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When I look back about a decade ago, I slept an average of 4 hours a night, hands down. Today, this has not drastically changed much with the exception of an extended sleep every other week or so of roughly 8 hours, my recuperation. And now I only do it for periods of times – a few weeks, then I head back to a healthier cycle of 6-7 hours for a few weeks, then back again.

Despite all the various studies that show the affect of rest, and brainwaves, and what not – several which I have thoroughly read out of interest, I still find that even in those moment where I am not “fit” in regard to physical performance, the amount of sleep seems to be fine. I manage quite well.

My View On Sleep

I have discussed this topic with several people over the years, the purpose of why I do what I do, its benefits and side effects also in relation to my physical well-being as well as mental.And straightforward, there are days, even recently, where I can go through all night, however I will typically feel “dirty” for most of the current day. I may throw in a short nap, depending on our schedule and things that need to be done, however I’ll then end up pushing through till the later evening before going to bed, and getting my cycle back into sync.

Now, while all nighters are rare these days, I know I should be following a more natural circadian rhythm in regard to sleep, rest and day/night cycles, but my reasoning for doing what I do is quite simple – it’s about performance.

You see, I get to add nearly another day into my schedule, a day I call Xday, allowing me to get more things done. While your sleeping 8 hours during this time, I’m sleeping 4. Multiply that by 6 days (I tend to sleep an hour or so more on one day), I am getting 24 hours more hustle time in. Those hours in difference of sleep add up. Hence, aside from my intense 4-5hrs of sleep I do need to note that I try to take a regular power nap during the day of no more than 20 minutes. I do not do this everyday, and in the corporate world my schedule was a bit different, however, it kicks my body and brain back into gear.

Now, I fully understand the importance of the time I spend in bed. A peaceful and deep sleep can lift your mood, boost your energy and improve productivity. And there are a lot of factors that contribute into this. Everything from being a parent to a bad mattress can really ruin those intense hours of recharging your batteries. Some things, like when our kids where younger and waking up at night are things that are given and you can only adjust so much. However, things like your mattress or how you go to bed are all choices you make and can influence.

Therefore, have a look at your current sleeping pattern and understand the decisions you are making that are hurting the quality of your sleep. Id say that sleeping is one of the easiest behaviors one could change. A peaceful and deep sleep can lift your mood, boost your energy and improve productivity. Also there are some connections to weight, obesity, BMI and so forth. All those things also affect your physical and mental performance.

A 2011 study published in the journal “Obesity” as well as numerous other sources, found that going to bed early and getting a solid night’s sleep can help you eat less. In the study, researchers at Northwestern University found that people who went to bed late frequented the drive-thru, ate fewer fruits and veggies, and had higher BMIs compared to people with early bedtimes.

Here’s why: When you’re tired, grehlin (the hormone that regulates hunger) rises while leptin (the hormone that regulates satiety) decreases. So you’re left feeling hungry and less satisfied—even when you eat. Sleep deprivation also reduces your basal metabolic rate. This means that your body actually needs fewer calories to function. The problem with this is that you’re already hungry, and if your body needs fewer calories, it will store the rest as fat.

Therefore, I am not encouraging you to do what I do. I know a few friends who have tried. And to be frank I have been doing this for years and it is something that the mind needs to shift with as well. Therefore, please make sure you are taking care of yourself and listening to your circadian cycle.

However, if you are struggling with sleep here are a few personal tips to help you improve your shuteye and increase your performance and productivity and perhaps help around maintaining a healthier weight. Remember: Sleep debt is cumulative. The sooner you improve your sleep habits, the better your body will feel – and the better positioned you’ll be to lose weight.

7 Tips and Personal Advice

1. Limit Caffeine

A little morning pick-me-up isn’t a problem, but drinking caffeine-laden drinks at night can interfere with your sleep. A decade ago I tended to grab an energy drink every so often (primarily towards the end of my 1.5 week cycle where I look forward to the weekend, however I have stopped this). Caffeine leaves you wide awake when you should be sleeping because it causes a rise in catecholamines. These hormones increase energy, heart rate, and blood vessel constriction, and prepare your body to respond to any challenge. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, so you need to stay in tune with your body’s response to it. Enjoy a morning cup of Joe, but cut yourself off from caffeine about six hours (for some as little as four hours and for others as much as eight hours) before you hit the sack.

2. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol disrupts the sequence and duration of sleep states by altering total sleep time and the time required to fall under. (It also disrupts the muscle-building process.) Alcohol negatively impacts REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep cycles, which account for about 25 percent of your total sleep time. At this time, brain activity increases and you commit things to long-term memory, there is an increase in heart rate, and you experience erratic breathing. Missing out on this critical window will leave you tired and experiencing brain fog in the morning.

3. Power Down

I find this one so important in our day and age. Electronics keep your brain busy. Try removing all electronic devices (phone, computer, TV, iPad, etc.) from your bedroom and see how your sleep improves. Making your bed a place solely for sleep will help your brain and body relax when you’re ready to go to sleep. – I must admit this one is a challenge for me as I tend to read on my tablet or continue working on my notebook.

4. Start A Bedtime Routine

Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will help your body stick to a routine. Aim to go to bed at 11 p.m. each night. In addition to helping you maintain healthy eating habits, research has shown that sleeping from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. is optimal for physical and psychological recovery. Thirty minutes before bedtime, practice a few calming activities – drink a cup of herbal tea, stretch or meditate, read a short story (no reading the news before bedtime). All told, this will help you fall asleep faster.

5. Fit In A Workout

Not only is exercise beneficial to your health, it can also help you fall asleep faster. Set aside at least 30 minutes each morning or afternoon to hit the gym. Give yourself at least six hours, if possible, between working out and going to bed. This allows your body to wind down from the stimulation provided by exercise.

6. Chill Out

Lower your thermostat before you go to bed. My wife was never a fan of this, however over the years she too has adjusted. Cooler temperatures have been shown to induce sleep and help you sleep longer and more soundly. The typical recommendation is to keep the room between 18.3 and 22.2 degrees Celsius. However, you need to determine what temperature is most comfortable to you.

7. Talk With A Doctor

Oddly, I have never had issues with sleeping per se. I have had sleepless nights, nights where you toss and turn, however overall I believe to have pretty good self control over my sleeping patterns and habits. However, if you have sleeping problems and they continue even after you’ve made the changes above, consult your doctor. Lack of sleep and inconsistent sleep patterns can seriously affect your mental and physical health, leaving you more susceptible to illness!

In Closing

Again, this post is about ways to improve your sleep, not sleep less, or “sleep faster”. A good nights rest is well deserved. We need it. It’s also not to prove a point. The intention is not to prove a point but to offer seven practical tips that naturally come to mind, aimed at assisting you in your pursuit of improved sleep during this particular phase of life.

Now, the question arises: What additional recommendations or actions could be considered?

Make it happen.

Footnotes & References

  1. Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., et al. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s updated sleep duration recommendations: Final report. Sleep Health, 1(4), 233-243.
  2. Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9(11), 1195-1200.
  3. Nehlig, A. (2010). Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer? Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 20(S1), S85-S94.
  4. Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. (2001). Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol Research & Health, 25(2), 101-109.