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Six Ways to Improve Your Sleep Routine

Every health nut and successful CEO loves to brag about their morning routine. Truth is, your morning routine may be a pivotal foundation for a productive day, but even the best morning routine will never outdo a good night’s sleep. Here are six things you can do that will help you wake up feeling relaxed and ready to have a successful day.

Number 1: Decrease Your Core Body Temperature

As Harding, et al. note in their 2019 Frontiers in Neuroscience review “The Temperature Dependance of Sleep,” we are most likely to choose sleep when our core and brain temperatures are in rapid decline, and if we dissociate from this cycle of body cooling we experience insomnia. 

You can achieve this by combining several different things. First, is setting your room temperature to between 66 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (19-21 celsius) and making sure you have a good blanket to create a warmer “microclimate” around your body. 

“In optimal room temperatures, approximately 19–21°C, we attempt to establish skin microclimates between 31 and 35°C and deviation from this range has a negative influence on sleep.” (see figure)

 

 

Next, you should wear socks to keep your feet warm and shift cool blood away from your legs and towards your core. Warmer temperatures in the hands and feet will induce vasodilation (the dilation of blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure) and will facilitate in the temperature decline associated with sleep initiation. 

Another way to “hack” this rapid decline in core body temperature for sleep is to take a warm bath or to warm your body for up to 4 hours 1 to 8 hours before bed. This was coined the “Warm Bath Effect” by researchers, who discovered that immersion in hot water prior, but not immediately before, the sleep period decreases sleep latency and increases sleep depth.

Number 2: Block Blue Light to Increase Melatonin Production

This one might be hard for some, but I promise you it’s worth it. Put all screens and LED lights on “off” setting at least an hour before bed or set them to a low blue light mode and wear your Blue-Light Blockers at the very least. I use Night Shift mode on my iPhone and the Flux App I know how tempting it is to use your phone before bed. The light from your phone, other devices, and LED lights around your home is not conducive to a good night’s sleep because it suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness that helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep.

According to “Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: A randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison” a by Heo, et al. in 2016:

“Smartphones are often equipped with a light-emitting diodes (LED) display, which delivers bright light to the human eye. Smartphone LED light is an important source of artificial light at night (ALAN). ALAN influences the circadian regulation of the sleep-wake cycle (Gonzalez and Aston-Jones, 2006), suppresses melatonin secretion (Czeisler et al., 1995, Lewy et al., 1980), alters mood and cognitive functions (LeGates et al., 2012), and contributes to fatigue (Meesters and Lambers, 1990).”

Remember the sleep-initiating changes in body temperature we discussed earlier? Check this out and leave a comment below with your best interpretation: 

 

 

Randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled studies are considered the “Gold Standard” in intervention based studies. 

Here’s what the researchers concluded:

“In conclusion, this study suggests that nighttime exposure to the blue light LED display of smartphones may negatively affect sleep and commission errors. This was reflected by the suppression of melatonin production, as indicated by the prolonged time to melatonin onset, and the increase in body temperature, although these changes were not great enough to be statistically significant. These findings indicate that sleep and cognitive functions may be more sensitive markers of exposure of blue light from smartphone LED displays than the physiological changes of melatonin, cortisol, and body temperature.”

Blackout curtains are a good idea if you live near a street, in an inner city, or any other area where light pollution is a problem. I prefer a sleep mask, since it’s more cost-effective and travels with me everywhere. Remember that less light means deeper and more restorative sleep, which means you can seriously upgrade your quality of life with less than $20. 

Additionally, you can wear a good pair of blue light blocking glasses a couple of hours before bed to stimulate natural production of melatonin after sunset. I choose Ra Optics because I’m a perfectionist and always want the best, plus they are a must-have for the serious biohacker who wants to make a statement on social media. Make sure you pick the night lenses. You can get 10% off your order of Ra Optics Blue-Light Blocking glasses when you use my code “ANDRES10” 

Pro tip for iPhone users: go to Settings —> Display & Brightness —> Night Shift and set from Sunset (currently around 530pm) to a couple of hours after you wake up so you can ease into the morning blue light. 

Number 3: Lower Your Heart Rate

Drive down cortisol and adrenaline by breathing diaphragmatically through your nose and perform box breathing (4 seconds inhale, hold your breath for 4 more, exhale for 4, hold for 4, repeat.) This stimulates your vagus nerve, putting you in a more parasympathetic state. 4-7-8 is another breathing technique by Dr. Andrew Weil, celebrity doctor and the founder and director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, that goes like this: empty the lungs of air, breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds, exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds, repeat the cycle up to 4 times. 

To learn more about breathwork for meditation, focus, and stress reduction, see my article “Managing Stress on the Spot.”

You should also avoid eating or exercising less than 3 hours before bed. Instead, you should meditate, practice gratitude journaling, or consider me and Tim Ferris’ personal favorite: read FICTION. 

Additionally, you can use a quiet air purifier in your bedroom to help your body relax and recover with clean air. I made the investment because dust and pet dander were giving me slight allergy symptoms and disturbing my sleep, but the benefits of an air purifier have far exceeded my expectations. Make sure you get one with a HEPA filter and that it’s relatively quiet. 

Number 4: Wake up During the Light Stage of Your Sleep Cycle

Sleep a total amount that is a multiple of 90 minutes in order to wake up more refreshed (for example, 6, 7.5 or 9 hours.) If you use an alarm, this means you’ll wake up in the lighter stages of sleep (REM) instead of deep sleep (so you’ll be less groggy.) 

Here’s how I do it: I predict the time it will take me to fall asleep (5 minutes if I’m super tired, 30 minutes if I’m not) and then I’ll  add a multiple of 90 minutes to calculate the ideal time to wake up. For example, if my bedtime is 10:15 and my tiredness is “average” I would predict 15 minutes to fall asleep and set my alarm to 6:00am for 5 full REM cycles. You can also work backwards… If you have to be up by 7:30AM and predict it will take you 30 minutes to fall asleep, you should be in bed by 11:30PM. 

It works like a charm, and yes I absolutely prefer 6 hours of sleep over 7, and 7.5 over 8 because being forced to wake up during the deeper stages will put you in a state of panic no matter how many hours deep you are. Not a good way to start the day.

Here’s a graph from Sleep Cycle (GREAT app that helps you wake up at the perfect time) with an example of REGULAR sleep. Notice that the peaks are about 90 minutes apart. Waking up in multiples of 90 minutes closely mimics what this app would do, assuming you are getting regular sleep. 

 

 

Over the years, I’ve shifted from smart alarms to wearable devices to hack my sleep. This is because the wearable devices and their platforms offer a far more in-depth analysis that helps me take a more intuitive approach to better sleep. Rather than just waking up in a lighter phase, I can measure the impact of daily habits and nightly routines for real self-experimentation and biohacking. Of course, there’s the added benefit of measuring my HRV, SPO2, and resting HR to determine readiness and recovery scores. More on this later. 

Below is a graph of my sleep, captured by BioStrap. My sleep score was a 98/100 that night with 9 hours of sleep and 6 REM cycles (if you counted  5 it’s because there should technically be one more around 4 am). 

 

 

Number 5: Turn Off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices

The science here unfortunately is not fully understood yet. However, it is hypothesized that EMF may affect your physiology. My scientific mentor always says to me “a lack of evidence doesn’t mean that evidence is lacking.” Therefore, this is a preventative measure. Better safe than sorry, as is commonly said. An added benefit is you’ll save energy and spend a little less on your monthly electric bill. 

I keep my Wi-Fi router near my bed so I can shut it off before I sleep every night and my phone goes on Airplane mode until I wake up the next morning. I do this religiously with NO exceptions. I keep my phone charging as far away from my bed as possible so that I physically have to get up and out of bed to shut off the alarm, which helps keep me from mindlessly scrolling in bed early in the morning (a recipe for disaster). 

Number 6: The Next Morning

Now despite my earlier comment about CEOs placing too much emphasis on this, it does have importance. My first recommendation is to get some sunlight. We previously discussed how blue light at night is bad because it disrupts your circadian rhythm and suppresses melatonin production, but this is a good thing in the morning because it tells your body that it’s time to get the day started (melatonin naturally dips in the AM as cortisol, the stress hormone, rises). This is of course consistent with evolution, because the sun is the most potent source of blue light and its diurnal motion about the Earth is essentially how the circadian rhythm was born. 

I know that for most people, their morning routine is extremely hurried and adding even an extra five minutes seems impossible. But your morning sets the tone for your whole day. That’s why going to bed a little bit earlier and giving yourself time for self-care is so important.

Additionally, I like to write down in a journal, things that I’m grateful for every morning. I call it my “gratitude journal” and I’ve found it to be an incredible tool that improves my overall mental health. I try to avoid using my phone right after I wake up (using your phone less is almost always a good idea) 

Lastly, I highly recommend drinking clean water before any caffeinated drinks. The reason for this is that you lose a lot of water while you sleep as a result of breathing and sweating. Sometimes you can lose a few pounds of water, so it’s definitely important to hydrate first thing in the morning. Caffeine is a potent diuretic, and drinking it first would dehydrate you further. Adding some electrolytes or high quality salt to your water will aid in hydration.

I hope you enjoyed this article! Do you have questions, thoughts, or feedback on sleep or anything else I discussed? Leave your comments below and I will reply! – AP

 

References:

Aberrant light directly impairs mood and learning through melanopsin-expressing neurons. (2012).  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3549331/

Czeisler, C. A. (1995, January 5). Suppression of melatonin secretion in some blind patients by exposure to bright light. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7990870/

Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: A randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison. (2017, April 1). ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022395616307786?casa_token=MEwyL-mLwxoAAAAA:h25S4nB06owSMBpWg4F8qGv7ytM0YqCuQQ0k3bJg3VGVNzxB0A5VXsWE4i5NcZn6GGdDvkb8IpJM#bib14

González, M. M. C. (2006). Circadian regulation of arousal: role of the noradrenergic locus coeruleus system and light exposure. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17068987/

Lewy, A. J. (1980, December 12). Light suppresses melatonin secretion in humans. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7434030/

Light therapy in patient with seasonal fatigue. (1990, September 22). ScienceDirect. https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/0140673690922349

The Temperature Dependence of Sleep. (2019). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6491889/#__ffn_sectite

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