Saturday, 25 June 2016

Post 10: Sexy Strategies to Snooze Soundly (plus why your mum was right all along)

Update! Biphasic sleep primer added to the end of the post.

“We need to discuss sleep. On Friday. It’s very important”
- Victor

Hi Guys,

This was a message I received from a friend of mine recently; with his consent I’ve decided to bring to you a blog post based on the advice I gave him.

As you may have heard, sleep is actually one of the most important weapons in your fat-burning arsenal. Today you’re going to learn not only why, but also how to improve the quality of your sleep and become better at it. You’ll see me reference “optimum sleep” throughout this post. This is because getting more, while beneficial to most, is only one side to the coin.

Quality of sleep is just as important as quantity. Nailing both is essential.

Why your mum was right the whole time…

There was something else that came out of my conversation with Victor which related back to my post on cravings (found here). He said that the advice was good and all, but it was the sort of advice which mothers up and down the country are telling their children every day.

This exposes a concept which I think we’ve all been victim to in the past: that there is a secret to achieving our goals and that it is possible to change nothing but this magic key and still go where you want to go.

I’m not here to sell you a secret, all you have to do is eat real food and listen to your body’s reactions. Combine that with effective exercise and other activities beneficial to your health, and you can look and feel a heck of a lot better than you do now!

But people still search for that magic key. The truth is they had it in their pocket their whole time! While the answer does require hard work, it is simple to apply. Consider that if there was an effortless way to reach any goal then loads more people would have got there before you, which would lessen the value of the goal anyway!

You might hate to admit it, but she was right the whole time...
Most of the strategies in this post are very simple and can be executed immediately. Perhaps your own mother has imparted this wisdom to you already! (although I can only think of one mother who would specifically prescribe strategies to her son...ahem!...). Why does this make them any less effective?

Why being in sleep-debt sucks

Right, let’s get this show on the road!

Most of you want to be getting 7-8 hours of high quality sleep a night. Some of you need 8-9, but it’s not many (ask yourself: are you really that special?...). Sleeping under what’s required for a few days, or under 6 hours for two days, will put you in sleep-debt, and here’s the kicker: you can’t make up for it.

Follow the link here to discover what type of sleep chronotype you are with a little help from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

Here are the negative side-effects of being in sleep-debt:

Impairs prefrontal cortex activity (i.e. makes you stupid)

Inflammation and oxidative stress (i.e. makes you fat)

Disrupts the endocrine system (i.e. hormones, particularly ghrelin and leptin, more on those here)

Heart and kidney damage

Higher cortisol levels leading to more insulin released, hence insulin resistance, and diabetes. Higher cortisol levels will also impair your immune function leading you to get sick more easily and will impair your ability to resist cravings. You will also feel higher stress levels.

Impaired short-term memory

Mood swings and poor emotional wellbeing

Increased risk of depression and other psychological illnesses

Not optimising your sleep patterns are going to make you fat, sick, and stupid, fast!

If that wasn’t enough here’s a useful flowchart from Paleo Leap (link), which relates sleep to the playbook of negative side effects:

Optimum sleep speaks volumes

I hope I scared you with the above. I mean it. Our culture likes to venerate the sleepless zombies of our society, who bleed coffee and red bull. It’s almost a badge of honour to say you only slept 4 hours last night. This couldn’t be more stupid, not to mention inefficient. Why work for 14 hours when you could dominate your workload in 10? All the while feeling and looking better?

Sleep makes you more efficient at life.  

Here are some more reasons why getting optimum sleep is awesome:

The opposites to the negatives! I.e. better regulation of internal systems leading to you being smarter and better looking. I encourage you to go back and read the negatives again!

Get to a point where you don't need an alarm to wake up refreshed!
Muscle growth and repair. This happens mostly in the deepest parts of your sleep cycle. If you don’t reach that stage, say goodbye to potential gains. Sleep also spurs the release of human growth hormone.

Improved memory, improved ability to creatively problem-solve, better speed, better accuracy, better mood, and higher energy.

Your immune system is at its most active while you sleep, so you’ll get sick less often.

How to achieve optimum sleep

By using any number of these simple strategies below, you are going to be walking the path to optimum sleep. They’re not in any particular order. Some will require more effort, some are incredibly easy to put in place. Some are more effective than others. Begin to experiment with a few of them then expand into the entire list.

1. Stop looking at screens an hour before bed: the blue light emitted by screens mimics daylight and causes your body to think it should be awake and alert.

2. Stop drinking caffeine after 2pm: caffeine has a half life of 6 hours.

3. Eliminate bright lights, blinking lights, and overhead lights, an hour before bed: for reasons similar to point 1. Also cover blinking lights such as those from laptops and TVs in your bedroom using duck tape.

4. Get to bed before 22:45: your body experiences a “second wind” at 11pm through a cortisol release unless you’re already asleep.

5. Incorporate some sort of morning physical activity which will make you feel more tired the night after.

6. If you’re not going out on a Friday or Saturday night, maintain a similar sleep pattern. Otherwise once you readjust for Monday you’ll incur sleep-debt.

7. Lower your body temperature before bed and do not work out less than 2 hours before going to sleep. We tend to feel relaxed when we cool down.

8. Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb. I leave my phone on DNS at all times now, including during the day, and it is incredibly freeing. At one point I put the notifications back on and it just bugged me too much.

9. Purchase a dawn simulating alarm clock (one that lights up slowly in the morning).

Many of these strategies get you to replicate dawn and dusk

10. Get fuel for your brain while you sleep. The brain consumes roughly 25% of our daily caloric burn, and it is most active while you are asleep. Make sure your dinner consists of healthy fats to provide ketones for your brain. Also consume your daily portion of fruit or some raw honey late in the day so that your liver fills with sugar. Why? Your brain still needs some amount of glucose to function, and so if it can’t turn to your liver glycogen (i.e. sugar) stores then it will need to start a process called gluconeogenesis: the process of converting proteins into sugars. This process starts digestion, which wakes you up!

11. Since protein digestion wakes you up, eat easily digestible proteins earlier in the day.

12. Take a number of supplements or drink chamomile tea. Dave Asprey provides an excellent list here. Note I didn’t say take sleeping meds!

13. Eat your foods high in vitamin D early in the day. Vitamin D can be consumed but most of our uptake is from the sun. Consuming larger quantities late in the day will confuse your body into thinking it should be awake.

14. Try biphasic sleep. Most advice out there is for people to get 8 hours of monophasic sleep (i.e. 1 long stretch of sleep). But have you ever woken up at 3-4am feeling quite awake? You then toss and turn for another hour trying to sleep but the most you can do is doze? I’ve experienced this before and it doesn’t feel good. It makes you stressed out that you weren’t able to sleep like a log for 7-8 straight hours. Biphasic sleep is a strategy I’m implementing right now. The key is in the name: biphasic, i.e. two phases of sleep. The first is the deeper part between 11pm and 3am, you then awake and potter around for a bit, then return to bed for the rest of your sleep. Remember to not expose yourself to bright lights (in particular any screens) during your wakeful period. Give it a try.

15. Expose yourself to bright, preferably natural, lights in the morning. This can be done by simply drinking your morning coffee outside.


Here are the condensed takeaways of today:

  1. Not getting enough sleep makes you fat, sick, and stupid
  2. Getting optimum sleep makes you sexy, healthy, and smart
  3. Follow the strategies above to induce optimum sleep patterns

Something you might have noticed about the above strategies is that they aim to put you in a natural state of being. This is because you need to give your body what it expects! It expects to see bright lights in the morning and darkness in the evening. You may have heard of your circadian rhythm? This is the rhythm which governs the cortisol release in the morning, making you feel awake and alert, and the melatonin release in the evening, making your feel relaxed and sleepy. Mess with this rhythm and you’ve just bought yourself a one-way ticket to obese-city.

Before we part ways again, consider this quote from Lao Tzu about time: “Time is a created thing. To say, I don’t have time, is like saying, I don’t want to”.

Do you have the time to sleep?


Update! Biphasic Sleep

Hi Guys,

Back again with an update, this time on biphasic sleep. I mentioned it above but I thought it deserved more attention. These are the sort of ideas which remind of me of when I found the paleo way of thinking to begin with. I’ve moved on in my ideas, now it’s more of The Cowlean Diet, but the concept remains the same: question what you know. Maybe in two years time there’ll be Cowlean Sleep...

What are we told currently? Sleep for 8 unbroken hours a night.

Why does this need to be true? I would guess that its logic is based on going into a long, long, period of deep sleep, which would be broken by a wakeful period. It appears this way of thinking was introduced around the time of the industrial revolution, which makes sense: get your workers to sleep between 11pm and 7am at which point they can attend work at factories. Random aside: have you ever considered that the 11pm-7am sleep pattern combined with the 9am-5pm work pattern is a perfect combination to cage your ambition?

The reason why I am trying biphasic sleep is that even though I had my diet down, and I was completing my sleep strategies, I was still naturally waking at 3am or 4am feeling quite awake. Then I would try to return to sleep and couldn’t for a while, leading me to beat myself up for not being able to sleep those 8 uninterrupted hours. Eventually I did go back to sleep, but I was putting myself under unnecessary stress.

It seems to me to be a more natural pattern of sleep. Studies of modern day hunter gatherers have evidenced this as a common pattern of sleep.

I’ve only got a few data points right now, so I can’t comment on how effective it is (yet), but it couldn’t hurt to try it? Something I have noticed so far, though, is that I am remembering more of my dreams because I am having an introspective moment each morning. In future I’m going to use the wakeful period to complete my daily meditation practice.

Going to keep you guys updated on how it goes, so until next time.


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