In my quest to discover more efficient ways to live a better life, I stumbled upon The Sleep Doctor, Dr. Michael Breus. Dr. Breus has a fascinating life story. He was the youngest person at the age of 31 to pass the Sleep Medical Board and one of the very few to due so without attending Medical School. His innovate methods have gained him world renown and the nickname of The Sleep Doctor.
The importance of sleep hygiene to your overall self-care can not be overstated. While I knew I needed sleep and have slightly tweaked my sleep routine over the years, I have never been able to take it to the next level. The insights I will share below gained from Dr. Breus not only dramatically changed my sleep but will change yours too.
Sleep Is Not For The Lazy
Many of you may not know that we can go 3 days without water, 30 days without food, and only 7 days without sleep. I am not saying sleep is more essential than food, but it gives you a good idea of just how important sleep is. We try so hard to be as productive as possible in our daily lives that sleep sometimes gets put on the back burner. Sleep is not for the weak and not for the lazy.
With an optimized sleep schedule and routine, you can actually become more productive than you have ever been. Before you begin making changes to your sleep, change your mind first and accept that you need sleep and that sleep is essential.
The Myth of Eight Hours A Night
As long as I can remember, eight hours a day has been the standard for the amount of sleep we should be getting every night. It might come to a relief to some that the actual amount varies by the individual. I have often spoken about how in self-care you have to listen to your body, and this is another one of those cases. Based on genetics, everybody’s sleep need is actually different which changes over time which is why you sometimes see people need more or less sleep as they age.
So there is a way to determine how much sleep you actually need. When you sleep at night, you need 5 sleep cycles for optimal health. An average sleep cycle is around 90 minutes which would equate to 7 1/2 hours of sleep at night. Now, I mentioned that this is an average, so you will need to perform a simple test.
To figure out how much sleep you actually need, start by thinking about your socially determined wake-up time which is the time due to your social obligations you have to get up every day. Now subtract 7 1/2 hours from your wake-up time to figure out what time you should go to bed at night. For example, if you wake up at 6:30 am everyday then try going to bed at 11 pm. You will need to do this consistently and without an alarm clock to establish a pattern. If you go to bed at 11 pm and consistently wake up before 6:30 am then you have an unusual sleep cycle. All you do is then push your bed time back later, so you will wake up at the time you need to.
You may discover that you only need around 6 1/2 hours of sleep by listening to your body’s needs. Instead of struggling or worrying about not getting 8 hours of sleep at night, you can optimize your sleep pattern and get all the sleep you actually need.
A Consistent Routine Is Key
Once you have know what time you need to go to bed every night to get your optimal 5 cycles of sleep, then you must stick to this routine even on your off days. If you work the weekdays, I am sure it is pretty normal for you to stay up later on the weekends and sleep in a bit later on those days as well. It is actually ok to stay up a bit later, but you must make your wake up time consistent and get up at the same time you do during the week. The problem with irregular wake up times is that it causes our bodies circadian rhythm to get thrown out of balance.
Maintaining a lock on your circadian rhythm by waking up at the same time every day is actually the most important factor to optimal sleep according to Dr. Breus. This will be difficult on some days, but just like anything good in life, it requires overcoming challenges.
The Good and Bad of Blue Light
There are other ways besides waking up at a consistent time to maintain your circadian rhythm, and it revolves around blue light. When you wake up in the morning, try to get some form of light for 15 minutes, preferably sunlight, within the first 30 minutes of waking up. This light can reset your circadian clock and keep your circadian rhythm in tune.
This is all based on the concept of blue light which is not the color blue but just the point on the visible light spectrum where it resides. When blue light enters the eye, it causes a chemical reaction in the body similar to getting a shot of caffeine from a cup of coffee. This is why it snaps us into alertness in the morning if utilized properly. One great thing about this is that when our body starts to get sleep around 1pm during our day, you can take a quick break outside and get the revitalizing effects of blue light from the sun to keep you going.
If you don’t have access to natural blue light due to where you live or your work conditions, there are blue light bulbs that you can purchase that will gives you the same effect.
In the past we only received the beneficial aspects of blue light from the sun, but now in the digital age we have to deal with negative blue light coming from our electronic devices. Using your smartphone or tablet right before bed will overstimulate your brain and interrupt your sleep patterns. If you find it difficult or would prefer not to stop using your electronic devices right before bed, there are blue blocker glasses available that you can wear to safely filter out blue light while using these devices.
Lastly, there also exist blue blocking light bulbs that you can use in your bedside lamps to help prepare yourself for sleep and not overstimulate your brain near bedtime. Thinking bout blue light and blue blocking light bulb placement brings a whole new dimension to your home and where and how you should conduct your daily routines.
Exercise Daily With Purpose
The number one way to improve your quality of sleep according to Dr. Breus is through 25 minutes of daily exercise. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t have to be all in one go. You can accumulate it over time throughout the day by walking from the parking lot to your job, taking your dog for a walk, or a whole variety of activities.
The most important aspect though is that it has to get your heart rate up. It doesn’t have to be extremely vigorous, but it can’t be lacking in any effort at all as well.
One thing to remember though that if you do have a regular exercise or workout routine, it is best to complete it at least 4 hours before bedtime to give your body enough wind down time.
Start Sleeping Better Today
With all this advice, I think you now have the tools to revolutionize your sleep hygiene. The Sleep Doctor questions conventional thinking and shines light on the way each individual has their own sleep cycles and rhythm. Discover the duration of your sleep cycles, take advantage of the power of blue light while avoiding the negative aspects of it at night, and exercise daily to bring the health benefits a good night’s sleep delivers.
I hope you enjoyed these tips. If you have any sleeping tips of your own, please leave them below in the comments. Take care and sleep well.