As you know by now, the amount of sleep is not that important. What is always more important is “quality over quantity.” There is no definitive length of time that should be spent on daily exercise or sleep – we are all different – find what works for you best.
Sleep is a natural process that has been with us since mankind began, a process that many of the aspects of modern life are taking us away from. Artificial light, technology, shift work, sleeping tablets, travel, checking our phones when we wake, working late – even running out of the house and skipping breakfast to race to our jobs on time. They’re all taking us away from this natural process, and this is where our problems with rest and recovery begin.
A circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal cycle managed by our body clock. This clock of ours, deep within the brain, regulates our internal systems such as sleeping and eating patterns, hormone production, temperature, alertness, mood and digestion, in a 24-hour process evolved to work in harmony with the Earth’s rotation. Our body clocks are set by external cues, chief among them being daylight, as well as things like temperature and eating times.
The most important thing in achieving results is consistency of hard work. If we stay consistent and get up in the morning (ideally 7-7:30 a.m.) our need to sleep peaks at night, which coincides with our circadian urge, producing the ideal sleep window. During the night we tend to reach our most effective sleeping period around 2–3 a.m. (most effective body regeneration).
It is vital to understand that these rhythms are ingrained within us. They are the product of millions of years of evolution. We could no more unlearn these rhythms than we could teach dogs to stop barking or ask a lion if it wouldn’t mind giving vegetarianism a go. If we have trouble getting to sleep at certain points of the day even if we’ve been up all night. We’re fighting against our body’s circadian urge to be up with the sun.
Slow down in your mornings: rushing off can disrupt your body. Sleep quality is all about what we do from the point of waking. I wake up at 5 – 5:30 a.m. which is not ideal but no rush, do light dynamic stretching, open the window and get some fresh air, and drink some natural still water with lemon to detox, then some special tea mix to increase body temperature and energy so I can go for work.
I also prepare some light food to eat it at work. The whole process takes me around 40 – 50 minutes as no rushing. As you can see, I am starting each day with easy tasks to stay motivated for the rest of the day and jumping to more demanding activities.
We are particularly sensitive to a wavelength known as blue light. Because of its prevalence in the light given off by electronic devices such as computers and smartphones, blue light gets a bad press. But in this case it’s not so much that it’s bad light – only badly timed light. Daylight is full of blue light, and during the day blue light is good. It sets the body clock, suppresses melatonin production and improves alertness and performance.
Once it’s dark, however, these are all undesirable qualities. If you’re using devices or have the lights blazing late into the night, then it’s going to cause hardships falling asleep.
Once it’s been dark for long enough, we produce the melatonin to ready us for sleep. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep, is produced in the pineal gland, which responds to light. Avoiding artificial lights and technology ideally after 8 p.m. and not eating big meals 2h before sleep, and drinking 1h before sleep will improve melatonin secretion starting at 9 p.m. where hitting bed at this time and falling asleep around 10 – 11 p.m. is proven very effective.
AMers vs. PMers
If you’re a morning person (an AMer), your body clock is a bit fast, while if you’re the evening type (a PMer) your clock’s running slow. Whether you’re an AMer or PMer, you still have to get to work or training. If you are PMer and have to wake up early, you suffer because you are effectively trying to operate in a different time zone to your internal body clock. On the other hand, AMers enjoy mornings the most and tend to get tired sooner and go to bed earlier.
The really bad news for PMers is that you should cut out the lie-ins at the weekend too. If you spend all week adjusting your body clock to the demands of your job, then let it all go at the weekend, your clock will drift back towards its natural, slower state, and you’ll be starting over come Monday. The symptoms of your social jet lag will be so much worse.
If it helps and is possible, taking a nap (30min) between 12 a.m. – 2 p.m. when your cortisol level drops drastically so you can be fresh for the rest of the day.
drop Caffeine consumption
Caffeine is the world’s most popular performance-enhancing drug – a neurostimulant with psychoactive properties which fights off fatigue and has proven beneficial effects on alertness, reaction times, concentration and endurance. High use of caffeine can cause agitation and anxiety. Having it in your blood can make it more difficult to get to sleep, and more difficult to remain asleep.
Studies show caffeine is at its most beneficial in athletes at moderate quantities of around 3–6 milligrams per kilo of body mass, and the Food Standards Agency in the UK recommends 400 milligrams as the daily intake of caffeine for the average person. To put that in perspective, a Starbucks Grande brewed coffee contains 330 milligrams. The same chain’s single espresso contains 75 milligrams, and a home-brewed cup of coffee can contain as much as 200 milligrams.
On top of this, caffeine has a half-life of up to six hours, which means it will be present in your body much later than you might think. Daylight is a more effective tool in the long term than an out-of-control caffeine habit but saving it on important days will make all the magic for you. Use caffeine as a performance enhancer, instead of simply to get yourself to a position from which you can perform.
The cycles of sleep
Our sleep cycles are composed of four (or sometimes five) distinct stages, and it’s easy to think about our passage through a cycle as being like a journey down a flight of stairs. When we turn the lights off and get into bed at night, we’re at the top of the stairs. Down at the bottom of the stairs is deep sleep, which is where we want to get to.
Our brain produces delta waves, the slowest-frequency brainwaves (we produce the high-frequency beta waves when we are awake) in deep sleep. We reap the major physical restorative benefits of sleep, such as the increase in our release of growth hormone.
Worrying about sleep is an obstacle many of us face when trying to get what we need from it. Going to bed when we’re not tired or prepared for it is only going to cause problems, and stressing about it in the middle of the night isn’t going to help us get back to sleep. Once we start worrying and stewing over it, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released, which make us more alert.
It is important to know that each cycle lasts 90 minutes and tailoring your cycles based on time you must be up. I hit bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 5 – 5:30 a.m. where I spend sleeping 7h and 30 min. which stands for 5 cycles and we normally need 35 cycles a week to keep proper body functioning but 28 cycles also good which means you can build muscles and strength even by sleeping less if understanding and using these tools.
There’s so much about sleep that we just haven’t yet worked out. As Philippe Mourrain, Associate Professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, writes: ‘We don’t really know what sleep is. This may come as a shock to the uninitiated.’ What we do know, and even the scientists can all agree on this, is that sleep is vital to our wellbeing.