Core Client Habit: Sleep for 50+ Hours Every Week
Question: Did You Sleep 50+ Hours Last Week?
How To Know You’ve Done This: Sleep 50+ Hours This Week.
Do we need to make a case for the importance of sleep? Think of the last time you were jet-lagged or severely sleep deprived. Was literally any bodily system working particularly well during that time? No, it was not. On a bags-under-the-eyes scale of 1 to 10, you were Steve Buscemi. Editing Note: I thought this reference might be too obscure, but upon googling his name I discovered there is now a full-fledged internet meme called “Buscemi Eyes.”
In case you are unconvinced, here is a brief overview of sleep from the National Institute of Health. For now, let's agree that the hard part about sleep isn’t knowing you need it, it's actually getting it! You probably feel like you would need 32 hours in a day to get the classic 8 recommended hours of ZzZs.
Why 50 hours?
We knew we needed to make sleep a priority for our clients to ensure their success, but turning it into a simple yes or no check posed a problem. Many of our clients’ schedules vary greatly from day to day (shift workers, nurses, firefighters, red-eye catching business travelers, new moms… we’re looking at you!) so to require a certain number of hours every night seemed pointless. Checking off “yes” or “no” on a habit is only motivating if it's actually possible to check off yes!
Our solution to this conundrum? Don’t count it by the night. 50 hours is a nice friendly looking number that amounts to just over 7 hours per day average, which fits squarely with what most research recommends as necessary for adults.
Is this just permission to sleep in till noon on weekends?
Don’t miss the point! Respecting your body’s highly intelligent circadian rhythm is powerful. If it is currently possible for you to keep a consistent sleep and wake time that coordinates with sunrise and sunset, do it. If it's not currently possible, but could be possible by rearranging your schedule, do it. You will not regret it. But if you are a firefighter who works for several days and nights in a row, or a new mom who needs to feed an infant every few hours, things are different. It’s still vital to feel successful in honoring your body’s need for sleep to the best of your ability.
Now then, don’t be the next baggy eyed internet meme. Go catch some Zs!
Sleep creates an environment where our body can repair, rebuild, and make sense of all the good communication you’ve given it from food and movement. If you find yourself feeling burned out, tired, and unable to perform in the office, gym, or at home, it may be due to your sleep quality and/or quantity.
If you go to the doc’s office and tell them you have a sleep problem, most will simply prescribe a side effect-laden sleeping pill and send you home. Although there is a time and place for sleeping pills, the medical world doles out sleeping pills much too quickly and instead should focus on improving sleep through other means. Our bodies are meant to sleep well. If we are not sleeping well, there is likely something off in the way we are communicating with our body.
We live in an overly busy and stressed society. Far too many people are addicted to stimulants to get them going in the morning and through the day. Then at the end of the day, they need to unwind with a glass of wine or a beer (or more than a glass). Instead of allowing our body’s natural hormonal regulation of our sleep-wake cycle, we rely on drugs like caffeine and alcohol.
Although we can’t control how fast we fall asleep or how long we stay asleep, we can certainly set ourselves up for a good night’s sleep by doing a few things well.
If you want to feel better, live longer, lose weight, and thrive, a good night of sleep is one of the most effective tools to get there. I’m going to lay out some of the best research on sleep as well as our own practical experience.
What Is Sleep?
No matter how often you move, a lack of sleep will eventually catch up with you. We’ve seen clients who are working out every day of the week and eating well struggle to lose weight simply because they are only sleeping five hours a night.
“Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles, and reduced interactions with surroundings.”
With our eyes closed and our consciousness altered, sleep restores energy, regenerates tissues, and prepares us to tackle another day.
During sleep, we progress through five phases. The average person takes 90 minutes to complete each phase. When we are awakened often during the night (like with a newborn), it’s difficult to get the appropriate amount of time in each phase.
Why Do I Need To Sleep?
During sleep, the body goes about to build, repair, and regenerate. Important functions like immune system health, metabolism and hormonal balance, and brain function can only happen during sleep. We can’t survive without sleep.
Let It Shine
We humans were created to be outside with our skin exposed to the sun. This is especially important early in the day. Early morning sunlight triggers our internal clock to go to bed later that evening. That’s right, good sleep starts right when you wake up.
Melatonin, the hormone which encourages sleep is heavily influenced by our bodies exposure to natural light. Research shows that people who get sunlight within the first few hours of the day fall asleep easier at night.
The sun is our body’s only means of producing Vitamin D. It helps regulate our circadian rhythm and facilitates good sleep.
We need direct sunlight. One of the best means for the rays of the sun to enter our body is through our eyes. The eyes have blood vessels very close to the surface of our body.
Attempt to get 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight per day without sunscreen or sunglasses on. After that, you can lather up and be confident that you got enough sun to keep your melatonin centers happy as a ray of sunshine.
The Bedroom Is For Sleep and Sex
Keeping the bedroom specific to sleep and sex, as opposed to Netflix binges and work chats, will help create the brain association that your bedroom is for sleeping.
Doing work in bed is even worse than Netflix. Remember, neurons that fire together, wire together. We are habitual creatures. If we create the habit of working in the bedroom, our brain will associate the bed with work.
Get all phones, screens, and thoughts of work out of your bedroom. You don’t need your iPhone as an alarm. Get yourself a $30 alarm clock on Amazon and watch the amazing effect it will have on your sleep. O yeah, and the bedroom is to be used for sex as well. After an orgasm, we release a cascade of hormones which induce sleep. I bet you already knew that intuitively.
The room should be dark. Like really dark. Even the smallest blue light should be omitted. Get a little crazy with tin foil and tape it over even tiny lights on sound machines and clocks. Any light, even a very small light, has been shown to decrease our body’s drive to sleep.
We are made to sleep when it’s dark outside. So get your room as dark as possible. A few blackout curtains could spell the difference between poor sleep and an amazing night of sleep.
You probably can’t control that annoying light on the street right outside your window, but you can get yourself some burly blackout curtains, a dim alarm clock, and cover any and all lights in the house.
The Sleep Ritual
Start your sleep ritual in the morning. Ideally you should wake just prior to the sun rising. This is one of the best ways to improve sleep. By getting up within the same small time frame each day, you set your circadian rhythm up for success.
Then start your day with a routine. It could be prayer time, reading, coffee, or some gratitude journaling.
At night, there should be SOMETHING which triggers the wind down process to start. Dr. Matt and his wife Nicole have an evening sleep ritual.
“First, we put the kiddos to bed between 8 and 8:30. Then, we respond to texts and shut of our phones for the night. We hit the hot tub for 10 to 15 minutes for some uninterrupted talk time. The hot tub has been one of the best investments we’ve made because it forces us to talk without our phones and has created an interesting transition into the sleep routine. It’s almost like, once our bodies and brains get into the hot tub, they know the sleep routine has started. After the hot tub, we do some foam rolling, stretching, and intentional breathing exercises. Last, Dr. Matt takes an ice cold shower, brushes and flosses his teeth. Then we read some fiction and it’s lights out!”
Just like we talked about earlier with neurons which fire together wire together, if we create an association in our brain between the same routine and sleep time, it will make getting asleep much easier.
We have yet to find any scientific research on this one, but it works.
All day long our brains are working to solve problems at work, manage a toddler, and make decisions. At the end of the day, we need to check out. You can watch TV to zone out, which takes care of not thinking, but the blue light will likely keep you awake. Or you can read (or listen) to fiction to give your brain something else to think and focus on rather than dwelling over the events of the day and thinking about the next day’s events. We recommend reading a real paper book (they still make these). If this isn’t feasible, you can read on a Kindle or iPad, but remember to turn it to “night-time mode.”
Dr. Matt’s favorite fiction books are the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Stormlight Archive, and, of course, Harry Potter.
Cooler Than A Cucumber
When we fall asleep, our core temperature lowers. If the environment we are in is too hot, we will struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep.
The optimal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s cold! You can also lower your core body temperature a touch just before bed by taking a cold shower.
You can also use a fan to promote coolness and a light sheet or blanket. We’ve also heard of folks having amazing success with products like the ChiliPad.
10 Hours Before Bed, No Caffeine
Craig Ballantyne came up with the numbers for the next few sleep points. He calls it his 10-3-2-1-0 formula for winning the day. All the numbers revolve around bedtime, and I think they present a helpful formula for creating your own set of sleep “rules.”
The first, “10 hours before bed, no caffeine,” is fairly simple. Caffeine is a stimulant. Far too many people use stimulants in excess to stay wired during the work day. Then at night they use depressants, like alcohol, to calm down. This “works,” but it’s a terrible solution. When you drink, especially more than a single drink, it causes your sleep cycle to be thrown off (more on this in the next point).
Caffeine in moderation (1 to 3 8-oz. cups of coffee per day) is fine depending on your tolerance levels. But have more than this and you’ll soon feel the effects of central-nervous-system fatigue and burnout.
If you have a 9 o'clock bedtime, you’ll need to have your last cup of coffee at 11 a.m. It takes about 10 hours to clear all caffeine from your bloodstream.
This rule may need to change for those who are more sensitive to caffeine.
3 Hours Before Bed, Stop Alcohol And Food Consumption
Alcohol does indeed make us sleepy. Yet the quality of sleep we get with alcohol is poor. Alcohol is a toxin. Your body has to work overtime to process that toxin instead of doing the complicated and important work of drifting you off to sleep. The body and brain simply don’t “turn off” when you drink alcohol.
Alcohol impairs our sleep-wake cycle and disturbs restful sleep. Our body is really good at taking us through the stages of sleep, but alcohol throws a wrench in the system. If you drink too closely to sleep or too much, you may fall asleep quicker, but your sleep quality will suffer.
Alcohol before bed impedes restorative sleep and memory processing. This is essentially altering your ability to process all the amazing communication you’ve given yourself during the day.
Limiting yourself to one drink and making sure it’s at least three hours before bed should help to mitigate or prevent these effects.
Food should be limited just before bed as well. When your body doesn’t have time to process the food you eat before bed, it can lead to blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night, waking you up.
2 Hours Before Bed, No More Work
This should probably happen long before two hours before bed, but two hours is the bare minimum if you want restful sleep.
It’s really important for our brain to have the chance to shut down and do a “reset” before the start of the next day. If you are always working or thinking about work, it will be difficult to get meaningful work done or be present with your family during non-work time.
1 Hour Before Bed, No More Screen Time
Melatonin is an important hormone that helps facilitate sleep. Blue light, like that of a cell phone, screen, or TV, has been shown to reduce its secretion.
Researchers at Harvard also suspect that blue light may have a negative impact upon some types of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and depression.
Get a bit obsessive about blocking blue light. Tape tin foil over any and all blue light in your home. Get serious blackout curtains. Create yourself a sleep dungeon!
You can put your phone on “night-shift” mode or something similar to block blue light, and this may help. I have mine set this way from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
0 (Number Of Times You Should Hit The Snooze Button)
The general principle is to set your alarm to get up when you want to get up — and actually get up then. Spending an hour in the morning hitting the snooze button is not only a waste of precious morning time, but you are also not getting restful sleep.
Better yet, set up your life so you get plenty of sleep and wake up naturally before your alarm goes off. Then you really wont need a snooze button.
The Magic Hours
1000’s of years ago, we started to get sleepy a few hours after the sun had set. The darkness and light of fire cued our body that it was time to wind down. Today, with the widespread evening screen usage, we are stimulated long into the evening and override our natural drive to go to bed.
The most important sleep we can get is between the hours of 10pm and 2am. This is the magic window where our bodies hormones are working overtime to repair and help us recover. Prioritize sleep during this time.
Supplement With Magnesium Before Bed
Magnesium is a common mineral found in the human body.
Experts say about half of Americans are not getting enough magnesium and are deficient.
“This is a bonafide anti-stress mineral that offers many more benefits, including that it can alleviate premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, reduce blood pressure, boost performance, relieve inflammation, prevent migraines, improve blood sugar levels, fight against depression, enhance sleep quality and promote relaxation.” -John Rusin
Increasing magnesium levels in our body can decrease stress, reduce leg cramps, and help us sleep better.
Tty the supplement Calm, which you can buy on Amazon or at Sprouts.
Top 10 Magnesium-Rich Foods Based on Magnesium Concentration:
Spinach, cooked — 1 cup: 157 milligrams
Swiss chard, cooked — 1 cup: 150 milligrams
Dark Chocolate — 1 square: 95 milligrams
Pumpkin seeds, dried — 1/8 cup: 92 milligrams
Almonds — 1 ounce: 75 milligrams
Black beans — 1/2 cup: 60 milligrams
Avocado — 1 medium: 58 milligrams
Figs, dried — 1/2 cup: 50 milligrams
Yogurt or kefir — 1 cup: 46.5 milligrams
Banana — 1 medium: 32 milligrams
(*Note: mg values are according to the USDA)
With a ball between your knees and your feet on the wall, your body bent to the left, inhale through your nose. As you exhale, dig your heels down into the wall and squeeze the ball. Inhale through your nose holding this position. As you exhale, lift your right foot off the wall. Holding this position, you’re going to blow up the balloon with your exhales. Do 5 breaths into the balloon before releasing.
Wall Reach Exercise.
With a ball squeezed between your knees and your back on the wall, inhale through your nose. As you exhale, round your upper back reaching forward. Inhale through your nose without extending up. Perform 5 breaths.
Go To Bed Earlier
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Gates, and many other influential minds go to bed early and get up early.
Our bodies were designed to sleep according to the dark times of day. Only in the relatively recent past have artificial lights enabled us to be stimulated to stay up later.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following amount of sleep for varying age groups:
Newborns: 14-17 hours
Infants: 12-15 hours
Toddlers: 11-14 hours
Preschoolers: 10-13 hours
School-aged children: 9-11 hours
Teens: 8-10 hours
Adults: 7-9 hours
Older adults: 7-8 hours
Here’s another reason to move often: better sleep quality.
Research has found that early morning exercise (taking the dog for a walk) can help us fall asleep better come nighttime. Strength training, on the other hand, helps us stay asleep for longer, as our body works to repair and regenerate so it can come back stronger.
All of our movement habits are essential to getting good sleep.
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