Why doesn’t anyone know how to sleep anymore? Why do people think they can just jump into a bed, with the heating on, TV or phone screen scorching their eyes, noisy neighbours waking them up and then hop out of bed 6 hours later feeling refreshed? Everyone seems to be tired, and even worse, they’re proud of it! Exhaustion has become a badge of honour. As if working yourself into the ground and neglecting your personal health is something that deserves respect or sympathy. Just because Margret Thatcher and Winston Churchill survived on 4 hours per night doesn’t mean it's a good idea.
Modern conveniences have taken us so far out of our natural environments that it has become detrimental to our health. The things that were designed to make our lives more comfortable are now doing the opposite. Central heating was designed to help us survive cold winters. Electric lighting was designed to give us more hours of productivity. Mobile phones and TVs were designed to keep us entertained and connected. Now, central heating is disturbing our sleep, electricity is disrupting our circadian rhythms and mobile phones are over-stimulating us and making us disconnected. They don’t teach you how to sleep in school so I am going to cover that in class today.
1. Sleep between 7 and 9 hours.
o Before electric lights, we would go to bed when the sun went down and get up when the sun rose. This would allow plenty of time for sleep.
o Humans are bi-phasic sleepers.
This means that waking up once in the night is quite normal. In the past, we would wake up for an hour or so, read by candle light, or engage in a little bedtime fun with your partner and then go back to finish your rest. You don’t have to sleep through the night to sleep well.
o The simple act of going to bed an hour earlier would solve the problems of many and help people to sleep enough. However, our modern culture has taught us that success is required for happiness, and that one’s health and sleep should be sacrificed for work.
2. Spend 1 hour more in bed than the amount of sleep you think you need.
I have been using the Whoop! Recovery tracker for the last few months and have learnt a lot about my sleep. My average sleep performance is:
- 7 hrs 15 mins of sleep per night
- 11 disturbances per night
- 50 minutes awake per night
- 8 minutes to fall asleep
- Total time in bed = 8 hrs 13 mins
What this tells me is that even if I am in bed for over 8 hours I am only getting just meeting the recommended time. … and my sleep performance is a little better than the average of 1 hour spent awake per night! When I get to bed late and only manage 7 hours of time in bed I am only getting about 6hrs of actual sleep, and I certainly notice it the next day. When you bear in mind that the prescribed amount of sleep does not account for the 1 hour average awake time you may want to recalculate the amount of time you dedicate to sleep.
In preparation for sleep: Stimulation
3. Refrain from doing anything mentally stimulating from 1 hour before bed.
You cannot expect to go from doing 100 mph to 0 in five minutes. Our lives are so full of stimulation with long working hours and phone addiction. People used to use down time to rest and recover, now they seek more stimulation with Instagram and text messaging. Whether you have trouble getting to sleep or waking up in the night, both are likely caused by over stimulation and stress. The cure for this is to turn your phone off an hour before bed and if you are someone who can’t resist the urge to grab your phone in the night, put it out of reach. Somewhere that you would actively have to get out of bed to pick up. That way you can still use your phone as an alarm clock.
In preparation for sleep: Temperature
4. Sleep in a cold room.
I recently wrote about how sleeping in a cold environment could help you burn more fat. You you can read about that here. More importantly than burning fat, sleeping in the cold is a necessity for good sleep. The sun going down and the temperature falling is a signal to our body that it’s time to prepare for sleep. In my article on fat burning I suggested you sleep with the temperature below 17c/65F, but to put it more simply it should be cold enough so that you aren’t comfortable lying in your underwear without any covers.
In Preparation for sleep: Light
5. Do not expose yourself to blue light an hour before bed.
The lack of light from the sun is another signal to our bodies that it’s time for sleep. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for sending you to sleep. Melatonin does not get produced in the presence of blue light. Full spectrum light, or the white light that you have in your phones, computer screens and light bulbs contain blue light. If you are on your phone in bed you are stopping melatonin production until you finally shut your eyes.
The ideal solution to this is to turn off all electrical equipment 1 hour before bed. This will stop the light affecting your brain and give your mind the time it requires to unwind without the over stimulation of technology. Of course, the technology companies don’t want you to stop using your phones so they have programmed in Night Shift on the iPhone which removes the blue light and gives your screen a sepia colour. There is also a free app for your laptop called F.Lux which does the same thing; an acceptable compromise if you can’t live without your phone. You can easily change your existing light bulbs to ones with an orange/red tint, thereby taking out the blue light. The downsides to this are that every time I walk in to my bedroom I have to sing “Roooooxane” and my neighbours think I am running a brothel; both worthwhile sacrifices for a good night’s sleep IMHO.
I have put links to all the products I am going to mention at the bottom of the page.
During sleep: Light
6. Sleep in a completely dark room.
Some people sleep with the curtains open. I think these people must be aliens because as soon as the sun comes up I wake up. I am very sensitive to light so I sleep with an eye mask. I like the Tempur sleep mask.
While sleeping with an eye mask may block out the sun from your eyes it doesn't stop the rest of your body reacting to the sun light. Yes, your body can perceive light even without your eyes. That is why your skin tans in the sun and I can use a device called The Human Charger. This device, which looks like an iPod mini, has head-phones that emit bright light into your ears to stimulate wakefulness. My point is that you need to make your room dark. Thick curtains are good. Persiana shutters are better but if you are part Vampire like me you may want to check out the Velcro or roller blinds linked below.
During Sleep: Noise
7. Block out all noise.
The 1st and 2nd phases of sleep are known as light sleep. The reason we have light sleep is so your mind can be aware of any danger. Thankfully we live in a modern world without any serious threats to our lives. So, if you live in a city with traffic noise and police sirens or an apartment block with thin walls you are being unnecessarily disturbed. Ear plugs are the way to go. I like Mack’s silicone earplugs or any wax ones are also good. The foam ones you get given on an aeroplane are basically useless.
We are very lucky to have all the technology we have today but it’s important to know how this may be harming us.
And finally, the answer is yes. The ladies love my red lit room, eye mask and ear plugs. They aren’t weirded out at all.
- Ensure you’re in bed for an hour longer than you plan on sleeping
- Turn off your phone 1 hour before bed
- Install F.Lux on your computer. Use Night Shift on your iPhone, install orange tinted light bulbs in your bedroom.
- Make the temperature in your bedroom cold enough that you are not comfortable in your underwear without the bed covers
- Upgrade your curtains
- Wear earplugs
Whoop! Recovery Tracker
Orange Light Bulbs