How to optimize sleep
Today, I will answer a question that I got from Louise, who's a wonderful person I met via LinkedIn. We haven't met in real life yet, but we connected!! I have been asking you to give me your sleep questions and she had a really good one about sleep phases, sleep cycles and how you can optimize your sleep.
So, I will explain the following three things:
sleep phases /// how to optimize your sleep (including purposeful sleep deprivation, which is a technique that I'm going to talk about) /// what I would do - my recommendation!
This is really for you people, who don't have any issue sleeping, per se, but who just want to know more about it and who may want to optimize their sleep. It's more about sleep performance, rather than getting any sleep at all.
When we sleep, it's not just one big stretch: We sleep in cycles; usually four or five. At birth, a sleep cycle is around 45 minutes, which is why a newborn will pretty much wake up 45 minutes on the dot and you will know that because at nighttime you can set your alarm to it. From here on out, we then basically connect the next sleep cycle.
The sleep cycles get longer for an adult. They are around 90 minutes. Since we have four to five sleep cycles, you should ideally get 7 1/2-hours sleep a night. Those sleep cycles consist in four or three sleep phases. Recently we only talked about three. It has been changed in sleep science. There are Light sleep, Deep sleep, and REM sleep.
Deep sleep is the restorative phase and REM sleep is where you are dreaming; which for me, is also restorative, but more for your psyche. Each phase has its own purpose and during each phase you will have different chemicals that are being secreted in different rates and different ratios. Sometimes you will have a certain hormone that will be more present, the volume will be larger than in another sleep phase and sometimes it's also the speed in which it happens and the intervals at of how it happens.
That's all really geeky sleep science stuff and I won’t go into it any deeper today. Just remember, that it is different for each sleep stage or phase.
Light sleep is really when you are between this wake and sleep kind of state. Very often you have it when you just nod off and you think it's been five minutes, yet 20 or 25 minutes have actually passed. I want you to remember that feeling, especially when it happens to you while you are watching a TV show and you think, oh, how come it’s already over?!
Very often people think they don't sleep a lot, but they do. It just doesn't feel that way. In light sleep we have a tendency not to be able to tell time at all. We think we were conscious when we were actually sleeping (which is not unconscious, but it's a different state).
During deep sleep most of our body restoration happens. All your toxins are being flushed out from your brain. Your cells are being repaired, your hormones rebalanced, different peptides and proteins being created. All of that stuff happens in deep sleep. This phase is the longest at the beginning of your sleep, in the first or second cycle.
REM sleep is really more about your psychology. It's where you see the brain firing triggers to what you experienced during the day, randomly or not. It chooses things that you didn't quite understand or digested or struggled with and it shoots them off randomly to try to make sense of it. This is why we go from one place to the next. We jump through time and certain things just don't make any sense. Basically, it's our brain triggering all these things for us to have a safe space, which are our dreams, in order for us to cope with it.
Those are the phases that we go through, while sleeping.
Now, when I have people who want to optimize their sleep, there is a technique called ‘the sleep deprivation technique’ and you shouldn't necessarily do it on your own. Sleep clinics usually perform them. On a little side note: One of my mentees is working for a sleep clinic and they are really excited to work with her, because they want to reach outside from that technique. They want to have more tools in their belt, which I am teaching her right now and it is super exciting!
What is the sleep deprivation technique? It's basically forcing your body to consolidate sleep. If we don't get a lot of sleep, which happens very often in the Army for example. Your brain will start to understand and will adapt to it, meaning it will start to consolidate your sleep.
It will try to get as much sleep as it can in the shortest span of time. It’s similar to when you are not eating enough or have a low-calorie diet and you're not made for that. Your metabolism doesn't work that way. Your body will suddenly store all of the fats because it is scared that it's going to starve. The same happens with sleep. It will understand, that there is not a lot of time and it’s going to get as much as it can.
There are different ways of doing it, however people usually start with four hours of sleep, which is definitely not enough. They do that for approximately a week and during that time they are obviously super tired. So, as I already mentioned, don't do that when you're in crunch time. Sleep will start to consolidate.
If you're someone who has lots of wake-up phases in between your sleep, you will most likely get one chunk of sleep. You will be tired, but your brain will train itself to consolidate it and then you add, bit by bit, small amounts and increments of time until you sleep in one stretch and you go to sleep fairly quickly in about 15 to 30 minutes and when you wake up you're not tired. You feel wide awake. That's the hardcore way of doing things. I would not recommend doing that unsupervised!
The way that I would do it, is basically the lazy one, for which I'm known for!!
Say you are on holiday. Don't schedule anything. Don't set an alarm clock. Don't care when you go to sleep but go to sleep when you are tired. Don't feel the pressure to having to go and see that evening show or having to take advantage of something, because you don't have to get up early in the morning. Really see when you naturally feel tired and it's probably going to be a lot earlier than you think it is. Go to sleep and because you're naturally tired, you're going to fall asleep pretty quickly. See when you naturally wake up and when you are wide awake.
Really listen to your body that way. If I let myself sleep whenever I want to, I would go to bed around 9 PM. I sleep a lot! I still only get up around 7 AM. That's a solid 10-hour sleep sometimes.
But when I miss that window, simply because I have a life, as most of us do, I usually get a second wind, and then I go to bed around 10 PM or 11 PM. Naturally, if I were to sleep 'til 7:30 AM, I would feel perfect! That would be my amazing 8 ½- hours of sleep. That is my absolute sweet spot. But it doesn't always work that way. When I am on holiday and I don't have to get up early in order to get my little one to school, then that's what I do and I sleep one big stretch. Obviously, I wake up in between cycles, but I don't notice and that's how I know, that is the best sleep I can get.
I would suggest you do the same. Don't set an alarm clock and give it some time, because you are used to a routine and you are used to waking up at a certain time. Give it two weeks. Usually I recommend taking a two-week break and at least have four to five days, where you don't plan anything. Let your body settle into your biological clock and then you will figure it out. When you go to bed around those times and when you sleep that long, you can actually set an alarm clock half an hour later, just to make sure that you don't sleep in. That is the best amount to do.
If you cannot keep that schedule because it's too late; for example, you have to get up at 5:30 AM or 6 AM, at least you know the amount of hours that you naturally need and then you can reverse-engineer it. If you are like me and you need 8 ½-hours of sleep, you need to be up by 6 AM, then you would calculate back. What is 8 ½-hours before that? 9:30 PM. That's where you should ideally fall asleep. You should leave yourself at least 1/2 hour to fall asleep, meaning being in bed and falling asleep and at least an hour before that, to get ready to go to bed and give your brain a chance to wind down. So, 8 PM Bedtime. That's how you can get the best sleep possible! Recommended by me, the sleep boss!
We have our sleep phases, we have our sleep deprivation technique and we have the lazy bones way of doing things, which is what I do!
Have a lovely week and I’ll be back again next week!
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