If you could pick one of (1) Sleep (2) Exercise/Movement or (3) Nutrition as the most important element to leading a healthy life, which would you choose? Maybe, as Dr. Peter Attia suggested in a recent edition of his newsletter, that’s the wrong way of thinking about the question.
Maybe the right way to put it is something like,
“Which one of these things, if it went to hell in a handbasket, would have the worst effect on your health?”
Peter Attia (and yours truly), is sure that it’s sleep. After all, in one study, restricting sleep to 5 hours per night, impairs your tolerance for metabolizing carbs. Translation: you start to look like you’re on the road to being a Type 2 Diabetic very quickly. That’s not good. In fact, it’s quite scary.
No need to fear as here are 3 easy steps to improve your sleep in record time.
Step 1: Get as much daylight as possible.
Getting as much daylight as possible during the day helps “anchor” your circadian rhythm (the 24 hour clock your body runs on). This means that you will fall asleep easier, sleep deeper, and generally wake more rested.
But many of us have jobs where we have to be inside much of the time. You see, we have photoreceptors in our eyes and our skin. So if we’re inside much of the day, our eyes rarely see daylight. To make matters worse, we wear a lot of clothes compared to our ancestors which means that many of the photoreceptors (cells sensitive to light) on our skin never see the light of day.
So what should we do? Well, you could quit your job and walk around butt naked all day but I’m guessing that’s not a really palatable solution for most of us. Here are some better solutions instead:
Intervention 1: Frequent Breaks
Take frequent work breaks to step outside and get some daylight.
Even in the dead of winter in a cold place, a little bit of daylight goes a long way. If you can take many short breaks during the day, it adds up to a lot more daylight. Remember, for almost all of human history, human beings were rarely, if ever, indoors.
Intervention 2: Wear Less Clothing
When it’s warmer out, wear less. No, I’m not telling you to actually walk around in your birthday suit (if you want to walk around stark naked please check to make sure this is legal before you do this!). But I am telling you to put on some shorts and/or short sleeve shirts more often when you can stand it because the more daylight you get, the better.
And while we’re at it, let’s take off those sunglasses. Yes, your mom might have been on to something when she told you not to stare directly into the sun. But what she didn’t tell you is that sunglasses also block those photoreceptors from being exposed to daylight.
Step 2: Make your Room Extremely Dark
After you get a bunch of daylight during the day, it’s time to make sure you DON’T get a bunch of artificial light at night.
For almost all of human history, there was no electricity and therefore, no artificial light. At night, there was only the moon, the stars, and fire. As a result, our bodies don’t handle artificial light very well at all. In fact, the science is very clear that we stop secreting melatonin when we are exposed to blue wavelengths of light at night. So what’s the solution:
(1) Blackout your curtains at night. I once stayed in an Airbnb in Denver and the owner of the home had these blackout curtains:
They are very inexpensive and I couldn’t believe how well they worked and how much they improved my sleep. There are much nicer ones out there and there are blackout curtains for every budget but these work great in a pinch. I loved them so much that I use them at home and get them as inexpensive gifts for friends and family members. My clients have also had a ton of success with them.
(2) Wear a sleep mask. I use a Mindfold
The great thing about the Mindfold is that it’s inexpensive and you can open your eyes in it because it was originally designed for meditation and I use it for that as well.
Step 3: Don’t Drink Close to Bedtime
Don’t drink close to your bedtime. Why? Is it because hilarious but often terrible decisions are made when we start drinking late at night? While that’s one reason to curb your drinking habit, there are a bunch of others when it comes to sleep.
Just a few that we know about:
(1) Alcohol disrupts the functioning of the master clock of your circadian rhythms (Suprachiasmatic Nucleus or “SCN”) (2) messes with your gut microbiome (which is connected to your brain’s function as well), and (3) lowers the secretion of melatonin (there’s that melatonin again!).
Does this mean you can’t drink alcohol? No, though I think we’re finding more and more evidence that alcohol can be very destructive. What it does mean is that we can be smarter about when we drink and how much. Having a glass of high-quality wine, like the ones from Dry Farm Wines, earlier in the day is a better option than the same thing shortly before bed.
High-quality sleep is a MUST for anyone looking to perform better, look great, and age well. It’s simply NON-NEGOTIABLE. Dialing in my own sleep and circadian rhythm hygiene many years ago was one of the single biggest pieces of my recovery from chronic illness and it’s almost always a massive game-changer for my clients. Sleep well my friends!