Good Sleep = Good Life

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of your health, and is probably the one thing you can look to improve that will impact every other aspect of your life. From your cognitive function, to stress levels, to sex drive.


The real important thing to understand when it comes to sleep, is that there’s pretty much an infinite amount of things in our modern way of living that can really screw it up!


These 7 points I’m going to delve into are mostly lifestyle based: they address the deeper issues which are contributing to poor sleep. Such as excess cortisol levels running through the system, low blood sugar when sleeping, as well as balancing out the Autonomic Nervous System.


2 key hormones to understand that will allow you to make the most out of this article:


Cortisol: It’s the “wake up” hormone. It’s produced by the adrenal glands and is a stress hormone. 

Light = Sun = Cortisol = Daytime Activities. 

Things like going for a long run, lifting heavy weights, being anxious before an exam, or being terrified by the bear chasing you down in the forest ALL release Cortisol and stress hormones. 

night day pierre higginson sleep


Cortisol is not bad… it’s vitally important for us so we can wake up in the morning, focus on a task at hand, fight, run, etc.


Excess cortisol late in the day is what you want to avoid. Cortisol regulates our sleep/wake cycles. We all have the desire to wake up in the morning because of Cortisol excretion. It steadily rises around 6am and with this we start getting the desire to wake up and start our day’s activities.


Melatonin is your sleep hormone. Dark = Nighttime = Melatonin = Sleep. 


Excess cortisol in the blood stream will prevent the normal release of melatonin which will have limiting factors on the quality of your sleep.


With that being said, here are the 7 Crazy Effective Tactics For Better Deeper Sleep


1. Avoid Late Night Rigorous Exercise


The issues with having a workout late at night, let’s say at 8-9pm is if you go to bed at 10:30 or 11, you may be stimulating excess cortisol in your body, which will impact your sleep quality. 


You want to avoid doing any heavy lifting, pumping weights, running and anything that gets your body fired up.


exercise pierre higginson sleep blog cortisol


Since our response to exercise is relative to how conditioned we are, it’s hard to say how much is too much.


If you look at a study like this one from the National Library of Medicine, called “Exercise and Circulating Cortisol Levels: The Intensity Threshold Effect”, you can see how “Collectively, the cortisol findings support the view that moderate to high intensity exercise provokes increases in circulating cortisol levels.”


When you want to be getting your body and brain ready for sleep, releasing the stress hormone Cortisol is something you want to avoid at all costs. Stimulating cortisol late at night would be similar to taking a sleeping pill right after you wake up… it’s just plainly counterintuitive.


If you’re one of the many people whose working all day and only really have a chance for physical movement later in the evening. I’d opt for something like yoga, qigong, or walking outside, rather than heavy lifting or trashing yourself with circuit training. Although a lot of people find that high intensity exercise to be a great stress reducer, the effect that could have on sleep might outweigh the benefits. So that’s a concept you might want to explore if you want to optimise your sleep. 


2. Avoid Caffeine After 2PM & Drink Valerian Tea
Before Bed

Studies have been made in humans which demonstrated that the intake of caffeine increases cortisol and epinephrine at rest. The studies further showed that when consuming caffeine, the levels of cortisol are similar to those experienced during acute stress. What this means is that when you drink beverages like coffee or teas such as green tea, or Yerba mate, you’re essentially producing the same response as of being under a stressful condition for the body.


coffee cortisol sleep pierre higginson


A double espresso has around 160mg of caffeine. And caffeine has a half life of around 6 hours. This means that if at 6pm you’re necking a double espresso… at 12:00AM you’ve still got around 80mg of caffeine running through your system which is stimulating cortisol release. Remember before when I said that Cortisol is the stress hormone that wakes you up… Your sleep is going to experience the effects of that espresso far more than you were expecting.


Remember, just because you sleep at night, does not mean you're fully resting. Sleep is as much about quality as it is duration.


With cortisol running through your system, you can never fully get into a state of deep restorative sleep that will get you the restorative energy that brings in high levels of physical energy, mental energy, and clear focus. 


On the other side of things, drinking a tea that will help you fall asleep is a great option. Some beverages will typically affect the GABA anxiety-inhibiting neurotransmitter in the brain. Valerian is a good tea, Yogi Bedtime Tea is a great option which contains different tea strains that really get you good and sleepy. 


3. Block Blue Light


This is a hugely effective tactic that I’ve personally seen great results from and would recommend it to anyone serious about wanting to get their sleep to the next level.


In the words of the Sleep Foundation “The blue light that’s emitted from back lit devices can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule.”


There’s so much research backing this, and you’ve seen companies like Apple introduce Night Mode on their devices. 


You really want to look into apps like IRIS that you can download, to adjust how much blue light is being emitted from your computer and phone.


The key thing to understand is that whenever the sun is down and it’s dark outside, and you’re looking at your phone, laptop, or tablet, you’re suppressing melatonin which means your sleep is not going to be as good a quality as it should be.


I use Iris, and blue light blocking glasses. 

blue light block pierre higginson


4. Get Morning Sunlight Exposure

When it comes to living with heightened vitality and decreased stress, your circadian rhythms are highly important. 


Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock. It runs in the background and is influenced by things such as eating, exercise, light, and stress.Your circadian rhythm is all known as your sleep/wake cycle.


Your circadian rhythm regulates many of critical hormones and chemicals in your brain and body, such as Dopamine, Thyroxine, Serotonin, and Melatonin. 

sleep hormones pierre higginson


To put that into perspective…

  • Dopamine takes care of things like reward, motivation, memory, attention.
  • Thyroxine plays a crucial  role in heart and digestive function, metabolism, brain development, bone health, and muscle control.
  • Serotonin (AKA the happy chemical), because it contributes to wellbeing and happiness.
  • Melatonin regulates your sleep. When it’s dark outside this hormone will be released which allows the body and brain to sleep and get vital rest. It’s suppressed when the body and brain come into contact with light. 


So in order to optimise your circadian rhythm, you should try and get between 30 and 45 minutes of direct sunlight exposure into your eyes and naked skin. The earlier the better.


Sunglasses work against this process, as well as sunlight coming through a window. This doesn’t count.


Getting early morning sunlight exposure will optimise your response to wanting to go to sleep. It determines how effective your brain and body will be, for actually getting into that restful state around 10-11pm when it is optimal to be getting ready for sleep.


5. Cold Shower Before Bed

Your autonomic nervous system functionally interplays between its sympathetic branch (fight or flight) and its parasympathetic brand (rest & digest).


Most people living in the city working the 9 to 5 are chronically stimulated in a fight or flight state. Things like excessive caffeine, overworking, and dealing with all kinds of stress can lead to this.


Cold showers are a parasympathetic stressor: they pull you into a parasympathetic state. 

cold shower pierre higginson sleep


You will feel incredibly alive and that would seem counter intuitive to do before going to sleep. But what that does is it then pushes you into a rest, digest, and relax mode. I’ve found this to be incredibly useful for getting to sleep and having a great night’s worth of restoration. 


Another interesting factor is when you take a cold shower, it completely melts away any stresses, anxiety, or mental restlessness you may be experiencing. It’s such a shock to the system that you enter a “no-mind” state. Or a state of flow as it’s also known as. This allows you to momentarily put all of your thoughts, your emotions, your stressors to the side and just be in the moment. When you do this, it take some of the weight off your shoulders and greatly helps in allowing yourself to have a restful night of sleep.


Cold showers also increase libido, so that should enhance your sex life too as an added bonus. 


For more info, check out the work of Wim Hoff.


6. Do Some Breathwork (4-7-8)

The breath is one of the highest ranked systems in your body in terms of importance. It’s a central part of your physiology, and its influence is incredibly vast. No breath = no life. 


Small changes in your breath duration and speed can completely change things like your heart rate, your blood circulation, stress hormone release etc. 


The term breath work really means to use breath as a tool. You’re working with the breath to produce some kind of effect on the body. There’s loads of different exercises, some that stimulate your fight or flight branch of the autonomic nervous system, and others that stimulate your rest and digest branch. As sleep is all about rest, this part of the ANS really needs to be stimulated as much as possible.

breathwork sleep pierre higginson

Our problem in our culture is how to stimulate this part and avoid all the things that stimulate the sympathetic branch. This breath-work exercise is great for that.


This specific way of breathing has been used for centuries to calm the mind and slow heart rate.


Here's how you do it:

1. Exhale and let all the air out of your lungs

2. Breath in for 4 seconds

3. Hold that breath for 7 seconds

4. Breath out for 8 seconds

5. Repeat!


You'll feel yourself getting calmer as you continue the method.


Conscious breathing comes with many health and wellbeing benefits. You can do it upon rising in the morning, before bed, and anytime you wish you to calm down, relax, and get deeper into a parasympathetic state.


7. Handle Your Blood Sugar Levels


If blood sugar levels drop during the night, it release glucose-regulating hormones such as adrenaline, glucagon, cortisol, and growth hormone. This process can wake you up.


What to do: Eat dinner no later than 3-4 hours before bed

Have a very small fat based snack before bed. Nut butter is a good example.

Try a spoonful of organic honey to replenish the Liver’s glycogen reserves. These reserves are depleted in 12 hours.


Conclusion

Sleep is first and foremost crucial for restoration. Our physiology is designed in such a way that it can output a huge amount of energy, but in counterbalance to this, it needs a significant amount of time to restore itself. 

Much like how you need to charge your phone every night, the brain and body needs time to heal itself and remove the metabolic wastes which have built up during the waking hours of activity.


Did you know that prolonged sleep deprivation is one of the mosts sinister forms of torture (not that all forms are not sinister)… because it effects people at the deepest level… disrupting mental and physical biological systems from working properly.


A huge amount of people are chronically starving their bodies on a low level from a proper night of deep restorative sleep through diet and lifestyle factors that wreak havoc on their body and brain.


Get started today and use these 7 crazy effective tactics to optimise your sleep!





References For Further Reading


pierre
pierre

Pierre is a Holistic Health Practitioner based in London, UK. He helps people increase vitality, decrease stress, achieve optimal posture, and more.

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