Snapshot of Takeaway Points
- Sleep improves 100% of your biological functions
- Improving sleep has 100% return on investment
- What you feel as ‘good’ sleep could be anything but
The biggest barrier to improving sleep with clients is that of perception. Perception is a feeling and this feeling of ‘good’ sleep will be different person to person. The body also has a great mechanism of adapting to anything you throw at it. After a while of getting broken sleep, say due to a new-born, you will start to feel ‘normal’. Unfortunately your body is receiving anything but normal levels of restorative sleep. What is common is not always normal. Once you fix the leaks in your sleeping habits though, you will generate a new perception of ‘good’ sleep.
When you study sleep in depth you’ll notice that it has a correlation to improving 100% of your body’s biological functions. Simply put, sleep will help everything. I have consulted a variety of case study’s from Olympians to cancer patients and improving sleep is always something I do early on but also with 100% of new clients.
Sleep is necessary to reset the brain. Sleep offsets the natural damage that occurs during wakefulness. When you sleep a detoxification process occurs via the glymphatic system. This is our nervous system clearance pathway for unwanted waste. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow is increased into the brain and toxin excretion is enhanced.
Electrical signals also travel in reverse during sleep [cell’s axon – cell body – out of the dendrites]. The cell is reset by this reversal of current which wipes out or prunes unimportant information. The cell is then primed or sensitised to learn new information. Re-used circuits though are strengthened.
This process helps to develop and restore your pre frontal cortex which is where behaviour and decision making process take place. If sleep is poor though, this means your pre-historic limbic brain takes over. This is why it has been proven that emotional reactivity is increased with incomplete sleep. Have you ever been cranky after a poor night’s sleep?!
Lack of sleep = lack of oligodendrocytes = lack of myelination. Myelination is the process whereby your axon is coated in a fatty sheath to improve signalling. Optimal sleep is required to turn on the genes to produce these oligodendrocytes. Poor sleep = poor signalling. Ever had a poor night’s sleep and notice that your memory or recall isn’t firing on all cylinders?!
Even the incidence of infection is higher when sleep isn’t great which shows the effect poor sleep can have on your immune function. Ever noticed that when you’re ill or sick that all you want to do is sleep?!
Sleep’s effect on body composition
A poor night’s sleep means more dopamine will hang in the striatum. Dopamine is your neurotransmitter of drive and motivation but also of addiction. So poor sleep is a contributor to higher incidence of addictions, whether they be emotive or substance addictions. Self-control is thus reduced as dopamine sensitivity is increased. Ever noticed how much you crave more carbohydrate/sugar based foods after a poor night’s sleep?!
You could even be doing everything you think is right with your diet. When you sleep less though, but are still following a calorie deficit you will lose muscle mass as well as some fat. If you sleep well you will predominantly lose body fat. Sleep therefore is key when wanting to preserve and build muscle mass which is key for long term health and also fat loss efforts.
As the sun goes down your body starts a process of secreting melatonin which is an anti-inflammatory hormone that helps enable a deep sleep and regulate your circadian rhythm. Melatonin release also increases brown fat expansion to burn energy as free heat. Translated, this means it burns calories to help regulate and reduce body fat levels. Deeper sleep = increased fat loss.
Melatonin also stimulates adiponectin, which is involved in regulating blood sugar levels to limit fat cell creation. Adipocytes, or fat cells, undergo apoptosis, or cell death, which decreases fat mass. It’s also been proven that a lack of melatonin will lead to leptin resistance, which is an inability to detect levels of fullness after eating. Leptin is the hormone linked to inhibiting hunger. Decreased sleep means decreased levels of leptin which leads to an increase in hunger even though you might not require the fuel, which then leads to over-eating.
The recommendations below are factually and scientifically sound recommendations. It is impossible to out run poor sleep. If you take on the recommendations though you will reap the rewards.
Step 1: Create the right environment
When thinking of creating the optimal environment for deep, restorative sleep you must think of creating cave-like conditions. The overview is:
Dark | Cool | Zero Electronics | Earthed
Dark means pitch black. Pitch black means ZERO light. If you can see light through the crack at the bottom of your door, then that is not zero light. I’m deadly serious about this as just 8-10 lux (unit of light) is enough to disrupt melatonin production. Consider a small bedtime lamp is 20-80 lux and you can see just how important pitch black is for deep, restorative sleep.
When light hits the retina of your eye it sends a photoelectrical signal to the pineal gland which means CSF becomes more excited as energy is added by excited photons. This is what stimulates cortisol, the stress hormone, to rise. Melatonin lowers the temperature of CSF but it won’t be secreted if there is light present.
The exact temperature can be a personal preference but consider that heat will stimulate the stress hormone cortisol to rise which will wake you up. Also consider that if you set it up on the cooler side, it’s easier to add covers. If you go mega cold, you may even burn extra fat due to shivering and higher brown fat activity!
As stated previously melatonin secretion happens due to light outside reducing but it also reacts to temperature cooling. Others options are to open the window at night and/or sleep naked. If it is noisy you will be surprised at how quickly you can adapt to sleeping through noise so long as it is fairly consistent night to night. You can’t though adapt as much to sleeping in uncomfortable heat. Worst case I’m not completely against a small electric fan as a last resort, provided it is the only electronic on in the room as per my next point.
Zero electronics on in the room
Much like the paragraph about pitch black darkness, you either have zero electronics on in the room, or you have some. We are after ZERO. You won’t necessarily feel the effects of the electronics, but your cells will. Also, if you are sleeping, what electronics are you able to use?!
Wifi emittance is by far the worst sort of electronic emittance you could possibly have near you when you sleep. Wifi is also referred to as a non-native EMF as it is a man-made electromagnetic field. Sun though is a natural EMF, as is the earth.
Non-native EMFs destroy the ability of your brain to make melanopsin which has a deleterious affect on your circadian rhythm and dopamine production. This has a double whammy effect as when circadian rhythms are off we can’t perceive the native EMFs (sun & earth) and we get alterations in our memory and sleep patterns. This is a vicious cycle that impacts health over a long term.
Non-native EMFs destroy your memory. Your brain has a defence mechanism in the form of microglia. They sense the effect of non-native EMFs and release calcium which leads to brain inflammation and negatively affects your memory.
It invariably brings up the question of what do you use as an alarm if you can’t use your mobile phone? Purchase a small electronic alarm clock that is battery operated. I also recommend you turn off your wifi at night. You’re not using it and will even save a small amount of money doing so.
If concerned about receiving calls in the middle of the night from a loved one in an emergency, either install a landline or put the mobile phone outside of the room and on loud inside a glass to further amplify the sound. You can also select to only receive calls from specific contacts so you aren’t woken up by other notifications. Either way, it can’t be in the room.
The bedroom is for two things: sleeping and hopping on the good foot to do the bad thing (Austin Powers quote!).
I have been sleeping on an earthing sheet for some years now and I used to offer this as a bonus tip to clients but I now believe it to be way more important and now make it a priority. It is also a one off investment that just keeps on giving. Once you’ve purchased one and put it on your bed you can simply forget about it and let it do its thing.
Purchasing an earthing sheet allows you to take advantage of the natural energy or native EMFs akin to sunlight. Also referred to as grounding, earthing allows the body to readily absorb negative electrons which has been linked to reducing inflammation, cellular damage, stress and more.
I always say that the further away from natural we get or regarding consuming a product, the worse off it is for the body. We evolved in contact with the ground and this practice is easy and efficient. It’s also a top tip to reduce the effects of jet lag. I even nap with my head on a mat in my office which I find always gives me renewed vigour afterwards.
Step 2: Create the right habits
Some refer to this part as ‘sleep hygiene’. Creating the perfect routine in the hours before bedtime sets the scene to take advantage of a great sleep. The overview is:
Blue Light | Routine & Duration | Naps | Nutrition
Blue light exposure
Consider the initial fact that ZERO artificial blue light exposure is actually good for humans. No amount of artificial blue light exposure offers any benefits and whole list of drawbacks. Artificial blue light is the light emitted from electronic devices via LED screens and also house lighting. In an ideal world the only blue light we would experience is from the sun.
Now consider your evening routine regarding electronic devices; when do you stop looking at your phone? When do you stop watching TV? Just two hours of artificial blue light exposure before bed decreases your melatonin production 23% and delays melatonin secretion by three hours. It also affects secretion for next three days. That’s a lot of negative for just two hours of TV in one evening!
Your body requires four hours of darkness before the pineal gland will secrete the all-important melatonin. Remember, dim light exposure at night can even change appetite, hunger and feeding behaviour. One of the best quotes I’ve seen is to consider your eyes as clocks, not cameras (Jack Kruse). Thinking in this way will help prevent disruption in your circadian rhythm which is implicated in many diseases.
If you can, minimise screen time in the evening and maybe spend time with your family instead of social media. You won’t look back on your death bed and wish you’d spent more time scrolling on Facebook! The further away from bed and the closer to four hours from bed you can do this, the better.
If this isn’t practical then purchase some blue light blocking glasses from Amazon. Pop these on as early as possible in the evening. If you’re in front of a screen all day you can consider wearing them all day or using an app such as F.Lux to block blue light emittance. This is even available on most mobile phones but you need to set it up correctly. My recommendation is to have them on permanently and as ‘warm’ a colour as possible.
Routine & Duration
We are creatures of habit and our body loves routine. Our waking and sleeping times should be regulated by sunlight. When it down we sleep, when the sun is up we wake. I recommend you find an hour window with both your sleeping and waking times to set your circadian rhythm and also set your body up for health. So for the morning I will always be up between 4.30-5.30am and I’ll be asleep between 8-9pm.
Do not sleep in on the weekend. It’s like creating an artificial/mini jet lag. It’s like going to sleep in London and waking up in New York. Your body hates this and it can take days for your circadian rhythm to get back to normal.
A note on jet lag: I have many clients and friends who are flown out from London to New York or Dubai or similar distances and flown back within 24 hours. I believe this will be illegal in the not so distant future due to the impact this has on your body, brain and overall health. Either request a longer stay and work from the destination for a week or arrange at least 3 days holiday/vacation.
When discussing sleep duration remember that depriving yourself of sleep has zero return on investment. It’s ‘cool’ to limit sleep and work harder or to say ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’. Well, all that’s happening when you limit sleep is you’re ending up dead earlier than you should. Less than six hours sleep is linked to every disease; heart disease, cancer, you name it, its linked.
8-9 hours of sleep is the sweet spot. Just one week of 7 hours sleep is the equivalent of being sleep deprived for 24 hours by the 7th day. It then takes 3-4 days of 8-9 hours optimal sleep to then recover from this.
If you wake during the night and need to pee this is normal. If you think about it, going 4-5 hours without peeing during the day will probably make you need to go! The key is to improve depth of sleep which the nutrients later on will do. Some people though are in a habit and their brain gets used to this cycle of waking up during the night to go to the toilet. My recommendation is to stay in bed to re-teach your body. Not once has a client who has done this has reported back to me that they needed to invest in plastic sheets because of me!
If you work long days where you need to be focused and attentive for the task in hand then naps are imperative. Adenosine builds up for every hour you are awake and the only thing that clears it, is sleep. When it builds up to a certain level it will inhibit your brains neurons and make you tired.
This is why it has been that the longer you are awake during the day, the progressively worse at learning/performing you get. Now consider how long doctors and nurses are expected to stay awake and remember life-saving information and processes.
Naps have been shown to improve learning/performance by 20%. Although not hugely practical for some jobs I always say to ask as your employer might be willing to trial something as long as your nap is covered. They can only say no and if you back up what you’ve presented with research and a sound solution they are less likely to refuse a trial.
The weekend and days off though offer an ideal opportunity to use naps. You should aim for 1-60 minutes in duration otherwise you’ll end up disrupting sleep for that evening if you go longer. Yes you may feel groggy upon waking and some days you’ll wake up alert and raring to go. Once you’ve moved around for 5-10 minutes then the groggy feeling disappears and you’ll be buzzing.
I say 1-60 minutes as once you get to black belt napping level like myself, you’ll be able to nod off for one second and wake up renewed and refreshed. Thomas Edison the great inventor was adept at naps as were many painters. They would fall asleep with the paintbrush in their mouth and once they lost consciousness, their mouth would drop the brush and it would wake them up hitting their lap. They then picked up back and proceeded to paint with renewed vigour!
My late mentor Charles Poliquin used to recommend a serving of carbohydrates before bed, specifically rice and beans being his favourite. These foods would increase the circulating levels of serotonin which is a neurotransmitter tightly linked to sleep due to it being a precursor to melatonin.
I still recommend this tactic but you must consider that insulin has an inverse relationship with melatonin. Eating carbohydrate rich foods too close to bed or not being able to process them due to your own placing upon the insulin sensitivity continuum can affect your sleep. The more insulin resistant you are, the further away from bed time you should eat carbohydrates.
Alcohol is an old wives tale when it comes to helping someone sleep. It may calm you down as it is a nervous system depressant but it doesn’t give you restorative sleep. It works like anaesthetic so you don’t receive REM/restorative sleep but sedative sleep which your brain doesn’t like. You also get multiple awakenings during the night if you consume alcohol before bed.
Step 3: Create the right nutrient protocol
Once the above habits and settings are in place you should consider improving the depth of your sleep with the appropriate nutrients.
Magnesium comes high on the list due to the amount of magnesium deficiency present in the general population. This can be attributed to decreased soil quality and the amount of magnesium available in food. It could also be linked to higher carbohydrate intake as magnesium is required for metabolism of carbohydrates.
Detoxification can be pointed to as another culprit. Higher environmental levels of toxins need more magnesium for the body’s natural detoxification processes. Magnesium is important for the Krebs cycle so the more energy you use up, say training/exercising, then you need to replenish this magnesium. You can only detox brain when you sleep highlighting the importance of magnesium.
Different chelates of magnesium have different affinities for different tissues in different genotypes. Here are my preferred magnesium chelates based on my experience with improving client’s sleep. There are many options out there for different case studies but here we are focusing on sleep:
- Magnesium Threonate: 2-4 capsules taken with PM meal
This magnesium is highly researched in regards to how it positively affects the brain. Magnesium theronate can be found within the CSF mentioned previously that then surrounds the brain at an increased pressure whilst you sleep. Threonate enhances learning as it has a beneficial effect on the brain’s receptors.
Threonate is now also showing links to improving the heart. I find this exciting as it can then be argued that heart & brain coherence will both improve which would have huge effects on mind set and wellbeing. You’ll receive benefits in both cognitive and emotional functions.
- Magnesium Glycinate: 2-4 capsules taken with PM meal
Glycinate is fantastic as it lowers the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol should be high in the morning but low in the evening to allow you to fall asleep. You hardly want the fight or flight hormone when trying to nod off!
Inositol: 1-10g with PM meal every 1-5 days, titrate up slowly
Inositol is brilliant as it provides fuel for all of your neurotransmitters. This is why in the research it has been shown to benefit a whole host of conditions including OCD, PTSD, anxiety, and depression. A big culprit of reduced level of inositol is a high sugar diet.
When dosing start slowly! I had a client who ignored this advice and went straight to two heaped teaspoons and he reported dreams of having a full on war against the teletubbies the next day!
Liposomal Melatonin: 1-10 drops right before bed
When a supplement is made in liposomal form it will mean the molecule of the supplement is encapsulated within a phospholipid. What this means to you is improved bioavailability and instant absorption. For those who struggle to fall asleep, take 1-10 drops of this and there is no way you’ll be awake after thirty minutes! This is also great for improving the depth of your sleep and liposomal form means the actual amount needed for the desired effect is much less than capsule form.
Anxious or Stressed
If you’ve added in the above but still find you suffer with anxiety and racing thoughts before bed then L-theanine is a cost effective and efficient option to battle this due to its effect on the neurotransmitter GABA. You could add in N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) if the problem persists as this will balance out the GABA-Glutamate seesaw. If NAC makes you feel worse emotionally and/or physically you may have high levels of mercury at which point you need to consult a practitioner who is adept at removing mercury from your body.
If you are stressed then the product Cortisol Pro offers many adaptogenic herbs to help calm your mind but also reset your adrenals. Alternatively, watching or even listening to falling water is an easy way to decrease stress hormones before bed!
Thank you for reading and digesting the above! To conclude here is a summary of the relevant action steps you need to take to create perfect sleep patterns for yourself:
- Black out room completely
- Remove all electronics from room, especially mobile phones
- Set Wifi up to turn off during the night
- Purchase small battery operated alarm clock
- Purchase earthing bed sheet
- Purchase blue light block glasses
- Set electronics up to block blue light
- Standardise sleeping and waking times
- Plan naps into your weekly schedule
- Purchase base stack: Magnesium Threonate, Inositol, Liposomal Melatonin