SLEEP

“NEWS JUST IN… There has been an amazing breakthrough. 

Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that helps you live longer, enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It keeps you slim, improves your skin and reduces food cravings, and wards off dementia, colds and flu.  It lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke, wards off diabetes and makes you feel happier, less anxious and depressed… 

These are not the outcomes of a proven wonder drug but simply the scientifically backed up benefits of getting enough sleep”.

(From the book “why we sleep” by Matthew Walker)

 

This post is split into two parts.

Part 1 contains the fundamentals of sleep the "knowledge" and is in a Q&A Format
Part 2 is the application of the knowledge, feel free to jump to this section.

PART 1 - Knowledge & Understanding

Q. How Much Sleep Do we Need?

A. 7-9 hours in bed - less and your body, mind and soul are all impacted:

  • Sleep is a fundamental part of better health
  • Consistently less than 7-9 hours and you will increase risk factors
  • Even if you feel you function on 6 - I’m sorry you are wrong, email me at chris@habitual.hk and I’m happy to “discuss”

Q. Why do we sleep?

A. Biological processes creating a 'drive' to want to sleep.

  1. Our bodies internal clock* (circadian rhythm), directed by the SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus) in the hypothalamus (Brain), in response to
  2. Increased melatonin secretion (from the pineal gland) spiking at night time (due to the dark) increasing the drive to sleep - It is not know exactly how this works.
  3. Increased adenosine levels from daily activity (it is a side product of energy production) increase the drive to sleep through inhibiting arousal levels (yes why we feel tired after a work out).
  4. Decreased body temperature due to hormonal responses and typical external temperature over 24 hours. (also linked to melatonin)

*Note the actual cycle is different for all, some get sleepy early, some late - the key is knowing what works for you.

Q. How do we sleep?

A. We sleep in cycles of around 90 minutes, working between

  1. NREM/deep sleep (Not Rapid Eye Movement sleep)
  2. REM sleep (Rapid eye movement sleep)

Fig 1

Q. What happens when we sleep

A. In NREM:

  • The body recovers from the days stresses: 
    • Hormones are released e.g., testosterone for growth**
    • We clear waste built up
    • We resupply energy stores
  • We physically get ready for the next day or part of the day (napping post workout is a great way to increase the training benefit - Usain Bolt broke the 100m world record after a nap).
  • We mentally recover and store new learnings from the day.

A. In REM:

  • We process emotions, this is why all things feel better after a good night's sleep; (interestingly this is missing for those who suffer from PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • We make sense of facts; (during NREM we file the facts (crystallized intelligence), during REM we make connections between them (fluid intelligence).

**Note here for those who want to take sport seriously or simply get big muscles - if you fail to sleep well you will NOT get the full benefit of your work out!

Q> What happens when we get less sleep?

A. A lack of sleep will alter recovery.

If you do not get enough hours in bed, the body will concentrate on physical recovery (NREM sleep) at the expense of mental recovery (REM sleep).

This means if you stay up late to do work - you will not efficiently remember, recall or be able to make links to your knowledge; your  creativity will be reduced and you will be less emotionally stable.

  • A lack of sleep is compounding, tiredness leads to poor habits and practices that lead to more poor sleep 
  • You are less efficient throughout the day as your prefrontal cortex shuts down (the human part of the brain) leading to an increase in  emotional direction, leading to poorer decisions which leads to poorer sleep
  • This is a vicious cycle.

Q. What impacts sleep?

A. There are 5 main impacts on sleep.

  1. Light/screens:
    1. Delay your body's internal clock (your circadian rhythm)
    2. Suppression of melatonin
    3. Delays in the onset of REM sleep 
    4. Reduction of the total amount of REM sleep
    5. Increases your alertness when you should be getting sleepy
    6. A lack of alertness the next morning 
  2. Alcohol:
    1. It is a sedative - you pass out not sleep
    2. It fragments sleep - you wake up numerous times in the night (you are sedated so don't notice) 
    3. Which impacts sleep cycles preventing mental and physical recovery
    4. It impacts REM sleep heavily (mental recovery and learning)
    5. Takes many hours to leave your bloodstream 
  3. Caffeine
    1. Not everyone drinks coffee but add dark chocolate, teas, energy drinks, soda’s and you can see caffeine is a widely used drug.
    2. Caffeine mutes the signal of adenosine decreasing our drive to want to sleep.
    3. After 5-7 hours about 50% of the Caffeine is still in the system (we call this a half life)
    4. After 11-13 hours about 25% of the Caffeine is still in the system (we call this a quarter life)
    5. Some of us are more sensitive to caffeine than others, this is genetic.
  4. Travel/shift work/weekends
    1. Disrupt your circadian rhythm
    2. International travel is pretty obvious
    3. Depending on your habits weekends can put you out by 2-3 hours from late nights and lie ins.
  5. Stress
    1. Stress raises cortisol (fight or flight) .
    2. Cortisol impacts hormonal response and brain activity
    3. You can not get into deep sleep and wake frequently

Q. How do I know if I get enough sleep?

A. The following is a self assessment tool for you to measure and track sleep health.

  • Read each statement and choose the response that fits you best right now - rarely (0), sometimes (1) or usually/always (2) 
  • Add up your total score based on your responses out of 10
  • The higher the score the better your sleep health
  • It is subjective (i.e., your opinion) but when you compare yourself with yourself it provides useful data on sleep progress

Q. What do I do with that information?

A. It depends.

  1. What do you want to do with it?
  2. Do you want to make any changes?
  3. Are you ready to make a change?
  4. Are you willing to do something different?*
  5. Are you able to make space for some change?

*for many the answer is no, as change means accepting what you are doing, is not working.

Q. What can I do to embrace change?

A. Work with what you have, no matter how small that space is.

To accept what you are doing is not working brings about judgement from yourself. Are you willing to be vulnerable and open yourself for that judgement?
Put another way - are you able to accept you have not got everything figured out 'yet' but are willing to allow yourself to grow lean and adapt using the resources, strengths and time available to you? Are you willing to let go of the fixed views of why you can not change and allow in the why you can?

 

Part 2 - Practice and Application

 

“Knowledge without action is wastefulness and action without knowledge is foolishness.”

- Al-Ghazali

 

We can know everything, we can be the most intelligent in the room but unless we practice what it is we know, words are wind. Knowing about sleep is different to putting it into practice. Practice is messy, it often does not work, but like your favourite team, when it comes together, the magic happens.

The BIG 5

Big 5 Sleep Beasts

  • Light/screens.
  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • Travel/shift work/weekends.
  • Stress.

These big 5 sleep beasts all impact our sleep and I will work through these in order of most tangible to the most subjective. I will look at this from the point of view of the unmotivated and unwilling - I will try not to make assumptions but alas, I do not know what I don't know and I would welcome you to point out any blindspots in this post


That said, if you see gaps, if you see weakness in the post, do your best not to cling onto that for your reasons why this will not work for you...

Big and Quick Wins

The no brainers when it comes to sleep

  • Aim to go to bed at a similar time each night (sleep cycles)
  • Aim to get up at a similar time each morning (sleep cycles)
  • Create a sleep routine (park the car slowly)
    • Start 60 mins out from sleep (30 mins if pushed, 15 mins better than nothing)
    • Dim Lights. (melatonin released)
    • Put electronic devices away. (melatonin release)
    • Remove distractions (reduce stress, slow the mind)
    • Do something relaxing. (reduce stress, slow the mind)
    • Have a hot bath/shower (drop body temperature)
    • Some studies suggest a small carb intake, others suggest go to bed hungry (personal preference (PP))
  • Create a health routine
    • Know when to stop consuming caffeine during the day (PP)
    • Know how much caffeine you are capable of consuming
    • Know when to stop drinking alcohol (PP)
    • Know when to stop eating (PP)

Be engaged with this process and keep a diary to spot patterns.

When we are When we are stressed, we are likely to make poor health choices and as a result impact how much sleep we get and quality of sleep.

 

Big and Challenging Wins.

Slow the mind, deal with stress.


REM sleep is where we deal with mental stress. If you were paying attention last week you will realise this is an issue. When we are stressed, we are likely to make poor health choices and as a result impact how much sleep we get and quality of sleep - therefore impacting our ability to get REM sleep as our body prioritises physical recovery first.

so....Slow the mind, deal with stress.

  • Stretch/meditate/breathe.
  • Read/do something that relaxes you.
  • If you wake up in the night.
  • Stretch/meditate/breathe.
  • Write down whats on your mind, this will ensure you don't forget this important bit of information - this way you can postpone the worry until tomorrow
  • My preferred thing to do is an A-Z of gratitude. Starting with A work through what I am grateful for today; e.g., I am grateful for Air - it helps me breathe, I am grateful for my Breath - I can capture air, I am grateful for myself (Chris) someone has to be; etc., (I have never got past J)
  • Read/do something that relaxes you
  • If you cannot relax - Leave the room and only come back to bed when you start to feel sleepy again.
  • Forgive your mind for being overactive, it's not doing it to spite you, its chemicals and neurones firing like they only know how to do.
  • Focus on simplicity, wether thats two digit numbers, sheep, Harry Potter Characters or favourite meal - keep it simple.


But I cant slow my mind...

Accept you have things you need to deal with, things that are causing you discomfort - aim to systematically deal with them one at a time, day by day, week by week - play the long game.

  • What is it you are thinking about at night?
  • What can you just drop?
  • What needs your attention?
  • What is in your control to deal with this, even just a little?
  • Where is the resistance?
  • What is the story behind that resistance?
  • How can you recreate the story using your strengths?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What works for you when it works?
  • How can you get a little bit of that in your life consistently?

 

Look at LIFE and sleep.

Everything you do impacts all you do. Take a moment to reflect where in your life you spend time on you to recharge and renew and to "put on your own gas mask"

 

Do you do any of the following

  • Read.
  • Listen to music .
  • Meditate.
  • Get a Massage .
  • Have meaningful conversations .
  • Drink tea .
  • Carry out relaxing hobbies.
  • Get out in the sunshine.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Work out.
  • Laugh.
  • Love.

Self care compounds as does self despair, changing one thing may not impact you, but add that to 2 or three little acts you take each day and you may just find your tipping point.

Do nothing and you certainly will not tip things in your favour.

But the Voice...

Work with what you have, no matter how small that space is.
No matter what you read or what I say there will be a voice that says, that wont work for me.

The problem I have with that voice is that it's not true. We forget everyone has that voice in their head, telling them similar stories - your voice maybe unique to you but resistance to change is universal and that voice is there for everyone to protect them and hold them to "Normal".

But.

You have changed numerous times in your life, you have slept before, you have adapted before, you have learned before, you have been able to systematically adjust to your environment before because you are a living and breathing process - nothing about you is fixed.

Just one thing...

Even if you resist change, try this, even if just a little.

Practice with some intent the act of following the breath. Knowing your mind will go back to thinking - it's what it does, knowing that no magical change will come about, knowing each time you catch yourself going back to thinking - you have just carried out a 'rep' for mindfulness - go again, go again, go again and go again....accept this will take time but what is the alternative?

Do you want to continue as you are?

 

I must add if there is something going on that you do not want to address but are aware this maybe a route of your discomfort and suffering - please find the courage to speak to someone you trust

 

Chris Garvey

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Habitual.club - For all things health and wellbeing.
"When Life Happens" -  My first book sharing tools, prompts and primers towards living the healthy life.
"Words" - Blog Post on human narrative.

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References
  • Buysse D. J. (2014). Sleep health: can we define it? Does it matter?. Sleep, 37(1), 9–17.
  • Habitual (2019). LIFE APP: Making health a habit.
  • Walker, M. P. (2017). Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams.

 

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