Sleep is the Force Multiplier

We spend one third of our lives sleeping, it's crucial for muscle recovery, fact retention and preparing the body to operate at full speed the next day, sleep is one of the most important things when it comes to day-to-day happiness. From students studying late into the night reducing the amount of information they retain to athletes sleeping in warm and loud environments missing out on crucial muscle and immune system recovery.

Sleep is a powerful tool that when leveraged the right way can help improve your quality of life tremendously. Many people see sleep as this complex dark place and don't know the first thing about making it better.

A couple months ago, I was one of those people.

I Slept Like Crap

What you see above is my average week of sleep last Fall. Yes, I slept 4 hours and 30 minutes on average with less than 90 minutes of REM and Deep. Mind you, this was in the middle of one of my toughest semesters, I was lifting daily, running notely and under a ton of stress.

I felt like complete shit. All. The. Time.

There was not a single point in the day where I wouldn't think “I'm tired.” I hated waking up. My lifting stalled. Large coffees with a turbo shot weren't enough to keep me awake so I would rely on two 24oz Monster Energy drinks daily.

Then, something interesting happened. Last January, I started working for a sleep technology startup. As a product manager, my job was to make the best product possible that would help people improve their sleep.

I walked into the office on January 9th and suddenly had access to some of the most knowledgeable people on sleep out there.

So I took the opportunity and I learned as much as I could about sleep. I asked questions and began deciphering what had been one of the most stressful aspects of my life.

Here is what I learned.

Sleep Affects Everything

Fact retention, muscle recovery, hormone regulation and alertness. Sleep influences everything.

Let's take someone who just had a horrible night of sleep: Their hormones are going to be all over the place the next day. They will be tempted to eat starchy carbs and be more prone to putting on fat due to carbs.

If you slept like crap, stay away from carbs the next day.

What Exactly is REM and Deep Sleep?

When you sleep you undergo several phases: REM, Light and Deep. Your typical night of sleep looks something like this:

My night of sleep the night I went home after finals... I had some catching up to do.

Deep + Light Sleep:

Think of deep sleep as recovering from the day. Here's what happens:

  • You enter Deep Sleep earlier in the night (the later you go to sleep, the less Deep Sleep you get).
  • Your neurons slow down reducing the stimuli that comes into your brain, causing your body to release growth hormones that help muscle tissue and immune system recovery.
  • If you drink caffeine, at any amount it will reduce your deep sleep. Keep it to small doses earlier in the day.
  • Crucial for fact retention. While in Deep Sleep your mind replays your short term memories in the hippocampus.

REM Sleep

So you've recovered from the day, awesome. Now let's prepare to get you operating at full speed tomorrow. That's where REM sleep comes in:

  • In REM your short term memories are transferred over to your long-term memory (procedural) area of the brain.
  • While Deep increases the amount of facts you remember. REM increases your ability to make connections between those facts. Which is especially important for creatives (creativity is the ability to make connections).
  • REM sleep affects whether you feel refreshed and focused the next day.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what REM and Deep sleep are, let's take a look at everyone's favorite drug.

Caffeine and Sleep

Caffeine is a wonderful thing, it can help get you through those slow mornings and crank out a ton of work. Plus, coffee is just delicious. Here's two things to keep in mind:

  • Caffeine will reduce the amount of deep sleep you get. The more caffeine you have, and the later you have it. The less deep sleep you'll get.
  • Caffeine has a half-life of just under six hours (it takes awhile to get out of your system).
  • If you don't want caffeine to affect your sleep. Don't drink it after 3pm.

Napping

What about napping?

  • Naps are an awesome way to get some extra rest in the day (the Nap room in our office was in pretty high demand).
  • If you're already struggling with sleeping at night, then don't nap.
  • The earlier in the day, the better.

Four Things You Should Focus On To Improve Your Sleep

Here are the four most powerful areas you should focus on that will help you take control of your sleep.

1. Set Up A Sleep Schedule

Consistency, consistency, consistency.

  • Go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time.
  • This is arguably more important than how long you sleep.
  • When you stick to a sleep schedule you will feel amazing throughout the day as your circadian rhythm will be set and you'll be able to keep it consistent.
  • Use a 40 minute sleep window. For example, I go to sleep anytime between 11:20-12:00 every night and wake up at 7. This ensures I'm hitting 7+hours a night.

2. Quiet, Dark and Cool

Sleeping in the right atmosphere is crucial to getting a good night's sleep.

  • Keep it quiet. Your brain doesn't turn off when you go to sleep. We are still sensitive to noise when we sleep and any sounds can awaken us (even if you don't remember it in the morning) throwing off our sleep cycles.
  • Possibly the best thing I've done for my sleep is wear earbuds. There is nothing that compares to sleeping in absolute silence. Don't get crappy earbuds either, check out Mack's Earbuds.
  • Keeping your room cool and drinking cold water right before bed is a great way to stimulate more deep sleep.
  • Sleep in the dark. Get dark shades or a tempur pedic iMask. You don't want to be woken up by the sun. You want your body to sleep for as long as it needs to in a dark and quiet environment.
  • Sleeping with socks also helps keep your extremities warm which can increase your deep sleep.

3. Relaxation

It's crucial to learn to relax right before bed. We are constantly in two different states:

Parasympathetic: The state of rest and digest. While in this state your blood pressure and heart rate go down. Your digestion increases, and you are in a state of relaxation.

This is the opposite of the Sympathetic which is a state of "readyness.”

Learn to relax. Create a before bed routine, dim the lights and read a book get your body used to "relaxing". Yoga is amazing at getting you in the state of relaxation. Ambient sounds and white noise are also great alternatives.

4. Track It.

Just like putting on muscle, losing weight, becoming faster or stronger, you need to track your progress.

Chances are you don't have the slightest idea of how well you sleep. You need to track it to get a picture of what you're working with and then use those measurements to calculate progress.

Initially when I started I tracked my sleep nightly. I've now gotten to the point where I track it for one full week once every two months as a "checkpoint" to see how I'm doing. If my sleep is bad, then I work to fix it tracking it along the way.

Here's what I recommend: Pick one of the methods below and track your sleep for five days. Get a picture of what your sleep looks like and then if you see a need for improvement test out the methods above.

Four Methods to Track Your Sleep.

Stopwatch:

  • Tracks: Sleep Duration
  • Cost: Free
  • What is it: A simple stopwatch. Start it before bed, stop it when you wake up. The simple knowledge of when you went to bed and how long you slept for will illuminate a lot about your sleep quality.

Sleep101 and other “Sleep Tracking” apps

  • Tracks: Sleep Duration, Awake vs Asleep, Time to Fall Asleep, Sleep Efficiency
  • Cost: Free
  • What is it: A free sleep app that we launched while I was at Zeo. You put it on your bed and it picks up on your movements throughout the night and determines how deeply your asleep. I'd recommend this solution, it's free and provides a hefty amount of data and it's almost as accurate as wrist devices.

Wrist Devices

  • Tracks: Sleep Duration, Awake vs Asleep, Time to Fall Asleep, Sleep Efficiency
  • Cost: $99-$150
  • What is it: A wristband that you wear while sleeping. It relies on wrist movements to determine how deeply asleep you are. There are several of these on the market like the Jawbone Up, Fitbit, etc.

Zeo or Beddit

  • Tracks: Deep Sleep, Light Sleep, REM Sleep, Sleep Duration, Awake vs Asleep, Time to Fall Asleep, Overall Sleep Quality.
  • Cost: $99
  • What is it: A headband that you wear when you go to sleep. It uses brainwaves, eye movement and actigraphy to determine you sleep stages. This is one of the very few things on the market that can measure your actual sleep stages. I'd recommend this for athletes especially.

Sleep affects everything. If you're feeling stressed, exhausted and unfocused then take a look at your sleep. It's a lot easier to take control of than you might think.

Sleep Better. Live Better.


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