If you haven’t already noticed by now, I am a huge fan of sleep.
Not too long ago I wrote a post about how you can sleep better but since then, I have feasted on countless articles about sleep and read a full book dedicated to it. The benefits of getting enough sleep are countless as are the risks to your mental and physical health if you aren’t getting enough.
It’s great to see sleep finally starting to get the love that it deserves.
Depending on who you are and your relation to sleep, it’s possible that it is your biggest enemy. Maybe because you can’t seem to get enough of it, can’t fall asleep quick enough, can’t get enough deep sleep or just wake up from it feeling as groggy as you did before you went to bed. On the other hand, it could be (and should be) your best friend. It’s the rest and recovery at the end of a long day, the time to reset mentally and physically and start that overnight healing process that is so often overlooked with the insane pace of modern life.
If sleep is not yet your best friend, it’s time to realise that although you may have a rocky, slightly turbulent relationship with it, it wants to be there for you. You just have to let it.
It’s also very likely that you aren’t creating the right conditions for it to properly enter your life like it should and wants to. This post will help you manifest the perfect sleep-space so you can, at last, be at one with the most powerful health miracle drug that exists.
Strangely enough, the first step to optimising light for sleep arrives when you first wake up. Your body doesn’t fully know that it is awake until you are exposed to natural blue light such as the sun which properly wakes you up. Getting sunlight on your face, through the receptors on your skin and especially through your eyes and straight to your brain are the most effective ways of setting your circadian rhythm in perfect time and making sure that you are going to sleep better that following night. Our retinas have special cells called retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) that detect sunlight and send a signal along nerves to a part of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the timekeeper of our circadian rhythms. So open those blinds, curtains or shutters as soon as you wake up and then get yourself outside for a short while.
What if you live close to the poles where the winter brings dark mornings? What if you live in a place (like I do!) where the mornings are often characterised by dark, grey clouds? Thankfully, there are some nifty biohacking methods that you can use to bring the benefits of sunlight to you. There are these Re-Timer Glasses which emit a bright blue light very similar to what you get from sunlight. You can wear these when you wake up to mimic the effects of sunlight and help set your biological clock, or wear them when you want your morning wake cycle to occur, such as when you’re jet-lagged or preparing for travel to a new timezone. Some people swear by them so they might be worth checking out.
As an alternative or in addition, you can actually purchase special earbuds that stimulate photoreceptors in your brain by beaming bright light through the ear canal and ear structure. This small device called the HumanCharger just needs to be worn for twelve minutes to achieve the same desired effect as a morning of sunlight. They look exactly like earphones too so your fashion doesn’t need to be compromised! I was actually a little sceptical about the effectiveness of the whole ‘light into the ear to replicate sunlight’ thing but it is actually backed by quite a bit of solid scientific research. One study showed that people exposed to twelve minutes of light through their ears had greater activation of the visual and sensory-motor areas of the brain. Other experienced benefits are jet-lag recovery, an energy-booster for shift workers as it restores a somewhat constant rhythm to your body and it is also effective at fighting the winter blues. As it turns out there is actual science behind the ‘winter blues’ too!
So you have managed to get your blue light intake in the morning to reset your biological clock and let your body know that it is time to get going. What about night time then? As you might have figured out, if blue light is what gets you up and about in the morning, guess what you need to minimise in the evening?
That’s right, whether morning or night, blue light is a major sleep inhibitor. Because blue light suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin to make you alert and awake during the day, if you’re exposing yourself to blue light in the evening, you’re inhibiting melatonin production that is necessary for priming your body to sleep. That’s why it’s important to eliminate exposure to artificial blue light at the end of the day as much as possible. So any mobiles or laptops in bed or in your room are a big no-no if you are serious about getting some good shut-eye. As is any bright white/blue lighting that you might have on just before bed.
If you must use your phone or laptop in the evening, then they usually have settings that can change the display screen from a harsh blue to a warmer red shift. On the iPhone for example, if you go into Settings –> Display & Brightness –> Night Shift –> and then slide the button from the Less Warm to More Warm end of the spectrum which will give your eyes a bit of a rest and isn’t as bad for your sleep routine just before bed.
If you want to really geek out, you can buy blue-light blocking glasses when you are watching TV or playing videogames at night so as not to suppress any of that precious melatonin before bed and get yourself the perfect night sleep. There is also no strain on your eyes when working behind a screen with the glasses, which is a nice bonus. Biological LED bulbs are also an option that can replace regular bulbs in your bedroom. They emit no blue light whatsoever and provide the perfect pre-sleep environment for you and your room.
There is a selection of natural compounds that have been proven to produce relaxation and get the body and mind into the right state before heading off to dreamland. Lavender, rose and bergamot are just three of these which activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS itself is known to help control homeostasis and inhibit activity in various organs of the ‘fight or flight’ response.
An essential oil diffuser for your room will do just the trick. It does exactly what it says on the tin – diffuses those compounds periodically into your room environment. If you don’t have a diffuser, putting just a little bit of lavender oil on your upper lip before sleep is also a cool trick to help you sleep. This way you are constantly, but not always consciously, smelling that lavender which has properties of a sedative and antidepressant.
Temperature is often an overlooked aspect of getting optimal sleep and is usually what the average person knows the least about.
Did you know that your core body temperature needs to drop by around 2 degrees before it can enter sleep? That is why you will always find it more difficult to sleep when you are too hot than when you are too cold. So trying to get a cool sleep environment is essential to great sleep.
Aside from setting your thermostat to the optimal 18C, there are a few other hacks that you can implement for the perfect temperature. Chilipad offers an extraordinary product: a mattress with temperature controlled at the push of a button. The heated water circulation technology that they use can heat up your mattress during the winter and cool you off during summer.
For some more great information about cultivating the perfect sleeping temperature in your room, check out this interesting article from Tuck.
Optimise sound could also be titled ‘Minimise sound’, whichever is your preference. Barking dogs, the sounds of car horns and traffic or just the sounds of a creaky house can all cause disruption and result in a delayed sleep onset. The obvious way to hack your room, or more specifically your body, in this instance is through noise-cancelling earphones or special wrap-around headphones that fit comfortably around your head, a bit like a bandana. Both of these can either play some soothing tracks or just block out all of the external noise.
I generally prefer silence if I’m trying to get to sleep, but sometimes I choose to listen to Binaural Beats. These are a special type of music that plays two different sound frequencies between each ear that interacts nicely with your brain chemistry, helping you fall into a pleasant sleep. Personally, I prefer binaural beats when I’m napping as opposed to nighttime sleep, but they have certainly been proven effective for both.
That’s all, for now…
There you have it. A wide range of ways that you can start hacking your sleep environment to make it the most optimal for a great night of deep, restorative sleep.
What I also like to do is have the occasional browse on the ‘deep sleep’ section of Amazon as you can often some really interesting contraptions and cool devices to use!
So now it’s time for action.
That begins with thinking: How can I improve the night-time lighting situation in my room? What smells could I introduce to help trigger my mind into bed-time mode? Is sound an issue? If so, what can I do to fix it?
Then action: take the necessary steps to get the perfect night sleep that you not only need but thoroughly deserve!
What a great post, Dan. I found myself nodding in agreement. In fact, now I understand why I like to open the curtains and blinds and look out to the sunlight, which is most days! I then move about the house opening blinds and letting the sunshine in. Some mornings, when it’s sunny, I go outside to stretch and enjoy the morning air. Until now I’ve never quite understood that behaviour. So, Thank You!
I love the idea of the ‘re-timer glasses’, for those cloud covered days and/or to reset the body clock when travelling, etc…
Such a lot of great info… 🙂
Thanks Carolyn, people usually don’t put two and two together when it comes to why we feel down on dark miserable days and feel great when the sun is out. Our bodies and days are naturally bound to it and have been for thousand of years!
Yeah the re-timer glasses look pretty cool. Unfortunately the combo of being a broke student and someone who doesn’t travel often means I haven’t had the chance to try them yet, but they have great reviews from reputable people in the industry!