“SLEEP : The Ultimate Performance Enhancing Drug With Only Positive Side Effects”

In 2007, Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington fainted while working in her office.
When she passed out, her head slammed off her desk, breaking her cheekbone and resulting in the need for five stitches in the area surrounding her eye.

One of the main contributing factors to Arianna fainting was a signifIcant lack of sleep, the effects of which can be devastating to your health and wellbeing.

As you read this article, more than 1/3 of people in the UK are getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night, and there are approximately 60 million prescriptions for sleep medications each year.

The problem is, a lack of sleep doesn’t just mean a risk of fainting or feeling a little more irritable.

People who don’t get enough sleep have;

  • 20% increased mortality
  • 27% higher rate of Obesity
  • A tendency to become carb-addicted and to consume 500 more calories per day
  • A 30-40% reduction in Glucose Metabolism
  • 62% increased risk of Breast Cancer
  • 48% increased risk of Heart Disease
  • 5X higher risk of Diabetes
  • 3X increased risk of suffering from a Cold because of decreased Immunity
  • 4X greater risk of Stroke
  • 5X increased risk suffering from Clinical Depression
  • Impairment of the brain’s ability to remove toxins related to Alzheimer’s development

Quite a sobering thought.

Speaking of sobering and alcohol, as many as 7.9 million have used alcohol to help them get to sleep at night while 6.8 million self-medicate with over-the-counter tonics and almost half of Britons say that stress or worry keeps them awake at night.

As some of you may know, I am a huge advocate for sleep quality and optimising it as much as possible.
It’s why I chose to study sleep and become a Certified Sleep Science Coach.

So, i thought I would give you a few tips to help you get the best from the 8-hours you should be sleeping (Think of that as Tip 1A!)

Tip Number 1 – Instant-Relaxation Breathing

One of the biggest reasons for sleep difficulty is the body’s stress response.
According to many sleep and stress management experts, this incredibly easy to learn breathing exercise can help you turn on your body’s complete relaxation response in as little as 60 seconds.

Developed by health and wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil, “The 4-7-8 Breathing Method” can be done at home at work or just about anywhere and at any time you need to relax fast.
It’s a great way to help you fall asleep quicker and deeper. It’s also a powerful, fast-acting stress management tool that can be used strategically throughout your day. For example, try it before your next public speaking event or presentation or before discussing hot-button issues with your partner, your boss or a coworker.

The 4-7-8 Breathing Method: A Quick Study Guide:

  • It’s best when first learning this breathing exercise to sit with a straight back.
  • Point the tip of your tongue tightly up against the ball-like structure at the top of your two front teeth.
  • When exhaling push the air out around your tongue and past your lips (or you can purse your lips)
  • Make a steady “whoosh” sound as you completely exhale (emptying your lungs of air) through your mouth.
  • For a mental count of 4 seconds inhale deeply but quietly through your nose (with your mouth closed).
  • For a count of 7 seconds, hold your breath (some people find this challenging at first but get much better with a bit of practice).
  • For a count of 8 seconds, make a complete exhalation, again through your mouth with tongue placed up behind and just above your front teeth
  • You’ve now completed one cycle of 4-7-8 Relaxing Breathing – also known as one breath. Repeat this breathing cycle three more times for a total of 4 breath cycles.

Tip Number 2 – Try to Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol Hours Before Sleep

Not only is caffeine physically addictive but it’s super available in so many forms. From coffee, to wake up pills, to soft drinks and so-called energy drinks, caffeine is everywhere.
As a stimulant when caffeine is active in your system it’s very likely going get in the way of your getting a good night’s sleep.
According to the “Sleep Geek” Pete Bils of Sleep Number Mattress fame, caffeine can stay active in your system for more than 10 hours after you consume it. At the very least caffeine should not be taken in 4-6 hours before bedtime.

Alcohol and Sleep also Don’t Mix:

Alcohol Sleep ChartThe idea that having a glass of wine before bed can help you sleep is actually a sleep-interfering myth, which
means the 6+ million that have used alcohol to help them sleep were actually doing themselves more harm than good!

Sure it may help you fall asleep at first because it starts out acting as central nervous system depressant.

Just a few hours later though, as alcohol is processed by your body, it begins to serve as a stimulant that can result in poor sleep quality. It may be best to avoid alcohol at least a few hours before bedtime.


Tip Number 3 – Turn off Your Electronics 1 Hour Before Bed

One of the most important factors in getting a good night’s sleep every night is to increase your exposure to bright (and especially natural) light in the morning soon after you wake up and gradually reducing your light exposure levels as bedtime approaches.
Why? Because light exposure levels play a significant role in setting and regulating your body’s circadian rhythm – your brain’s biological sleep clock.
For example, significantly reducing light exposure as bedtime approaches triggers the brain to produce its own sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. This is why day-light savings time here in the UK can play havoc with sleep patterns and sleep quality.

Increased light exposure suppresses the body’s natural sleep drive.
People don’t realiSe it, but pre-sleep over-exposure to artificial light from smartphones, computers, TV screens, and even light bulbs signal the brain that it’s still time to be awake and alert, particularly blue light.
Put simply: It’s an excellent idea to turn off your light bearing electronics and other artificial light sources at least an hour before bed whenever possible. At the very least it’s important to try and reduce excess light exposure levels by turning off unneeded lights and reducing screen brightness levels or using a screen dimming filter app for your smart phone.

Tip Number 4: Build a Sleep-Enabling Environment and Routine

According to the sleep experts at Harvard Medical School, It’s important to transform your bedroom or sleeping area into a cool, quiet and dark sleep-sanctuary. It’s something I advocate to all of my clients and very much use myself.

You also want to make the transition from full wakefulness to falling into a deep, restorative sleep as quick and as relaxing as possible. Here’s a list of helpful sleep science hacks from Harvard you can start applying today for a better night’s sleep:

  • Avoid stressors before bedtime (i.e. work related activities, discussing hot-button issues with family members, etc.). Stressful activities cause the body to produce and secrete the long-acting stress hormone cortisol.
  • If worrying or stressful problems are stopping you from falling asleep, it can really help to write them down (outside of your bedroom of course) in a journal that can be placed in a drawer to be intentionally forgotten until the next day.
  • Use earplugs or white noise to reduce exposure to sounds that interfere with your sleep.
  • Too much light coming into your sleep sanctuary? Try an eye mask or heavy curtains.
  • Keep your bedroom sleep temperature at around 15-23 degrees °C and make sure there’s good ventilation.
  • Ensure that your mattress and pillows are seriously comfortable and be aware that on average mattress need to be replaced every 8-10 years.
  • It’s recommended to use your bedroom for sleep and…. (ahem…) only. Having a TV in there is a No-No.
  • Make your sleep bedroom an electronics-free zone. This will help reinforce the psychological association of your sleep sanctuary and actual sleeping.
  • Try some light, stress-free reading an hour or so before bedtime.
  • Taking a nice warm bath before bed can help you become drowsy by increasing then decreasing your body temperature.
  • Do some relaxation exercises (i.e. Relaxing Breathing [See above] and PMR [See below])

Tip Number 5 – Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Replace your stress response with your complete relaxation response by learning and doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR for short, each night before you go to sleep.

PMR is a science proven insomnia-buster that significantly reduces stress and anxiety, high blood pressure and can even take the edge off chronic pain.

Developed by Edmond Jacobson in the 1930’s, PMR is based on the idea that psychological relaxation results from the physical relaxation of your body, primarily through the release of muscle tension.

PMR is also a perfect synergistic complement to the 4-7-8 breathing exercise described above. You might want to start with the breathing exercise and then move on to PMR. Another suggestion would be to set aside time earlier in the day to practice PMR until you get a clear sense of how it works. You can then integrate PMR into your daily pre-sleep routine.

Although it often takes 10-20 minutes of practice at first to become deeply relaxed through PMR, your goal is to make scanning your body for muscle tension and then quickly releasing it, an over-learned almost automatic response. You’ll then be able to self-invoke increasingly deeper levels of relaxation in just minutes.

PMR works by combining diaphragmatic breathing with the brief tensing and releasing of different muscles starting with your feet (i.e. curling your toes to tense then release) followed by the various muscles in your legs, abdomen, chest, arms, hands and face. Here’s how you do PMR step by step:

PMR Quick Study Guide:

  1. Start by inhaling deeply, filling your belly and then lungs from the bottom up with air. How should you breathe? In through your nose and out through your mouth with pursed lips (or using the 4-7-8 strategy of placing the tip of your tongue at the just above the back of your front teeth)?
  1. As you inhale, tense or contract the first muscle group (i.e. curl your toes to create muscle tension in your feet and gently (don’t over tense) hold that muscle tension for 5-10 seconds:
  1. Exhale fully and quickly through your mouth while at the same time quickly releasing the muscle you were tensing or flexing.
  1. Take 10-20 seconds to allow a state of relaxation to flow into each muscle after you release its tension and then move onto the next muscle group (i.e. after your feet, flex your calves, as you move upwards through each muscle type).
  1. During the tension-release/quick-exhale step, focus your attention entirely on what it feels like for the muscle to become deeply relaxed as you release the tension and the seconds that follow.
  1. Slowly move from your feet, tensing and relaxing each muscle up to and through your legs, torso arms, hands, and finishing off by tensing and releasing your facial muscles.

Adapted from: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/muscle-relaxation-for-stress-insomnia


So there you go, 5 top tips that will help you get the most benefit from your sleep and hopefully go some way to helping you keep stress to a minimum, especially when utilised alongside meditation, which is something else I highly recommend.