Are you missing out on that sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed in the morning? Or do you find yourself burning holes into the ceiling at night? I want to go over 3 things you could be doing that is sabotaging your sleep during this period of isolation. They are silent, innocent sounding habits you might not even be recognizing as a reason your sleep is in the gutter. This downtime is a prime opportunity to get your sleep game score up.
1. Bright light for Sleep
We are all just fancy plants with emotions. Some of us come with thorns, others are delicate, and others can grow in any environment. Our bodies need light just like a plant. Now we aren’t performing photosynthesis (that is plant talk for making food), but the sun does control how much and when to release hormones and neurotransmitters. These 2 substances tell your entire body how to feel, when to do things, and when to turn things off. To be optimized and running at your prime you want these chemicals released at the right time and precise amount. When these chemicals are released at the wrong time or wrong amounts the body is thrown into chaos.
One thing that this pandemic is doing is people are staying indoors all day and night for safety. I do notice there are more people outside, but the numbers are still really low compared to how many could be outdoors. Indoor lighting is maybe 1/100th to 1/1000th as bright as being outside.
An example for you is right here in my kitchen. I used a free app called Lux Light Meter. It measures the amount of light in a room or area. My kitchen had a reading of 250 lux with all the lights on. To my eyes the kitchen is pretty bright. I went outside on a sunny day around noon. I got a reading of 130,000 lux. That is 520x brighter than my kitchen. The reason my kitchen felt bright was because our eyes are really good at adapting to lighting levels.
You probably are like, ya the sun is bright so what? Well, that bright light is what triggers cells in your eyes that send signals up to your brain. Your brain uses this light information to set it’s internal clocks and alarms for when it should increase or decrease cortisol, increase or decrease melatonin, make you hungry, slow down your digestion, or a thousand other processes.
If you stay inside all the time, your eyes never receive a bright enough cue to relay a message to your brain. What happens next is your clocks that are in all of your cells aren’t all on the same page or are delayed. As you can imagine this can cause all kinds of problems. It’s like when you set your alarm and forget to make sure it is set for 7am and not 7pm.
Ok cool is that making sense? But why does that impact my sleep? Well, your body starts to lower it’s core temp to start the sleep cascade at night. This is controlled by hormones. If your hormone clock for regulating temp is off it might not get released till 11pm or later instead of the normal 8-9pm time. You then climb into bed at 10pm, but lie awake till 1am because your body didn’t start the sleep cascade till much later.
Get outside. Even on a cloudy day it is much brighter outside. For the biggest impact for your sleep, get outside between 8am-12pm for at least 10 minutes. The more the better and do this without sunglasses or you are just defeating the whole purpose of going out into bright light. Sunglasses reduce the amount of light getting to your eyes.
Be creative how you get your sun:
- Take a walk
- Eat breakfast
- Respond to emails
- Read a book
2. Eating late at night
I got the midnight munchies. If you are feeling yourself hungry at night as you watch TV there is a good chance your clocks internally are delayed. Normally, your body is slowing down digestion when it gets dark out. It does this so it can prep itself for repair mode. Eating at night is no bueno for good sleep.
Imagine your digestive system is a restaurant. It closes at 9pm. Now most restaurants will start to shut down the kitchen before this time so they can get out at a decent time. At 8:55pm a family of four walks in the door and places an order. Everything in the kitchen needs to be turned on, gets dirty, and needs to be cleaned. Instead of closing at 9pm and being able to head home, they now don’t get out till 10pm.
Something similar to this goes on inside of you. At night part of your circadian rhythm is to slow down digestion because it is not anticipating any more food. It can clear out the rest of dinner and get ready for the maintenance that goes on at night.
Whether you take one bite or 20 your brain and digestive system have to fire everything back up. This raises your core body temp, diverts energy to your stomach instead of your brain for sleep ( Sleep is pretty energy intensive), and prevents you from entering deep sleep until the whole process is done which takes around 3 hours. Hey, I am just as guilty as the next guy where every once in a while I eat some pizza rolls while watching a movie. When I do this I am actually able to see what happens.
I wear an Oura ring which tracks my sleep and some other body metrics. When I eat late at night, every single time my metrics are thrown off. The following changes compared to my normal averages;
- Body temp average goes up
- Increased heart rate
- Lower deep sleep percentage for the night
- Increase in light sleep percentage for the night
- Takes longer for my heart rate to reach its lowest point
Do you find yourself feeling heavy or not fully charged in the morning? Start keeping track of when you are eating your last bite of food and going to bed. Aim to give yourself 3 hours between eating something and going to bed. If you usually eat a half hour before bed, then try making it 45min-60min. Then after a week try pushing it to 1.5 hours. Keep doing a step by step progression until you reach that 3 hour window. Aligning your eating pattern with your natural circadian rhythm can help with quality of sleep, weight loss, and body repair.
3. Sleeping with your phone
The last sneaky item is sleeping next to your phone. Could there be an emergency that someone needs to get a hold of you? Perhaps, but the odds are really low and are not worth sacrificing your sleep night after night. There are a couple of factors at play that phones create that wrecks your sleep.
Let’s start with the first one. Would you sleep next to a microwave that was on? Most likely that is a strong no. While it may not be as strong as a microwave that cell phone is still giving off electromagnetic waves and is close to your body. Your body is bombarded with EMFs all day long while you are at work, from wireless devices, driving a car, cell towers, and WIFI. It is healthy to give your body a break. They are starting to study the effects of cell phones and WIFI on our cells. One thing they have observed is red blood cells start to clump together when exposed to EMFs. This increases inflammation in the body. Another observation has been a decrease in melatonin production which makes it harder to fall asleep.
The next reason why sleeping with your phone is bad is the blue light exposure. If you are on your phone right before bed, the blue light from the screen sends signals to your brain that it is still noon outside. This keeps your body processes going instead of slowing down for the night. It also delays the release of melatonin. Just 30 minutes of blue light exposure can delay your melatonin by 30% and even more with longer exposure time. Melatonin is your body’s super serum. Check out all the things melatonin does besides making you sleepy;
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces blood sugar
- Stops tumors from forming
- Slows the growth of tumors that have formed
- Bodies strongest anti oxidant
- Protects the brain from oxidative stress
- Balances mood
- Reduces chemicals that cause inflammation
That is a list. A supplement that does all that would cost hundreds of dollars and here your body makes it on it’s own. Taking melatonin does not do the same thing because it is synthetic and if you are doing everything else wrong taking a pill is not going to fix you.
The last thing a phone does is it causes you to have elevated cortisol levels depending on what you are doing on it. When cortisol is high, melatonin is low. It causes your brain to keep pumping dopamine into your system as you hear each new notification. Dopamine is a stimulant neurotransmitter. You don’t want stimulants before you go to bed.
Take these steps to negate the effects of your phone on sleep;
- Charge it in another room at night
- Install blue light filters like Iris and Twilight
- Do a power down hour where you give up electronics for the last hour before bed
There you have it. 3 things that could be sabotaging your sleep that you are not even aware of. Give your daily routine a once over and see if you are guilty of any of these.
My name is Jason Piper and I am a certified sleep coach from Detroit,MI. I help people and businesses to rebuild their sleep for more energy, concentration, and creativity. Join my Sleep Quest to improve your sleep tonight.