My top tools for enhancing sleep

boy lying on bed covered with white blanket
Reading Time: 8 minutes

At this point in history we should all understand the importance of getting enough sleep, yet we appear to be more sleep deprived than ever.

One study from 2018 found that the average person in Britain gets only 6 hours and 19 minutes of sleep, with people only ever getting the recommended 8 hours twice a week, and 38% of those studies claiming to never achieve this.

On another study, 23% of people claimed to be getting 5 hours or less sleep a night. To put this into context, studies have shown that a person who has been awake for 19 hours (such as someone who is only getting 5 hours sleep) has the same cognitive impairment as someone who is legally drunk.

And just trying the ‘catch up’ on sleep theory at the weekends seems to not be nearly enough to make up the damaging difference.

So why is sleep so important? It has a huge restorative effect on both the brain and the body:

  • Testosterone and other adaptive hormones repair organs, strengthen and rebuild muscles, and rejuvenate body systems
  • Immune system’s white blood cells kick into high gear
  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released helping the body to burn fat
  • Cognitive functions improved, memories solidified
  • Emotional and social regions of brain are rested, leaving us feeling refreshed
  • The brain repairs and flushes away metabolic waste products

And the adverse effects of not getting enough quality sleep are many-fold:

  • Affects how carbs are processed and stored
  • Alters hormones that affect appetite and metabolism
  • Fat gain and junk food cravings
  • Performance drop off
  • Adversely influences mood, concentration, memory retention, and productivity
  • Can lead to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, irregular heart beat , compromised immune system, obesity, sexual dysfunction, premature ageing, certain cancers, and heart disease.

There are many elements that contribute to our lack of sleep:

  • Health issues (chronic and acute) both physical and mental
  • Disruptive work patterns
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Excessive artificial light exposure
  • Excessive stimulants such as caffeine
  • Tech addiction
  • Your wife stealing the duvet and her vice-like grip stopping you from retrieving it back despite her being a third of your size.
  • Any many, many other reasons….

So how much do we need?

Well the honest answer is, it depends. Some people are natural short sleepers. Scientists have so far recorded 2 genetic mutations (DEC2 and ARDB1) that allow those with said mutation to chug along perfectly on an average of 6 hours sleep. But these are the exceptions not the rule.

The general consensus for an adult is between 7-9 hours (increasing more as age categories get younger) and this will vary on an individual basis. You can experiment on what is optimal for you if you have a week or so where you don’t need to get up at a certain time, just go to bed when you feel sleepy (yeah right! I’m binge watching Netflix if I don’t have to get up!) and see what time you naturally wake each day.

How to get more sleep, then? Well this subject is vast, and could fill a whole book. In fact it has. Many books actually.

What follows are my favourite tools for aiding sleep. These all work for me, maybe they will work for you too. Be your own experiment.

Blue Light Blocking Glasses

Not only do these make me look like a sexy media type but more importantly they help to filter out blue light.

Blue light radiation, whilst vitally important to our circadian rhythm in the earlier part of the day, becomes problematic as the evening draws in. When we are exposed to blue light at sunrise the pineal gland in the brain releases the feel good hormone Serotonin which then triggers the release of Cortisol, the stress hormone, making us all alert and energetic. Not what you want in the evening. This is when the body releases Melatonin, that makes us sleepy.

Looking at phones and screens, a massive source of blue light radiation, in the evening gets our circadian rhythm all crooked. The obvious solution is to avoid blue light in the evenings, but this is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Blue Blocking glasses help to reduce the amount of blue light entering our eyes. It is worth noting that our skin is also very photo-receptive (sensitive to light) too so this is in no way a cure all.

I wear virtually clear ones in the daytime, moving to the yellow in the afternoon and to the orange ones in the evening. You can even get deep red ones for the total die-hards.

These definitely make a difference for me feeling sleepy in the evenings.

Colour Changing LED Bulbs

On the same theme, to further reduce the amount of blue light we are exposed to we have replaced all of our light bulbs with colour changing LED bulbs. Since yellow, orange and red hues increase the body’s Melatonin production we have the bulbs set to these settings in the evening. They even come with an in-built timer to automatically switch off and a party strobe effect for when shit gets real and you need to bust out some energising dance moves.

Twilight and F.Lux

And finally on the theme of blue blocking we have blue light filtering apps for your devices. There are many on offer these days and most phone come with at least one in-built. I like to add an extra layer of protection so I use Twilight for my phone and F.Lux for my computers. Both are free and will sync with the sunrise and sunset of your location. As the sun sets, the screen will become increasingly more pink-ish. It’s not enough to be distracting but enough to reduce the blue light. And both have the ability to increase or decrease the intensity of the filter. This can obviously be a bit of an issue if you are working with photo or graphic design and need to see the true colours.

Bed of Nails/Shiatsu Mat

This little beauty was introduced to me over a decade ago by a crazy Russian gymnast insisting that my back pain would stop if only I took my top off and laid down on this bed of tiny, violent looking spikes. It was either his infectious enthusiasm, or the mountain of vodka he’d plied me with but I gave it a go.

It’s the oddest experience. At first it’s not nice. Then it starts to feel like your skin is burning, not nice. Then, suddenly, you get this warm blissed out feeling. And skin that looks dimpled like an orange. The theory being that it promotes blood flow to the area, aiding healing.

The curious side effect of using it is that within 5 minutes I am out cold in the land of nod. I can be laid on my living room floor, shirt off, on a bed of spikes, my kids and dog leaping over me in hysterics, and I am fast asleep.

I doubt you would want to sleep all night on this thing. Rolling over would leave your back in tatters, but for a daytime power nap it’s the bomb. I’ll also use it about 15 minutes before bed too if I want to get super sleepy. I love it so much I also bought a pillow.

Binaural Beats

Binaural beats fascinate me. Essentially it’s two tones, one played into each ear (you need headphones) that are slightly different frequencies from each other. This difference in frequency creates a kind of throbbing beat that the brain picks up. The theory is that what ever frequency the difference of tones is, the brain’s electrical frequency (brainwave pattern) will begin to follow suit. This is called ‘brain entrainment’.

Different brain wave frequencies (measured in Hz) are associated with different states and behaviours. I am currently listening to Gamma wave (30hz) binaural beats which are perfect for focus work.

For sleep I like to listen to Delta wave frequencies (1-4Hz). As we drift from light sleep to deep sleep our brain shifts from Theta, the more meditative state, to Delta. Listening to binaural beat at around 4Hz really helps me sleep. When my son was younger, he went through a spell of really struggling to fall asleep. 5 minutes with the headphones on and Delta beats playing and he was out.

Whilst you can get special headphones designed to sleep in, I just listen to them a half hour or so before bed.

I will combine binaural beats and the shiatsu mat for the most awesome power nap known to man.

Box Breathing

We’ve talked about Box Breathing in depth before in this post, but this is something that Kelley and I do very often right before sleep to down regulate our nervous systems and get in the right space for sleep. Kelley swears by it for those nights when she is struggling to get to sleep. She begins box breathing and after a short while drifts off to sleep.

You can use the animation above to follow along or there are numerous apps available. Box breathing is just one type of breathwork. Find one that works for you.

Mouth Taping

Again, there is a whole post devoted to the wonders of mouth taping here but this is a practice that I still do pretty much every night, and when I don’t, I notice the difference. Yes it’s a bit weird, but if you’ve been following us for a while you’ll not be surprised, that’s our shizzle. Mouth taping definitely worth giving a try especially if you’re a snorer. The health benefits are pretty well documented for nasal only breathing.

The Disco Nap/Forty Winks/Siesta/Blanket Drill

unrecognizable person sleeping under blanket

For 40 years I denied myself the wondrous elixir of rejuvenation that is the power nap. Whether it was from fear of missing out, or some messed up notion that “I can sleep when I’m dead”, I can’t say, but now I am a total convert to the Altar of the Midday Pillow.

Eye mask, spikey mat thing, binaural beats, and a stark warning of death should anyone disturb me for the next 30 minutes, and I am away. It’s a bloody game-changer.

A power nap can be a really effective way to catch up on either REM or Non-REM sleep, whichever one you are lacking. If you feel like a nap in the morning it usually means you need a bit more REM sleep, and in the afternoon, more deep sleep.

And contrary to popular belief it’s doesn’t seem to interfere with the following night’s sleep but can actually help.

It’s not a replacement for a lack of night time sleep but it can help get you out of a hole.

So that’s my top sleep tips to help you on the warrior path. Have you got any to share?

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