More espresso, less depresso
The World Is Hooked On Stimulants
...If you could make a pill out of the feeling of waking up after an incredible night’s sleep, most people on this earth would be hooked on it.
However, the opposite is true in the 21st century way of living. We are mostly hooked on the things that work against good sleep: like coffee, alcohol, social media, bright blue lights coming from TVs, tablets, and computers.
The honest truth is that uninspiring sleep = uninspiring life. Yep, that’s the honest truth. Sleep is so important that that without it, our experience of life is pretty much… dull.
The human being is simply unable to live effectively without a good sleep regimen.
This article serves as a guide on how to optimise your sleep, with the key facts to know. We’ll also delve into the actionable tips you can apply tonight so that tomorrow you may experience better productivity, better focus, and better physical energy.
What You'll Get Out Of This Article
Sleep is an anabolic activity. This means that it’s an activity in which one “builds up” and “accumulates” energy. In traditional Chinese philosophy you’d call this Yin. Being awake and active would be the functional opposite, we’d call that Yang.
These two forces (the Yin and Yang) work together to bring balance and wholeness, and can be seen in all aspects of life.
This is particularly interesting when you start to consider your specific health & fitness goals.
Ask yourself: in order for me to bring balance and wholeness into my life and achieve my goals, how much sleep do I need in order to be able to go about my daily activities in a way that I have good energy, have vitality, and won't drive more stress and fatigue.
How much anabolism are you going to need in order to achieve that goal? Sleep is the most impactful anabolic technology you have, so getting clear on how effective you want it to be is very important.
Not getting enough sleep and being too catabolic results in burn-out, poor hormone levels, chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, chronic tight and sore muscles, poor concentration, etc.
Poor Sleep Creates Billion Dollar Industries
Have you ever walked past a Starbucks and NOT seen a massive cue waiting to pay for their caffeine prescription? I don’t think I have…
People are so hooked on coffee that they can’t live without it. In fact we have multi billion dollar industries that operate on the sole idea that people don’t respect the balance between rest and activity and thus need stimulants, supplements, etc.
And I love coffee, but I learnt the hard way that guzzling down double espressos can only get you so far.
It’s a real vicious cycle when you think about it…
Let me assure you, you can get out of this vicious cycle.
Why We Sleep
The brain needs sleep to effectively detoxify itself
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.
It's All About Your Hormones, Baby
Now, onto the real stuff: It’s all about your hormones. If there’s anything to remember from this article, it’s that your hormones play a part in everything. The 2 hormones I’m delving into here are Cortisol and Melatonin.
Let’s start with Cortisol, our “wake up” hormone. It is produced by the adrenal glands and it is part of the glucocorticoid family. Glucocorticoids are stress hormones.
Things like going for a long run, lifting heavy weights, being anxious before an exam, or being terrified about impending bankruptcy all release glucocorticoid stress hormones.
Cortisol is not bad… it’s vitally important for us. Excess cortisol late in the day is what you want to avoid.
Cortisol regulates our sleep/wake cycles.
Light = Sunshine = Cortisol = Daytime Activities
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.
We experience a peak in Cortisol around 9AM, and as the day continues levels decline gradually.
In the words of world renowned Holistic Health Practitioner, Paul Chek: “Since Cortisol can take hours to clear from your blood stream, this will also prevent the normal release of melatonin, growth hormones, and important immune factors, cutting into your immune system’s valuable repair time.”
When you disrupt the sleep wake cycle that you intrinsically need, you can develop something called Adrenal Fatigue.
LIFESTYLE TIPS: Things like late night heavy lifting in the gym, super bright lights, and cups of coffee elevate cortisol levels enough to disrupt sleep. Check out the end of this article to feast your eyes on the actionable to enhance your sleep quality and avoid the effects of poor sleep hygiene.
Cute French Coffee Shops
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking… those Parisian coffee shops where everyone is sat outside sipping on espressos and looking really cool are so damn cute. Having lived in Paris and being half French, I can confirm this.
But what’s really interesting is how this translates into your physiology. Let’s take this scenario: a Parisian has just finished work around 6pm and decides to head over to his local Café - sits down in the patio and orders a double espresso. The espresso comes, he adds a bit of sugar, and lights a cigarette. Because there’s nothing more stereotypical than a Parisian at the Café enjoying a cigarette. (You might have to add a couple of baguettes from the boulangerie and post-work croissant for good measure.)
This whole city of Paris is fuelled on espresso and high quality bread.
What this picture presents are the actions that elevate your stress hormones and cause havoc for how effective your sleep is going to be.
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 otherwise known as the “wake up” hormone… 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.
Nap Like A King
The truth however, is that sometimes you just need the coffee boost, and taking the hit for a mediocre night of sleep is worth it. When that happens, an incredibly underused resting technique can be deployed… nap time.
Koalas are masters of the nap game.
Research generally suggests that 10-20 minutes is enough to give you a boost to get you through the day with better focus, energy, and mind-body wellness.
Anything more than 40 mins generally has an adverse reaction and you feel like you’re hibernating and your mental focus gets pulled way off track.
Different Cultures Sleep Differently
I’m always incredibly surprised when I travel to different countries how different their sleeping and eating times are. Being half English and half French, I saw it from the get go. People in England traditionally have a very early dinner (around 6:00PM) with lower volume of food compared to breakfast and lunch. Compare that to the French who have have a much later dinner around 8:30 PM, with a very light breakfast but bigger lunch. Every culture is different, and I guess it just comes down to tradition, weather, working times, etc.
The biggest shock came to when I was living in Buenos Aires and was trying to get used to the people’s eating time of 10-11pm… I thought, what is going on here? These people eat so late! How do they manage to sleep with a belly full of food? That’s just how they do it… And it seemed to work pretty well for them. Naps are an integral part of this lifestyle, I can assure you.
Late night blue lights are plaguing people's sleep all around the world.
Now onto the real stuff… what are the common mistakes I may be making that impacting how good my sleep quality could be.
- Sleeping with lights coming from devices, alarm clocks, appliances, etc. are a big no-no. The smallest little light has been shown to be enough to disrupt someone’s sleep quality.
- WHAT TO DO: Use black tape to cover up any light at all. (This is particularly useful when staying in hotels).
- Using blue lit devices before bed. This elevates cortisol and suppresses your ability to produce melatonin. You’re winding up your body when it should be winding down.
- WHAT TO DO: Use blue light blocking software like IRIS, wear blue light blocking glasses.
- Working-out late at night: elevates cortisol and stress hormones. We’re not wired to do intense physical activity late at night. This messes up your hormones. Nearly all gyms are under bright lights as well, making it a nightmare environment for your biology if you go in at the wrong time of day.
- WHAT TO DO: Work-out in the morning or early afternoon
- Drinking coffee (and high caffeine teas) after 2PM.
- Opt for brain stimulating non-caffeine drinks like Lion’s Mane Mushroom.
Actionable Tips For Better Sleep
- Wear blue light blockers: Blue light blocking glasses are awesome for when you’re in an environment with bright lights late at night. If I’m going out for dinner and end up spending time after 10:00pm outside, in the London tube, or somewhere with bright lights, the blue light blockers allow me to experience an environment which will not overstimulate my eyes and brain and make me have trouble falling asleep. They are also great for wearing inside the house after dinner and get your system ready for winding down when there’s no longer any sunlight.
- Blue blockers are great for changing time zones as well, and minimising the effects of jet lag and acclimatising your biology to a new time zone.
- IRIS: Iris is a great piece of software that enables you to filter out blight light from your screen. Devices like a MacBook Pro emit wavelengths of … which are incredibly powerful. Imagine staring at that late night when your body should be winding down and getting ready for sleep? You’re pretty much fucked!
- Iris allows you to have different presets like “health”, “sleep”, “reading”, etc which allow you to tailor what kind of spectrums you want. It’s great for using during the day as you can minimise the blue light so that the screen has an orangish hue, but everything remains clearly visible and readable. At night if you’re on your laptop, you can use the sleep setting which really minimises the blue light.
- Earthing: Earthing technology is a great biohack to use when it comes to optimising your sleep.
- Drink a tea that calms down the mind and body and gets it ready for sleep time. Different brands do specialised bedtime teas, with chamomile and Valerian. I like Yogi Bedtime Tea.
- Cold water. Taking a cold shower before bed stimulate the parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system. Making you primed for resting and calmness: ideal for a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid late night eating, especially big meals. Your body can’t fully sleep when it has loads of food to metabolise and digest.
What To Take Away From All Of This
If you want to optimise your mind, your body, your wellbeing, your focus, your ability to have great energy throughout the day…. your sleep regimen is the first thing to look to. It’s also free… no supplement, drug, or therapy will ever have the kind of impact a solid 8 hour of good sleep will have on you.
Our modern way of living makes it rather hard to establish an optimised sleep regimen on-board. There are however a huge amount of ways to counteract and avoid the negative effects they can have on you. I hope this blog has inspired you to look into your sleep and see how it can be optimised so that you can experience day to day life at a higher level, with greater focus, energy, and wellbeing.
Written by Pierre Higginson, CHEK Practitioner, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach