Sleep. It’s something we all do, but do we get enough? Research has given us an unequivocal answer of NO to that question. As measured by Gallup here, the average American today sleeps 6.8 hours, a far cry from the 9 hours averaged in 1910. Most experts agree that for optimal health at least 7-8 hours per night are necessary.
The Huffington Post does a good job here showing us exactly what happens when we don’t sleep enough, and it’s not pretty. Side effect range from an increase in heart disease risk, to lowered immune system, increased diabetes risk, weight gain and more.
The reasons why we don’t sleep well are many but they all essential have the same root cause. Our bodies were designed for a different sleep environment than what we have today. It appears that lasting evolutionary change takes about one million years. However, if you go back a mere 200 years to the whole Oregon Trail, Little House on the Prairie era you’ll see living and sleeping conditions vastly different than what we have today. We have simply not evolved to be able to tolerate the current conditions we place ourselves in, given that this massive change has happened in a few hundred years and evolutionary change takes millions. That’s why the main goal of most of my “sleep hacks” revolve around changing the conditions of our environment. We need to go old school.
Let’s go back to that prairie for a moment to get a better understanding of how vastly different things are today, much more so than most people realize.
- Circadian rhythm: They went to bed when it got dark and they woke up when the sun came up. They followed a natural circadian rhythm with their sleep/wake cycle and therefore got better, deeper sleep for it.
- Lighting is key: They used candlelight or firelight for lighting before the invention of the light bulb, and even with this invention, the wavelengths given off by that bulb were very similar to the firelight. This soft red light is a different wavelength than the blue light we are exposed to today through screens and LEDs.
- Nutrient density: They ate nutrient rich food from soil not yet depleted by today’s horrific farming practices. These nutrients were the building blocks for neurotransmitters that are oh so important for brain health and sleep.
- EMF exposure: They were not surrounded by electromagnetic frequencies at every turn from wifi to bluetooth and beyond. These frequencies have been shown to disrupt sleep immensely not just in quantity but also quality.
- Room usage: Their bedrooms were used for two things, sleep and sex. Not doing work like we do today with our laptops in bed (can you imagine farming from your bed? Not gonna happen). Because of that their brains knew, when they went into that room, it was time for sleep or sex, but sleep was definitely going to happen.
Now let’s jump back to the present and see what we can do about it.
- Circadian rhythm: Try to reset your circadian rhythm by staying on a strict schedule. Keep your bedtimes and awaken times consistent. Do NOT go to bed at 8pm every week night and stay up till 1am on the weekend or you will completely disrupt your circadian rhythm and internal clock. Professional biohackers who have worked hard at improving their sleep do not even use alarms! Just ask Tim Ferris. They’ve got it so dialed in that they go to bed when they’re tired and naturally wake up at the same time every day.
- Lighting: Lighting is KEY. Your pineal gland gets it’s cues from lighting and it controls the secretion of melatonin (your body’s natural sleepy drug). These small lighting hacks are cheap and easy but added together will help big time. First I recommend you switch all the lightbulbs in your home’s bedrooms to these bulbs, specially designed by NASA to help their astronauts with their sleep wake cycles in space. Next I recommend you buy these light blocking stickers on amazon to cover and any all LED lights. Your electronics will still work, as they are semi permeable stickers, but it will render the light useless in it’s unintentional mission to destroy your sleep. Some examples of where you’d use these are those little lights on your tv and cable box, your alarm system, Lutron lighting panels and more. This next one takes a bit more effect than the “one and done” fix with the stickers and light bulbs because you’ll have to actually make an effort to use them each evening. These blue blocker glasses found here on amazon will help you tremendously when worn at night. Once the sun goes down put them on and your brain will get the message that it’s night time. This is especially critical if you plan on having any screens going at night like your laptop or TV.
- Nutrient density: Today’s food is extremely depleted of nutrients, the best way to combat this is to grow your own or find a farmer that uses good farming practices to increase the nutrient content of the soil. While this will get you pretty far, you may also need supplements. My top “sleep supplements” are magnesium, GABA, 5HTP, L-Tryptophan and a homeopathic remedy called “cina”. Before embarking on a supplement journey be sure to consult your own medical professional whether that be your MD, ND, or health coach. Everyone’s genetics are different which causes supplements to be utilized differently in the body and you need to make sure you know what you’re doing before you start to tinker. Two nutrients just about anyone can try easily are warm tea at bedtime (especially chamomile tea) and epsom salt baths like this one (which will provide magnesium for your skin to absorb in the bath).
- EMF exposure: The more you can do to reduce your exposure to electromagnetic frequencies when you sleep the better your sleep will be. One easy way to do this is to put your wifi modem on a timer and have it automatically go off each night at bedtime and turn back on when you wake up. Another simple trick is to put your phone on airplane mode when you sleep. If you want to go the extra mile, cut the power to the bedroom at night using the circuit breaker.
- Room usage: Remember, your bedroom should be used only for sleep and sex – not everything else we tend to do in there today. The most important thing is no screens in your bedroom. You want your brain to get the message loud and clear that when you’re in that room, it’s time to SLEEP!
Try not to get overwhelmed by the extensive list I just laid out for you. Pick one area at a time and slowly work your way through until you’re a biohacking sleep master. If you get all the way though and have been working hard on your sleep for a month and you’re still not sleeping well, consult your favorite medical professional to get some more help.