Sleep Hacking, One Trick That Helped Me Fall Asleep
Sleep is important. From your overall health, to your mood, to your ability to reach peak performance both athletically and mentally, when you’re struggling to get your sleep right, you are sure to feel it.
I’m not saying this hypothetically, I’ve been there. When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with insomnia and put on medication. It didn’t work. It was a challenge being in high school, competing for a state championship in soccer, trying to get an NCAA Division 1 scholarship, and managing my schoolwork, while rarely sleeping more than two or three hours at night.
Luckily for me I ‘grew out of it’ by the end of my senior year, but that’s not to say I’ve left all of my sleep issues behind. In the past couple of years, since founding Nudge I’ve had some stretches of less than ideal sleep duration and quality.
Fortunately, (and thanks to our team’s efforts), I’m now working with an ever-growing network of health coaches, which led me to doing more research on my sleep routine and how I can make little changes to my habits.
At the suggestion of one of our partner health coaches when my sleep issues started to return recently, I tried putting down my electronic devices by 8pm each evening. This proved very effective for me, but because of my unpredictable work schedule I quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to be sustainable.
The good news was that I had discovered the culprit - electronic devices - but to find a solution that would fit my lifestyle I had to go one step further, and find the root cause for my inability to fall asleep at night.
With a little research I was able to narrow this down to 3 possibilities ...
- Cognitive (Over)Stimulation - When you respond to stimuli like emails, web design software, or for many video games, electrical activity in your brain increases and neurons start racing. If you’re trying to go to sleep, you want to wind this activity down.
- Physical Stress Response - In my case, a lot of what I am reacting to at night are important emails, customer support requests, and questions from co-workers which beyond the cognitive response, also cause an increase in the release of a stress hormone in the body called cortisol. This is like a less intense ‘fight or flight’ reaction in the body, which obviously doesn’t help if you’re trying to settle into a restful state.
- Blue Light Absorption - The amount of light we absorb through our eyes has a major impact on our circadian rhythms (i.e. our daily routine including when our bodies are programmed to sleep). But it’s a particular type of light that triggers our body’s sleep cycle, and for me was coming from computer and tablet screens. Mark Sisson described it this way in a fantastic post on his blog ‘Mark’s Daily Apple': "Blue light regulates our secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Exposed to blue light, we limit the production of melatonin, and we stay alert and awake; in the absence of blue light, melatonin production ramps up, and we get sleepy."
Again, the first two issues were going to be tough to tackle in a sustainable way given the nature of my work. But I quickly realized that this third cause was something I might be able to control, even with a nutty schedule. The answer for me came in two forms ...
- The Free Option - Install an application called F.lux on your computer. It’s a neat little tool that adjusts the lighting your computer emits based on time of day. Less blue light at night, and your sleep is back on track. F.lux is available for Mac, Linux, iPhone and iPad.
- Computer Glasses - This is actually the direction I ended up going, not because I didn’t like F.lux, but more because I can always have them with me no matter where I am or what I’m looking at (i.e. even watching TV or playing video games). Look for glasses that specifically say the lenses block blue light. Some will be clearly tented (so you may feel a little ridiculous wearing them) and others use a clear coating. Here are a couple of relatively affordable options… a ‘budget' option by GAMMA RAY ($14) - and one a little fancier by PHONETIC ($59).
I just got mine about 10 days ago, and already you can see the positive trend in my sleep graph on Nudge.
Here’s to hoping you can successfully hack your sleep habits like I did. If you have similar experiences that might be helpful, please share them in the comment section.