Sleep – The Perfect  Supplement 

Sleep – The Perfect Supplement 

Matt
May 2, 2019 • 8 min read

Image credit: Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash

What if I told you there was a supplement which was scientifically proven to give you:-

  • More rapid fat loss
  • Faster strength and muscle gain
  • Drastic improvements in brain function, memory, learning, productivity, creativity and well being
  • Reduced risk of all illness and diseases
  • Defence against the negative effects of ageing

What if I told you this supplement was free? Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well… I’m not making it up. This supplement actually exists! It’s called sleep and it’s more effective (for anything you can imagine) than any other supplement on the market. Sleep is a multiplier. It exponentially increases the effectiveness of your every waking hour. 

In our fast-paced society, six hours of sleep per night might sound good enough. In reality, it’s a sure-fire road to chronic sleep deprivation.

This article will discuss why it’s time to re-think your sleep habits & what you can do to get a better night of rest.

 

WHY SLEEP?

Sleep is paramount to your bodies health. It is a restorative state which brings your body back into balance from the stresses of life. Here are a few (of the countless) beneficial effects sleep has on your body and mind:

Brain health
Sleep “takes out the trash” removing waste toxins from your brain that are accumulated throughout the day[1]. An excess of these toxins is linked to neurological disorders – such as dementia. Sleep may prove to be a powerful preventative measure against the neural effects of ageing[2].

Sex Hormones
If you skimp on sleep, only getting 5-6 hours a night, you’ll have the testosterone level of someone 10 years your senior [3].

Testosterone is one of the primary anabolic hormones which signals muscle gain, fat loss and recovery from workouts. Lack of sleep can leave your hard work in the gym wasted.

Metabolism
Have you ever noticed that you want to eat more when you’ve had a poor nights sleep? There is no coincidence. 

A lack of sleep suppresses leptin, a hormone which signals food satisfaction. Worse, it simultaneously raises ghrelin, a hormone which makes you feel hungry.

This hormonal storm can cause an insatiable hunger and lead you to poor dietary choices. The average person sleeping 5-6 hours a night consumes 300-500 more calories per day than if well slept [4].

Even worse, should you attempt to diet while sleep deprived, it is an uphill battle. Most of the weight will come from muscle, rather than fat. Research has shown that sleeping 5.5 hours per night causes a lower proportion of energy to be burned from fat[5]. Instead, you’ll burn more energy from protein and carbohydrates when compared to those getting 8.5 hours of sleep.

The metabolic effects get more tragic still. Reductions in sleep for even a single week can disrupt blood sugar so profoundly that you would almost become pre-diabetic [6].

Sleep is just as important as what you eat and how often you exercise for your body’s health.

Mood
Sleep has a big impact on subjective wellbeing. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood [7]. Missing sleep makes you more likely to feel stressed, angry, sad and mentally exhausted. 

I can testify to this effect myself. I can be a grumpy asshole when I’ve had a poor night’s sleep.

Sleep regularity seems to play a large role in this effect. Variations in sleep duration can cause significant decreases in subjective wellbeing[8]. We’ll talk about the necessity of a sleep schedule later in this article.

 

HOW MUCH SLEEP DO YOU NEED?

Hopefully, you now agree that sleep is important. But how much do you actually need?

The general consensus is that the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night to function at 100%. For most, thinking that 6 hours of sleep is enough is a delusion. Worse, it’s a delusion you’ll have a difficult time overthrowing. Sleep deprived people can’t estimate the effect that lack of sleep has on their abilities.

An experiment which compared the effects of getting 4, 6 and 8 hours of sleep came to these startling conclusions[9]:

Sleep debt has a cumulative effect. Missing a few hours of sleep for multiple days in a row compounds the negative effects. After 14 days, the 6-hour sleep group had the same cognitive function as staying up awake for 2 days with no sleep! That is a horrifying effect. 

Sleep deprivation of this level has the cognitive effect of having blood alcohol levels of 0.1% – enough to get you arrested for drink driving. In other words, sleeping for 6 hours per night for 2 weeks will give you the mental and physical performance of being intoxicated.

Participants didn’t notice their performance decline. Just like being drunk, the sleep-deprived group didn’t realise their performance had deteriorated. We are terrible judges of our mental/physical state when sleep deprived.

Many of us force ourselves to suffer sleep deprivation, in an attempt to finish more work. The irony is that the performance decreases from sleep debt far outweighs any benefit from the time gained.

“Unless you’re doing work that doesn’t require much thought, you are trading time awake at the expense of performance.” – says Gregory Belenky, Director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University [10]

When does sleep debt begin? Sleep researchers agree that most adults should aim for 8 hours of sleep per night[11]. Less than 7-7.5 hours will begin to cause performance declines.

Of course, there are always exceptions. For a lucky few, 5 hours of sleep (or less) is fine due to a mutation in the hDEC2 gene which regulates the sleep-wake cycle[12].

Yet this mutation is rare, only occurring in roughly 5% of the population. The chances are that you weren’t blessed with this gene. Us mere mortals need to get our full 7-9 hours of kip to be firing on all cylinders.

 

6 TIPS FOR BETTER SLEEP

Here are some practical suggestions to improve the quality and length of your sleep.

1. CREATE A SLEEP CAVE

The atmosphere of your bedroom is crucial to a good night’s sleep. You want your bedroom to be like a cave; quiet, dark, cool. A few suggestions:

Cool
Use a thermostat to keep your room temperature comfortable. Most people sleep best when the room temperature is kept between 18 to 22 degrees Celsius. 

Quiet
Peace and quiet are vital for good sleep. Sounds can disrupt your sleep, momentarily waking you up (even if you don’t remember it in the morning). Noise as quiet as 40 decibels – the equivalent of birds calling – can keep you from sleeping, according to the national sleep foundation.

If you live in a noisy neighbourhood, you can create a better sleep environment by:

  • Wearing earplugs 
  • Using a fan, or app, to create ‘pink noise’. Studies have shown it can benefit sleep by producing a calming effect and drowning out background noise [13]

Dark
Throughout our history, humans have evolved to sleep at night in the dark and wake during the day to light. Over the past decades, we have begun to work inside during the day, often in dark conditions. While at night, we bathe in artificial light from screens and electronic devices. This evolutionary mismatch can play havoc with your sleep. 

Changing your light habits can massively benefit your sleep:

  • When it gets dark outside, dim the lights in your house and restrict any artificial light
  • Remove all electronics from your bedroom
  • Get blackout blinds in your bedroom to prevent any outside light coming in. Otherwise, consider wearing an eye mask

2. CREATE A CAFFEINE CURFEW
Coffee holds a special place in my heart. Unfortunately, its the antithesis to a good night’s sleep. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about caffeine:

I. Caffeine is deceptive. Even if you can fall asleep fine after a coffee, the quality of your sleep is still decreased. The more caffeine you have, and the later you have it, the worse your sleep will be.

II. Caffeine has a half-life of around 4-6 hours. It takes a long time to leave your system.
A good rule is to cut out any caffeine past early afternoon, 1-2pm at the latest. This will allow most of it to leave your body by bedtime.

3. POWER DOWN
Blue light from screens can alter the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). This can cause difficulty in falling asleep and reduce sleep quality. Worse, if you’re using your screen to work late at night, your mind can stay racing with stress levels high right until bed.

Building a “power down” ritual where you stop using all electronics 1-2 hours before bed is a big win for sleep. Instead of watching tv, or scrolling through your phone, reach for a book. It’s an excellent way to unwind while learning something new.

If using devices is non-negotiable for you, download the app iris, it reduces the brightness and blue light of your screen.

4. LEARN TO RELAX

It’s essential to learn to relax in order to sleep well. In our fast-paced society, many of us live in a stressed-out sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ state. That’s fine if you need to fight a bear or run away from a lion… But it’s not so useful for a restful night of sleep. 

Research has shown that stress and negative emotions have a massive impact on sleep[14]. Learning how to relax is the key to getting into your parasympathetic ‘rest & digest’ state, crucial for sleep. 

To get a good night’s kip, do whatever you can to reduce your stress levels.

A few research backed suggestions:

  • If you don’t already, consider taking up a meditation practice
  • Gently stretch (think yoga)
  • Keep a gratitude journal (acknowledge the things you’re grateful for)
  • Brain dump. Write down a list of all the important things you have to do tomorrow
  • Pamper yourself with a warm bath before bed

5. CARVE OUT A SLEEP SCHEDULE

Starting and ending your day with regularity is arguably more important than how long you sleep. We are creatures of habit. Irregular sleep patterns can disrupt your bodies internal clock – the circadian rhythm. You’ll have experienced this effect before if you’ve ever travelled across time zones.

Aim to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. With consistency, you’ll feel amazing throughout the day. Eventually, you won’t even need an alarm clock to wake up.

Personally, I keep a 60-minute window for bedtime. I aim to sleep between 9-10 most nights (yes I’m an old man), waking up at 6 am. This ensures I get 8-9 hours of sleep every night. 

Sometimes you won’t be able to stick to a sleep schedule. That’s life. On those days, wake up the next morning at your regular wake time and accept that it’s going to be a slow day. Keeping your wake time consistent is vital to stabilising your circadian rhythm.

 

6. DO THIS WHEN YOU CAN’T SLEEP

What if you find yourself in bed tossing and turning, worrying about your lack of sleep?

It’s all good. Get out of bed and preoccupy yourself until you feel more tired.

Matthew Walker, neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley says “… your brain is this remarkable associative device and it quickly learns that the bed is about being awake. So, you should go to another room — a room that’s dim. Just read a book — no screens, no phones — and only when you’re sleepy return to the bed. And that way your brain relearns the association with your bedroom being about sleep rather than wakefulness.”[15]

The key is to re-train the association your brain has with your bed. Strip your bedroom of any distractions and make it a room only for sleep. In time, you’ll find yourself drifting off faster.

 

A WAKE-UP CALL

The evidence is clear: The shorter you sleep, the shorter and less enjoyable your life will be. If you want to make the most of your time awake, take your sleep seriously. 

Build healthy sleep habits and you’ll see every aspect of your life improve from your health to your relationships.

References

[1] Xie et al “Sleep initiated fluid flux drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain.” Science, October 18, 2013. DOI: 10.1126/science.1241224
[2] Brzecka et al, A. (2018). Sleep Disorders Associated With Alzheimer’s Disease: A Perspective. Frontiers Neuroscience. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00330
[3] Leproult, R. (2011). Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men. JAMA, 305(21), 2173. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.710
[4] Greer, S. M., Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications, 4(1). doi:10.1038/ncomms3259
[5] Nedeltcheva, A. V., Kilkus, J. M., Imperial, J., Schoeller, D. A., & Penev, P. D. (2010). Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity. Annals of Internal Medicine, 153(7), 435. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-153-7-201010050-00006
[6] Buxton, O. M., Pavlova, M., Reid, E. W., Wang, W., Simonson, D. C., & Adler, G. K. (2010). Sleep Restriction for 1 Week Reduces Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Men. Diabetes, 59(9), 2126-2133. doi:10.2337/db09-0699
[7] Dignes, D. F. (1997). Cumulative Sleepiness, Mood Disturbance, and Psychomotor Vigilance Performance Decrements During a Week of Sleep Restricted to 4–5 Hours per Night. Sleep. doi:10.1093/sleep/20.4.267
[8] Lemola, S., Ledermann, T., & Friedman, E. M. (2013). Variability of Sleep Duration Is Related to Subjective Sleep Quality and Subjective Well-Being: An Actigraphy Study. PLoS ONE, 8(8), e71292. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071292
[9]Van Dongen, H. P., Maislin, G., Mullington, J. M., & Dinges, D. F. (2003). The Cumulative Cost of Additional Wakefulness: Dose-Response Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and Sleep Physiology From Chronic Sleep Restriction and Total Sleep Deprivation. Sleep, 26(2), 117-126. doi:10.1093/sleep/26.2.117
[10] Jones, M. (2011, April 15). How Little Sleep Can You Get Away With? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sleep-t.html
[11] Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L., … Adams Hillard, P. J. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health, 1(1), 40-43. doi:10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010
[12] He, Y., Jones, C. R., Fujiki, N., Xu, Y., Guo, B., Holder, J. L., … Fu, Y. (2009). The Transcriptional Repressor DEC2 Regulates Sleep Length in Mammals. Science, 325(5942), 866-870. doi:10.1126/science.1174443
[13] Zhou, J., Liu, D., Li, X., Ma, J., Zhang, J., & Fang, J. (2012). Pink noise: Effect on complexity synchronization of brain activity and sleep consolidation. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 306, 68-72. doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2012.04.006
[14] Hirotsu, C., Tufik, S., & Andersen, M. L. (2015). Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Science, 8(3), 143-152. doi:10.1016/j.slsci.2015.09.002
[15] Walker, M. (2017). Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.