An Ultra Deep Dive Into How to Get the Best Possible Sleep According to Science
For starters, we don’t mean to alarm you, but it turns out, despite how much we all fight it like a toddler who’s just been told it’s bedtime, sleeping is a basic, and critical human need. All animals known to man sleep. Humans, however, are seemingly the only ones who voluntarily forgo it, outside of cases like if an animal is starving or the like… And to our extreme detriment. We’ll dive into all the ways and why shortly, but we’re guessing even the most astute of you who consider sleep important don’t realize just how much it is. It’s not just about feeling rested or not, it’s about an amazing amount of things that are going on in your body that require proper sleep to remain where they should be for both your short and long term physical and mental health. Skip consistent, sufficient sleep, and you may be able to cope with coffee on the alertness side, but that’s just how you feel. Your body? Let’s just say what’s going on inside chemically is screaming at you to put the coffee down and change, both for your present mental state and health, and because you absolutely are increasing your risk factors for every major way humans commonly die by a huge margin.
But fear not! You are in the right place to learn about all of this. And while this video is extra long because we thought it worthy of doing a super deep dive on given its importance to all of us, might we recommend if you’re otherwise crunched for time putting it on audio only and listening while you drift off to sleep? And then, just, like, do that every night on our channel. We’d really appreciate it.
Either way, in this video we are going to be looking at what’s going on in the body when you sleep. The mind boggling number of ways it’s, quite literally, killing you mentally and physically when you aren’t getting adequate sleep, and why. How much sleep is required for most to be in the optimal health range. And how exactly to ensure you get great sleep every night, and in so doing have better quality of life and make yourself more likely to outlive all the lesser mortals who didn’t watch this video. So get out your PJs and condoms- trust me you’ll need those by the end- and let’s dive into it all, shall we?
To begin with, let’s talk a little about what’s happening when we sleep. Sleep itself normally comes in four stages separated into two groups. Stage 1, 2, and 3 are non-rapid eye movement sleep and get progressively deeper. The 4th stage is simply called REM, or rapid eye movement. Each cycle through these stages takes approximately 90-110 minutes to complete, with the healthy range at about 4-5 complete cycles per night. The first cycle will be dominated by non-rem sleep and very little REM. As the cycles progress, REM begins to extend, and non-rem decreases.
Diving into what’s happening in each stage, Stage 1 being the lightest sleep begins when more than 50% of your brain’s alpha waves are replaced with low-amplitude mixed frequency activity. Since that doesn’t mean much to most of us, it’s probably more helpful to just say you’ll still have muscle tone and be able to be awoken very easily. This stage typically only lasts about 1-5 minutes, accounting for only about 5% of total sleep. Wake up a lot during the night? This could be because you’ve gone back into stage 1 and all the little annoyances during sleep can easily wake you, things like painful joints, restless leg, your spouse snoring, hunger, thirst, horniness, room too hot, existential dread that every moment that passes is one closer to your inevitable fate as microbial excrement… OK. Maybe not that one, but you get the idea. Little things about your environment can wake you up quite readily in this stage.
Moving on to Stage 2, this sees your heart rate and body temperature drop, and your brain waves start to produce what’s known as spindles and K-complexes, which are important for memory consolidation and maintaining sleep. This deeper stage of sleep is when you grind your teeth and accounts for about 45% of the total time practicing for the big show of eternal sleep, which is coming for us all.
Stage 3, or slow wave sleep, is the deepest stage of sleep. Accounting for 25% of the total, this stage is where tissue growth and repair ramps up. You build bones, muscles and even strengthen your immune system very actively in this stage. This deepest stage of unconsciousness is also typically the stage where night terrors and bedwetting may occur, no doubt because it’s as close as you come while being alive to being dead. Should you wake up during this phase, you can expect mental fogginess, known as sleep inertia, which includes impaired mental performance for around 30-60 minutes.
The last stage, REM sleep, comes with brain waves similar to those who are awake and is most associated with dreaming. All those brain waves mean more energy used, and, in the process, metabolism will increase by as much as 20% compared to non-REM sleep. The big difference between being awake and in REM is that your skeletal muscles remain atonic. Meaning you won’t act on your hallucinations, running out of your house screaming when the grim reaper comes and lays beside you in your dream, reminding you your time on this Earth is almost up. Unsurprisingly from these dreams, people tend to wake more spontaneously during REM sleep than any other stage. Interestingly, unlike your other muscles, REM doesn’t, however, affect the muscles associated with the eyes.- hence the name, Rapid Eye Movement. As for its function, REM sleep is thought to be critical in, among other things, memory.
Moving on from there, the specific amount of sleep you need varies from person to person, but almost everyone needs between 7-9 hours per 24 hour cycle to stay optimally healthy. A true Goldie-lox zone, too little or too much is not good, to put it mildly. That said, we say “almost” because there are some people who have a mutation, BHLHE41 (DEC2) gene, that predisposes them to being able to have no real ill effects of a slightly shorter sleep time. But odds are extremely strong you are not one of these people. In fact, only about 2 out of every 10,000 people have this mutation, and the benefit is still relatively small, only reducing needed sleep time to around 6 hours.
Now that we know what sleep is and approximately how much we need, let’s dive into what makes us want to.
The main structure responsible for your sleeping is your hypothalamus, which affects or is affected by almost every system in the body that responds to hormones. It controls things like body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, emotions, growth, salt and water balance, weight, and the circadian rhythm involved with sleep. This circadian rhythm revolves around a 24 hour cycle, unless you have one of the unluckiest of genetic mutations of the CRY1 gene. On this one, this core circadian clock gene lengthens the period of circadian molecular rhythms. The result is you get to have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder. This allele is found in .6% of the population and can cause lifelong problems with insomnia which, as we’re going to dive into shortly… Again, if you’re not sleeping properly, you’re giving yourself short and long term health risk factors that would give your grandpa who smoked three packs a day while eating lard for breakfast, lunch, and dinner heart palpitations.
In any event, one of the molecules regulating the sleep/wake cycle in your hypothalamus is a little purine nucleoside called Adenosine. As you go through the day, adenosine will build up within the brain and reach a peak in the evening. This compound inhibits many of the processes involved with wakefulness, inhibiting neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and serotonin. The more of it you have in your system, the greater your feeling of sleepiness will be (termed sleep pressure). When you sleep, the body breaks it down.
Your hypothalamus also reacts to cycles of light and dark to regulate sleep. When light enters your eyes, a nerve pathway between your retina and the hypothalamus gets stimulated. An area of your hypothalamus called your suprachiasmatic nucleus (which we’re not just going to call SCN because mother of god I don’t want to have to say that again) signals countless other parts of your body to begin releasing hormones controlling the desire to be awake.
When darkness ensues, of the physical, rather than mental variety, the SCN signals your pineal gland to release a hormone called Melatonin. Melatonin will make you feel less alert and sleepier. Their levels stay elevated for around 12 hours, but by 9am, assuming a natural light/dark cycle, are barely detectable in your bloodstream. Artificial light will also decrease melatonin levels significantly. The artificial light problem is why sleep experts scream from the hilltops about decreasing screen time at night. Doesn’t matter if the light is coming from a computer, your phone, television, or the light you see as your soul sheds this mortal coil to enter the great beyond. Screen time and such light at night will make it harder to fall asleep. And the light from the heavens is surely going to make sleep processes for your body difficult, on account of being dead.
Should you live to the morning, the SCN will signal a hormone called cortisol to be released. Specifically, around 2 hours prior to waking up, when your body is at its lowest temperature in the 24 hour cycle, purely by coincidence known as your temperature minimum, you will get a cortisol pulse. This stimulating hormone naturally prepares your body to wake up, affecting everything from central nervous system activation, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and immune response.
The timing of this natural sleep/wake cycle, mediated by adenosine, melatonin and cortisol is person specific and changes with age. On this note, known as sleep chronotypes, some people really are morning people and others are night owls.
These circadian rhythms of sleep begin to develop around 2-3 months of age. By age 6, a person’s tendency towards a specific night owl or morning person chronotype begins to show up. Teenagers have melatonin released later at night, thus, they tend to stay awake longer naturally, and sleep later than adults… Or, they would, if school didn’t start insanely early despite the mountain of studies showing how bad this is for teens most of all, not just health wise, but academically and socially right down to markedly increased suicide rates vs. their peers who start school later in the morning. But by all means, let’s continue to make them wake up at the butt crack of dawn so they can be half asleep through the first couple hours of school. But we digress.
Adults tend to go to sleep and wake earlier and earlier throughout their lives, with those over the age of 65 waking on average 1.5 hours earlier and going to sleep 1 hour earlier than their younger selves.
In any event, we’ve alluded to several times already how not getting quality sleep negatively impacts things internally, all cumulatively putting you at higher risk of winning at late-stage life health complication Bingo. But what’s actually going on here?
First, since the hypothalamus affects almost anything that responds to hormones, when it becomes dysregulated, it will negatively affect almost every aspect of what it is trying to control. Thus, should you have a lack of sleep and disrupt your natural sleep/wake cycle, congratulations, your hypothalamus is now dysregulated, and bad health outcomes are about to ensue.
In the short term, on the extreme end, a total lack of sleep kills shockingly quickly. For example, while nobody is doing such experiments on humans, any mouse study done where the mice are subjected to total sleep deprivation tends to end with the animal dying within 2-3 weeks, the average death occurring around 11 days. Fascinatingly, just depriving the mice of REM sleep, and not the other stages, also ended their lives almost as quickly.
As for known human examples, we have 26-year-old Chinese man called Jaing, with his real name not publicly given in the report. In 2012, Jaing stayed awake for 11 days, attempting to watch every soccer match of the European Championship, and, quite tragically, died during the attempt, with Jaing’s doctor noting prior to this, he had been in good health.
Noteworthy, the Guinness book of world records no longer keeps tabs on the record for going the longest without sleep because of the health issues involved and not wanting to encourage anyone to try to break the current acknowledged record. Thus, likely Randy Gardner’s record, set in 1965, of 264 hours (11 days) isn’t going anywhere.
So, no surprise here, getting absolutely no sleep is bad. Shocker. But what about just chronic insufficient sleep? Well, you’re not going to die in 11 days. However, insufficient sleep, defined in most studies as someone getting less than 6 hours per night on average, will markedly increase your chance of getting a visit from one of the four horsemen of death- atherosclerotic diseases like heart attacks and stroke, any type of Cancer, metabolic disease like type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Cardiovascularly, sleep deprivation causes high blood pressure and heart rates, as well as lower heart rate variability. Chronically higher blood pressure is, in turn, a potent risk factor for any atherosclerotic disease, this being too much cholesterol in your arteries blocking blood flow. In a nutshell on all this, averaging 6 hours of sleep per night or less will statistically see you about 48% more likely to die of heart disease. Your risk of stroke is even worse, and quadruples if you’re overweight and get less than 6 hours of sleep.
Speaking of weight. After just 1 night of interrupted sleep, people tend to eat more and choose high-calorie, high-carb foods- the culprit being those abnormal hormones again. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the hormone that makes you feel hungry (ghrelin), and releases less of the hormone that makes you feel full (leptin). If this gorging on food isn’t enough to make you believe your body is literally turning you into a machine hell bent on making you a type 2 diabetic, well, so is your lack of sleep in other ways.
You see, sleep deprivation also results in higher blood sugar levels because of the increase in cortisol. While cortisol at normal times of the day, at normal levels, is critical for a normal circadian rhythm, having too much all the time causes numerous problems.
On this one, cortisol stimulates your liver to increase glucose output. Higher blood sugar levels will then result in higher insulin levels. Over time your body then becomes insulin resistant. Combined with the known decrease in insulin sensitivity lack of sleep can cause, chronically not sleeping well will then require massively more amounts of insulin to get all that sugar your liver is pumping out into cells. The result, congratulations, type 2 diabetes. This metabolic disease itself is a major risk factor for the other three horsemen of death, making it all even worse.
Moving on from heart disease and type 2 diabetes, on the Cancer front, you are over 60% more likely to get cancer if you get less than 6 hours per sleep per night on average.
Why lack of sleep causes such a huge increase in likelihood of developing cancer is a matter of debate, but the immune system is almost certainly involved. Natural Killer T cells not only have arguably the coolest cell name, but also one of the coolest jobs- they are immune system cells that can kill cancer cells. Just one night of poor sleep will bring about a 70% decrease in your body’s Natural Killer T cells, significantly affecting your cancer defenses. Doing this chronically… let’s just say, you know those thoughts of the pointlessness of it all because we are all going to die anyway that keep you up at night? Well, they are also helping to ensure, for you anyway, that’s happening sooner than later.
Since we’re on the immune system. Countless studies have shown immune system problems associated with poor sleep as well. For example, you’re 3 times more likely to develop a cold when you get fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night. One theory as to why revolves around the production of certain types of immune system cells called undifferentiated naïve T cells, and signaling proteins called Cytokines. When you’re sleeping, their production peaks. Go without sleep and you’ll have less of them. Your immune system then has a problem forming its memory; the parts that recognize an invader, attack and kill it. Thus, bad sleep equals more infections.
But let’s not stop there, overall brain health is also affected by a lack of sleep. The body normally gets rid of waste by the lymphatic system. In a nutshell here, however, what is being called the glymphatic system clears the brain of waste products that increase when you’re awake.
Brain cells actually reduce in size while sleeping, allowing for cerebrospinal fluid to better flow between neurons, eliminating more waste. Studies on the subject show beta-amyloids (plaques found between neurons in Alzheimer’s disease) are eliminated twice as fast while sleeping than when awake. Given this, you’re probably not surprised to hear that you’re twice as likely to develop and die from dementia if you’re chronically sleep deprived- alzheimer’s being the most common form of dementia.
Along with clearing out waste, your brain’s ability to work in general is also diminished when you avoid shut eye. For example, people who drive after being awake for only 17-19 hours have been shown to have the same amount of impaired coordination, judgment, and reaction times as people with blood alcohol levels of .05%. Almost as high as the .08% most states in the U.S. need to convict you of a DUI! Go over 24 hours and that increases to over .1%!
If heart attacks, obesity, strokes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and doing your best impression of driving drunk aren’t bad enough potential byproducts of lack of sleep, how about mental health problems?
A 2006 study performed by Dr.’s Robert Stickgold and Matthew P Walker found that, when sleep deprived, you form twice as many memories of negative events as you do positive events. Further studies by Matthew Walker, in 2007, showed sleep deprived subjects were unable to put emotional experiences into context and produce an appropriate response. If you’ve ever wondered where the tired giggles come from, wonder no more. These results confirm countless other studies showing poor sleep habits give you a much higher risk of developing depression, which comes with its own slew of major negative impacts on your life.
So, now that we’ve thoroughly illustrated how insanely bad not getting a good night’s rest is for you. Let’s now, finally, dive into how to add not just years to your life, but quality ones, before your inevitable demise, which will, not long after, see the universe forget you ever existed. For most of us, in a shockingly short span.
First, and most importantly to good sleep- being consistent is critical. The circadian rhythm demands it and you will not ever achieve truly optimal sleep if you do not do this.
So, going to bed at the same time of night and waking up at the same time during the morning every day will give your body the best chance to develop and maintain its natural circadian rhythm. Figure out your chronotype (it’s genetic) and stick to it. If you’re a morning person, congratulations, outside of Friday and Saturday nights, the world literally caters to you, right down to ridiculous proverbs extolling the virtues of waking up early, and generally implying anyone who sleeps in is lazy, even though that person sleeping in was probably being productive well into the night when your lazy ass had already been in bed for several hours.
The world has given too much power to morning people. Join me my glorious nocturnal brothers and sisters, and let us unite to put an end to the daywalkers tyrannical reign.
On that note, if you’re a night owl, congratulations, the world hates you. But at least you’re not one of those incessantly positive people in the morning who annoy everyone with their early hour go-getter attitude at a time of day when we should all still be asleep as God intended.
Either way, morning person or lover of the glorious dark, just make sure you’re getting between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and you’ll increase your likelihood of being “healthy, wealthy, and wise.”- Early to bed and early to rise not required. That Ben Franklin was full of crap man… And also, FYI, he was a noted extreme night owl. So, ya. Not just a traitor to King and country, but also a traitor to his fellow denizens of the dark as well.
Going back to the importance of consistency and how morning people screw the rest of us over and cause us to die early to boot, anything that negatively affects this natural circadian rhythm will make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep due to the dysregulated hormones coming from the hypothalamus.
From all this, it’s not hard to see why things like shift work (any type of work requiring you to be awake when your body naturally wants to be sleeping), or frequent time zone travel, will negatively affect your ability to get consistently good sleep. In fact, the shift work one even has its own disorder, the aptly named Shift Work Sleep Disorder.
So, how can we manage an internal clock being messed with by the advances of modern life and morning people who the world caters to on setting work schedules?
Hands down the #1 thing anyone can do to combat all the diseases associated with poor sleep, while also providing you with a better chance of getting good sleep is exercise.
For example, if you do only 150 minutes per week or a little over 20 minutes per day of zone 2 cardio (essentially something like a slow to moderate jog or bike ride), it will decrease your chance of dying from any of the horsemen by 50%! The more you get, within reason, the greater the effect. But not only will exercise then help if you don’t get good sleep on occasion, it’s also a potent sleep promoter. Why?
Remember that buildup of Adenosine causing sleepiness? Well, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the main molecule your cells use to perform all their functions. At the end of the cascade of chemistry that happens when ATP is used, is Adenosine. The higher the metabolism, the more adenosine builds up in the brain. So, exercise increases adenosine levels compared to not exercising. Meaning your sleep pressure becomes greater and you fall asleep faster. Indeed, studies have definitively proven that exercise decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and increases the amount of deep sleep you get, which all comes with a slew of benefits as previously described.
It is important to point out that timing can matter though.
Too vigorous of exercise right before bed could lead to an increase in your adrenaline and cortisol levels. Thus, it’s generally recommended not to do vigorous workouts within 2 hours of bedtime for this reason. Moderate exercise, however, may be beneficial before bed because of the increase in your core body temperature and endorphins. Once you stop, you feel more relaxed and physically tired and the body begins to cool down- exactly what makes you fall asleep faster as we’ll get into in a minute, along with all the other major factors in helping you get optimal rest, one of which, we’re quite confident everyone is going to enjoy having a reason to tell others science says you simply must do.
Aside from these aforementioned lifestyle factors like exercise and consistency, simply developing a process to fall asleep matters. Don’t think Pavlovian responses are just for dogs. It’s been shown developing a wind down routine that is the same every night will help you fall asleep faster. That wind down routine can be whatever you want, but should include elements of the following.
First, let’s look at the environment. As mentioned before, your body’s sleep wake cycle depends on Light and dark. The circadian rhythm affected by light seems to have evolved with the types of light it encounters. For instance, you might have heard blue light isn’t ideal for sleep. As to why, this will increase cortisol and suppress melatonin release. What you may not have heard is green light also suppresses melatonin. However, blue light affects it about twice as much as green. Red or amber hues (those associated with sunset), if they’re not too bright, do not affect melatonin release or your circadian rhythm.
The take home message is this- reduce as much blue and green light as possible in the evening and in your sleeping area in general while you are sleeping. This includes all types of artificial light. So all those little LEDs on plugged in devices around your room and your bedside clock and the like, mask them off or get rid of them. Total darkness in your sleeping space while you’re sleeping is generally ideal here. If you’ve got a windowless room, even better.
As for lighting leading up to bed, try and choose evening lights with red or amber hues. And thanks to the future being the best, there are even countless color changing, dimmable, wifi lightbulbs you can get for surprisingly cheap and then set to automatically change their color and brightness setting appropriately in the evening leading up to your bedtime, whatever that may be. Again, key more is consistency than it strictly mattering whether you’re an early to bed alien, or more natural and superior night owl, or, at least, as long as light is being controlled on both ends.
On that note of the light on the other end, the opposite end of the light dichotomy is when you wake up (the time when cortisol is released)- helping boost that cortisol with light has also been shown to help with locking in that circadian rhythm, thus helping you sleep better. Specifically, go outside within 30-60 minutes of waking up (assuming you wake up after sunrise) for at least 15 minutes, but more better. And yes, this still works on a cloudy day.
Similarly, if you’re a night owl, blackout blinds and the like are an essential tool in your quality sleep toolkit to keep that cursed morning light at bay until it’s time for you to wake up. But either way, when you do wake up- go outside, and even better both for general health and sleep if that outsidedness includes exercise, like a nice brisk 20-30 minute or more morning walk. For several reasons this all helps to reset your cycle and just wake you up fully and quickly.
Going back to the lead up hours to bedtime, since TV should be out, as should be playing on your cell phone or computer, except might we recommend listening to our videos as a way to drift off? No light, interesting information, and helps distract your brain from thinking about all that life you’ve wasted doing pointless things, instead of watching our over 2,000 interesting videos like you ought to have been doing.
But otherwise, going back to optimal sleep, what are you gonna do with all that free time at night? Well… turn out the lights, put on the Marvin Gaye, and get a little frisky with your significant other, or yourself if nobody loves you but good old Pamela Handerson or Bruce Wane…key.
You see, sex that ends in orgasm has been shown to help with better sleep. That said, there is an emphasis on the orgasm- it doesn’t work if you don’t. As for what the science says, approximately 60% of Women and 70% of men who have sex ending in orgasm shortly before bed have been shown to get a markedly improved night’s sleep. Sadly, as the world clearly wants to kick you while you’re down, if you happen to be rolling solo, masturbation ending in orgasm does also help, just studies have shown not as much as the two-player game. And by arithmetic progression, we can only assume from that to get the best night’s sleep of all, you really need 3, or 4 or more for this spicy time. There may not be studies showing it’s true, but math is math and 3 or 4 is a higher number than 2. QED. Feel free to use this to try to convince your partner that the more the merrier. We don’t judge. You do you.
Speaking of you doing you, as to why the solo game isn’t as effective as the multiplayer mode, this isn’t totally clear, but we’re guessing it’s simply because, much like prospective partners, the universe isn’t into you.
It’s ok though, we here at TodayIFoundOut love you. Truthfully, we literally couldn’t do what we do for a living without you, meaning you help support not just us, but the most important people to us in our families. And we are extremely grateful… So, ok everybody, if you can’t sleep, come on over. We have a whole team who is grateful for you, and will take one for the team and help you out in your sleep… just this once…
Or, you know, just turn off the screen and listen to our videos! Scientifically proven just as effective as orgasming to aid in sleep, according to a study done by the words that just came out of my mouth, but without all the mess or awkward aftermath where you have to come to grips with the person you were a minute before, and also have that weird face your partner made burned into your brain now keeping you awake.
Continuing with your environment, temperature plays a major role. Falling asleep is associated with a 2-3 degree fahrenheit drop in core body temperature. And, interestingly from this, increasing your core temperature by taking a hot shower, or getting into a hot tub or sauna, then cooling off right after, it turns out reduces the time it takes to fall asleep. Having a cool environment is also beneficial. Specifically, ambient temperatures that are most optimal for sleep are between 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 18.8 degrees Celsius if you prefer to use a system of temperature calibrated to the boiling point of water in arbitrary environmental conditions instead of one calibrated to the human body.
Either way, when you’re about to wake up, the opposite is true. Your body temperature will begin to rise, usually beginning about 2 hours before you wake up. So, if you want to help that circadian rhythm, use a smart thermostat and have it begin slowly heating up your domicile about two hours before you want to wake up.
Now, while, as noted, the two player spicy game before bed does come with its major advantages, those who only have Chris Handsworth to play with before bed do have one potential advantage. You see, those loved ones you just played shampoo the wookie with can also come with a downside. First, if you and your partner have different sleep chronotypes, trying to adjust to their sleep pattern so you can go to bed at the same time won’t usually help. Stick to your chronotype. Or give them the boot, especially if they are an insufferable morning person, and find someone who matches you better.
Also, if your bedmate is a snorer, or rolls around the bed like a seizure patient, separate sleeping arrangements are probably going to be ideal if the goal is maximizing sleep quality. While you or your partner might not initially like it, well, it does come with the benefit of likely longer life, and better quality of life including improved mood, etc. during awake hours- at the cost of only not being unconscious together. But if they still complain, I mean, definitely just find a new partner. Nobody likes a clingy complainer.
The same goes for your pets as well. Having 3 dogs or cats sleep with you, while sweet and makes their little puppy and kitty hearts happy, can lead to you getting poorer sleep and an earlier death for you. While we’re pretty sure that’s what your cats intend anyway, as evidenced by their morning practice of kneading you, we can only assume feeling your organs to monitor how they are weakening over time, it would no doubt make your dogs even sadder to see you die than to have to sleep on their own bed.
On that note, you should probably also get rid of your kids too. Just horrible for sleep routines. And babies? Listen, if you’ve followed along this far, you can probably start to see why nursing mothers commonly exhibit many of the negative symptoms like depression and the like after having a baby. I mean, you could keep the little human parasites, I guess. But, just saying, at what cost?
But on all this, as mentioned before, you will inevitably get back into stage 1 sleep throughout the night. Anything that can wake you up easily, from snoring husbands, dogs chasing cats in their sleep, or even painful joints or horniness will most likely do that very thing when you’re in this stage. So, plan accordingly.
Now that we’ve covered some of the environmental factors involved with better sleep, another factor often mentioned is diet. The problem is, outside of some things you might commonly intake like alcohol, caffeine, and the devil’s lettuce, which we’ll get to shortly, there is still a lot of debate on optimal nutrition for sleep, outside of just general optimal nutrition practices. Eat healthy to be healthy overall. Shocker.
But from here, when it comes to a specific type of diet before bed that provides for better sleep, like any conversation around diet, there seems to be entrenched ideas about what is better and trying to convince the other side can be harder than bridging the gap between morning people and their godly night owl brethren. On this one, there are two main camps, both having valid arguments- those being high carb-high tryptophan diets, and high protein-high fat diets.
The high carb-high tryptophan diet does seem to help you fall asleep faster and sleep better. This is presumably because of the increase in serotonin and melatonin you get after eating this way. That camp also points out that proteins and fats are harder to digest and since digestion decreases by as much as 50% throughout the night, this could lead to reflux and GI issues.
On the other side of the coin are people who are in the stay-away-from-sugars-and-carbs camp. Stating sugar causes an increase in metabolic rate which leads to the known increase in body temp when eating this way. The high protein, high fat camp also points out, rightfully so, poor sleep is known to cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity. If you combine that with prolonged deprivation contributing to insulin resistance, eating high carb foods will only exacerbate that problem and type 2 diabetes is in your near future. If overall health is the goal, then high carbs to help with sleep seems counterproductive. In the end, both sides seem to have valid arguments, so, at least on this one, maybe don’t take sides and just eat healthy in general and don’t worry about it until science can be more definitive.
However, these two camps do agree on one thing- try not to eat at least 2 hours prior to falling asleep, giving your body time to digest what it ate prior to sleeping, reducing the risk of reflux or other GI issues. That said, because again nuance in everything, if you are lifting weights and exercising regularly, for muscle building reasons, there is evidence that eating around 20g of protein not long before bed can be beneficial for taking maximal advantage of the tissue repair portion of sleep. This has nothing to do with sleep quality, but simply helping to maximize your bang for your buck on your workouts.
And on that note, you also want to not go to bed hungry. As mentioned in the beginning, hunger, or hunger signals within the body, have been shown to come with sleep disturbances.
From all this, you can see why the nutrition side of all of this is so controversial. There are a lot of factors. But, in general, eat relatively healthy, and a few hours before bed eat, and if working out a bunch add some protein, and you’ll probably be good on this one. No need to over complicate it.
Moving on from foods, caffeine and alcohol profoundly affect your sleep, or lack thereof. We’ll also get into marijuana and why it probably doesn’t do what you think with sleep.
But for now, caffeine intake, while a great way to boost athletic performance in the moment, is a terrible way to boost sleep quality. Its ability to keep you awake comes from the fact that it binds to adenosine receptors. This leaves all that circulating adenosine to roam around without causing the sleep pressure it normally would. The problem is it doesn’t actually get rid of it. Once the caffeine wears off, you get the inevitable crash and feel super sleepy. Caffeine’s half-life in most people is about 6 hours, and quarter life thus around 12. Meaning, if you drink 400mg of caffeine (about 1, venti pike place roast coffee at Starbucks) around 9 am, you’ll still have around 200 mg of caffeine in your system around 3 pm, and 100 mg around 9 pm still circulating in your system, which by the way is equivalent to about 1 standard 8 oz cup of coffee. By 3am, when you definitely should be snoozing away if you had previously been up before 9am, you’ll still have about a half a cup of coffee worth of caffeine in your system. If you drink coffee later in the day, the problem is even more compounded.
Now, there are exceptions to every rule and people metabolize Caffeine at different rates. Some can clear it from their system faster, but some will take longer, so these timeframes are only averages. But, in the end, whatever caffeine is circulating is binding to adenosine, decreasing your sleep pressure and making it harder for you to get quality sleep.
Of course, another benefit of getting proper sleep is less of a need to rely on caffeine to get through the day. And, on the flipside, making yourself more reliant on the world’s most popular drug helps ensure you need it to not have to murder your super annoying spouse with their incessant chipperness in the morning. Thus, while cutting caffeine out completely might be briefly painful at first while your body goes through withdrawals because you are literally a drug addict, and it might not be ideal during those withdrawals having to figure a tangible story to put on the missing person report with the police with regards to where your spouse disappeared to, cutting out the coffee or other caffeinated beverages will absolutely be a huge boon to your sleep. And, once you are getting consistently good sleep, you’ll almost certainly find that caffeine wasn’t actually necessary for feeling awake after all, and how much more healthy and positive you are now will also help you replace your tragically missing spouse. The point being, don’t let the freaky mermaid tempt you with her drug induced witchcraft. Be free my friends.
Moving on from there, alcohol is another potent sleep disrupter. Yes, sleep disruptor, not aid, as so many people think. On that note, anyone who’s tried to keep their drunk college roommate awake long enough to walk home knows alcohol will help you fall asleep. This is because it’s a central nervous system depressant, binding to receptors known as GABA. These are the primary receptors involved in central nervous system depression. Alcohol also inhibits the process of an excitatory neurotransmitter called glutamate, blocking the MDMA receptor, contributing to its depressive effects. On this one, if you’ve ever wondered why alcohol withdrawals increase your risk of seizure, it’s because of this circulating glutamate. The body increases its production if you chronically use too much alcohol, so when you stop, their excitatory nature decreases your body’s seizure threshold.
So shouldn’t this all help with sleep? It turns out no.
Alcohol initially acts as a sedative but unfortunately, you’ll then sleep like crap with it in your system. Any amount of alcohol will suppress REM sleep in the first couple cycles of the night, and then in the second half, wakefulness is increased because you’ll be in stage 1 more. So, you’ll fall asleep faster, get worse sleep in the first half of the night, then very little in the second half. Even small amounts matter. Having 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women comes with a decrease in sleep quality of about 24%. Two or more drinks for men, and more than 1 for women, will see that number jump to around a 39% or more decrease. The more you drink, the worse it gets.
Now, at this point, some of you might be wondering about whether the green giggle leaf affects sleep, with marijuana often widely cited as being a sleep aid. Well, turns out the data is all over the place on this one with large sample studies difficult to come by, for similar reasons as to why many large scale studies dealing with drugs that are less than legal are hard to come by. Things are shifting on the marijuana front in recent years, but there is still much research to be done. That said, while many a mary jane advocate will tell you it’s great for sleep… the data seems to be mostly trending in the other direction. In that, much like alcohol, for various reasons including messing with REM sleep, the devil’s lettuce may help you fall asleep, but it also may not be ideal for sleep quality.
That said, this seems dose dependent, and CBD may have some benefit if in the perfect range of dose. There are also potentially other factors that may come into play. For example, people with chronic pain or PTSD may see a boost in sleep quality at low doses in the short term. And, indeed, the REM sleep suppressing effects of THC can potentially be a short term boon for such PTSD sufferers.
But, once again, there simply isn’t enough data as yet to say much of anything definitive here overall. Other than that, with the current state of research, THC is trending towards a negative for sleep in general for various reasons, even in the short term for most, and that either way long term use of marijuana as a sleep aid also seems to be trending towards being a bad thing for sleep quality for most.
We should also mention rebound insomnia and rather wild dreams are also common for those who regularly use marijuana as a sleep aid and suddenly stop. This isn’t so much that the marijuana was necessarily helping with sleep, and now this is normal sleep without, but rather, a form of common withdrawal symptom following chronic marijuana usage. Give it time, and your sleep should go back to normal.
But outside of things like that, as science doesn’t yet have much definitive to say about the effects of THC and CBD on sleep and a lot more studies needed, we aren’t going to say much either until they do. But, for now, when data lacking, as ever, au naturel and moderation in everything seems to be the way to go for most. Really in most facets of life.
Now, you may at this point be wondering how naps can affect things and whether good or bad. And we’ll get into that shortly, but briefly, now that we have all the general information about how to structure your environment and life for optimal sleep, what about a practical method to quiet the mind and actually fall asleep quickly?
Well, here too we have a solution that, according to the US military has about a 90% success rate of people falling asleep within 2 minutes once they master the technique, with the method first developed for pilots in WW2, and popularized in the book “Relax and Win: Championship Performance” by Lloyd Bud Winter in 1981.
Step 1- lay down and, one at a time, begin consciously relaxing the parts of your face. Forehead, eyelids, jaw, and tongue.
Step 2- Now consciously relax your shoulders and then your hands.
Step 3- Next, deeply inhale and exhale while consciously relaxing your chest.
Step 4- Progressively consciously relax your legs, starting with your thighs, then your calves, ankles, and then feet.
Step 5- Clear your mind of all thoughts. If something tries to enter, just let it go. If you’re now thinking that’s impossible, well, if you must think something, they recommend instead just consciously thinking to yourself the words “don’t think, don’t think” over and over until you fall asleep.
While it all may seem a little silly, again, their results show it to be incredibly effective. And one can sort of see that the entire process, beyond consciously relaxing and good breathing, also is geared towards occupying your brain and keeping thoughts that would otherwise keep you awake out.
So, what about naps? Most sleep experts agree that napping can be both a good thing and a bad thing, because the universe resists simplicity.
They can be beneficial because if you’ve not gotten the appropriate amount of sleep the night before, it can help bridge the gap to a better hormone profile and has been shown to boost mental performance and productivity throughout the rest of the day. But it can also be harmful if it interrupts your normal circadian rhythm. When you nap, your body will naturally break down adenosine, reducing the pressure to sleep in the evening when you want more pressure. So, the prevailing recommendation is, if you do nap, don’t sleep for longer than 90 minutes and don’t nap after 2-3pm. Further, if you find that naps make it harder to fall asleep at night, don’t do it at all unless absolutely necessary on a given day. Sleep is a marathon, not a sprint. Consistency overall is generally better than having a small boost on a given day from a nap. If you’re finding you need a nap, it’s likely more of a symptom of a sleep problem that needs fixed. That said, on a given day, it’s possible because, life, it’s needed. Just don’t make it a part of your normal routine.
Now, if you’ve done all of this, and consistently over a several week span, and you’re still struggling to sleep properly and seeing no improvement, you might be tempted to reach for the sleep aid drugs. But it turns out, there are other tricks that can be tried first that generally see better outcomes. On this, it might be time to see a professional who will, if you’ve already done all the above and still not getting results, recommend what is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I) for help with insomnia. In fact, 70-80% of people with primary insomnia have better outcomes with this approach compared to pharmaceuticals.
CBT-I combines several different approaches to attack the issue. It includes things like retraining inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts about sleep. Education on relaxation techniques and stimulus control. Even further Education around all the factors affecting sleep and what you can do to optimize them given your specific day to day life. They may even sometimes purposefully restrict sleep to increase sleep pressure in an attempt to reset your circadian rhythm. In all of this, being slightly more targeted about your specific case. And for most, it doesn’t take long for these methods to take effect. In fact, some people see results in as little as two sessions, with the average being 6-8.
In the end, depending on what study you want to go with, in the ballpark of 1/3 to 1/2 of us aren’t getting enough sleep, and, for most, we do it to ourselves. Whether via random sleep schedule day to day or from the weekend to weekday, to choosing to stay up later than we should for some extra free time, excessive caffeine or alcohol intake, the list goes on and on and on. In the end, purposefully avoiding sleep or getting poor sleep is really just short-term torture you inflict on yourself while increasing your chance of dying from almost everything that kills most humans long term, and lower quality of life through it all, increased chances of depression, obesity, the list, again, goes on and on and on. Chronic sleep deprivation is very possibly the most underrecognized health crisis of the modern age.
But, in the end, the fix isn’t terribly complex. In a nutshell, be an adult. Or, maybe more aptly, treat yourself like you would your toddler when it comes to their bedtimes. Even if you need less of it, sleep is just as important for you. So act like it, and increase the odds of meeting your grandchildren someday.
Go to bed at the same time every night, wake up at the same time every day. Go outside within 30-60 minutes of waking up and exercise consistently. Choose a relatively healthy diet that works for you and save yourself some money by staying away from caffeine and alcohol. Don’t eat 2 hours before bed and make a consistent winddown routine that should not involve any screen time. Also, turn down the lights and, even better, get color changing, dimmable wifi lightbulbs so you can further optimize the night lighting and set it to happen automatically. Beyond that, decrease the ambient temperature of your home to around 65-67 degrees fahrenheit or 18.8 degrees Celcius. Shortly before bed give eyes to your partner and let them know science demands they have sex with you every night before bed, and don’t stop the fun until you’ve both climaxed. And for you single folks, as the great Keb Mo says, “If nobody loves you, and you’re feeling like dust on an empty shelf, just remember. You can love yourself.”
After spicy time is done, if spelunking in your partner’s cave of wonders, or having the depths of yours thoroughly explored didn’t increase your body temperature, find an alternate way to increase your core body temperature then let it decrease naturally after and with the benefit of the cooler ambient temperature in your environment.
After that, fix your sleep apnea, and kick the animals and your snoring spouse out of bed now that you’ve had your way with them (your spouse, not the animals), they are no longer required. And, if you want to go pro, start practicing the U.S. military’s process for having their WW2 pilots fall asleep. And, as one last little trick- there is evidence that rocking will give you better sleep. Not just any rocking though, specifically 0.25 Hertz (1 cycle every 4 seconds), which it turns out is also approximately optimal for putting babies to sleep. While rocking adult beds doesn’t exactly seem to be a thing you can buy on amazon, and giantess amazonian women to rock you to sleep may also not be an option, …so unfortunately…, hey, you insomniacs have nothing but time on your hands. If any of you are engineers, have we got a business idea for you!
And remember in all of this, just like anything in life that’s worthwhile, even with sleep, results don’t come overnight. Consistency is key. But follow everything said here, and do it consistently, and, quite literally via improvements in your mental and physical health and energy levels, and how that can all positively affect all facets of life, your life will get better and better.
And then as the rest of the denizens of our little celestial spaceship called Earth start dropping like flies as the years pass, you’ll likely victoriously outlive them all, ensuring when your end comes, it will be you dying alone… on account of the fact that everyone you love and ever loved you has long since ceased to be, because they didn’t get proper exercise and sleep like you did.Expand for References
T-cells and Cancer
Sleep and Cancer
Physiology of Sleep
National Sleep Foundation Poll
Top 10 causes of death
Sleep and Dementia
Military Sleep Protocol
Light and Sleep
Toolkits for Sleep
Alcohol and Sleep
Alcohol and the Sleeping Brain
Effects of Diet on Sleep
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
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