I don’t know about you but I love sleep. It is just one of those things that sets my day: have me waking up after a good night of sleep and I am sharp as a knife while a night of poor sleep has me zombified and unable to operate at my fullest. Of course, a night of bad sleep here and there is not a bad thing, and is almost a trade off from having to live in this day and age. However, chronic sleep deprivation is about the worse thing you can do to your mental and physical potential, and it has become endemic in industrialized nations.
Continuously getting bad sleep will wreak havoc with your focus, concentration, short-term memory, verbal recall and social skills. On the physical side, expect decreased ability to gain muscle, increased fat storage (especially in the mid-section), lower strength, inability to express power output, achy joints and poor physical recovery. No wonder this topic motivated me to write an article for our fellow Manly Curls readers!
Through the years, I have come up with several tricks to geting decent sleep. I place good sleep very high in my list of priorities in life and most days during the week, from Sunday to Thursday, you will find me going to bed at the sweet time of 10 PM. Many people have asked me how I go about having so much energy during the day and are able to work productively while also enduring hard training sessions with ease. Well, good sleep is one of my tricks! It is thus that I will reveal to you the essentials to getting good sleep and, hence, improving your health and, overall, life:
1) Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep, preferably 8: You may have heard beauty queens talk about their “beauty sleep” after having answerered “Canada” to “Which is the last state to have joined the US” . Fact is, beauty queens and the likes are not your best source of historical information but they damn have it right when it comes to sleep. Aim for 7 hours as a minimum, with 8-9 being the sweet spot. Any more than that has the paradoxical effect of making you more tired, so don’t sleep more than 9 hours unless you are catching up on sleep from previous days.
His secret? 9 hours of sleep plus naps. Those solid Type 2 curls thrive on sleep!
2) Go to bed early: this is no joke. Go to bed before 11PM, preferably before 10PM. Our bodies follow an internal wake-sleep cycle known as a circadian rhythm. This biorhythm revolves around the secretion of a hormone called melatonin which is activated when levels of natural light (read, sunlight) decrease. By default, this is programmed to take place anywhere from 7PM to 10PM, depending on the season and location, and our brain follows the same biorythm as we used to 30,000 years ago when no internet and warm fuzzy condos existed. I personally feel the difference in my cognitive sharpness from going to bed at 10 as opposed to 12, even if I get the same hours of sleep.
3) Follow the same schedule every night: human nature is to follow schedules so as to operate efficiently and this is very much applicable to sleep. Go to bed at the same time every night and also try to wake up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends. This way you are training your body to follow a schedule and get ready to go to bed automatically. If you have an erratic sleep schedule expect to have erractic sleep.
4) Avoid artifical light an hour before going to bed: melatonin regulates your biorythm and it tells the brain when to go to bed. Unfortunately, artificial light mimicks natural light in the brain and is the reason why chronic sleep deprivation is regarded as a plague in the modern world by the medical community. You are technically fooling the brain into thinking it is 3PM when in reality it is 11PM. Conclusion? Avoid TV and your computer an hour before going to bed and adjust the level of light in the rooms to dim.
5) Don’t engage in activities which require heavy brain use: this is very important. I avoid anything that will require mental energy up to 3 hours before going to bed. If you are going to bed at 10PM, call it a day at 7PM. I am not saying you should disconnect from the world but certainly you should not be doing anything related to your job and/or engaging in arguments or discussions. The mind needs time to unwind and quieten so avoid any heavy use of your brain for 3 hours before bedtime.
6) Make sure you the sleeping environment is optimum: namely, you want to have a pitch black, silent, cool and well ventilated room. If you cannot make the room dark, wear a sleep mask. If silence is impossible, use ear plugs or invest in a white noise generator. Similarly, keep the room ventilated with no odours and not too hot nor too cold: the ideal temperature is between 65-70ºF (18-21ºC).
I leave up to you which sleep mask you want to choose
7) Avoid stimulants: caffeine is the number one stimulant used in the world. Its effect on sleep is deleterious and I suggest you to cut all sources of caffeine (e.g sodas or coffee) at 11AM (not PM!) if you want to ensure a night of good quality sleep. While you may not feel the effects of caffeine two hours or so after your last cup of coffee, its effect in the body are longer lasting and can disrupt sleep up to twelve hours (depending on the dose). While caffeine is the most common stimulant, other stimulants include asthma medication and certain psychiatric medications such as those used for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) or depression. Moreover, if you decide to use illegal drugs (which at Manly Curls we recommend against), be aware that there are some which can disrupt your sleep for several days and can precipitate a psychotic state from sleep deprivation.
8) Avoid sleeping meds: almost all sleeping pills will give you a hangover the next day and shoot down your cognitive abilities for a few hours after waking up. This is because most of them have long half-lives meaning they are still active in your brain by the time you wake up. Likewise, many of them disrupt sleep architecture: your sleep is divided in phases (altogether known as sleep architecture) and sleeping pills mess the order and time under each phase (trazodone and the z-drugs being an exception), in other words, sleep quality is impaired and you wake up groggy. Of course, sleeping pills have their place in certain situations such as for short term insomnia but you should not be using them long term or when you need a good night of sleep. Just for the record, alcohol has a similar effect as sleeping pills in that it can ease falling sleep but it will also completely destroy your sleep architecture (one of the reasons why you wake up tired from a night drinking booze).
9) Avoid intense exercise 3 hours before bed: intense exercise releases hormones which may make you peppy for hours. Of special significance is intense resistance exercise such as weight training. I recommend you to avoid doing big compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts and power cleans in the hours preceding bed time. Incidentally, doing heavy workouts of these exercises tends to increase one’s libido and the only way to fall asleep is by having an orgasm (whichever way you may prefer to go about it).
10) Sleep alone: let’s be honest here folks. I know you love your partner (if you have) or want to be cozy with your one-night stand after an evening of crazy dirty sex. Nothing wrong with that. However, by sleeping with someone else on the bed you are exposing yourself to being interrupted in your sleep. Research shows that a high percentage of couples suffer from fragmented sleep, that is, they interrupt each other unintentionally in their sleep, by moving about on the bed, and thus cause each other to not have optimum sleep architecture. I recommend you to buy another extra bed or mattress, and when you are done with the crazy sex and intimate stuff, each one of you goes to sleep on a different bed. If you are used to sleeping next to your partner, I suggest you buy a king size bed (widest size), although for optimum sleep, you want to be sleeping on an independent bed.
Remember, there are always exceptions to the rules
11) Don’t have a heavy dinner: unless you are going to bed 3 hours, or more, after, don’t have a heavy dinner. Heavy meals require plenty of time to be digested and can make falling asleep uncomfortable. Moreover, food will continue to be digested, albeit less than optimally, which can also interrupt your sleep. Having said that, a carbohydrate rich meal can make falling asleep easier, although this should be a trick used sporadically as it is not benefitial to one’s body composition.
There you go, follow my tricks to having quality sleep and quickly enjoy the benefits of living a sharper and fresher life.
All the best,