Biohack Your Way To Restorative, Deep Sleep
Sleep is a major cornerstone for an energetic, joyful, healthy, long life. Unfortunately, in this modern world we place too much value on staying busy and deprioritising sleep.
I have to admit that I have not always focussed on my sleep and in the past have neglected getting a good night’s sleep to accommodate my busy life. As my passion for longevity has grown and as I increasingly understand the role that sleep plays in a long and healthy life — on a nightly basis, I now aim for eight hours in bed to get seven hours of sleep.
Though the actual purpose of sleep is not completely understood, research has shown that the waste removal system of the brain, the glymphatic system, is at its most efficient during deep sleep and specifically during deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. When you do not get good, restful, deep, restorative sleep — damaged proteins and other toxins build up in the brain, leaving you feeling foggy in the short-term and, in the long-term, more vulnerable to rapid brain aging and the development of neurological diseases. Sleep deprivation is also a proven risk factor for cancer, heart disease, heart attack/ failure, stroke, diabetes, depression, anxiety, obesity and premature death.
To improve your health almost overnight, give sleep a chance — and give yourself enough time to do it — by ensuring you get at least seven hours per night.
Hack your way to better quality sleep with these eight, simple tips that I follow.
Move your body
If you tire the body out during the day, the mind will be more ready to shut down at night. But try to get your workouts done by early evening, to give cortisol levels time to level off and the body to power down.
Have a caffeine cut-off time
Coffee has a half-life of about 5–7 hours depending on your metabolism. If you have your last cup before noon then it should be out of your system by the time you are ready to hit the sheets. I make sure I have my last cup of coffee before 2pm at the latest.
Don’t eat your evening meals too late
Eat dinner at least two to three hours before bedtime, so your digestive system is winding down as the rest of your body is also winding down for bed. On most days, I eat an early dinner (5–6pm) to allow at least three hours between my meal and bedtime.
Avoid alcohol close to bedtime
Alcohol tends to delay the onset of REM sleep, the most restorative kind. I limit my alcohol intake during the week and if I do have a drink — I limit myself to one drink, and have it at least two hours before bedtime so my body has time to process the alcohol.
Get natural sunlight
Getting ready for a good night’s sleep begins during the day with a healthy dose of sunshine, at least half an hour a day if you can, preferably outdoors and in the morning. Natural light cues the wake/sleep clock inside us, our circadian rhythms, helping to ensure we feel lively during the daylight hours, thanks in part to the energy hormone cortisol, and mellow in the evening as the levels of the hormone melatonin rise, preparing the body for sleep.
Tame blue light
Any kind of light in the evening can suppress melatonin production, but at night, blue light is the biggest offender. In the early evening after sunset I wear blue light blocking glasses — I saw a 15% increase in my deep sleep scores after starting to use blue blockers.
An hour before bed time I either have no screen time or change the screen settings on my phone and laptop (using f.lux) to warm light ‘night mode’ — to start downshifting my brain, encouraging the release of drowsiness hormones/chemicals.
I also use a red light lamp in my bedroom before I go to bed and if I wake up during the night. The longer-wavelength red light mimics the light of sunset and, as a result, cues your master clock to trigger sleep.
Use relaxation practices
Guided imagery, meditation or deep breathing can calm your mind and help you drift into sleep. These exercises help to lower your heart rate and create an increased sense of well-being. I meditate and stretch in bed before I go to sleep.
I also wear the Apollo Neuro — a wearable that uses touch therapy to reduce stress. Stress activates our “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous response, leaving us feeling distracted, overwhelmed, and making it difficult to sleep. Apollo delivers a novel touch therapy, felt as gentle waves of vibration, that stimulates the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous response and restores balance to the body. When used consistently, Apollo is able to retrain the nervous system to manage stress more effectively. Therefore, over time this results in better sleep, improved focus, and a feeling of more balance.
I use the Relax and Unwind mode before sleep — which combines frequencies shown to support relaxation and recovery by increasing parasympathetic (rest and digest) activity in the nervous system and improving HRV. While I sleep I use the Sleep and Renew mode — the most gentle of the Apollo modes, shown to improve parasympathetic activity and to aid in relaxation.
Natural sleep aids and supplements can also play a role in supporting good sleep. I take a spoon of ashwagandha in the evening and take magnesium before I go to sleep. In ayurvedic tradition ashwagandha has long been touted for its anti-stress properties, and modern science is starting to back those beliefs up. This potent herb works by supporting the adrenal system to mediate your body’s stress hormone, cortisol, which can make you feel more calm, helping you to sleep better. Magnesium plays a role in supporting restorative, deep sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and a good night’s rest.
Track your sleep
Consider using tools to track your sleep. These tools can create awareness about the actual amount of sleep you are getting and help you make sleep a priority.
The Oura Ring is one of my favourite sleep trackers. The Oura Ring measures sleep using sensors that gauge body signals, including my resting heart rate (RHR), heart rate variability (HRV), body temperature, respiratory rate, and movement, to determine my sleep patterns. Each of the body’s signals shift during the four different stages of sleep. For example, respiration and RHR rise to near-waking levels during REM sleep, while they fall to their lowest levels during deep sleep. Oura’s machine learning algorithms combine these measurements into a detailed picture of your unique sleep patterns.
The Oura Sleep Score that you can then take a look at each morning is a gauge of exactly how restorative your sleep was the night prior. Your sleep score is affected by seven sleep contributors, which are displayed as horizontal bars in the Oura app’s sleep view:
- Total Sleep: Total sleep refers to the total amount of time you spend in light, REM and deep sleep.
- Efficiency: Sleep Efficiency is a measurement of your sleep quality.
- Tranquility: Sleep disturbances caused by wake-ups and restless time can have a big impact on your sleep quality and daytime cognitive performance.
- REM Sleep: REM sleep plays an essential role in re-energizing your mind and your body, making it an important contributor to your sleep quality.
- Deep Sleep: Deep sleep is the most restorative and rejuvenating sleep stage, enabling muscle growth and repair.
- Sleep Latency: Sleep latency is the time it takes for you to fall asleep.
- Sleep Timing: Your sleep timing is an important contributor to your sleep quality and daytime performance. score.
The images below show some sleep and readiness stats from the Oura app from a fantastic night of sleep and recovery.
Ranging from 0–100%, the sleep score is an overall measure of how well you slept. You can consider a sleep score of 85% to be very good, and a score above 90% excellent. A sleep score above 85% typically means that all sleep contributors are in balance and that you meet the typical sleep needs of a person your age. The Oura app also guides you find your ideal bedtime that helps you wake up refreshed and feeling energetic throughout the day.
Get some sleep
Eating a nutritious diet, having a consistent exercise regime, moving your body and not being sedentary for the majority of the day, practicing gratitude, taking supplements…these are all things that will work towards a healthy mind and body. However, without the foundation of a consistently good night of sleep, these could amount to nothing in a quest towards a long and healthy life.