Better Sleep, Better Brain, Better Body
Dr. Eric Cobb back with you.
I hope that you’re having a fantastic week. And now we’re going to do something to make it even better. We’re going to talk about improving your sleep.
What prompted me to talk about that topic this week is a recent research paper, and it’s not a really new idea, but it’s a research paper I just saw, talking about the fact that whenever we sleep poorly we tend to make really lousy food decisions the next day. So the whole point that we’re seeing in the research is that it’s actually very easy to correlate poor sleep quality with poor food choices and obesity. So a lot of people who are trying to lose weight, or maybe even they are already in great shape but they’re trying to get leaner, often forget the incredible impact that good sleep has on making good choices.
If we look at it from a brain perspective, it’s pretty simple. Whenever we don’t sleep well, the more “in control” part of the brain, the frontal part that very often helps us make good decisions, is actually a little bit inhibited whenever we don’t sleep well. That makes the back of the brain, which makes more primal decisions based off, “Hey, that doughnut looks good.” That becomes more prominent. And so, as I said, it’s very easy to track this, and this is what researchers have shown us again in a study that was just published in the last week. So if you can accept the idea that good sleep leads to better decisions and better decisions lead to a healthier body, it’s really important to think about, “How am I sleeping?”
Sleep Quantity vs. Sleep Quality
Now, what I’m going to tell you really quickly, though – and this is very important – is that a lot of people in the “blog-o-sphere”, whenever they talk about sleep, they go, “Hey, you should sleep better.” Well, I think we kind of all know that. But typically when people say sleep better, they mean sleep longer, and that’s not what I’m talking about. If I were to train you in a gym, I actually – especially in the beginning – have very little interest in how much weight you can move. What I’m really interested is how well can you move the weight. So in other words, I’m interested in the quality of the performance of the exercise, far more than I am in how much of it you do. So, same thing goes for sleep. Whenever I talk about helping people improving their sleep, I’m really interested in the quality. So in order to focus on quality, and I’m going to give you just a few tips that you can begin implementing this week, that should create a noticeable impact on you. All right?
Quality Sleep Steps to Take
So tip number one, make your bedroom a cave. Most people have heard this, but they don’t do it. So I’m going to ask you to do it this week. And what I mean by making it a cave is make it as dark as possible. If your curtains allow light to seep in at night, get something and cover them. If you’ve got the big red LED alarm clock because you like to wake up in the middle of the night and check the time because you have something else to do, put something over it. Cover it up. There is a huge body of research that shows that whenever it’s darker we sleep better, and the quality of our sleep goes up. So I want you to think about that and make your bedroom a cave.
Better Sleep, Better Brain, Better Body
The second part of that is making sure that it’s not only dark, but cool. People on the whole do not sleep as well in warmer temperatures. And so if you can cool it down, very often that will also improve not only your ability to sleep with higher quality, but to fall asleep faster.
Number three, try to avoid watching TV or staring at a computer for the hour before you go to bed. Now, I know this is really hard for a lot of people, because that’s what we do in the evenings. But the light entering our eyes actually has an impact on our brain and very often will stimulate more wakefulness, and so we will wind up a little bit more awake. We’ll have a harder time falling asleep. And as a result, our sleep quality will go down. So one hour, give yourself a break from anything that has a bright screen on it.
Number four, eating. If you’re going to eat before bed, I normally recommend that you give yourself a two-hour window in which you don’t eat before you try to go to sleep. But I know that for some people that’s not practical. So if that’s the case, try to eat something that has a higher fat content, as opposed to a higher sugar or a higher protein content, because the fat will help you sleep a little bit more soundly and fall asleep more quickly.
How to Know Your Sleep is Better
Now with all of that said, the big question is, all right, if I do all that, how am I going to know if my sleep quality is improved. Well, now we’re going to talk about tracking. I think there are a couple of very simple ways to find out “How am I sleeping?” and “How am I feeling as a result of it?” You can create a very small survey that you take every morning. You wake up and you go, “How long did I sleep?” You actually put in the hours. “How well did I sleep?” Rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. If I feel like you slept great, write a 9. If you slept poorly, put a 3. Use a 1 to 10 scale. And then number three, “How much energy do I feel like I have?” Because if you just begin tracking those three little variables and comparing it to what you’re doing in the evenings to prepare to sleep, it should begin to give you some things that you can correlate very quickly and very easily to improve the quality.
How Technology Can Help
Now if you’re a techno person and you want to really make this very objective as best you can, there are a lot of devices on the market that will actually track sleep now. You can use an iPhone app. But really my favorite piece of technology to improve your sleep information comes from a company called FitBit. It’s F-i-t-B-i-t-, and I love their little device, called a FitBit1. It functions as a pedometer and a few other exercise pieces of gear, but in one unit. It also tracks your sleep. You can wear it as a wristband, and overnight it monitors your movement, and then you can plug it in and get a cute little reading about how well you slept. And again though, you have to take that information and correlate it with your behaviors so that you understand what you’re doing that’s going to influence how fast you go to sleep and how well you sleep.
Now, that gives you some base level information about how to, what some people call “hack” your sleep. There are a lot more tips and ideas that we have on this, but this is a great place to start.
If you have questions about it, please e-mail us.
I wish you a great week of sleep, and as a result of that a better body and a better brain.
Talk to you soon.