(1), 1–30. doi: 10.1080/0265203021000007840.

[6] Lire Wachamo, Hailu. (2017). Review on Health Benefit and Risk of Coffee Consumption. Med Aromat Plants, 6(4), 1–12. doi: 10.4172/2155–9821.1000301.

[7] Clark, I., & Landolt, H.P. (2017). Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep medicine reviews, 31, 70–78. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2016.01.006.

[8] Arnaud, M. (1987). The pharmacology of caffeine. Progress in drug research / Fortschritte der Arzneimittelforschung / Progrès des recherches pharmaceutiques, 31. 273–313. doi: 10.1007/978–3–0348–9289–6_9.

[9] Shilo, Lotan & Sabbah, Hussam & Hadari, Ruth & Kovatz, Susy & Weinberg, Uzi & Dolev, Sara & Dagan, Yaron & Shenkman, Louis. (2002). The effects of coffee consumption on sleep and melatonin secretion. Sleep medicine. 3. 271–3. 10.1016/S1389–9457(02)00015–1.

[10] Obochi, Amali & Ochalefu. (2010). Effect of melatonin and caffeine interaction on caffeine induced oxidative stress and sleep disorders. — PubMed — NCBI. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22314898