Sleep Hacks: How to Optimise Your Naps
In our previous article about Sleep, we gave you the lowdown on why this area of your life might need a bit of attention if you want to derive the greatest benefits: from enhanced creativity and productivity at work to increasing your sex drive, you can definitely score higher in many aspects of your life. In this follow-up article, we’ll suggest a few practical sleep hacks you could apply and watch magic happen.
Firstly, there’s a genetic component that decides how much sleep you need. On the one hand, there are individuals who are very sensitive to sleep loss as assessed by increases in performance lapses. On the other hand, you have individuals who are resistant to the effects of sleep loss. The latter are part of a rare breed of short sleepers, who need just 6 hours of sleep per night. This is thanks to a genetic mutation in DEC2 also known as BHLHE41 which allows its carriers to maintain normal alertness and limited signs of inflammation with shorter sleep durations.
But this is an extremely uncommon mutation. However, this study shows there might be other variants of BHLHE41 in human populations that affect sleep duration and the response to sleep deprivation. We are only at the beginning of unravelling the mysterious science of sleep.
Hack Number 1: Sunrise/Sunset Hacking to Reset Your Circadian Clock
According to Dr. Jack Kruse, a neurosurgeon and expert on sunlight’s impact on human biology, health starts with the right light exposure, and only secondarily the right diet. To quote this expert: “Sunlight programs bio-molecules using light frequency to energise electrons and protons in many ways…The strength of the collective vibrations in cells in a tissue can be lost to cause a circadian mismatch even in a person with sight or exposure to fake light at the wrong time”.
This circadian mismatch caused by artificial light at night is at the root of many diseases we see today, including cancer. Knowing how to hack natural light to boost your body’s defences is crucial.
Exposure to morning sunlight as soon as you get up in the morning helps reset your circadian clock (meaning: your body will now know when it’s time to go to sleep, rather than having you tired but wired at midnight). It will also maximise the effect of morning cortisol while also allowing your cortisol levels to naturally decline later at night, a very important hormonal loop that will create a normalised circadian rhythm.
Hack Number 2: Breakfast
Cortisol is not the only hormone to turn on your body in the morning. It works in tandem with VIP (vasoactive intestinal polypeptide) which increases the contractility in your heart, dilates your blood vessels and enhances liver glycogenolysis (breakdown of your liver’s glycogen to naturally bring your blood sugar up). This is followed by a natural surge of ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
If you don’t sleep well, you’ll have hunger-hormone imbalances the following day, which often manifest as food cravings, which in turn may disrupt your sleep the following night as your blood glucose might dip at 3 am casing you to wake up. This is when it becomes very important to eat a high protein meal in the morning in the two hours after waking, even if it means refraining from the very healthy practice of intermittent fasting for a while: skipping breakfast or “defying morning hunger” by fasting until lunch is not a good idea if you have hormone imbalances or trouble sleeping late at night.
If you’re one of those people, a regularly timed, morning breakfast consisting of protein and healthy fats resets your circadian clock and gets your hormones in sync.
Hack Number 3: Darkness/Blackout Curtains
As mentioned in the previous sleep article, melatonin is a marker of darkness and less of a “sleep hormone” per se. Thus, if you can create a perfectly dark environment with no intrusion of artificial light from outside, you have no need for melatonin supplements.
Melatonin is crucial for sleep: as it enters an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, it decreases your neuron-firing rate. In other words it slows down your brain and allows your brain cells to heal. The melatonin peaks that takes places at around midnight also coincides with a release of prolactin, another incredibly important hormone. A deficiency in prolactin (often found in postmenopausal women) can slow down your mental faculties the following day, and in the long term it can cause weight gain and chronic pain due to high levels of inflammatory cytokines.
On the other hand, balanced prolactin levels increase the recycling of cells, the renewal of cells, and the creation of new cells. It also promotes the release of growth hormones.
Hack Number 4: Timing of Sleep (Not Just the Time You Are Asleep)
By reading this far, you may assume that as long as you follow these sleep hacks and you get around 8 hours of shut-eye every night, everything is perfect, but it might not be so. Quality of sleep, not just duration, is extremely important. And every sleep study will tell you that sleep quality is equal with the amount of slow-wave sleep (delta sleep) you get every night. Slow-wave sleep (SWS), also known as deep nonrapid eye movement (NREM), is thought to be important for memory consolidation and has proven vital for health and well-being: it benefits both the immune system as well as cognitive functions and brain plasticity. SWS is the stage when your body fully restores itself and your DNA gets repaired. On the other hand, a disruption or reduction of slow waves of NREM sleep leads to an accumulation of amyloid beta (Aβ) in the prefrontal cortex, associated with Alzherimers and a lack of memory consolidation.
Longer periods of SWS occur in the first part of the night, primarily in the first two sleep cycles (roughly three hours). But the actual time you go to bed also matters. Here’s the explanation for it: between 2 and 6am, your core temperature falls the most drastically, allowing for more neuron and nervous system repair, neuron growth, an upregulation of circulating T cells (the killer cells of your immune system), and a decrease in inflammation. This drop in temperature signals your body to begin producing cortisol at about 6 a.m., which restarts the entire cycle. But in order for your core temperature to drop like this, you need to have been asleep for up to six hours already! So you do the maths…
Hack Number 5: The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the following technique acts like a natural tranquiliser by slowing down your heart rate. It’s called the 4-7-8 technique and it couldn’t be simpler to perform. First, breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Then hold your breath for seven seconds. And slowly breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds. As with most things, practice makes perfect and the repetition of this process in the morning and evening for a longer span of time guarantees best results.
We obviously have more sleep hacks down our sleeve and we might be imparting some of the remaining ones at our Next-Generation Health Festival, Xpomet© Medicinale. It take places between 10–12 October 2019 in Berlin. Buy your tickets now!