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July 19, 2021 29 min

#252

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You may not always be able to control the quantity of sleep you get (see: parents of young children)…

….but you do have control over many of the factors that contribute to the quality of sleep you get.

Today I’ll give you 10 of those best practices.

But first…

 

The 2 Components of Quality Sleep

 

For many years I found myself frustrated and confused by my seemingly chronic state of fatigue despite getting the requisite 7-8 hours of sleep.

 

What I found for me personally was 1/3 of the sleep equation was quantity of sleep.

 

2/3 was the quality of sleep.

 

What I needed to first understand were the 2 components of quality sleep*:

 

*(Descriptions below from the Oura Ring sleep tracking app).

 

Deep Sleep:

  • Deep sleep is the most restorative and rejuvenating sleep stage
  • During deep sleep your muscles grow and repair
  • Immune system is refreshed
  • Brain flushes out toxins
  • Usually, you get more deep sleep during the early stages of your sleep
  • On average, adults spend 15-20% of total sleep time in deep sleep
  • This % decreases with age over time
  •  

    REM (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep):

  • REM sleep is associated with dreaming, memory consolidation and creativity
  • REM plays an important role in re-energizing your mind and body
  • Typically, you get more REM sleep during the latter half of your sleep
  • On average, the optimal amount for healthy adults starts from 1.5 hours but slightly decreases with age
  •  

    The punchline was, I had no way of calibrating the quality of my sleep, but I suspected it was trash (turns out, it was).

     

    So, when I learned how to impact the quality of my sleep – and how to measure it with the Oura Ring – naturally my sleep quality increased.

     

    I started feeling more refreshed in the morning, fewer dips in the middle of the day, and fewer crash-landings early in the evening.

     

     

     The 10 Practices to Enhance the Quality of Your Sleep

     

     

    #1. Align Your Sleep Schedule with Your Circadian Rhythm (your body’s natural sleep cycle)

     

    In Dr. Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep, he outlines the two biological forces that dictate when your body feels the need to sleep:

     

  • Your Circadian Rhythm
  • “Sleep Pressure” via adenosine (more on this in best practice #9 below)
  •  

    Your genetics determine your circadian rhythm. 

     

    In simplest terms, you’re either a night owl or a morning person.

     

    If your lifestyle is designed and aligned to support your circadian rhythms, life is good.

     

    If not, it can have tragic consequences.

     

    For example, in Why We Sleep, Dr. Walker talks about how night owl’s get the serious short end of the stick based on society’s value on “early to bed early to rise.”

     

    Turns out night owls, in an effort to keep up with the societal norms, suffer from higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress related illnesses than morning people. Why? Because they go to bed later, get up earlier, sacrifice quantity and quality of sleep. Over the long haul this has serious consequences on physical, emotional and mental well-being.

     

    #2. Establish a 90-Minute Bed Time Window

     

    Your body wants to know when it’s “sleep time” and when it’s “wake time.”

     

    If you’re going to bed at dramatically different times every night (ie 9:00pm, 1:00am, 10:30pm), your body gets confused.

     

    It eventually rebels and makes you tired when you’re trying to do work, and awake when you’re trying to sleep.

     

    Establishing a regular 90-minute window – mine is 10:00pm to 11:30pm – which you can aim to hit 4-5 nights a week can train your body to naturally start to wind down on a more consistent basis.

     

     

    #3. No Food in Your Last 1-2 Hours Before Sleep

     

    It’s as simple as this: if your body is expending energy breaking down the rack-o-ribs you just pounded, it’s not able to invest its energy in deep sleep repairing your brain and flushing toxins.

     

    Further, if you’re eating sugary stuff – wine, ice cream or heavy carbs that get converted to glucose – the sugar spike will also kick you out of quality sleep.

     

    Do your best to eat lighter at night, and to have your last bite of food

     

     

    #4. Reduce Liquids Last 60-90 Minutes Before Bed.

     

    If you’re like me, drinking water before bed is a surefire way to wakeup 2-3 times during the evening. That always knocks me out of deep and REM sleep cycles.

     

    Instead, I hydrate for my last time about 90 minutes before bed, allowing me to sleep straight through the night.

     

    First thing I do when I wake up is drink a quart of lemon water to hydrate myself.

     

     

    #5. No Screens in the Last 30 Minutes (Ideally 60-90 minutes)

     

    I have 3 years worth of sleep data on my Oura Ring and the numbers don’t lie:

     

    On the nights when I’m doing 2 hour Zoom calls between 7-9:00pm, I get 33-50% less deep sleep than on the evenings when I’m not blasting my eye sockets with blue light.

    Power down the devices in the last 30-90 minutes of your night to increase your odds of getting higher quality sleep.

     

    You can also consider Blue Light Blocker Glasses.

     

     

    #6. Get a Sleep Tracking Device to Monitor Your Sleep Quality

     

    In my opinion, one of the best investments you could ever make to your long term physical, mental and emotional well-being is in a high quality sleep tracking device.

     

    It’s critical to know which of your habits and behaviors are impacting the quality of your sleep.

     

    My recommendation is the Oura Ring, which is $299.

     

    While not inexpensive, I like to think about the impact on the years and decades of my future well-being (ie avoiding the time and financial costs of stress related illnesses).

     

    It’s the most respected sleep tracking device on the market (as endorsed by the NBA and used by many of the branches of the US Special Forces).

     

    Note: I am not compensated by Oura in any way.

     

    #7. Sleep in Cool Conditions

     

    According to the NY Times:

     

    Studies have found that in general, the optimal temperature for sleep is quite cool, around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. For some, temperatures that fall too far below or above this range can lead to restlessness.

     

    You can access the article here.

     

    Also, I purchased the ChiliPad, which is like a heating blanket…but in reverse.

     

    I was an over-heater at night, waking up 3-4 times a night in sweat. After buying the Chilipad, I sleep cool throughout the night.

     

     

    #8. Sleep in Blackout Darkness

     

    To get my full night of sleep, I typically wake at 6:30am. Where I live, the sun rises somewhere around 5:30-5:45am.

     

    If I allowed the sun to wake me up, I’d shortchange 30-60 minutes of my later stage sleep cycle…which is where REM sleep resides.

     

    Some people will install blackout curtains in their room.

     

    I prefer a sleep mask like this $10 version on Amazon.

     

     

    #9. Caffeine: Educate Yourself on How it Effects Your Sleep Quality

     

    I’m a HUGE coffee guy and that’s not changing anytime soon.

     

    But I’m also very well-educated on the impacts of caffeine half-life on sleep quality.

     

    In episode #520 of the Tim Ferriss Podcast, Michael Pollan talks about how the quarter-life of caffeine is 12 hours.

     

    Meaning, if you had a cup of coffee at noon, ¼ of that caffeine is still in your system.

     

    The sleep experts agree that this will mess with the quality of your sleep, specifically deep sleep.

     

    Going back to Why We Sleep by Dr Matthew Walker, the two biological forces that dictate when your body feels the need to sleep:

     

  • Your Circadian Rhythm
  • “Sleep Pressure” via adenosine
  •  

    “Sleep pressure” is caused by a chemical named adenosine.

     

    Here’s the crash course on adenosine:

  • From the moment you wake up, your body is producing adenosine
  • The more adenosine that builds up, the sleepier you feel (hence the sleep pressure)
  • Caffeine, however, blocks the adenosine receptor sites, so the adenosine has nowhere to go…but it remains in your system
  • Caffeine has a long half-life (meaning, it takes 5-6 hours to eliminate half of the caffeine in your system)
  • So, if you’re drinking caffeine late in the day, you’ll have a full day’s build-up of adenosine but your body is still breaking down the caffeine
  •  

    So what do I do about this? I finish my caffeine by 9:30-10:00am.

     

    I know I’m still processing caffeine when I go to sleep, but I’m getting enough deep sleep and love my coffee enough to be cool with the tradeoff ;-)

     

    I also do a quarterly caffeine detox.

     

    Meaning, I’ll take a 7-14 day hiatus from caffeine to flush my system of caffeine and all the adenosine that’d been built up in my system.

     

     

    #10. Read Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker

     

    Listen, if one of the most important factors for your short and long term physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being is the quality of your sleep…

     

    …shouldn’t you invest a few hours into educating yourself on one of the most well-respected pieces of literature on the subject?

     

    If you liked Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, you’ll enjoy Why We Sleep.

     

     

    -DQ

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