21 Ways to Hack Your Sleep For Better Health

If I had to estimate the percentage of patients in my practice with sleep disorders, taking into account age, gender, and occupation, I would say that it would be around 90%.

And that’s a conservative estimate.

Poor quality or quantity of sleep will affect every part of your humanity.

If you don’t sleep well, you can’t live well.

If you don’t sleep well, your body breaks down from not getting good quality, restful sleep.

Here are some examples of what happens with lack of sleep:

-increased appetite, often for simple sugars and carbohydrates

  • impaired immune function by unnecessarily increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines
  • decreased activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which is involved in healing and repair
  • increased insulin and blood glucose
  • short-term and long-term memory impairment

After. In other words… poor sleep affects everything.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the impact it has on brain function.

The Brain Eats Itself?

“I love to sleep. My life tends to fall apart when I’m awake, you know? – Ernest Hemingway

In a study last year, Italian researchers looked at the effect of sleep deprivation and its effects on the brain.

What they found was that sleep deprivation caused an increase in the activity of astrocytes (called microglial cells) in the brain.

Astrocytes are the equivalent of landscapers in the brain, pruning out old, unnecessary, and unused synapses in the brain.

Normally, we want astrocytes that are active, but not very active. We don’t want a very pruned brain, do we?

In this study, in well-rested mice, astrocyte activity was about 6% and more than doubled its activity by 13.5% in chronically sleep-deprived mice. Chronic sleep deprivation in this study was defined as 5 days.

5 days.

Does this sound familiar to you?

Have you ever had to stay up all night for exams, and important deadlines, and had a bad week of sleep?

Parents: Have you ever had a child who was sick or just didn’t sleep all night?

Have all or all of you experienced this?!

Of course yes. We all have.

When you’re sleep deprived, these landscapers in your brain become overzealous and literally gnaw and prune healthy synapses in chronic sleep deprivation.

POOR CONTROL OVER EMOTIONS & RATIONAL THOUGHT

Poor sleep also affects the brain as it makes it more irritable and angry.

Chronic sleep deprivation will deplete your control over emotions (particularly anger), and you’re more likely to become irritable or lose your temper.

This is because lack of sleep will directly affect our prefrontal cortex (PFC).

The PFC is similar to a “parental brain”: it is involved in decision-making and has strong regulatory effects on our emotional centers, such as the amygdala, and other motivational areas.

So when your “parent” brain is less active, you’ll overreact to things because your emotional centers aren’t properly inhibited.

Also, the ability to express and feel happiness and joy resides in our prefrontal cortex, and when the PFC is heavily pruned and less active, you become angry, irritated, and impatient.

Here is your 7-Day Sleep challenge:

  1. Declutter and tidy up your room. View this room as a protected space for resting and repair.
  2. No caffeine after 2pm
  3. Drink at least 3L of water per day
  4. Do not drink in the 45 minutes leading up to sleep
  5. Do not eat 2 hours before bedtime
  6. Go to sleep at the same time every night
  7. Eat a high fat, low carbohydrate diet throughout the day
  8. Exercise 3–4x/week, so that you are consistently elevating your heart rate. HIIT and strength training are preferred.
  9. At noon and at 4pm drink a tall glass of water with 1 tsp of sea salt
  10. 1 hour before bedtime, no devices whatsoever (phones, TV, computers, electronic readers)
  11. 1 hour before bedtime, lower all the lights in the house as dim as possible.
  12. Wear blue-blocking glasses for any computer work after 4pm
  13. Install f.lux, or other blue-light blocking filters on your computer
  14. Install blackout blinds, or wear an eye mask for sleeping.
  15. No devices in the bedroom whatsoever. Charge your phone and your computer in your living room. Buy a manual alarm clock. Absolutely no TVs (yes — I’m telling you to take it out of your bedroom).
  16. Just before retiring for the evening, handwrite in a journal 3 (or more) things that happened today that you are grateful for
  17. In bed, placing your hands on your belly, perform square breathing: 4 counts in, hold for the inhale for 4 counts, 4 counts to exhale, hold the exhale for 4 counts. Do this 10 times.
  18. Add white noise to your sleep (oceanic sounds, rainfall, etc)
  19. The room temperature should be on the cool side
  20. Sleep naked or in comfortable, breathable loose clothing
  21. Optional: if available, sleep with a weighted blanket

Take a day or 2 to set everything up. Then get after it! You deserve a restful sleep and the healing it affords.

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