I sleep 8 hours a night.
How about you?
Sleep is contentious. Some brag about how little they sleep, others are called names for sleeping more. Grown-ups, teachers, employers, colleagues, friends… many of them have ideas about your sleeping habits (while being mobile screen and caffeine addicts themselves).
Then there is the whole morning vs. night people debate that I won’t mention further.
In short, sleep is a topic discussed to death; but I’ll steer clear of the most obvious sleep related issues and be as direct and pragmatic as I can be.
Executive Summary – 10 points for sleeping like a boss
Going straight to the point, you should 1) admit sleep is important and take the following steps:, 2) calm down before going to bed, 3) avoid exposure to blue tinted screens before night-time, 4) sleep at regular hours, 5) in a cool and 6) dark room, possibly with 7) your feet outside the covers or the bed.
A few other tips include 8) keeping two sets of pillows going at all times, letting one set rest outside the bed to dry out and re-fluffify every other night, thus never using the same pillow two nights in a row. Similarly you should 9) hang your covers, rather than leave them on the bed during the day, and 10) pay attention to your caffeine habits (amount, timing and effect on your sleep).
Sleep with me
Without sleeping well, you stand no chance at all of a happy, relaxed and healthy life, so this should in fact have been the first post in the series.
Disclaimer: If you want references, go somewhere else. This is ‘just’ my personal preferences and recollections of dozens upon dozens of science podcasts, articles and videos made into an actionable list for maximizing your quality sleep.
The 4-hour sleep myth
I have slept much less than 8 hours a night in my days, due to stress, external pressure (employers or girlfriends), (extended) office hours, blind ambition and naïveté, not to mention stories about presidents and money men not just getting by but excelling on 4 hours per night or less.
At its worst I was analyzing and programming over 100 hours a week, often sleeping at the office, and still finding time for alcohol. That left just 4 hours a night for bed. I was on the brink of breaking down and I’ve only just about recovered now, 20 years later.
Eventually I realized, it’s not the important and effective people that minimize sleep. It’s the other way round. If your work is menial, it’s okay to do it for many hours a day and with a chronic sleep deficit. It’s like working drunk (here are the first references I found on Google), but if you’re only an ‘errand boy‘ anyway it doesn’t matter (article about me by Mike Cernovich – author of Gorilla Mindset).
On the other hand, if you carry real responsibility your paramount priority is being rested, relaxed, absolutely not stressed, and thus prepared for whatever happens.
Society might force you to occasionally sleep less than you need, but you shouldn’t exacerbate and prolong the problem by actually believing the 4-hour hype.
Sure, whore out, force yourself through it, impress whoever needs impressing, use caffeine and alcohol to keep going. But, always remember, you are working below capacity if sleep-deprived, and you should strive for normalization as soon as possible, after you’ve kick-started your career or whatever you’re doing.
Most research and articles on sleep you’ll come across are flawed, simply because most sleep research used to be based on self reported numbers. Sometimes too high, sometimes to low, sometimes an irrelevant average, never adapted to your individual situation.
Why you should let sleep run its course
You need as much sleep as you need.
-yes, if I can use a tautology I will, and this is one of the best opportunities.
You can’t base your sleeping habits off of other people, not even me or president Bill Clinton (who started sleeping less after hearing successful people did that… and then he had to have heart surgery in his 50s).
Here, WebMD chimes in regarding 7 sleep myths, including the 8-hour and 4-hour myths.
Sleep deprivation has adverse effects on your immune system, general inflammatory status, memory formation, creativity, short and long term intelligence, decision making, willpower, eating habits (cravings), happiness, as well as possibly means bad news for your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
This year’s Nobel Prize winner Aziz Sancar has showed that the circadian rhythm is closely linked to the DNA repair system. If it’s frequently manipulated (coffee, alarm clocks, jet lag?) or disrupted, DNA errors might multiply and cause, e.g., cancer. The DNA-repair activity is at its highest in the morning, and coincides with a spike in the cortisol level which makes you naturally alert and awake the first 1-2 hours of the day.
So, sleep as much as you need, no more, no less (more has been linked to disease and early death, even if the direction of causality is debated to say the least). However, who in their right mind would even attempt to sleep more than needed. Who has the time to begin with (except yours retarded truly)?
Our 12 hour sleep schedule origins
Dr Parsley, above, also pointed out (just as Jessa Gamble and others) that early retirees that can craft their lives, and sleep, to their liking, sometimes fall back to the sleep habits of 150+ years ago: Before the invention of the electric light, humans spent around 10-12 hours a night in bed, consisting of 4 hours of sleep, followed by several hours of calm contemplation, and then another 4 hours of sleep.
If you’re one of the few lucky ones getting so much sleep this happens to you, use those inter-sleep hours for red light reading, mobility exercises, meditation or similar toned down activities. Thus, better sleep will lead to better mental health and mobility and yet better sleep, in a highly beneficial self-reinforcing feedback loop.
Warning signs of too little sleep
How do you know if you sleep to little?
As long as you are not medication, travelling heavily, drinking alcohol regularly, doing exciting stuff or watching TV, mobile or computer screens right before going to bed, or are a large caffeine consumer you should be able to quite easily gauge your sleep needs. Below are just a few heuristics regarding sleep deficits.
- If you need an alarm clock to get up on time, you’re sleeping too little
- If you fall asleep almost before laying down your head, you’re sleeping too little
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, it might just be natural for you. Humans may not be made for just one sleep episode per night as Jessa Gamble explains in this 4 minute TED presentation (8 straight hours work very well for me though).
- If you’ve tried forcing yourself into (for you) obviously unnatural sleeping habits, such as Kramer-Da Vinci-sleep, you should just let yourself slip back to your natural pattern.
- If you’re not a high volume training athlete, a 7-sigma intellectual anomaly, or recovering from a severe injury, and spend more then 10 hours sleeping or in a semi-comatose condition per day, you probably should check yourself.
The sleep check list
-how to optimize the length and quality of your sleep
- Go to bed at as regular hours as possible. If I’m not out partying, I turn off the lights at midnight every night, which means I wake up without an alarm clock between 7:30 and 8 am when I’ve slept enough.
- Spend as much time as possible outside during the day. The vitamin D-serotonin-melatonin cycle runs on sunlight. Sunlight also synchronizes your circadian rhythm, making nr 1, above, easier
- Daytime naps: I like them. But, don’t overdo it, if that disrupts your total amount of sleep. Change your eating habits if you all too predictably nap after eating high GI carbs
- No cellphones! Watch (i.e. don’t watch) your screen time habits. Avoid blue tinted TV, computer and cellphone screens at least half an hour before going to sleep. Some (weirdos) put on orange glasses a few hours before closing their eyes for the night.
- Keep your bedroom cool, which simulates night time
- in particular the feet; I sleep with my feet outside the covers and outside the bed
- Keep your bedroom dark, which simulates night time. Even the weakest tiniest light source on your skin (not the eyes) can affect your sleep negatively
- Take care of your body: walk, work out, work on your mobility, drink fish oil, eat vitamin-D supplements. If you’re healthy you’ll sleep better (better posture, more relaxed, less imbalances), and if you sleep better it’s easier to stay healthy (more sleep means more testosterone in men, more willpower during the day, better eating and training habits)
- Don’t have coffee first thing in the morning – wait an hour or two for the most effective and least addictive caffeine response. In addition you minimize the disturbance of circadian related DNA-repair and risk of cancer. Read more about the chronopharmacological facts about caffeine here.
- I limit my coffee intake to a cup every second day, which I have after my morning walk with the dog, i.e., some 90-120 minutes after waking up. Then I head for the gym.
- In addition, it’s advised not to drink coffee too late in the day. That, however, depends on so many things (e.g., are you a fast metabolizer? Does caffeine affect your sleep at all? More here about coffee and your body), you’ll just have to do your own experimenting.
- Dry and fluffy pillows and covers (don’t make the bed, hang the covers during the day to make it fluffy and dry; keep extra pillows resting on the side and switch every other night, i.e., never use the same pillow two nights in a row)
- The reason for “all this” – which by the way takes less effort than, e.g., making your bed everyday or just keeping one set of pillows going (just wash the pillow cases after the same amount of nights slept on) – is that dry and fluffy pillows give transport air better and give you the support they were intended to do as new.
- Another way of selling the idea to you is that it feels like coming to a hotel with fresh pillows every night
- Use a sufficiently hard mattress (I need a lot of stability at my weight (200+ lbs) to keep my posture correct when sleeping)
- Get out of the bed if you can’t sleep within 30 minutes (first try a cooler or warmer room, changing direction in the bed or some (dimmed light, red light) reading
- Got milk? If you can’t sleep, try some warm milk: the tryptophane effect is debated, but the taste might have a familiar, nursing and comforting effect
- Meditate – just focus on your breathing, nothing fancy or cumbersome, slowly in, slowly out, just focus on the process of breathing, nothing more. Check out my post on meditation for newbies here.
- De-stress, write (to do later or not to do) lists to get whatever is on them off your mind (see my next post on ‘stress’)
- Sleep on your side to clear waste from the brain (that could increase the risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) and avoid mobility issues
- Avoid alarm clocks for getting up; wake up naturally if possible. Set the alarm at the latest possible time you have to get up without rushing too much. Get to bed early enough (and the same time every night) to wake up before the alarm – at least 4 days out of 5.
- Get up (immediately) when you wake up. Fool yourself into doing just one little thing before climbing back into bed (but by then you see no point in going back). I usually urinate and then brush my teeth. It helps knowing i can go back if I want to. It also helps knowing I’ve had my 8 hours and don’t need more.
- Experiment to find your own techniques for going to sleep when you can’t; become cold, then warm again, drink warm milk, get up, read a little more, pet something (triggers oxytocine release), change pillows, rooms or sleep direction.
I can think of at least one other thing than tryptophane to help me fall asleep
Are you kidding me? The list is in the executive summary and in the body of the article. You want it again?!
Please, please do the latter. Write a review and tell me about it.
OK,… again: Inadequate sleep leads to impaired decision making, poor health (including cancer) and unhappiness, among other things. And the remedy is easy and delightful; just let nature run its course, sleep when you’re tired and wake up without alarm clocks.
P.S. I don’t want anybody sick or tired at my workplace. I’ll send you home. Drunk is okay though.
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