I don’t know about you, but as I get older I find I cannot get away with the kind of crazy sleep hours I sometimes lived by in my younger years. My mental and physical capabilities really go down when sleep is poor. Despite pressure in our modern culture to treat sleep as a waste of time, I came to understand and respect the fact that my body and brain need just about 8.5 hours of good sleep a night to feel decently rested. I have used that number as my guide for years.
If I get less than 8.5 on one night, I might pull through it OK. But two nights or more and it becomes obvious how much lower my sense of energy and power is on less-than-adequate sleep. So, I have been motivated to guard my quantity of sleep.
But how could I improve the quality of my sleep?
Within the last few months I listened to the Rich Roll podcast #219 with Shawn Stevenson, “a best selling-author and founder of The Model Health Show, which has been featured as the #1 health podcast on iTunes”. Rich discusses Shawn’s new book – Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies To Sleep Your Way To A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success.
One of the latest insight I have taken to heart for improving the quality is the importance of sleeping with the daylight cycle each day – going to bed at the right time to get the most out of it.
Renowned neurologist Kulreet Chaudhary, MD, says, “Timing your sleep is like timing an investment in the stock market – it doesn’t matter how much you invest, it matters when you invest.” It has been shown that human beings get the most beneficial hormonal secretions and recovery by sleeping during the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. This is what I call Money Time. (Chapter 6 – Get To Bed At The Right Time)
But who goes to bed at 10:00?
Well, I do (usually). Yet, this runs squarely against so much of both modern and ancient culture, and it’s not convenient to guard this schedule.
We’ve all heard people brag about how little they sleep at night and still claim high performance. And, we’ve felt the pressure all our lives to get up a bit earlier, or stay up a bit later to get more things done. When demands build up, sleep is the account we make the most withdrawals upon, rarely paying it back sufficiently. But what price in health, performance and longevity do we really end up paying for that debt?
In Turkey, as with most Mediterranean cultures, the pattern is to stay up late (the evenings are cooler) and socialize, and get up late – and drink a ton of caffeine-laden tea all day long. The consequences of poor sleep got so heavy on me living there that I finally had to (tactfully) let it be known among our local friends that, out of necessity, me and my family go to bed early, and Mat will usually not drink caffeinated tea. We may have lost some opportunities for social intimacy and risked being rude at times when turning down the ubiquitous offer of tea but we gained enough energy and sanity from better sleep to enable us to keep living there so many years, and we were able to continue in those friendships.
I try to be in bed 2 hours after dark if I can, and I wear eye-covers now to convince my brain of complete darkness (more on this in Chapter 10). I remind myself that staring at a glowing screen within those last two hours is also going to cost me some quality (Chapter 3) – this urges me to not work on the computer so late in the evenings.
Chapter 4 is called “Have A Caffeine Curfew” – you can guess where it is going. Caffeine messes with the internal sleep clock. Over the last 25 years since university years I gradually lost all my tolerance for caffeine – a couple sips of green tea will buzz me for several hours, literally. If I was so foolish to give in to an evening cup of Turkish coffee (it is often served after dinner!) I would not be able to sleep without medication for 2 nights. Needless to say, I rarely was so foolish to forget that and give in to social pressure to drink. People brag to me all the time how they don’t ‘feel’ the effects and can somehow fall asleep easily after their evening coffee – what is not noted is the chemical acrobatics that are going on in the brain to counter the effects of caffeine, however tolerant the person believes himself to be. The junky is still paying a metabolic price in chemically-induced stress. My extreme sensitivity exposes what’s going in all of us, but I don’t have the tolerances built up to hide the destructive effects – I suffer immediately with a burning stomach, hard-pumping heart, and an anxious mind – and later, shallow, ineffective sleep.
Don’t worry – Shawn is gentle with his advice on the coffee-lovers out there. I seem to be unusually sensitive to caffeine, so I must steer clear of it for my own good. Fortunately, I can still handle a bit of dark chocolate from time to time!
Shawn’s own story, as told in the podcast, is amazing – suffering from a bizarre bone disease in his youth and then going on a journey to reverse that and make many more healing discoveries, eventually to become a wealth of health information. He described the science behind and enormous benefits of quality sleep on mental and physical performance. These benefits are elaborated upon in his book – it has 21 short chapters with very practical instructions for how you can improve your sleep quality, and then notice the tangible benefits.
So, why aim to sleep better? Because there are so many important things happening while we sleep deeply – silent but necessary activities that enable our highest performance. When your conscious mind shuts down for the night, the rest of the brain is definitely NOT resting but doing critical tasks to get everything ready for the next day. This book will help explain those and give a great menu of things you can do to better tap into these benefits.
Perhaps it would be the perfect bedside book for you!
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