“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” – Matthew Walker
We all know sleep is important. But it’s not just about how many hours you get. What actually makes an impact on how much energy you have in the morning? Stephanie Kent of @empowered_wellness_ has the answers below. Read on to get the most out of your sleep.
Sleep Deprived or Drunk?
You’ve most likely pulled an all-nighter or been very sleep deprived at least once in your life. Maybe to study for a big exam, write a proposal, party, or just because you couldn’t stop thinking. Do you remember how you felt the following morning? Trying to recall information, keeping your eyes open, or even eating a healthy diet, all might have been more difficult than usual. According to Matthew Walker, Neuroscientist and Sleep Expert, you are considered as impaired as a legally drunk person after you have been deprived from sleep for more than 20 hours!
We hear advice left and right these days about those zzz’s. “Get eight hours of sleep”. “Go to bed before 10:30pm”. “Don’t eat too much before bed”. “Take melatonin”. “Take CBD”. “Turn on night-mode on your electronics to remove the harsh blue lights”. But what actually makes an impact on how much energy you have in the morning? The short and simple answer is: Quality!
“Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama
According to Chinese Medicine, sleep occurs when Yang returns to Yin. Daytime Yangenergies are of stimulating, warming and energizing nature, while nighttime Yin energies are calming, cooling and restorative. This is an important concept to understand, because as you prepare to get to sleep, the invigorating Yang should be soothed into the soothing Yin. This means that activities such as intense exercising, eating a large meal and goal-oriented thinking should be done during the day to allow the body to move into its natural Yin rhythm of slower relaxation and self-care at night.
“Sleep is the elixir of life. It is the most widely available and democratic powerful healthcare system I could ever possibly imagine.” – Matthew Walker
Western Medicine teaches us that during sleep, the brain’s glymphatic system is busy circulating it’s cleaning fluid responsible for the flushing out of cellular waste and neurotoxins. It is also consolidating memories, increasing the rate of neurogenesis (the growth and development of nerve cells) and strengthening connections between brain cells. Sleep also improves immunity, muscle recovery, heart health, hormone balancing and blood-sugar levels amongst many other important longevity functions. Bottom line, sleep is crucial to health!
To get the most restful night of sleep, you not only need to pay attention to your actual sleep conditions and timing, but also to what you do right before you get in bed to get the message out to your brain that it’s sleepy time! Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks to wake up full of energy.
Before bed rituals:
To start off, a reminder to stay away from caffeine after 1pm or about 8 hours before your expected bedtime, and to keep your higher intensity workouts for earlier in the day, as they both give you energy when you want your body to do the opposite.
I highly recommend to turn off the TV and switch your computer and phone screens to night-mode, to a red screen or to turn them off completely at sunset. You may also want to install red or amber light bulbs in your house or bedroom, wear red or orange (blue-light blocking) glasses around the house or switch your light source to candles (so romantic!). This will help your body further relax and help it realize it’s almost bedtime. Installing Hue lights has really helped our family. These intelligent light bulbs are controlled by an app, allowing you to change their color at night (or at any time of day — they are a mood setting must!). Blue-light emitting from electronics and LED lights confuse the body’s circadian rhythms, making it think it’s a bright sunny morning, and you must keep going, when really it’s nighttime, and time to finally rest.
Something important to realize, is that the body temperature needs to drop by a degree or two before falling asleep. Therefore, energizing activities are a no-no as they can keep you in sympathetic mode for hours! One relaxing way to help your body temperature drop before bed is by taking a hot bath, shower, sauna, or hot tub. Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive, but remember that the body will need to cool down once you get out! The water droplets on your body or a short cold shower will help this happen, all the while keeping you relaxed. Just make sure you take it at least an hour before getting in bed to allow proper cooling before jumping in bed. Bonus: add Epsom or Magnesium salt to your soak to further relax your muscles.
Another cheap and effective tool for me has been a sleep induction mat. At first I was skeptical, but it’s one of the most useful tools I’ve used to date! Laying on the mat full of tiny spikes can be very painful at first, but once you resist the urge of getting up and putting the mat away forever, your nervous system gives up and kicks into parasympathetic mode, making you calm down and relax quickly. You may also integrate a meditation or gratitude practice while laying on the mat. Thinking positively has been shown to help you fall asleep faster and sleep for longer. There are many great guided meditations on YouTube, or you may use an app such as Insight Timer, Waking Up, Headspace or Calm or biofeedback technologies such as Muse or Inner Balance to help you get more out of that time! You can also keep a gratitude journal such as The Five Minute Journal for morning and night rituals.
If you prefer to head down the supplement route, a few could be beneficial for you. Always consult your naturopathic doctor or functional medical doctor before taking new supplements or herbs, especially if you are taking medication, have a chronic disease or are pregnant. Some of my favorites are Bulletproof Sleep Mode (to relieve stress and put your body into sleep mode quickly), Magnesium (helps relax muscles and support restorative sleep), GABA (for its ability to calm the brain and reduce anxiety through quieting the nervous system), Melatonin (if you’re really amped up or are travelling across time zones — start with a very low dose and don’t take it every night as it can be habit-forming). You may also start with making yourself an herbal tea. Calming herbs like chamomile, skullcap, lavender, passionflower, valerian root, or kava kava (don’t use this one every night, concurrently with alcohol, or if you have decreased liver function) are wonderful to put your body into parasympathetic mode. You can also apply a drop organic lavender, ylang ylang or roman chamomile essential oil to the bottom of your feet, add it in a diffuser in your bedroom, or put a drop or two on your pillow to help you escape into dreamland.
Replenishing your liver’s glycogen to keep stable blood sugar levels for hours, is also an effective hack for a full night of sleep. To do so, I like to enjoy about a teaspoon of organic unrefined coconut oil or pastured ghee with a teaspoon or two of local raw honey (check your local coop or health food store) before bed. Adding a touch of Ceylon cinnamon powder and a pinch of sea salt really makes this a frosting-tasting treat!
Lastly, if you suffer from insomnia, anxiety, forgetfulness, foggy-headedness, or you simply wish to get better and deeper sleep, I highly recommend seeking a local acupuncturist to support your health.
This might be surprising to some, but there’s something even more important that getting in bed by the usually recommended 10:30pm, and it’s to set a consistent sleep-wake schedule for yourself, whatever that timing means for you! If you’re one of those lucky people who gets to choose their work schedule to fit their innate rhythms; Wonderful! Dr. Michael Breus, author of The Power of When shares that “every person has a master biological clock ticking away inside of their brain, and dozens of smaller biological clocks throughout his or her body, [and] unlike a normal clock, not every person’s biological clock keeps the same time or even at the same pace. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “I’m not a morning person”, well there’s a reason for that. Some people are meant to be more productive in the morning than at night, and vice versa. Believe it or not – your body has been programmed to function much better at certain times of the day than others. Based on general morningness and eveningness preferences, different people fall into different classifications, called “Chronotypes””. It’s important to figure out what benefits you! I highly recommend to take Dr. Breus’s chronotype quiz or to get his book to figure out which type of wake/sleep schedule would allow you to be the best performing, happiest and healthiest being. Even if you can’t change your work schedule to match your chronotype at the moment, it’s still of great importance to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. Get into that routine!
Another important aspect of sleep, that I find is not nearly enough talked about is, room darkness. You want to make sure you sleep in a pitch black room for optimal brain and body reset. Your mitochondria (powerhouses of your cells responsible for your energy) are light sensitive ancient bacteria that will be disrupted by any light. Get yourself some blackout curtains, tape all lights coming off electronics with black tape, or wear an eye mask if you need to!
You also want to make sure you sleep through the whole night without being disturbed by phone notifications, so make sure to put your phone on airplane mode, turn it off completely or leave it out of your bedroom. If you are keeping it or other electronics in your bedroom or wifi in your home, having EMF filters will help reduce the amount of erratic energy impacting your cells.
And remember to keep your bedroom cool for optimal sleep!
Start your day with gratitude, light movement, barefoot grounding (if possible), a large glass of spring water and sunlight! If you have trouble getting up in the morning, then the Hue lights I discussed above might save you as they can also be programmed to slowly turn on with your alarm clock in the morning. This simulates a sunrise right from your bed! I have found this to be especially helpful during the dark winter months. If these don’t quite do it, then buying a sun lamp to use right when you wake up might be your winning combo!
Waking up feeling amazing is probably the best way to know if you slept well. But if you wake up not feeling rested or you are an individual curious about their biology, there are many technologies available nowadays to help you track your sleep. I personally love the free Sleep Cycle app. Its intelligent wake-up feature allows for a gentle and timely start to your day, while it provides an accurate sleep analysis graph. Combining this with the Hue lights I discussed above is another favorite combo of mine! I also keep hearing people raving about the Oura Ring that measures everything from total sleep, to sleep efficiency, REM and deep sleep to time it takes you to fall asleep and body temperature. I’ve also heard friends say they enjoy the Motiv Ring and Fitbit that give you more basic but reliable feedback on sleep duration and activity during the day, although I have yet to try any of these devices.
If you prefer the good old pen and paper route, then printing a Sleep Diary might be better for you. This allows you to journal what you did, how much you slept and how you feel daily, to potentially find correlations to what makes you wake up feeling refreshed night after night.
If you want to learn more about sleep and how to develop longevity habits, I highly recommend the books Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker and The Power of When by Michael Breus mentioned above, as well as Head Strong by Dave Asprey.
Sleep tight friends!