The Secret World of Sleep - 10 Ways to Hack Your Sleep for Better Brain Health
IF Insider No. 47
Our previous issue (IF Insider No. 46) was a Special Edition, where we presented our latest Deep Dive, something we do monthly for our members who subscribe to our Fast Factor Circle. In this issue, we are going to turn our attention once again to sleep, with a focus on better brain health.
For our premium subscribers, in this week’s Research Spotlight, we bring your attention to a seminal review article that was actually published in 2018. The topic is how UV light touches the human brain and endocrine system through your skin. We’ll be summarizing this important article for you and bringing you our takeaways on how you can use this information to improve your health and well-being.
Plus our paid subscribers also get one of Ellen’s recipes each month and access to a live Q&A call. Last month, we brought you a warming, spicy, and delicious Thai-style Shrimp Coconut Soup that’s simple and quick to prepare. This month, we are going to show you how to make your own oat milk creamer. This vanilla and honey-infused plant milk is delicious as an ingredient in an iced coffee latte, and we’ll give you instructions on how to make that as well.
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10 Ways to Hack Your Sleep for Better Brain Health
Nearly everyone has experienced losing sleep for a night or two because of illness, a family emergency, or just not being able to sleep due to worry about a problem. And you also know that after a late night, you are not apt to function at your best the next morning.
You drag through your day, likely succumbing to the temptation to fuel yourself on coffee, caffeinated soda, or sweet pastries just to be able to keep your eyes open. There is nothing like losing a night of sleep to remind you just how important sleep is!
If you are like most people though, losing sleep only happens occasionally and isn’t a regular occurrence. In fact, you might tend to take sleep for granted and may not fully realize just how vitally important sleep is, not only for your body but for your body’s command center, your brain. Plus, it’s important to understand that while your body is sleeping soundly, your brain is very busy making sure you are able to remember things you experienced or learned that day.
Let’s take a quick look at how this happens...
Play It Again Sam
For something to actually become a memory, there is a sequence of three things that have to happen:
1 - You have to have the actual experience or actually learn something new. This is called acquisition.
2 - The memory then must become stable in the brain. This is known as consolidation.
3 - You must be able to recall the memory at will.
Acquisition and recall both happen while you are awake. But consolidation, when the memory becomes stable in the brain, happens when you are asleep, no matter what type of memory it is. Scientists are certain that sleep enhances memory, but are less certain about how exactly the brain accomplishes this. The current thinking is this: the part of the brain known as the hippocampus replays the day’s events and the neocortex reviews and processes the replay and stores them for the long term.
You may have heard about the various stages of sleep; REM or rapid eye movement sleep, slow-wave deep sleep, and others. Research shows that different kinds of memories become stable at different sleep stages. The takeaway here is it’s important to get a full night’s sleep so you experience several complete cycles of the various sleep stages each night.
Sleep does much more than help with memory. Research clearly shows that sleep affects physical reflexes such as reaction time, fine motor skills, and also judgment. In fact, people who are sleep-deprived have been shown to be much more likely to think they were right about something when they were clearly wrong! And long term sleep deprivation can also increase your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke.
10 Sleep Hacks for Better Brain Health
By now, you understand the importance of good sleep on brain health. So how do you ‘hack’ your sleep to get the most brain benefit from your downtime? Here are ten of the best sleep hacks we know.
1 - Stick to a Relaxing Evening Routine
Early in the evening, an hour or so before you plan to go to bed, start to decompress by enjoying some light reading, soaking in the tub, or practicing relaxation exercises. Stay away from things that tax your thinking and especially avoid getting involved in talking about emotional issues as this can trigger the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that can prevent you from getting the rest you need.
2 - Avoid Bright Light Exposure
As the sun begins to go down, also dim the lights in your house. You may also want to use blue light blocking glasses after the sun goes down. Continuing to expose yourself to bright light, whether that’s from room lights or your computer, can disrupt your sleep later.
You may also want to check out one of the apps for your computer (we recommend Flux) and smartphone that filter out blue light. If you own an iPhone, go to Settings and check the Night Shift function as evening approaches. Android phones have a night function as well. This will shift the color balance on your phone away from blue so you can use your phone without the danger your sleep will suffer later.
3 - Cut the caffeine
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, found in teas, sodas, chocolate, and some pain relievers for six hours before sleep. You may be under the impression that caffeine does not affect you. So try a little experiment and go for a week without any caffeine intake six hours prior to bed. You may be pleasantly surprised at how your sleep improves!
4 - Don’t Drink Fluids After 8 PM
If you are having to jump up several times a night to go to the bathroom, it’s no wonder your sleep is getting disrupted. Limiting your fluid intake will prevent your bladder from filling and give you and your brain a good night’s rest.
5 - Save Exercise for Earlier in the Day
Vigorous exercise just before bed is a sleep disrupter. Plan on exercising in the morning, or if that is not possible, complete your exercise routine several hours prior to bedtime.
6 - Do Not Go to Bed Until You Are Tired
This seems like common sense, but if you go to bed before you are tired you will be delayed in falling asleep. The longer it takes to fall asleep the harder it can be to get to sleep. This can set off a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. If you go to bed but do not fall asleep after 20 minutes, then get up and read or listen to music until you feel sleepy. This assumes of course that you are not consuming caffeine for six hours before bed (see Hack #3).
7 - Give Your Bedroom a Makeover
The ideal environment for sleep is quiet, cool, and dark. If you have artificial light that comes into your bedroom from street lights or other sources, you may want to get blackout shades or a sleep eye mask to block out light. Keep the temperature in your bedroom on the cool side. If outside noise is a problem, use earplugs or heavy curtains to block it out.
8 - Set Your Internal Clock
Try your best to go to bed and arise at the same time each day, as it is this consistency that will set your body’s internal clock. Keep to this schedule, even on weekends and when you have not slept well the night before (yes, we know it’s hard!)
Get your body out into natural sunlight as soon as you possibly can each morning, even if it’s just for five minutes. Take a ‘sun break’ for a few minutes during the day. The light from the sun is a truly powerful biological agent that helps to regulate your body’s internal clock so you can consistently get a better night’s sleep. See IF Insider No. 46 (Circadian Rhythm Optimization) for help with this.
9 - Melatonin - Sweet Dreams Are Made of This
A natural hormone, melatonin is made in your body’s pineal gland, located deep within your brain. This tiny gland is turned off during the day, but when the sun goes down, it goes to work producing melatonin. As the melatonin is released into your bloodstream, you will being to feel sleepy. That’s why bright light is so disruptive to sleep, as it keeps melatonin from being released.
Melatonin supplements can be bought over the counter, but sleep experts caution it should not regularly be used as a sleep aid, as the dosage in these pills is considerably above what experts recommend and can produce daytime grogginess from elevated blood levels of the hormone.
10 - Know When to Seek Help
What if nothing on this list is helping? If none of these things are doing you any good and you are significantly sleep-deprived or consistently suffer from insomnia, consider a consultation with a qualified sleep specialist. The specialist may recommend you undergo an overnight sleep study to rule out a serious condition such as sleep apnea, a chronic condition that can lead to other health problems and puts you at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke.
The bottom line is this. Your body needs rest and your brain needs sleep in order to do its job consolidating your memories and learning. So put these ten sleep hacks to the test for a better night’s sleep. Your brain will thank you. Sweet dreams!
Why It Matters
Getting enough quality sleep, along with optimizing your circadian rhythm are two of the most important things you can do for your health.
“Sleep is like the golden chain that binds our health and body together.”
~ Thomas Dekker - (1572 - 1632) - English dramatist and pamphlet writer who is known for his vivid descriptions of life in Elizabethan London.
What We Are Reading 📚
With each issue, we bring you a short blurb on what we are currently reading or watching, including books, articles, podcasts, videos, movies, and research papers of value.
Denise - I’m reading a brand new book, Radiant: How to Have All the Energy You Need to Live a Life You Love by Iris van Ooyen. As Iris points out, “Being busy and tired is a disease of our time.” Then she proceeds to lay out the reasons and the solutions you can implement to get back your energy. van Ooyen has a chapter with quick steps you can take to revive your mental and physical energy and goes into deeper, long-term steps you can learn to set boundaries and live fully with all the energy you need, when you need it.
Ellen - Right now, I am re-reading a favorite book, Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Published in 2014, this book quickly became a personal development classic, as Ryan’s words bring ancient wisdom and philosophy to life in an accessible and easy to understand manner. This wisdom seems especially applicable these days!
The premise of this book is this: What stands in your way, no matter what that might be, actually contains the seeds to get you past it. This book teaches you to take each and every obstacle you encounter and turn it to your advantage. A priceless skill!
Did you like this article and learn something new? If so, please let us know in the comments! Questions and suggestions for future articles are welcome, too!
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